Showing posts with label Kaccanagotta Sutta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kaccanagotta Sutta. Show all posts

26 June 2015

Kātyāyana in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra

One of my long time fascinations is with the Pali Kaccānagotta Sutta or Sanskrit Kātyāyana Sūtra. It survives in three versions: Pāḷi, Chinese, and Sanskrit. It is fairly well known that Nāgārjuna quotes a Sanskrit version of this text in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK 15.7). It's less well known that a number of Mahāyāna Sūtras appear to quote this sūtra, as well. Long term, I would like to do a complete survey of how this text was used in Buddhism over time, but we can say that it forms an important link between Mahāyāna and Mainstream forms of Buddhism. Some very useful reading on this subject can be found in Salvini (2011). There is also some discussion focussed on MMK in Kalupahana (1986).

In this essay I'll translate and discuss a passage from the first chapter of the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra and argue that it recapitulates the argument about dharmas from the Kātyāyana. The implication here is that Kātyāyana provides a conceptual continuity link between trends of Buddhism. It represents a truth about experience that is widely acknowledged by different Buddhist schools of thought.

In my next blog essay I'll be exploring some important ideas about the history of the early Mahāyāna. One thing that has emerged recently is that Mahāyāna texts were almost certainly composed orally and in Prakrit. In the case of the Aṣṭa, we have physical evidence in the form of a birch bark manuscript, written in the Gāndhārī Prakrit in Kharoṣṭhī script and carbon dated to the first century CE (the mid-point for the probability curve is 79 CE). So the Sanskrit text is a translation. Aṣṭa might have been translated into Sanskrit as late as the 5th century CE. This undermines the claim of the Sanskrit version of Aṣṭa (or any Mahāyāna text) to be "the original". In some ways, the early translations into Chinese might better represent the original text, though this is debatable. 

The passage that I want to explore is Chapter 1, section 19; Vaidya (1960). In Conze's translation (1973) this passage occurs on p.87-88. My translation is:
When that was said, the Bhagavan said this to Elder Śāriputra, "thus training, Śāriputra, the bodhisattva mahāsattva does not train in any dharma. What is the reason for it? For the dharmas do not exist in the way that the foolish, ignorant hoi polloi take them to exist."  
Elder Śāriputra said, "How then do they exist, Bhagavan?"  
The Bhagavan said, "They exist as though they don't exist. Not being found in that sense they are said to be unfound (avidye). The foolish, ignorant hoi polloi are engrossed in them. All dharmas imagined by them are non-existing. Having imagined them, they are obsessed by the two extremes. They don’t know or see those dharmas. Therefore, all dharmas they imagine are non-existing. Having imagined [the non-existing dharmas], they are engrossed in the two extremes; engrossed, they rely on the observed object as a basis and imagine dharmas in the past, in the future, and in the present moment. Having imagined them, they become engrossed in name and form. Non-existing all-dharmas are imagined by them. Imagining those non-existing all-dharmas, they do not know and do not see the path as it really is. Not knowing or seeing the path as it really is, they don’t depart from the triple realm and do not awaken to the highest truth. They go by the name “fools”. They do not develop faith in the true dharma. The bodhisattva mahāsattva does not become engrossed in any dharma, Śāriputra."
Typically, Conze manages to make this section paradoxical. He has dharmas both existing and not existing at the same time, which does not make sense on any terms. For Conze, such non-sense is a way of pointing to a transcendent, ineffable truth that words are incapable of communicating. Supposedly, the contradiction temporarily confuses the rational mind (as conceived) and allows the intuitive mind (as conceived) to make an intuitive leap to the transcendent truth. There are many false assumptions here about the nature of reason and imagination. 
† See for example: Reasoning and Beliefs. (10 Jan 2014)
The important point of the Kātyāyana is that existence (astitā) and non-existence (nāstitā) are not terms that can be applied to dharmas qua mental objects. The typical Mahāyāna explanation, following the Two Truths doctrine, is that dharmas both exist and do not exist. Kātyāyana makes sense, the Two Truths explanation does not. I believe that, in this passage from Aṣṭa, the Kātyāyana argument about dharmas is being recapitulated in much the same terms, and with the same warning about what happens if we do get caught up in the dichotomy. In other words, that this is, in fact, a tacit reference to Kātyāyana.

Perhaps it is worth rehearsing why the denial of existence and non-existence is accurate and not at all paradoxical. My starting point, as always, is to take the subject under discussion to be experience. Being naive realists, or what the text calls "foolish, ignorant hoi-polloi" (bālapṛthagjanā aśrutavanto), we have an experience and we imagine ourselves to be in contact with something real, be it internal or external with respect to our first-person perspective. Ignoring what the experience implies about the world of sense experience, ignoring matters of ontology, the focus of the Kātyāyana is on the experience itself. Is the experience of an object an existing thing or a non-existing thing, irrespective of the nature of the object? Clearly, the answer is that it is neither. An experience cannot be described in terms of existence or non-existence. It arises, lingers for a short time, and then passes away. But the experience itself is entirely internal to us. Two people may see the same object and agree on its characteristics. But their experience of it is individual and cannot be agreed on. And thus Conze, in affirming both existence and non-existence, has come to precisely the opposite conclusion because he seeks a transcendent truth behind the words; a noumenon of the text. Conze's Romanticism has a Platonic flavour to it.

The answer that an experience is neither existent nor non-existent is important, because it is the understanding of the nature of experience that has soteriological value. We say that "things" are arising and passing away, but the Buddhist texts seem to refer mainly (if not solely) to the arising and passing away of experiences. In the Kātyāyana, it says that only dukkha arises and only dukkha ceases. The same point is made in the Simile of the Chariot. Dukkha, here, is a synonym for unenlightened experience. This search for understanding is deprecated by Conze, by modern Zen commentators, and many Tibetan lamas, because they, too, believe in a transcendent truth that requires the suspension of reason (as they conceive reason). In the Spiral Path texts the experience of liberation (vimutti) is initiated by becoming fed up  (nibiddā) with the objects of the senses, i.e., with the intoxicating play of experience. Suspension of reason is not a prerequisite for awakening in these texts.

Central to Buddhist soteriology is the fact that our sense of self, our first person perspective, is also an experience, and partakes in the nature of all experiences. Streams of sensory information converge and are woven together to create the persistent illusion of being a self. Though, of course, we know that the illusion of the first-person perspective can be broken by drugs, trauma, brain injury and, of course, by meditation. In this view, insights consist of seeing experience, particularly the first person experience, in such a light that it ceases to intoxicate and fascinate. The word for 'insight', vipassana, literally means to 'see through', not, as our translation suggests, 'to see into'. 

In our naivete about experience, we imagine each experience signifies something real and we respond to it as though it were real. But, in addition to this, we are burdened with ideas about what constitutes happiness as the goal of our lives. The unenlightened, the bālapṛthagjanā aśrutavanto, believe, deep down inside, that happiness is about having pleasant experiences and avoiding unpleasant experiences. Maximising the former and minimising the latter seems to be the operational definition of happiness. If we can only arrange things so that we have the optimum amount of both, then we will be happy and free of unhappiness. For most of us this means living in an unsatisfactory compromise and a lot of self-delusion about how happy we really are. Our pleasures do not satisfy. Our pains are all too many and not the least of them is mortality!

The line of thought in the Kātyāyana is often mixed up with attempts to apply dependent arising to all kinds of other processes, particularly karma and rebirth. And I have showed how this leads to inconsistencies and incoherent statements about the nature of the world across a number of essays (see the Afterlife tab for a list). Many Buddhists end up believing that the impermanence of "things" (e.g., tables, chariots, or other physical objects) is the key teaching of Buddhism, when it's just a truism that everyone is already aware of (See Everything changes, but so what?). The Kātyāyana is one of the texts where the intent of the idea, by which I mean the application to experience and only experience, is apparent. And it was this intent that was, I argue, taken up by the Aṣṭa and by Nāgārjuna some centuries later. Although there are many loud voices arguing about what Nāgārjuna meant to say in his very confusing opus, with most of them seeing Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā as having deep ontological implications, I say that, in citing the Kātyāyana in the way that he does, we might understand his ideas better if we take the domain of application to be experience and forget about ontology. Nāgārjuna makes better, if not perfect, sense if we take him to be someone commenting on the phenomenology of experience, rather than speculating about metaphysics. 

In the Aṣṭa version of the idea, the author has chosen to use the words that are tricky to translate while retaining the connotations of the original. So in a key passage (Aṣṭa 1.19.4) the Buddha says to Śāriputra:
na hi te śāriputra dharmāstathā saṃvidyante yathā bāla-pṛthagjanā aśrutavanto 'bhiniviṣṭāḥ | āyuṣmān śāriputra āha - kathaṃ tarhi te bhagavan saṃvidyante? bhagavān āha - yathā śāriputra na saṃvidyante, tathā saṃvidyante evam avidyamānāḥ | tenocyante avidyeti | 
"For the dharmas do not exist (na saṃvidyante) in the way that the foolish, ignorant hoi-polloi take them to exist (abhiniviṣṭāḥ)." 
Elder Śāriputra said, "How then do they exist (saṃvidyante), Bhagavan?" 
The Bhagavan said, "They exist as though (yathā) they don't exist. Not-being found (avidyamāna) in that sense (evaṃ), they are said to be unfound (avidyā)." 
The last statement in the Sanskrit text is:
yathā śāriputra na saṃvidyante, tathā saṃvidyante evam avidyamānāḥ | tenocyante avidyeti |
Conze translates "As they do not exist, so they exist. And so, since they do not exist [avidyamāna], they are called [the result of] ignorance [avidyā]", employing his usual hermeneutic of obscurity. He also translates avidyamāna as "do not exist", but avidye as "ignorance", but by his own logic the latter ought to mean 'not existing'.

Saṃvidyante is a passive form from sam√vid. Conze translates as ‘exists’. BHSD defines it as "is found, exists’ (= vidyate ‘is found; often virtually = asti)." PED saṃvijjati2 ‘to be found, to exist’. MW ‘know, recognise; perceive; approve’. It's tricky because there are two homonyms √vid meaning 'to know' (cognate with our word 'wisdom') and √vid meaning 'to find'. The two are indistinguishable except by context. The same goes for vidyamāna, a present participle 'knowing, finding' (here negated by the prefix a-). The other word here is abhiniviṣṭāḥ (abhi+ni√viṣ) which has a range of meanings 'entered or plunged into; intent on, endowed with; determined, persevering). Conze (1973a) suggests "settled down in, is accustomed to suppose."

So Conze is treating almost all the verb forms as meaning "exists". And we ought to point out that if a Sanskrit author wished to assert the existence of something they can do so very directly with the verb asti or some variation on √vṛt. So we need to be alert here to connotations. I think that √vid as found is relevant here. So, to say that if we go looking for a dharma is it not found, is not the same as saying it means it does not exist. We certainly have experiences, and so, to that extent, they do sort of exist. But when we say they "exist", we mean only that we have an experience, not that some kind of really existent entity has arisen and persists. Clearly, the author of the Aṣṭa has something very like the Kātyāyana teaching in mind. And the consequence is similar in the sense that it leads to two extremes of thought: that dharmas either exist or do not exist and all the problems that this causes. And note that the Two Truth argument adopts both extremes rather than avoiding either of them. Compare Aṣta 1.19.7:
kalpayitvā dvāv antāv abhiniviśante abhiniviśya tan nidānam-upalambhaṃ niśritya atītān dharmān kalpayanti, anāgatān dharmān kalpayanti, pratyutpannān dharmān kalpayanti te kalpayitvā nāmarūpe 'bhiniviṣṭāḥ | 
Having imagined [the non-existing dharmas], they are engrossed (abhiviviśante) in the two extremes (dvāv antāv); being engrossed (abhiniviśya), they rely on the observed object as a basis and imagine dharmas in the past, in the future, and in the present moment. Having imagined them, they become engrossed in name and form. 
Note the recurrence of abhini√viṣ here, translated as 'engrossed' this time (and as "settled down" by Conze). Taking dharmas to be real, settling into a view, we make mistakes about the nature of experience and, by implication, suppose that sense experience can be ultimately satisfying. And this is categorically a mistake. 

It has been argued that the Aṣṭa contains no direct reference to the Sarvāstivādin doctrine of sarva-asti (always existent), but Aṣṭa 1.19.7 might be just such a reference. Here, the deluded people imagine (kalpayanti) that dharmas exist in the past, future and present. This is precisely what Sarvāstivādins believe. If we recall the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance, this 'always on' feature of dharmas was the Vaibāṣika solution to the disconnect between action and result in time that the doctrine of karma requires. It earned the Vaibāṣikas the nickname Sarvāstivāda. However, after examining two of the early translations T224 《道行般若經》by Lokakṣema (179 CE) and T227 《小品般若經》by Kumārajīva (408 CE), both make the point about the two extremes, but neither of them have this passage about past, future and present. So we must conclude that it was interpolated into the Sanskrit text at a later date. So, if criticism of Sarvāstivāda was intended, it was not part of the original intention. Kumārajīva's translation of the dvāv antāv 'two extremes' is prosaically 二邊 'two extremes', whereas Lokakṣema has the more interesting 兩癡耳 literally 'two insane ears'.

Taking the text on face value, the criticism of the two extremes (existence and non-existence) is tilted towards criticising existence, presumably precisely because the existence view was prevalent at the time. If this interpretation is correct, then it may help explain the idiom in the next sentence (1.19.8)
tair asaṃvidyamānāḥ sarvadharmāḥ kalpitāḥ |
All dharmas imagined by them are non-existing.
Kalpita is a past participle from √kḷp. The literal meaning is 'made, fabricated'. I'm presuming here that the fabrication is a mental one. There's not really a word for "imagination" in Sanskrit (one of many differences in how they understand mind). Again, the idea here seems to be that one has an experience and in the way of naive realism mistakes it for something more substantial than it is. And when we treat experiences this way it obscures the Buddhist path or, as Aṣṭa puts it, yathābhūtaṃ mārgaṃ na jānanti na paśyanti, 'Not knowing or seeing the path as it really is...'

Interestingly, in 1.19.12 the wrong view is seen as an impediment to the development of faith in the truth of the dharma (satyaṃ dharmaṃ). This suggests that the mistake is foundational and must be sorted out right at the beginning of the religious life. My sense is that most modern Buddhism is already lost in speculation about ontology and supernatural forces. As Justin Whitaker recently pointed out to me, most Buddhists and scholars still invoke some variation of "seeing reality as it is" when describing Buddhist soteriology. But reality implies existence. Whatever we see as it is (yathābhūta) cannot be described in terms of existence or non-existence and, therefore, is neither real nor unreal. Reality can have nothing to do with Buddhist soteriology, by definition. To be real, whatever it is would have to be permanently existing and I don't think I need to explain why that is a problem.

I hope I have showed that at the very least the author of Aṣṭa had Kātyāyana in mind as they were writing this section. I think this shows that at least at the beginning of producing the Prajñāpāramitā texts the authors saw the domain of application of the Dharma as experience. They were not caught up in the metaphysical speculations of the Ābhidharmikas. They were, however, caught up in their own metaphysical speculations about the nature of the Buddha, though that is a story for another time. The importance of this discovery is that it helps us to understand the apparently paradoxical texts of the Prajñāpāramitā literature. In flirting with paradox they were trying to describe an attitude towards experience that had a liberating effect. They did not set out to confuse the reader, but to draw attention to our suppositions about experience and reality. The former we can know and understand; the latter we can only make inferences about, based on the commonality of experience with reference to the same object.

A first step in reforming modern Buddhism would be to establish the domain of application of our theory and practice, and in such a way as our theory and practice were complimentary. Despite all the bitching from Buddhists about the Mindfulness Therapy movement, I think they have a much better handle on this focus and integration of theory and practice. Better to be working with experience in a shallow way than to have a deep engagement with the kind of ontological speculation that typifies contemporary Buddhists discourse, because the latter is not beneficial in any way while the former at least is mildly beneficial and creates a basis for progress.



Conze, Edward. (1973). The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines and its Verse Summary. San Francisco: City Lights.
Conze, Edward (1973a) Materials for a Dictionary of Prajñāpāramitā Literature. Suzuki Research Foundation.
Drewes, David (2009). Early Indian Mah ay ana Buddhism I: Recent Scholarship.Religion Compass 4/2 (2010): 55–65, 10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00195.x.
Kalupahana, David J. (1986) Nāgārjuna, The Philosophy of the Middle Way: Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. SUNY.
Salvini, Mattia. (2011) The Nidānasamyukta and the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā: understanding the Middle Way through comparison and exegesis. Thai International Journal of Buddhist Studies.II: 57-95.Änasamyukta_and_the_M_lamadhyamakakÄrikÄ_understanding_the_Middle_Way_through_comparison_and_exegesis
Vaidya, P.L. (1960) Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita. Darbhanga: The Mithila Institute. (Buddhist Sanskrit Texts, 4).

Sanskrit text 

Aṣṭa 1.19. (Vaidya 1960)
evamukte āyuṣmān śāriputro bhagavantam etad avocat – evaṃ śikṣamāṇo bhagavan bodhisattvo mahāsattvaḥ katamasmin dharme śikṣate? evam ukte bhagavān āyuṣmantaṃ śāriputram etad avocat evaṃ śikṣamāṇaḥ śāriputra bodhisattvo mahāsattvo na kasmiṃś cid dharme śikṣate | tatkasya hetoḥ? na hi te śāriputra dharmāstathā saṃvidyante  yathā bāla-pṛthagjanā aśrutavanto 'bhiniviṣṭāḥ | āyuṣmān śāriputra āha - kathaṃ tarhi te bhagavan saṃvidyante? bhagavān āha - yathā śāriputra na saṃvidyante, tathā saṃvidyante evamavidyamānāḥ | tenocyante avidyeti | tān bālapṛthagjanā aśrutavanto 'bhiniviṣṭāḥ | tair asaṃvidyamānāḥ sarvadharmāḥ kalpitāḥ  | te tān kalpayitvā dvayor antayoḥ saktāḥ tān dharmān na jānanti na paśyanti | tasmāt te 'saṃvidyamānān sarva-dharmān kalpayanti | kalpayitvā dvāv antāv abhiniviśante abhiniviśya tan nidānam-upalambhaṃ niśritya atītān dharmān kalpayanti, anāgatān dharmān kalpayanti, pratyutpannān dharmān kalpayanti te kalpayitvā nāmarūpe 'bhiniviṣṭāḥ | tairasaṃvidyamānāḥ sarvadharmāḥ kalpitāḥ | te tān asaṃvidyamānān sarvadharmān kalpayanto yathābhūtaṃ mārgaṃ na jānanti na paśyanti | yathābhūtaṃ mārgam ajānanto 'paśyanto na niryānti traidhātukāt, na budhyante bhūtakoṭim | tena te bālā iti saṃjñāṃ gacchanti | te satyaṃ dharmaṃ na śraddhadhati | na khalu punaḥ śāriputra bodhisattvā mahāsattvā kaṃcid dharmam abhiniviśante ||

PS. If anyone has a pdf of Conze's Sanskrit edition of Aṣṭa I'd love to get a copy.

10 October 2014

The Second "Hidden" Kātyāyana Sūtra in Chinese

Stele, Korea.
This text is "hidden" because even though it has been translated into English (Choong 2010), it has not been discussed in relation to the other versions of the text so far as I'm aware. What tends to happen is that when the text is mentioned, scholars think of the Pāli version or the Sanskrit passage cited by Candrakīrti in his commentary on Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamaka Kārikā which mentions the Kātyāyana Sūtra (MMK 15.7). I'm hoping to give some prominence to the other versions of which two are in Chinese.

The Pali Kaccānagotta Sutta (SN 12.15 = KP) is quoted verbatim in the Channa Sutta (SN 22.90; iii.132-5) and as such is of little interest except that when a text is cited by another text we get a sense of relative dating: it implies chronology. In the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama, the counterpart of the Channa Sutta (CC; SĀ 262 = T 2.99 66c01-c18) also quotes the Chinese counterpart of the Kātyāyana Sūtra (KC; SĀ 301), but in this case the text is different in some interesting ways. And thus we have a fourth version of the text: KP = CP, KS, KC and now CC.

Most significant is how the two Chinese versions deal with a partic-ularly difficult paragraph that in Pali and Sanskrit reads:
KP: dvayanissito khvāyaṃ kaccāna loko yebhuyyena atthitañceva natthitañca. Upayupādānābhinivesavinibandho khvāyaṃ, kaccāna, loko yebhuyyena. Tañcāyaṃ upayupādānaṃ cetaso adhiṭṭhānaṃ abhinivesānusayaṃ na upeti na upādiyati nādhiṭṭhāti ‘attā me’ti.
Generally, Kaccāna, this world relies on a dichotomy: existence and non-existence.” Usually, Kaccāna, this world is bound to the tendency to grasping and attachment. And he does not attach, does not grasp, is not based on that biased, obstinate tendency of the mind to attachment and grasping: [i.e.] “[this is] my essence”.
KS: dvayaṃ niśrito ’yaṃ kātyāyana loko yadbhūyasāstitāñ ca niśrito nāstitāñ ca | Upadhyupādānavinibaddho ’yaṃ kātyāyana loko yad utāstitāñ ca niśrito nāstitāñ ca | etāni ced upadhyupādānāni cetaso ’dhiṣṭhānābhiniveśānuśayān nopaiti nopādatte nādhitiṣṭhati nābhiniviśaty ātmā meti |
Generally, Kātyāyana, this world relies on a dichotomy: it relies on existence and non-existence. This world, which relies on existence and non-existence, is bound by attachments and grasping. If he does not attach to these, does not grasp, is not based on or devoted to the biased, obstinate tendency of the mind to attachments and grasping: “[this is] my essence”.


The syntax here is tortuous and in addition contains some distracting word play. The nouns in the green section are from the same roots as the verbs in the orange section. Both Chinese versions replicate this same structure. It's possible that the nouns and verbs are meant to be understood as linked: upāyaṃ with na upeti; upādānaṃ with na upādiyati and so on, but at this stage I'm unsure. The Sanskrit is more difficult to parse because of the "if" (ced) and the Pali seems like a better reading for not having it. 

Note that P "attā me" & Skt "ātmā me" appear to be references to the formula often used with reference to the skandhas. Here wrong view would be of the form:
rūpaṃ etam mama, eso’ham amsi, eso me attā ti samanupassati.
He considers form: “it is mine”; “I am this”; “this is my essence”.
Our text hints that the duality of existence (astitā) and non-existence (nāstitā) arises from the same wrong view. Indeed seeing experience in terms of existence and non-existence is probably at the heart of interpreting it as "mine", "I" or "my essence". 

The Saṃyuktāgama text translated into Chinese by Guṇabhadra in the 5th century CE from a text that was evidently similar to the Sanskrit of KS. Even non-Chinese-readers will see there are similarities and differences in the two Chinese versions of this paragraph, which I've marked up using the same colour scheme as above for comparison.
KC: “世間有二種若有、 若無為取所觸; 取所觸故,或依有、或依無。無此取者心境繫著。使不取、不住、不計
KC: “Among the worldly (世間) two categories are relied on: being and non-[being]. Because of having grasping the touched, they either rely on being or non-being. If he is not a seizer of that , he doesn’t have the obstinate mental state of attachment; he doesn’t insist on, or think wrongly about ‘I’.”
CC: 『世人顛倒於二邊,若有、若無世人取諸境界心便計著迦旃延不受、不取、不住、不計於
CC: Wordly people (世人) who are topsy-turvy (顛倒) rely on () two extremes (二邊): existence (若有) and non-existence (若無). Worldly people (世人) generally (諸) adhere to (取) perceptual objects (境界) [because of] a biased, obstinate tendency of the mind (心便計著). Kātyāyana: if not appropriating (受), not obtaining (取), not abiding (住), not attached to or relying on I’...

The first difference is in interpreting Skt/P. loka. KC translates 世間 "in the world" while CC has 世人 "worldly people". CC adds that the worldly people are 顛倒 i.e. "top-down", "upside-down", or "topsy-turvy". Choong translates "confused", which is perfectly good, but there's a connotation in Buddhist jargon of viparyāsa (c.f. DDB sv 顛倒) which refers to mistaking the impermanent for the permanent and so on.

KC and CC both translate niśrito/nissito as 依. But they again differ in how they convey dvayam: KC 二種 "two varieties" and CC 二邊 "two sides". The character 邊 often translates Skt. anta which is significant because the word crops up later in the text in the Sanskrit and Pali, e.g. in KS:
ity etāv ubhāv antāv anupagamya madhyamayā pratipadā tathāgato dharmaṃ deśayati |
Thus, the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma by a middle path avoiding both these extremes.
KC and CC both use 二邊 to translate ubhāv antāv "both extremes" (in the dual case; without sandhi = ubau antau). It makes more sense to refer to "two extremes" early on if that's what's talked about later, especially when by "later" we mean just three sentences later. Thus CC provides better continuity than KC.

The next part of this section is where the two texts differ most markedly.
KC: Because of having grasping the touched (取所觸), they either rely on being or rely on non-being (或依有、或依無). If [he is] not a seizer of that (若無此取者), he doesn't have the obstinate mental state of attachment (心境繫著).

CC: worldly people generally (境 ) adhere and attach to 計著 objects of the mind (界心). Kātyāyana: if not appropriating (受), not obtaining (取), not abiding (住), not attached to or relying on “I”...

(Choong "Worldlings become attached to all spheres, setting store by and grasping with the mind.")
In KC we have some confusion around the phrase 取所觸. In Choong's translation of KC (40) he wants to have it mean “This grasping and adhering" but that's not what it appears to say and in any case no dictionary I have access to translates 觸 chù as ‘adhere’ or anything like it. On face value, and taking into account Buddhist Chinese, it says "grasping what is touched": 取 = Skt. upādāna; 所 = relative pronoun; 觸 = Skt. sparśa < √spṛś 'touch'. In other words Guṇabhadra seems to have made a mistake here. I think Choong is tacitly amending the text to correct it, probably based on reading the Pali.

Elsewhere KS seems to be defective: KP has upay(a)-upādāna-abhinivesa-vinibandha ‘bound by the tendency to attachment and grasping’ whereas KS has upadhy-upādāna-vinibaddho, missing out abhinivesa, which doesn't really make sense. Upadhi is out of place here and probably a mistake for upāya. It may be that the source text for KC was also defective. 

Note that CC has abbreviated the text. The green section of KC repeats some of the first red section, but CC eliminates the repetition and makes the paragraph easier to read overall. 

The Chinese texts both run on to include the next section, although it's clear from KP and KS that the next part is a separate sentence. 


"In short, when reading any given line of a Chinese Buddhist sūtra—excepting perhaps those produced by someone like Hsüan-tsang, who is justifiably famous for his accuracy—we have a roughly equal chance of encountering an accurate reflection of the underlying Indian original or a catastrophic misunderstanding."
Jan Nattier. A Few Good Men. p.71

As a warning this might be slightly overstated for effect and it is qualified by Nattier who says that multiple translations make it easier for the scholar. But it's often true that in order to really get what a Chinese text is on about, one must use the Indic (Pāḷi, Saṃskṛta, Gāndhārī) text as a commentary. This is partly because Buddhist Chinese is full of transliterations and jargon. Words are used in ways that are specific to a Buddhist context and must be read as technical terms. Buddhist Chinese very often uses something approximating Sanskrit syntax (Chinese is an SVO language while Sanskrit is SOV). The paragraph we have been considering is a good example of this phenomena as the Chinese apes the syntax of the Sanskrit. 

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that KC and CC were translated by different people and that the translator of CC did a slightly better job than the translator of KC. So perhaps the named translator, Guṇabhadra, was a sort of editor-in-chief working with a team? This was a common way of creating Chinese translations. Or perhaps he translated the same passage twice and did it differently each time? Though this seems less likely. 

By comparison with the Pāli Tipiṭaka we expect KC and CC to be identical, as the quotation of KP in the Channa Sutta is verbatim. The fact that they are not raises questions about the source text for the Samyuktāgama translated in Chinese. Having different translations into Chinese is valuable because it is precisely where KC is difficult that CC is different and arguably clearer. But perhaps the different translations are because the source text itself was different? KS is different from KP in other ways, and different from citations in later literature. This points to a number of versions of the text being in circulation of which we have a sample in the various canons.

So often the Chinese Tripiṭaka contains little that conflicts with the Pāḷi Tipiṭaka. But sometimes, as in this case, the differences are instructive, especially where versions in Sanskrit and/or Gāndhārī survive. We're now starting to see the treatment of Pali and Chinese versions of texts side by side in articles about early Buddhism. No doubt the publication of canonical translations into English, which has begun, will facilitate this. Certainly Early Buddhism is no longer synonymous with Theravāda and Pāḷi.

My close reading of all four Kātyāyana texts is slowly becoming a journal article. A subsequent project will be to explore the many citations of the text in Mahāyāna Sūtras. Exact citations or mentions of the same idea can be found in at least the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra  and the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, and also in Nāgarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and especially in Chandrakīrti's commentary on MMK, Prasannapāda. Thus the text and the ideas in it were foundational to the Mahāyāna and provide an important thread of continuity, between the first two great phases of Buddhist thought.


29 March 2013

Finding Easter Eggs in Pāli Texts

I've been studying the Kaccānagotta Sutta (S 12.15) for some time now. We are fortunate to have three extant versions of the text: Pāli (KP), Chinese (KC), and Sanskrit (KS). KC is from one of two Chinese Saṃyuktāgama translations (Taisho 2.99, no.301) related to the Sarvāstivādin School and was translated in the mid 5th century CE. The original language was probably a Sanskritised Prakrit aka Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit.  KS is from a cache of texts in Turfan from a manuscript copied in the 13th or 14th centuries. There is presently no published English translation of the Sanskrit (a situation I hope to rectify).

The text seems to have been quite important as it is cited directly by Nāgārjuna in his Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK 15.7); and indirectly in the Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra and the Laṅkavatāra Sūtra. It's also likely that Chandrakīrti who commented on MMK had a different Sanskrit version that the Turfan Ms. 

In this essay I want to explore a single passage which contains an elaborate play on words that gets lost in translation. I call this passage paragraph 5c:
  • KP: Tañcāyaṃ upayupādānaṃ cetaso adhiṭṭhānaṃ abhinivesānusayaṃ na upeti na upādiyati nādhiṭṭhāti ‘attā me’ti.
  • KS: etāni ced upadhyupādānāni cetaso ’dhiṣṭhānābhiniveśānuśayān nopaiti nopādatte nādhitiṣṭhati nābhiniviśaty ātmā meti |
  • KC: 若無此取者,心境繫著使不取、不住、不計我
  • KP: And that obstinate tendency of the mind to attachment and grasping this [noble disciple] doesn’t approach, doesn’t hold, [he] doesn’t insist on ‘the self is mine’.
  • KS: And [they] don’t hold this obstinate tendency of the mind to grasp and cling, they don’t accept, [they] don’t insist on or have a tendency to say: ‘this is my self’.
  • KC: Not seizing those, they don’t have the obstinate mental state of attachment; they don’t insist on, or think wrongly about ‘I’.”

Buddhaghosa’s commentary on KP throws light on this passage. He says
Tañcāyanti tañca upayupādānaṃ ayaṃ ariyasāvako. (SA 2.33)
'Tañcāyaṃ' means that attachment and grasping, and this noble-disciple.
This makes it much easier to unravel the syntax by supplying a subject who does not insist on the statement ‘the self is mine’, without whom the sentence is puzzling since on the face of it the subject who doesn't hold the wrong view is the same subject as the one bound by attachment and grasping (which is caused by wrong views). The reference to self is part of the oft repeated formula found in Early Buddhists texts regarding wrong views about the self, namely:
rūpaṃ etam mama, eso'ham-amsi, eso me attā ti samanupassati
he regards forms: this is mine, I am this, this is myself.
The formula is repeated for each of the skandhas, and in each case the assutavant is incorrect, where as the sutavant ariyasāvaka knows that it is not true.

What I particularly want to draw attention is a form of syntax which is unusual in English. We can for instance say "I sing a song" but not "I work a work" or "I talk a talk". Mostly this kind of idiom doesn't work in English but it is common in Pāli and Sanskrit. We have several examples here, though in the negative. The Pāli has (with the verbal root of the two words in parentheses):
upayaṃ na upeti (upa√i) - he does not attach the attaching
upādānaṃ na upādiyati (upa√pad) - he does not cling the clinging
adhiṭṭhānaṃ nādhiṭṭhāti (adhi√sthā) - he does not insist the insisting
Compare the Sanskrit:
[upayaṃ]* nopaiti  (upa√i)
upādānaṃ nopādatte (upa√pad)
adhiṣṭhānaṃ nādhitiṣṭhati  (adhi√sthā)
abhiniveśaṃ nābhiniviśati (abhi-ni√viś) he does not tend the tendency
We can see that where KP has upaya, KS has upadhi. This is difficult to explain because upadhi means ‘addition, attribute, or ‘condition, support’; so it might mean ‘tendency to grasp at supports where upadhi refers to dvayaṃ niśrito ‘based on a duality’. BHSD s.v. upadhi suggests that S. upadhi = P. upadhi (upa √dhā) ‘foundation, basis’; or upādi = upādāna. So KS could be intending upadhi as a synonym of upādana. However upadhi doesn’t seem to fit here, and from the Pāli we would expect to see upaya. What's more the play on words breaks down with upadhi. So it seems that upadhi is a substitution, though it does occur twice in the text.

Other features of the syntax hide the play on words to some extent. The nouns are all given in advance and some are compounded: upayupādānaṃ cetaso adhiṭṭhānaṃ abhinivesānusayaṃ. We are left wondering about the role cetaso (a past participle in the genitive or dative case). My translation above takes things as they come, but here I'm exploring an alternate possibility. If we take the nouns to go with the matching verbs then we might rearrange things like this:
Tañ ca ayaṃ upayaṃ na upeti, upādānaṃ na upādiyati adhiṭṭhānaṃ nādhiṭṭhāti abhinivesaṃ [abhinivisati] cetaso ānusayaṃ 'attā me’ti.
And he does not grasp the grasping, cling to the clinging, insist on the insisted, incline the inclining, this tendency of the mind [i.e.] 'this is my self'.
Clearly this doesn't work so well in English and there are strong arguments for not trying to use Pāli syntax for English translations. How might we improve it then?
And he does not grasp, cling to, insist on, or incline to this tendency of mind [i.e.] 'this is my self'.
I have taken a liberty here. KS completes the pun by including abhiniviśati where Pāli lacks the parallel. Given the structure I believe it was intended to be included and that the Pāli scribes left it out in error. It completes the picture and it's hard to imagine the author of this play on words missing the opportunity. So the Sanskrit is not an interpolation.

Now one test of this is to look at how the Chinese translators handled it. In Chinese we would expect a phrase like 'he does not cling the cling' to be confusing because the two words would likely be represented the same character.

KC 若無此取者 is literally ‘if not a seizer of those’ (i.e. existence and non-existence). It corresponds closely to KS. etāni ced upadhyupādānāni, but is similar to KP. Tañcāyaṃ upayupādānaṃ when it is read in the light of Buddhaghosa’s commentary. This confirms that Buddhaghosa’s reading is the correct one.

KC 心境繫著使 breaks down as: 心境 ‘mental state’ which renders S. cetaso; 繫著 ‘to be bound, attached’ seems to correspond to KP adhiṭṭhānaṃ abhinivesa and KS adhiṣṭhānābhiniveśa, where abhiniveśa means ‘obstinate or tenacious’; 使 renders S. anuṣaya ‘bias, proclivity, tendency’.

不取、不住、不計 are clearly the equivalent of P. na upeti na upādiyati nādhiṭṭhāti. For 不住 compare P nādhiṭṭhāti (i.e. na adhiṭṭhāti) ‘does not insist’ where adhiṭṭhāti (Skt. adhitiṣṭhāti) is from adhi+√sthā. the character 住 means ‘stopping, settling, staying’ which is Sanskrit √sthā 'stand, remain', so I have read it as Sanskrit adhitiṣṭhati. Re 計 DDB includes the notions of ‘discriminating, construing, and positing’ so there has been a slight reinterpretation here from nādhiṭṭhāti ‘attā me’ti (doesn’t insist on 'this self is mine') to 不計我 ‘does not construe a self’. While a self (P. attā, S. ātman) is not explicitly denied in Pāli Nikāyas, thinking in terms of a self is discouraged in the strongest possible terms. The attitude seems to be that a self is not relevant. However it seems that as Buddhist philosophy moved towards more ontological thinking that the denial of the existence of a self seemed a natural progression from warnings not to think in terms of a self.

This passage in particular shows up the way that an Indic original helps to makes sense of the Chinese. A problem discussed by Bucknell (2010). By contrast previous translators, apparently relying on the Chinese alone have rendered this passage as:
“Suppose one is without this grasping, not grasping at a mental realm which causes suffering, not dwelling, and not discerning a self.” Lapis Lazuli (2010)

“In one who has no such attachment, bondage to the mental realm, there is no attachment to the self, no dwelling in or setting store by self.” Choong & Piya (2004)
Some of the nuances get lost. Clearly “grasping at a mental realm” or “bondage to the mental realm” is far less satisfactory than “mental state of attachment” in Buddhist doctrinal terms.

So the Chinese does not pick up on this elaborate pun that we see in the Indic texts, and lends weigh to my first translation. However the nature of the play on words gives the sentence an added and ingenious structure. We can see that the structure has been marred in both the extant Pāli and Sanskrit, which are, of course, both translations. However the structure gives us what is called a checksum in computer jargon: a way of assessing the fidelity of transmission. Metre is often able to alert a read that a passage has been altered. For example the last verse of the Kāraṇiya Mettā Sutta is in a different metre from the other nine verses suggesting perhaps that it was added later. The structure here allows us to see how the sentence was originally constructed and what it meant. Of course we do not know when or where this sentence was composed, nor by whom, but they were more than averagely clever in this instance. 

When a computer programmer leaves a little message, or even small application that performs simple and usually benign functions, hidden in their code it is called an Easter egg. It is something for later generations of programmers or users to discover and delight in. Here the early Buddhist author has left us an Easter egg, and if one appreciates the subtleties of Indic grammar it is quite delightful. 


KP: Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka. Version 4.0. 1995. Vipassana Research Institute 
KS: Tripāṭhī, Chandra. (Ed.) (1962). 'Fünfundzwanzig Sūtras Des Nidānasaṃyukta' in Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden (Vol. VIII). Edited by Ernst Waldschmidt. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962. [Includes translation into German]: 167-170. 
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2010) ‘Taking Account of the Indic Source-text,’ in Translating Buddhist Chinese: Problems and Prospects. Konrad Meisig (ed.). Harrossowitz Verlag. 
Choong Mun-keat & Piya Tan (2004) ‘Saṃyukta Āgama 301 = Taishō 2.99.85c-86a’. Dharmafarer. Online: (pages numbered 89-91) 
Lapis Lazuli Texts (2011) ‘Saṃyuktāgama 301: Kātyāyana.’ Wikisource. Saṃyuktāgama_301:_Kātyāyana