One of my favourite verses from the Dhammapada is full of double meanings.An Excellent Man is Not Credulous
The Wisdom of Venerable Sāriputta
The man who is not credulous,1 who knows the uncreate,2
who has cut off rebirth,3 who has destroyed all results,4
and expelled all desires,5 he is truly an excellent man.6
When thirty forest monks came to pay their respects, the Buddha asked the Venerable Sāriputta whether he believed that cultivating and maturing the five spiritual faculties — confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom — could penetrate and culminate in the deathless. Venerable Sāriputta replied that he did not believe it. Since he had realised the Paths and Fruits he did not take it on faith in the Buddha. The monks talked among themselves that the elder had no faith in the Buddha. Then the Buddha explained that the Venerable Sāriputta was blameless as he had realised it through his personal experience, so he did not need to have faith in the word of another.
Taken at face value, this verse is very shocking, but the key words all have double-meanings.
- Assaddho literally means “without confidence” i.e. a non-believer, but here it means one who is not credulous.
- Akataññū means “ungrateful,” literally one who does not know what has been done for his benefit, but here it means one who knows (aññū) that which is not created (akata).
- Sandhicchedo means one who breaks the connection between houses, a burglar, but here it means an Arahant who won’t be reborn again because he has broken the connection between existences.
- Hatāvakāso means one who has ruined his life, but here it refers to the Arahant who has destroyed all future results.
- Vantāso or vantāsiko is a kind of hungry ghost (peta) that feeds on vomit, but here means one who has ‘vomitted’ or expelled all desire.
- Uttamapuriso means the best of men, but could also mean “one who thinks that he is superior to others” i.e. a conceited person.
You can just imagine the shock effect the verse had on the minds of the thirty forest monks, who entertained doubts about Venerable Sāriputta, if they thought what the Buddha was saying was:
“The ungrateful, faithless burglar, has ruined his life.
He eats what is vomited by others, yet thinks that he is superior.”