Pali text, illustration and English translation of Dhammapada verse 64:
yāvajīvampi ce bālo vaṇḍitaṃ payirupāsati |
na so dhammaṃ vijānāti dabbī sūparasaṃ yathā || 64 ||
64. Though all through life the fool might wait upon the wise, no more the Dhamma can he sense than spoon the taste of soup.
The Story of Venerable Udāyi
While residing at the Jetavana Monastery, the Buddha spoke this verse, with reference to Venerable Udāyi, a pretentious monk. The story goes that when the monks left the Hall of Truth, Venerable Udāyi used to go in and sit in the Seat of the Dhamma. Now one day some visiting monks saw him there, and thinking to themselves, “This must be the Buddha,” asked him some questions about the aggregates of being and other matters. Discovering that he knew nothing about any of these things, they said in scorn, “Who is this monk that he should live in the same monastery with the Buddha? He does not even know about the aggregates of being, the elements of being, and the organs and objects of sense.” So they reported the matter to the Buddha.
Explanatory Translation (Verse 64)
bālo ce yāvajīvaṃ api paṇḍitaṃ payirupāsati,
so dhammaṃ na vijānāti yathā dabbī sūparasaṃ.
bālo: an ignorant person; ce: if; yāvajīvaṃ api: even life long; paṇḍitaṃ [paṇḍita]: a wise person; payirupāsati: associates intimately; so: he; dhammaṃ [dhamma]: the way of existence; na vijānāti: will not learn; yathā: just as; dabbī: the spoon: sūparasaṃ [sūparasa]: the taste of soup (will not know)
The fool, even if he kept the company of a wise person intimately over a life-time, will not become aware of the nature of experience, just as a spoon will not know the taste of soup.
Commentary and exegetical material (Verse 64)
dabbī: the spoon. The Buddha has presented in this stanza a very vivid image of what is being said by him. Dabbī–the spoon, stirs dishes. In the course of its work the spoon comes into intimate contact with all forms of foodstuff. The spoon turns left and right, up and down, turning the food this way and that. The spoon continues to do this for all forms of dishes–sweet, sour, astringent, etc. The spoon goes on for ages until it decays. But the point made by the Buddha is that, after that, the spoon does not know the taste of food. This is a very apt image to show what happens to a foolish person who associates with the wise over a lifetime. He does not derive even an iota of profit for all that association.
Dhamma: the term Dhamma (meaning “experience”) takes on numerous meanings. The meaning which is foremost in popular Buddhism is ‘the Word of the Buddha’. The Buddha taught the world what he ‘experienced’. The process through which the world came to know about this ‘experience’ was the Word of the Buddha, which is called Buddhadhamma, which has been recounted extensively in Buddhist scriptures. Immediately on Enlightenment, he was absorbed in solitary meditation. At that time, the following thought occurred to him,
“This ‘experience’, which I have realized, is indeed profound, difficult to perceive, difficult to comprehend, tranquil, exalted, not within the sphere of logic, subtle, and is to be understood by the wise. These beings are attached to material pleasures. This causally connected ‘Dependent Arising’ is a subject which is difficult to comprehend. And this Nibbāna–the cessation of the conditioned, the abandoning of all passions, the destruction of craving, the non-attachment, and the cessation–is also a matter not easily comprehensible. If I were to teach this ‘experience’ (Dhamma), others would not understand me. That will be only weariness to me, that will be tiredness to me.”
Then these wonderful verses unheard of before occurred to the Buddha: “With difficulty have I comprehended the Dhamma. There is no need to proclaim it now. This Dhamma is not easily understood by those who are dominated by lust and hatred. The lust-ridden masses, shrouded in darkness, do not see this Dhamma, which goes against the stream, which is not easy to understand, profound, difficult to perceive and subtle.”
As the Buddha reflected thus, he was not disposed to expound the Dhamma.
Thereupon Brahma Sahampati (believed by Brāhmins to be the creator of the world) read the thoughts of the Buddha, and, fearing that the world might perish through not hearing the dhamma, approached Him and invited Him to teach the Dhamma thus: “O Lord, may the Buddha expound the Dhamma! May the Buddha expound the Dhamma! There are beings with little dust in their eyes, who, not hearing the Dhamma, fall away. There will be those who understand the Dhamma.”
Furthermore, he remarked, “In ancient times there arose in Magadha a Dhamma, impure, thought out by the corrupted. Open this door to the Deathless State. May they hear the Dhamma understood by the Stainless One! Just as one standing on the summit of a rocky mountain would behold the people around, even so may the All-Seeing, Wise One who has ascended this palace of Dhamma, may the Sorrowless One, look upon the people who are plunged in grief and are overcome by birth and decay!
“Rise, O Hero, victor in battle, caravan leader, debt-free One, and go out into the World! May the Buddha teach the Dhamma! There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.”
When the brāhmin said so, the Exalted One spoke to him thus: “The following thought, O Brahma, occurred to me–‘This Dhamma which I have comprehended is not easily understood by those who are dominated by lust and hatred. The lustridden masses, shrouded in darkness, do not see this Dhamma, which goes against the stream, which is abstruse, profound, difficult to perceive, and subtle’. As I reflected thus, my mind turned to inaction and to not teaching the Dhamma.”
Brahma Sahampati appealed to the Buddha for the second time and He made the same reply. When he appealed to the Buddha for the third time, the Buddha, out of compassion for beings, surveyed the world with His Buddha-Vision. As he surveyed thus, He saw beings with little and much dust in their eyes, with keen and dull intellect, with good and bad characteristics, beings who are easy and beings who are difficult to teach, and few others who view evil with fear, and believe in a life beyond. As in the case of a blue, red or white lotus pond, some lotuses are born in the water, grow in the water, remain immersed in the water, and thrive plunged in the water; some are born in the water, grow in the water and remain on the surface of the water; some others are born in the water, grow in the water and emerging out of the water, stand uncontaminated by the water. Even so, as the Buddha surveyed the world with His Buddha-Vision, He saw beings with little and much dust in their eyes, with keen and dull intellect, with good and bad characteristics, beings who are easy and difficult to be taught, and few others who view evil with fear, and believe in a life beyond. Having seen this, he set out to preach his gospel, out of compassion for all suffering beings. Buddha’s doctrine was initiated this way. The Dhamma signifies, in the first instance, the truth about experience which He revealed for the benefit of all beings.