Showing posts with label Pali. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pali. Show all posts

08 April 2016

Ten Precepts in Another Structure

My ordination in 2005
The Ten Precepts followed by members of the Triratna Buddhist Order are also known as the path of ten wholesome actions (dasa-kusalakamma-patha). In this essay, I look at a singular occurrence of the list that organises them differently.
In Pāḷi, the precepts are phrased so that we undertake refraining from the path of the ten unwholesome actions (dasa-akusalakamma-patha). A few months ago I surveyed all of the occurrences of precepts in the Nikāyas for a project I was working on with Dhīvan. This essay was written back then, but was on ice until we had a chance to present our findings to the College of Public Preceptors. Whilst trawling through the few dozen texts in which this list appears, I stumbled on this interesting sutta that lists the same ten actions, but instead of considering them as related to body, speech and mind, it divides them up differently. I'll begin with my translation of the relevant text:

The Discourse on Success and Failure.
(AN 3.117; i.268)
There are these three failures (vipatti) monks. What three? Failure of virtue, failure of intention, failure of views. And what, monks, is the failure of virtue. Here, monks, someone is a killer, a taker of the not given, an indulger in illicit sex, a liar, a slanderer, an abuser, a prattler. Monks, this is called a failure of virtue.
And what, monks, is a failure of intention. Here, monks, someone is a coveter and ill-willer. This is called a failure of intention.
And what, monks, is a failure of view. Here, monks, someone has wrong views, has views that are contrary, such as "there is no giving, no sacrifice, no oblation, nothing that comes from good or bad actions, no fruit or result of actions; no this world, no other world, no mother, no father; no spontaneously arisen beings; there are no seekers and priests in this world on the right path and proceeding along it, who having personally witnessed this world and the other world, would declare it [to others]." This is called a failure of views.
Because of the failure of virtue, intention or view, beings, at the break up of the body at death are reborn in a state of misery, a bad destination, a place of suffering, in hell. These are the three failures.
There are these three successes (sampadā), monks. What three? Success of virtue, success of intention, success of view. And what, monks, is the success of virtue? Here, monks, someone is one who refrains (paṭivirato) from killing, refrains from taking the not given, refrains from illicit sex; refrains from lies, slanderous speech, harsh speech, and frivolous prattle. This is called a success of virtue.
And what, monks is the success of intention? Here monks, someone is not a coveter or an ill-willer. This is called a success of intention.
And what, monks, is the success of views? Here, monks, someone has right views, views that are not contrary, such as "there is giving, sacrifice, oblation, something that comes from good or bad actions, fruit or result of actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are spontaneously arisen beings; there are seekers and priests in this world on the right path and proceeding along it, who having personally witnessed this world and the other world, would declare it [to others]." This is called the success of views.
Because of the success of virtue, intention or view, beings at the break up of the body at death are reborn in a good state, in the heavenly world. These are the three successes.

It's a short text and in many ways straight-forward enough. However, there are a number of features of this arrangement of the precepts that will be interesting, especially for members of the Triratna Order. Usually we think of the precepts as being grouped into those that apply to body, speech and mind (kāya, vācā, & citta). In this text the precepts are grouped according to whether they relate to virtue (sīla), to thought/intention (citta), or to view (diṭṭhi). 

In the table below we can see the precepts with the usual arrangement of the left, and this new arrangement on the right.

 pāṇātipātā paṭivirato
 adinnādānā paṭivirato
 kāmesumicchācārā paṭivirato
 musāvādā paṭivirato
 pisuṇāya vācāya paṭivirato
 pharusāya vācāya paṭivirato
 samphappalāpā paṭivirato

This is a one-off arrangement. However, we do often see the first seven precepts as a separate set or combined with the śrāmanera precepts. So there must have been some sects that saw these first seven as a distinct set. This is also reflected in the different wording of the last three precepts in this setting. Whereas we have the familiar language of refraining (paṭivirata) from something, in the cittasampadā and diṭṭhisampadā the language changes.

When we chant the ten precepts we use the tradition form which involves undertaking (samādiyāmi) the training principle (sikkhapādaṃ) of abstaining (veramaṇī) from the various unwholesome actions (akusalakamma) with the action given in the ablative case (indicating "from"). Although paṭivirata and veramaṇī look very different to the untrained eye, they are in fact closely related. Both stem from the verb √ram. The first adds two prefixes, paṭi- and vi- to the past participle (rata) to give us paṭi-vi-rata. The second adds only the prefix vi- to the root which then forms a stem virama, then adds a secondary derivative suffix -anī, which in turn causes the first vowel to be lengthened and strengthened from i to e giving veramaṇī (the n is changed to retroflex by the preceding r). Where the meaning of the bare root is 'enjoy, delight in' the meaning of vi√ram is the opposite, i.e. 'refrain'.

It's also worth noting that the word sampadā comes form the verb sam√pad. This may be familiar from the verb in the Buddha's last words: vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādetha. The verb here is often translated as 'strive' as in "with mindfulness strive on". The form here is a causative, so in fact it means 'bring about success'. I wrote about these words many years ago in my essay on the Buddha's last words.

Speech Precepts

Note that in the speech precepts there are some differences. Here they are written:
  • pisuṇāya vācāya paṭivirato
  • pharusāya vācāya paṭivirato
  • samphappalāpā paṭivirato hoti
We chant these in a different order, but we also chant pisuṇavācā vermaṇī... . It turns out that our version is grammatically incorrect because vācā is a feminine noun. The thing being refrained from is always in the ablative case. With the preceding precepts the kamma is masculine and has an ablative in : hence in musāvādā veramaṇī... vada 'speech' and vadā 'from speech' (which is musā 'false'). So the ablative singular of vācā is vācāya which is what we see here. Also in this text, representing a minority reading, pisuṇa and pharusa are not compounded with vācā and being adjectives take the same gender and case ending. More often one see them compounded as pisuṇavācā and pharusavācā, but the compound still takes the ablative ending, -āya, in both instances.

With samphappalāpā we have a different problem. Here the word palāpa (with initial double pp in compounds) means 'speech, prattle' and sampha means 'frivolous'. So samphappalāpa already means 'frivolous speech' and there is no need to add vācā onto it as we do. Indeed the term samphappalāpāvācā is never found in Pāli, whereas samphappalāpā is common.

Mind Precepts

While the sīla category is more or less the way we are familiar with the precepts, with some minor grammatical corrections, notice that what we think of as the mind precepts are substantially different.
  • anabhijjhālu
  • abyāpannacitto
  • sammādiṭṭhiko
To begin with the mind precepts do not mention 'refraining' or 'abstaining'. In fact this appears to be a pervasive pattern for these precepts throughout the early Buddhist literature, both in Paḷi and Sanskrit. The Pāḷi phrasing of the citta precepts here is simply:
Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco anabhijjhālu hoti abyāpannacitto.
Here (idha), monks (bhikkhave), someone (ekacco) is (hoti) one who is not a coveter (an-abhijjhālu) and one whose mind is not ill-willed (a-byāpanna-citto).
The word abhijjhālu is an adjectival form of the more familiar abhijjhā (which is also a feminine noun with an ablative form abhijjhāya). While our precept has the word byāpada 'ill-willing' as an action noun, here we have byāpanna the past participle 'willed-ill' and it is compounded with citta meaning "mind", "thought", or "intention".

Similarly for the tenth precept covering diṭṭhi or views, rather than refraining from wrong-viewing micchādassanā veramaṇī here we have sammādiṭṭhiko 'one who has right-view'. In fact in Pāḷi the form micchādassana is not found, but is always micchādiṭṭhi (which has an ablative form micchādiṭṭhiyā).


Such variations remind us that familiar lists were not always set in concrete. It is OK to think about things differently and to explore other ways of presenting our ideas. This set of categories might be seen as more practical because it is more closely aligned with the way we understand practice. One adopts ethics in order to set up good conditions for meditation. In meditation one must deal with the hindrances by temporarily eliminating  the grosser forms of craving and aversions, and then attempt to transform wrong-view into right-view.

Note that in this text, the aim is a good destination (sugati) or a bad destination (duggati) rather than anything more grand. This is not unusual. Many Buddhist texts seem aimed at what we sometimes think of as "mundane" goals like a good rebirth. Sometimes people who read the suttas are loath to take such things on face value. They argue that there must be an explanation. They might say that this is a fragment of a larger text which does aim at awakening. Or they might suggest that this was a text for lay people (though it is addressed to monks). Or perhaps they will say that this is "obviously" a late text for a degenerate age. But there is no evidence for these types of conclusions. They all involve projection rather than deduction. No. This is a bona fide Buddhist text that tells us how to get a good rebirth, which was clearly an important aspect of Buddhism from the earliest times because it crops up again and again in the suttas.

The fact that such variations are preserved also highlights what seems to me to be an important point. The Pāḷi Canon is not the literature of a single homogeneous group. Everywhere we look there is variation rather than unity. There is really no evidence for a pre-sectarian phase of Buddhism. The idea of a pre-sectarian Buddhism is the result of a distorting lens through which we look at history. This lens is a metaphor drawn from the study of biology and takes the shape of a branching tree that converges to a single point as we go back in time. In this view complexity is always greater in the future and less in the past. But this is a distortion. History is always complex. Tree does not take into account very common processes of evolution, for example, the contributions that tributaries make to the mainstream, or re-convergence after branching (hybridisation or syncretisation). I've argued that a braided river system is a far better metaphor for understanding history. In this view the source of Buddhism is a watershed, not a single spring. Buddhism incorporates influences from many traditions, including Brahmanism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, and local animistic cults. It's likely that the basic ethics of Buddhism are the ethics of the Śākya tribe, originally from Iran.

Dhīvan and I have successfully lobbied the College of Public Preceptors to have the official versions of the precepts changed to reflect these observations, so watch out for an announcement soon (probably at this year's convention).


15 January 2016

Translating Pāḷi "Asuññataṃ"

(looking east)
My Pāḷi reading group is starting off this year by looking at the Cūḷasuññatasutta (MN 121). There's quite a lot of commentary on this text, a number of translations and commentaries, but even before we began to read the text we discovered a quandary in the word asuññataṃ, which only occurs in this sutta. Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi (2001) translate the word as "non-voidness" but I don't think this makes sense.

As analogues of the Sanskrit adjective śūnya (empty) and the abstract noun from it śūnyatā (emptiness), we find the Pāḷi suñña and suññatā. However in addition, and in the title of the text no less, we find another Pāḷi form suññato or suññataṃ, which is not found in Sanskrit dictionaries, though some counterparts are found in Sanskrit Buddhist texts. This form is often glossed over in translations as "emptiness", presumably because it is so similar to the abstract noun that the translators don't notice the difference.

I begin writing this, it is not at all clear to me how asuññataṃ derives and how to translate it. In this essay I will survey the uses of the term suññato and try to establish how it ought to be translated in order to shed light on the word asuññataṃ. My sources are the Pāḷi Nikāyas and Aṭṭhakathās (or commentaries), the counterparts of the Cūḷasuññata preserved in Chinese《小空經》(MĀ 190) and Tibetan མདོ་ཆེན་པོ་སྟོང་པ་ཉིད་ཅེས་བྱ་བ། (D.291), plus a few Sanskrit fragments.  

The Cūḷasuññatasutta

The passage that alerted us to this problem comes early on in the text. In Pāli it goes:
Seyyathāpi, ānanda, ayaṃ migāramāt-upāsādo suñño hatthigavassa-vaḷavena, suñño jātarūpa-rajatena, suñño itthipurisa-sannipātena atthi c'ev'idaṃ asuññataṃ yadidaṃ – bhikkhusaṅghaṃ paṭicca ekattaṃ
Before attempting to translate this, let me break procedure by giving the gist of what it says. This is the first part of an analogy designed to illustrate a procedure for gradually emptying the mind of sense impressions and thoughts with the goal of attaining the suññatāsamādhi "integration of emptiness" or suññatāvihāra "abode of emptiness". These seem to be equivalent to saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpatti or "the attainment of the cessation of perceptions and sensations" and thus also with nibbāna. This very important and interesting state I describe as "consciousness without content". One is alive and aware, but there is no content to one's experience. The ancients had no concept of a resting state network in the brain, so they struggled to make sense of this state. I imagine, for example, that something similar gave rise to the Vedic idea that Brahman could described as saccidānanda or being (sat), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). Dwelling in the state of emptiness one experiences only being, consciousness and bliss. Those who write about this state tend to assert that it does get any better than this. 

In this illustration of the process, the Buddha and Ānanda are sitting having a discussion in a palace or perhaps on a terrace (upāsāda), in the eastern part of Sāvathī (which places it near the river that formed the eastern boundary of the old city). This palace formerly belonged to someone who is almost always known as Migāra's Mother (migāramātā). Her name was Visākhā and she was actually Migāra's wife (that story is outlined in the DOPN). In any case it appears that the palace is given over to the bhikkhusaṅgha for their use.

The Buddha points out that the things one would normally find in such a place, i.e. livestock, wealth, and people etc., are absent, but instead only the the bhikkhusaṅgha is present. Buddhaghosa points out in his commentary that this refers to the bhikkhus as a corporate entity, not to the individual bhikkhus. This example of the palace and the bhikkhus is an analogy for the ascetic meditating in the wilderness (arañña). The ascetic notices that their mind is empty of the sights and sounds of the village and its inhabitants, and all that is present is perceptions of the wilderness which have a sort of uniformity. The perturbations of the mind caused by village life are absent, and only the perturbations due to the wilderness are present.

The question is, how do we translate asuññataṃ and ekattaṃ? Some comments on how to translate ekattaṃ can be found in Schmithausen (1981: 233-4, n. 122). I concur with Schmithausen's argument for treating ekattaṃ not as Sanskrit ekatvā "oneness, unity", but as ekātman "having a single nature" or "uniform". Buddhaghosa seems also to agree with Schmithausen at MNA 4.151 in his gloss on bhikkhusaṅghaṃ paṭiccāti. In fact I take it to be an adverbial neuter. This essay will focus on asuññataṃ beginning by looking at the apparent source, suññato


PED offers the following definition:
Suññata (adj.) [i. e. the abl. suññato used as adj. nom.] void, empty, devoid of lusts, evil dispositions, and karma, but especially of soul, ego.
Here "adj. nom." means "an adjective in the nominative". The -to suffix is one way to indicate the ablative case. PED argues that suññato is an ablative of suñña (empty) that has been treated as a masculine noun and declined accordingly. This would make asuññataṃ an adjective in the accusative, going presumably with bhikkhusaṅghaṃ, and/or ekattaṃ.

Also PED sv. suñña defines the word in its neuter form suññaṃ "abl. ˚to from the point of view of the 'Empty'". Suggesting that suññato can still have an ablative sense mean "from the point of view of someone dwelling in emptiness". As we will see below this is apparent in some contexts as the word usually occurs with a verb of seeing. 

The primary sense of the ablative is from where or when an action proceeds, sabbato āgacchanti "they came from all sides"; pāsādā oloketi "he looks out from the palace". Very often this relationship is conveyed in English with the preposition from. In the precepts we abstain from certain types of action, and the actions are in the ablative case, i.e. pisunāya vācāya veramanī "abstaining from speech which is slanderous". The concept of separation (as in "apart from") is also conveyed by the ablative case. It is also used to indicate cause or reason for an action, e.g. sīlato naṃ pasaṃsanti "they praise him for his virtue". And just to complicate matters the cases are somewhat flexible in Middle-Indic languages, so the ablative sometimes merges with and can be used to convey an instrumental sense (with, by, through).

But why is an ablative treated as a nominative? In order to try to understand how this might have come about let us begin with a survey the use of suññato in the Nikāyas. It doesn't occur that often, so we can be comprehensive.

Occurrences in the Nikāyas

DN iii.219 Aparepi tayo samādhī – suññato samādhi, animitto samādhi, appaṇihito samādhi.
Furthermore there are three samādhis: empty samādhi, signless samādhi and desireless samādhi.
This is from the Sangīti Sutta (DN 33) which is a long list of numerical lists. Walsh (486) translates suññato samādhi as "concentration on emptiness" (i.e. he appears to ignore the case endings). Now the three words here—suññato, animitto, appaṇihito—all appear to be the same form so we can usefully look at the other two to see if they shed light on the derivation. The etymology of nimitta is given by PED as uncertain, though possibly related to √ 'measure'; but PED also tells us that the gender is neuter. Sv. nimitta in BHSD it is also neuter. But if nimitta is neuter then it should not form a nominative singular in -o, but in -aṃ. Is nimitto therefore another ablative in -to, possible from nimita (past participle) from ni√mā? I'm not sure.

If suññato and nimitto are ablatives then suññato samādhi might be "the samādhi [that comes] from [being] empty". Which is admittedly awkward.

By contrast paṇihita is very clearly a past participle from paṇidahati (pa+ni√dhā) "to put forth, put down to, apply, direct, intend; aspire to, long for, pray for." We can understand apaṇihita as a bahuvrīhi, "without longing", as opposed to a karmadhāraya "undesired". Unfortunately this breaks up the pattern. So it looks like each word, though superficially similar, might derive the -to ending via a different route.

A variation on this occurs at SN iv.360 in the Suññatasamādhi Sutta (SN 43:4):
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, asaṅkhatagāmimaggo? Suññato samādhi, animitto samādhi, appaṇihito samādhi.

And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? The empty samādhi, signless samādhi and desireless samādhi.
Here Bodhi (2000: 1373) translated suññato as "emptiness", i.e. as though he is translating the abstract noun suññatā. However, the feminine noun suññatā cannot take an -o ending, so something is wrong with this.

MN i.302 "Saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā vuṭṭhitaṃ panāyye, bhikkhuṃ kati phassā phusantī" ti? "Saññāvedayitanirodhasamāpattiyā vuṭṭhitaṃ kho, āvuso visākha, bhikkhuṃ tayo phassā phusanti – suññato phasso, animitto phasso, appaṇihito phasso"ti.
However, lady, rousing from the attainment of cessation of perceptions and sensations what feelings do those bhikkhus come into contact with? Friend Visākha, those bhikkhus come into contact with three sensations on rousing from the attainment of cessation of perception and experience, namely contact from/with that which is empty, contact from/with that which is signless, and contact from/with that which is desireless.
This is from a discussion between Dhammadinā and her former husband, Visākha, in the Cūḷavedalla Sutta (MN 44). This is a very interesting passage about going into and emerging from cessation and the way that experience fades out and in. The question is literally "What contacts do they contact?" Phasso is in the masculine nominative singular. Here suññato as ablative case, perhaps overlapping with the instrumental may make sense and I've hedge my translation to indicate this. Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi again translate suññato as the abstract "voidness" (2001: 400). This passage recurs at SN iv.294 where suññato is translated by Bodhi as "emptiness" 

MN i.435. So yadeva tattha hoti rūpagataṃ vedanāgataṃ saññāgataṃ saṅkhāragataṃ viññāṇagataṃ te dhamme aniccato dukkhato rogato gaṇḍato sallato aghato ābādhato parato palokato suññato anattato samanupassati.
One regards as impermanent, disappointing, a disease, a tumour, an arrow, a calamity, an affliction, as other, as disintegrating, as empty (suññato), and as unsubstantial anything that is connected with form (rūpagata), sensations, perceptions, volitions, and cognitions.
The ways that one should regard dhammas are all ablatives in -to. And the context suggests we read them as meaning "as". So that te dhamme suññato samanupassati should mean "he regards those dhammas as empty". Here suññato cannot be construed as the abstract "emptiness". An important point here is that the cognitive action is taking place in a state of jhāna.

Perhaps here we can take te dhamme aniccato samanupassati to mean "he regards these dhammas from the point of view of impermanence"? We might argue, for example, that if anicca was an adjective here, then it would take the plural, annice, to go with the noun dhamme in the plural. Therefore aniccato which is singular is not an adjective and is not describing the dhammas, but is indicating from whence the verb of seeing proceeds. Thus this could be see as an example of suññato having an ablative sense.

This passage is reflected in the Saṃyutta Nikāya. At SN iii.167 the question is asked to what dhammas a virtuous monk should pay attention. The answer is:
Sīlavatā... bhikkhunā pañcupādānakkhandhā aniccato... suññato yoniso manasi kātabbā.

A virtuous monk should pay attention to the five underlying apparatus of experience as impermanent... as empty... etc.
Again Bodhi reads the text as saying that the khandhas should be seen as impermanent... as "empty" (2000: 970). Here the word pañcupādānakkhandhā is a nominative plural and Bodhi is tacitly reading aniccato as a nominative singular and the sentence as a simple apposition. Note that here also the verb is one in which one regards or pays attention to the khandhas. Buddhaghosa glosses sattasuññataṭṭhena suññato (SNA 2.333) i.e. "with the meaning of 'empty of a being'".

There is a Sanskrit fragment that parallels this (Thanks to Dhīvan for pointing this out to me):
(ani)tyataḥ duḥkhataḥ śunyataḥ anāt[m]ato manasikarttavyāḥ. (Anālayo 2013: 11)
[Something]... should be attended to as empty etc.
This passage recurs at AN ii.128 and AN iv.423, where is is again associated with the cultivation of jhāna and AN ii.129 associated with the brahmavihāras. Here the one who does these practices has a pleasant rebirth that is not shared with worldings (Ayaṃ, bhikkhave, upapatti asādhāraṇā puthujjanehi.).

Finally the word occurs in the Suttanipata Sn 1119 (mentioned in the PED definition of suñña):
"Suññato lokaṃ avekkhassu, mogharāja sadā sato;
Attānudiṭṭhiṃ ūhacca, evaṃ maccutaro siyā;
Evaṃ lokaṃ avekkhantaṃ, maccurājā na passatī" ti.
View the world as empty, Mogharāja, always mindful;
Having destroyed self-vew, one may cross over death;
The King of Death does not see the one who views the world this way.
(My translation more or less follows K.R Norman here).
Norman was the leading authority on Middle-Indic languages and particularly in his translation of the Suttanipata paid close attention to the meaning of every word. So the fact that he reads suññato lokaṃ as "the world as empty" is significant. However, he does not discuss this choice in detail in his notes, but instead refers readers to E.J. Thomas (1951: 218) who simply says that suññata is an adjective meaning "void". Note that here lokaṃ is an accusative singular and the verb once again involves seeing. Here, as above, I'm inclined to take the ablative as representing a point of view. To me this suggests seeing the world from the point of view of the suññatavihāra (as in the PED definition cited above).

So the modern translators seem undecided on how to translate suññato. Depending on unknown factors, since it is never discussed, suññato can represent the abstract (though the morphology is all wrong for this) and be translated as "voidness, emptiness"; or it can represent the adjective and be translated as "void, empty", sometimes with the sense of "as empty". In combination with verbs of seeing it can be thought of as "from the empty point of view". In order to understand how ancient Theravāda commentators might have understood the word we can look at the glosses in the Aṭṭhakathās.

Commentarial glosses

DNA 3.1003. Maggasamādhi pana rāgādīhi suññatattā suññato, rāganimittādīnaṃ abhāvā animitto, rāgapaṇidhiādīnaṃ abhāvā appaṇihito ti
However the samādhi of the path is empty (suññato) because of the emptiness (suññatattā) of passion etc, is signless from the nonexistence of signs of passion etc, is desireless from the nonexistence of desire for passion etc.
Here the abstract noun suññatatta (suññatattā is the ablative of cause) is telling. It points quite strongly to Buddhaghosa constructing this sentence with suññato meaning "empty". The samādhi under discussion lacks rāga, dosa, and moha or attraction, aversion, and confusion and lacking these is said to be empty (suññato) giving it the quality of emptiness (suññatatta).

MNA 2.366/ SNA 3.97 suññato phassotiādayo saguṇenāpi ārammaṇenāpi kathetabbā. saguṇena tāva suññatā nāma phalasamāpatti, tāya sahajātaṃ phassaṃ sandhāya suññato phassoti vuttaṃ. animittāpaṇihitesupieseva nayo. Ārammaṇena pana nibbānaṃ rāgādīhi suññattā suññaṃ nāma, rāganimittādīnaṃ abhāvā animittaṃ, rāgadosamohappaṇidhīnaṃ abhāvā appaṇihitaṃ. Suññataṃ nibbānaṃ ārammaṇaṃ katvā uppannaphalasamāpattiyaṃ phasso suññato nāma. animittāpaṇihitesupi eseva nayo.
Taking up the phrase "empty contact" (suññato phasso), it should be explained according its own qualities (saguṇena) and according to its basis (ārammaṇa). According to its own qualities, it is the attainment of the fruit called “emptiness” (suññatā). Coinciding with that [emptiness], contact with reference to it, is called “contact that is empty”. Animitta and apaṇihita are inferred in the same way. 
However, according to its basis, nibbāna is named “empty” (suññaṃ), because of emptiness of attraction (rāga) etc; [named] signless because of the absence of signs of attraction etc, and desireless because of the absence of desire for attraction, aversion, and ignorance. Having made a case that nibbāna is emptiness, the attainment of the arisen fruit is called "contact that is empty". Animitta and apaṇihita are inferred in the same way.
This section of commentary is looking at MN i.302 mentioned above. The subject is what someone who has attained the cessation of perceptions and sensations comes into contact with when they rouse themselves (vuṭṭhitaṃfrom the attainment. For them contact is empty or absent. In Buddhaghosa's view their attainment is nibbāna and they don't experience the world the way ordinary people do any more. Contact for them is empty, signless and desireless. Here Buddhaghosa uses suñña and suññato synonymously and suññatā as a synonym for nibbāna. Again we see words like suññato and suññatā being used to indicate absence. 

A short gloss is found at MNA 3.146: nissattaṭṭhena suññato "with the meaning without a being (nissatta)." Another as ANA 2.334 sattasuññataṭṭhena suññato, "with the meaning of emptiness of a being", confirming that nissatta should be read as "without a being" rather than with PED "powerless". The sense here is that empty means the absence of a being (satta).

Buddhaghosa, then, is more consistent in treating suññato as synonymous with suñño, and both as meaning "empty of [something]" or that the object is absent.

Sanskrit Udānavarga

We've seen one fragment that uses the Sanskrit equivalent of suññato, i.e. śunyataḥ. Skilling (1981: 226) gives a more substantial example. He notices that in the Udānavarga (a Dharmapada text) there is a series of verses that are counterparts to the Pāli Dhammapada vs 277-279, whence the well known triplet sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā, sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā, and sabbe dhammā anattā. Compare the Udānavarga (Uv 12. 5-8; first lines only) 
anityāṃ sarvasaṃskārāṃ prajñayā paśyate yadā... [5]
duḥkhāṃ sarvasaṃskārāṃ prajñayā paśyate yadā... [6]
śunyataḥ sarvasaṃskārāṃ prajñayā paśyate yadā... [7]
sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ prajñayā paśyate yadā... [8]|
When he sees with insight all constructs as impermanent...
When he sees with insight all constructs as disappointing...
When he sees with insight all constructs as empty...
When he sees with insight all experiences as insubstantial...
Compare the Dhp 277 where the first line is sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā ti yadā paññāya passati. Here "that which is seen" is given as a nominal sentence followed by the quotative particle. In Pāḷi sabba is a separate word, declined as a pronoun (nominative plural), whereas in Sanskrit sarva is undeclined and compounded with the noun it qualifies, though there is no change in meaning in this difference. In the Uv 12.5 and Uv 12.6, what is seen with insight, e.g. anityāṃ sarvasaṃskārāṃ, is in the accusative plural, making it the patient of the verb of seeing. Note that word order is not important here, so the fact that the two parts of the apposition, e.g. anityām and sarvasaṃskārāṃ are not the same order as in Pāḷi, i.e. saṅkhārā and aniccā is not significant. As Dhīvan pointed out in an email, in Bernard's edition of the Udānavarga on Sutta Central, Uv 12.6 begins duḥkhaṃ hi sarvasaṃskārāṃ with duḥkha in the singular. Dhīvan suggests that we treat this as nominal, as in the Pāḷi, "When one sees with wisdom all constructions indeed are disappointing...". However saṃskāra is masculine and the -āṃ ending is unequivocally accusative plural. So perhaps "When one sees with insight all the constructions that are indeed disappointing..."? 

Now in Uv 12.7 the Sanskrit word is śunyataḥ (with śūnyataḥ given as an alternate reading) = Pāḷi suññato. One way to explain the short u might be that this is a loan word from Middle Indic which has not been fully assimilated to Sanskrit morphology rules that demand a long ū i.e. śūnyataḥ. Despite grammatical problems with Uv 12.8 (see below) the general outline here seems to be that all constructs are identified with a series of qualities, particularly: impermanence, disappointment, and insubstantiality. So we expect 12.7 to fit this pattern. We expect śunyataḥ to be just like the other adjectives: anitya, duḥkha, anātman. But it isn't. Whichever case we take śunyataḥ to be, (ablative and nominative are possible) it simply does not fit the pattern because it is singular and the noun it is describing is plural (though cf. the Bernard Ed. of Uv 12.6 which is singular). Adjectives take the case, number and gender of the noun they describe; predicates have to at least be in the same case. To qualify sarvasaṃskārāṃ we expect śunyataṃ. It appears that something has gone wrong in adding this line to the text. 

Lastly in 12.8 the grammar is mangled. Perhaps echoing the Middle-Indic syntax, here sarvadharmā anātmānaḥ are in the nominative plural (matching the Pāḷi equivalent sabbe dhammā anattā ti). In Sanskrit grammar this would make them the agents of the verb, which would be nonsense. Pāḷi avoids this by adding the quotative particle. The correct grammar, matching 12.5,6 would be sarvadharmāṃ anātmanaḥ. This error might be scribal - a missing anusvāra and an incorrectly lengthened vowel are certainly common scribal errors, but that they would make the exact mistakes in two consecutive words that would accurately change them to be the same (wrong) case seems unlikely.

Unfortunately this Sanskrit example does nothing to clarify the situation. Nor does Skilling add any comment on this point, indeed he talks as if the text has śūnyatā instead. The grammatical mistake in 12.8 makes us doubt the text. But clearly the person who added the verse at Uv 12.7 understood the sentence to be the same form as 12.5,6 and likely 12.8 as well (error notwithstanding). The only way I can see to make sense of this is to treat śūnyataḥ as indeclinable. It does not change case to match the noun because it cannot. But this is far from satisfactory because it conflicts with what we already know.

Having more or less exhausted the relevant Indic language sources, we can now turn to the versions of the Cūḷasuññata Sutta preserved in Chinese and Tibetan.

The Chinese Text

The Cūlasuññata Sutta has a counterpart in the Chinese Madhyamāgama, i.e. MĀ 190 《小空經》 The Lesser Emptiness Sūtra. The parallel passage in Chinese is:
阿難!如此鹿子母堂,空無象、馬、牛、羊、財物、穀米、奴婢,然有不空,唯比丘眾。(T1 737a9-10)
Ānanda, 阿難 it is like 如此 this palace 堂 of Migara’s 鹿子 mother 母,is empty 空無 of elephants 象、horses 馬、cattle 牛、sheep 羊、money 財物、rice grain 穀米、male and female slaves 奴婢,however 然 it is 有 non-empty 不空,of only 唯 the bhikṣu-saṃgha 比丘眾
The character for both empty and emptiness is 空, however we also see here the use of 空無 which can also just mean "empty, emptiness", but which might also mean "empty and without". Where our Pāli text has asuññataṃ the Chinese has 不空 which we would expect to mean "non-emptiness" and reflect Sanskrit aśūnyatā. But the lack of clear information on inflexions in Chinese leaves considerable room for doubt. Skilling notes that the Chinese and Tibetan versions are closer to each other than either is to the Pāḷi, so next (with a little help from my friends) we can now look at the last source on the list, the Tibetan version of the Cūḷasuññata Sutta.

The Tibetan Text

Amongst the very few Tibetan translations of Nikāya/Āgama texts are the two Śūnyatā texts (Skilling 1994, 1997; also Degé vol. 71: 250a.1-253b.2).  My thanks to Joy Vriens and Maitiu O'Ceileachair for help with understanding the Tibetan. The parallel passage in the Tibetan is (though see Skilling 1994 critical edition for variant readings):
kun dga' bo 'di lta ste | dper na ri-dags 'dzin gyi ma'i khaṅ bzaṅ 'di glaṅ-po-che daṅ | rta daṅ | ba laṅ daṅ | lug daṅ | bya gag daṅ | phag gis stoṅ ziṅ nor daṅ | 'bru daṅ | 'gron bu daṅ | gser gyis stoṅ la | bran daṅ | bran mo daṅ | las byed pa daṅ | zo śas 'tsho ba dag daṅ | skyes pa daṅ | bud-med-daṅ | khye'u daṅ | bu mo dag gis stoṅ yaṅ 'di na 'di lta ste | dge sloṅ gi dge 'dun kho na 'am | de las kha cig la brten nas mi  stoṅ pa yaṅ yod do || (Skilling 1994: 150)
Mṛgāra Mother's Mansion is empty of elephants, horses, cows, sheep, roosters, and pigs. It is empty of wealth, grain, money and gold. It is empty of man-servants and maid-servants, of workers and dependants, of men and women, of boys and girls. But with regard to one thing there is non-emptiness, that is, the community of monks alone. (Skilling 2007: 234)
Compare the translation of the last sentence found in Skilling (1997: 349) "there is still the assembly of monks, or whatever depends upon it, that is not absent".

Skilling explains, "here the Pāḷi has paṭicca ekattam, the Tibetan has kha cig la breten nas, suggesting *pratītya ekatyam, with the Buddhist Sanskrit ekatya [Pāḷi ekacca; "someone, anyone" BHSD] where one would rather expect ekatva—perhaps a wrong Sanskritisation" (1997: 349-350). This leave Skilling at a loss for a translation, but as I have already pointed out above, Schmithausen argues convincingly that Pāḷi ekattaṃ reflects Sanskrit ekātman which would I think would solve Skilling's problem. In a note (1997: 349, n.49) offers a tentative reconstruction of the Sanskrit 
dge sloṅ gi dge 'dum = bhikṣusaṃgha; kho na 'am = eva vā; de las kha cig = tato ekatyaṃ; la brten nas = pratītya; mi stoṅ pa = aśūnya; yaṅ = api (ca, tu); yod do = asti
i.e. asti ca eva [idaṃ] aśunyaṃ tato bhikṣusaṃgha pratītya ekatyaṃ
C.f. Pāḷi atthi c'ev'idaṃ asuññataṃ yadidaṃ – bhikkhusaṅghaṃ paṭicca ekattaṃ
Despite this, the Tibetan translator has evidently read an adjective here which he translates as mi stoṅ pa suggesting that his Sanskrit text had aśūnya at this point. Seemingly the unknown Sanskrit translator understood his text to be using an adjective. Unfortunately no Sanskrit ms. of this text survives to enable cross-checking. Sanskrit aśūnya would be consistent with the Chinese 不空.

The only thing we can take from this is a stronger sense that, contra Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi (2001) the abstract of "non-voidness" sense is not intended here. 


Now I have to attempt to summarise a great deal of information that is often contradictory. Before looking at asuññataṃ we need to state again that suñña means "empty", and in this context something that is referred to as suñña is absent. So when the Buddha says to Ānanda, ayaṃ migāramātupāsādo suñño hatthigavassavaḷavena "this mansion of Migāra's Mother's is empty of elephants etc.", he means that there are no livestock present, no livestock to be seen. Contrarily if something is asuññata then we can take this to mean that something is not-absent or present. 

There seem two most likely ways to arrive at the morphological form asuññataṃ. Firstly we can take suññataṃ it as an accusative singular of the abstract noun suññatā. Various translators do treat suññato as "emptiness". But as some texts point out, the word suññatā in this context really applies only to the attainment of the goal, i.e. to nibbāna. In this view asuññatā would mean something like "presence" (an abstraction from "present"). However the abstract "presence" does not quite fit the context. 

Secondly we can derive suññataṃ from the ablative suññato. It seems that this word was originally combined with verbs meaning to see, i.e. √paś or consider i.e. manasi√kṛ with the sense of "as" - dhammā suññato passati "to see dhammas as empty" or "to see dhammas from the empty point of view" or a point of view that is empty of defilements or perhaps, according to Buddhaghosa, empty of a being. The word suññato was then lexicalised, that is to say it was treated as a word in its own right rather than a declined form, with the meaning "empty; absent" and treated as a nominative singular with an accusative singular in suññataṃ. (Which I admit is more or less what PED says, but now we know why it says that and that it is correct which is a bonus where the PED is concerned). The two derivations produce the same accusative singular, suññataṃ.

The etymological meaning of asuññataṃ would be "non-emptiness" or "not-empty" and as far as I know every translator has opted for something along these lines. However I suggest we can be a bit lazy about this kind of morphology in Pāli. We don't always think about what the word really means. A negated term often has a positive value and need not be slavishly translated as not-X or without-X. In this case asuññataṃ clearly refers to something present (in contrast to absent) or visible or something along these lines. To insist on using a word that preserves the Pāḷi morphology is no more sensible than preserving the Pāḷi syntax (a practice dubbed "Buddhist Hybrid English" by Theologian Paul Griffiths). I think we have to translate the word as "present" or "presence".

Coming back to the passage under consideration, the Buddha points out to Ānanda first what is absent and then what is present. What is present at the mansion are only bhikkhus, and because there are only bhikkhus they have a sort of uniformity (ekattaṃ = ekātman) when considered with respect to what one would expect to find in a mansion, including livestock, people, and wealth. As above I think we have to take ekattaṃ as an adverbial accusative.

However, as my friend Sarah has pointed out, idaṃ is a neuter pronoun. Later when asuññataṃ is replaced in the same sentence structure by the feminine noun in the nominative case darathamattā the associated pronoun changes to ayaṃ which is also feminine nominative. This suggests that the word asuññataṃ is a neuter nominative in this sentence and the only way we can think of this happening is if it is an adjective or adjectival compound that is forced to change gender to fit a noun or pronoun, i.e. a bahuvrīhi compound a-suññatā meaning "without emptiness". So, despite everything, idaṃ asuññataṃ must mean "this presence". 

Thus I would argue that our sentence ought to be translated this way:
Seyyathāpi, ānanda, ayaṃ migāramāt-upāsādo suñño hatthi-gavassa-vaḷavena, suñño jātarūpa-rajatena, suñño itthipurisa-sannipātena atthi c'ev'idaṃ asuññataṃ yadidaṃ – bhikkhusaṅghaṃ paṭicca ekattaṃ; evameva kho, ānanda, bhikkhu amanasikaritvā gāma-saññaṃ, amanasikaritvā manussa-saññaṃ, arañña-saññaṃ paṭicca manasi karoti ekattaṃ. 
Ānanda, just as livestock, wealth, and people are absent from this palace of Migāra's Mother and there is only this presence, uniformly dependent on the community of monks; just so, Ānanda, a monk doesn't pay attention to perception of the village, or people, but uniformly pays attention to the perception of the forest. 
Note that in the last phrase manasi karoti ekattaṃ the ekattaṃ naturally functions as an adverb of the main verb manasikaroti to mean "uniformly paying attention".

A few lines on, the bhikkhu who applies this practice comes to understand
Iti yañhi kho tattha na hoti tena taṃ suññaṃ samanupassati, yaṃ pana tattha avasiṭṭhaṃ hoti taṃ "santamidaṃ atthī"ti 
Thus, that which is not there (tattha na hoti) he perceives that as absent (suñña); however that which remains (avasiṭṭhaṃ) is there (tattha) and he knows "there is this present" (santamidaṃ attthi).
We can see the practice as like progressively applying a set of filters on experience, so that what we are aware of is gradually diminished until we are aware of nothing, or there is just absence. It's not that the world ceases to exist, but that we narrow our world of perception down until nothing is presenting itself to our conscious mind. Nothing disturbs the mind, nothing disturbs the deep equanimity of being in this state. And this, the texts tell us, is what Nibbāna is like.



Anālayo. (2011). A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Vol. 2 (Studies of Discourses 91 to 152, Conclusion,  Abbreviations, References, Appendix)  [II.683-8.]

Anālayo. (2013). On the Five Aggregates (2) ─ A Translation of Saṃyukta-āgama Discourses 256 to 272. Dharma Drum Journal of Buddhist Studies, 12, 1-69.

Bodhi (2000) The Connected Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom.

Anālayo. (2015). Compassion and Emptiness in Early Buddhist Meditation. Windhorse Publications.

Choong, Mun-keat. (1999). The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism. 2nd rev. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi. (2001) The Middle Length Discourses. Wisdom.

Piya Tan. (2005)Cūḷa Suññata Sutta. The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness.

Satyadhana. The Shorter Discourse on Emptiness (Cūḷasuññatasutta, Majjhima-nikāya 121): translation and commentary. Western Buddhist Review.

Schmithausen, Lambert. (1981) “On Some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of ‘Liberating Insight’ and ‘Enlightenment’ in Early Buddhism”, in Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus,
Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf, (Alt- und Neu-Indische Studien, 23), K. Bruhn et al. (ed.), Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, pp. 199-250.

Skilling, Peter. (2007) Mṛgara’s Mother’s Mansion, Emptiness and the Sunyata Sutras. Journal of Indian and Tibetan Studies, 11: 225-247.

Skilling, Peter. (1994). Mahāsūtras: Great Discourses of the Buddha. Vol 1. Pali Text Society.

Skilling, Peter. (1997). Mahāsūtras: Great Discourses of the Buddha. Vol 2. Pali Text Society.

Thomas, E. J. The History of Buddhist Thought. Routledge And Kegan Paul Limited. Online:

Walshe, Maurice. (1987) The Long Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom, 1995.

04 September 2015

The Trackless One?

In two well known verses from the Buddhavaggo of the Dhammapada, the Buddha is referred to as apada. Many translations read apada "the trackless one". The great philologist of Middle-Indic, K. R. Norman, translates "leaving no track, by what track will you lead him?" The translation of these verses has long puzzled me. Why would one who "leaves no track" be difficult (or impossible) to lead somewhere? And isn't the image messed up? A track can lead somewhere, but do we lead someone by a track? What about the translation "trackless". What could this possibly mean? So when someone wrote to me recently with a question about these verses, I spent some time working on the verses and I think I came to a better understanding of apada. The two verses in Pāḷi read:
yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |180|
The key word is pada. It is a tricky word with many meanings. It literally means "foot" and comes from the Proto-Indo-European *ped- "foot". Some cognates, all meaning "foot" include Greek pod; Latin ped; Proto-Germanic *fot; and English foot. In Pāli, living creatures are characterised as sattā apadā vā dvipadā vā catuppadā vā bahuppadā  "beings with no feet, with two feet, with four feet or with many feet" or "footless, bipeds, quadrupeds, and creepy-crawlies" (SN v.41, AN ii.34).

In Sanskrit and Pāḷi pada can, by association, also mean "footprint". For example, in the Cūḷahatthipadopama Sutta (MN 27) an elephant's footprint (hatthipada) is used a metaphor for the experience of the stages of liberation - a tathāgatapada "a footprint of the Tathāgata" or a sign by which one can know the Tathāgata. The other types of sign that elephants leave help to fill out the image: uccā nisevita "a high-up scratching place" and dantehi ārañjitāni "furrows made by tusks". In the simile of the text one must see the foot that made the footprints, in order to fully comprehend the elephant.

Abstractly, the image of the footprint as a sign of the passing animal can become "a sign" more generally. This led to the sense of pada as a "word" (a linguistic sign). Sometimes pada can mean "a track" as in a series of footprints left behind by an animal's feet or the track created by many passing feet. Metaphorically, a verse has "feet" of a fixed number of syllables: siloka meter has four feet of eight syllables, for example. So when we see this word pada in a text, we always have to pause to carefully consider what sense is intended. Ironically, one of the more difficult words to translate is dhammapada. Partly because pada here is singular and the text is an anthology of verses. Does pada here mean, 'foot', 'sign', 'word', or 'track'? 

The majority of translators have opted to translate pada/apada in these Dhammapada verses with some variation on "track" and "trackless". One leaves a track as one goes. One follows a track; one follows where the track leads. The verb in these verse is √nī 'lead'. We have the English idiom of a track "leading somewhere". So "track/trackless" may fit the context. However, why would one who leaves no track be difficult to lead? What is the logic of this image? By taking the two verses together I first argue that pada must mean something like "sign" here, because it is strongly implied by the verses. However, as I dig deeper into the word apada and how it is used, I uncover another more fundamental metaphor which seems to inform the passage. 


yassa jitaṃ nāvajīyati |179a|
What he has won cannot be lost
Jita is the past tense of jayati 'he wins, he conquers' < √. It can mean that which was conquered (yad jitaṃ), or "it was conquered by him" (tena jitaṃ), the "one who has conquered" (jito), or simply "a victory". It's combined here with avajīyati, the passive of ava√jī, 'diminished, lost, undone.' So the sense of the sentence is that what has been won by him cannot be lost. His transformation cannot be undone. His victory cannot be diminished

jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke |179b|
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world
Metrically jitaṃ seems to belong with 179a, but semantically it is part of this sentence (179b). Word order is much less important in Pāḷi, especially in verse, so yassa jitaṃ or jitaṃ yassa both mean the same thing: "his victory, what he has won". And it "does not go (no yāti) anywhere (koci) in the world (loke)." This sentence is a bit esoteric. But consider it in the light of the Rohitassa Sutta (S 2.26, PTS S i.61; also A 4.45, PTS A ii.47), in which the eponymous young deva asks the Buddha:
yatha nu kho bhante na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjati, sakkā nu kho so, bhante, gamanena lokassa anto ñātuṃ vā daṭṭhum vā pāpuṇituṃ vā ti?
Is there a way to know, or see, or to reach, the end of the world – where there is no birth, no ageing, no death; no dying and being reborn – by travelling?
The answer is that one cannot reach the goal by physically travelling. He also says:
na kho panāhaṃ, āvuso, appatvā lokassa antaṃ dukkhassa antakiriyaṃ vadāmi. Api ca khvāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññapemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadanti. (S i.62)
However, friend, I say there is no making an end of disappointment, without reaching the end of the world. And, friend, it is right here in this arm-span measure of body endowed with perception and cognition that I declare the world, the origin of the world, the cessation of the world, and the way leading to the cessation of the world.
These passages help to define what we mean by 'the world'. As Bodhi says, 
"The world with which the Buddha’s teaching is principally concerned is ‘the world of experience,’ and even the objective world is of interest only to the extent that it serves as that necessary external condition for experience" (Bodhi 2000: 394, n.182).
So "the world" referred to in the verse is most likely the world of experience, the world contained in the body endowed with mental faculties, the end of which can be reached without travelling. And perhaps this is why the tathāgata's victory does not go anywhere in the world?

taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ |179c|
Awakened, with limitless perception, signless
Anantagocaram is also a compound meaning one whose sphere or field of sense perception (gocara - literally 'pasture' or the 'range of a cow') is without ends (an-anta). Compare Dhp 22 where the ones who enjoy sobriety with respect to the senses (appamāde pamodanti) are ariyānaṃ gocare ratā "those who delight in the range of the nobles (i.e., the enlightened)." 
We've already introduced the words pada and apada, and until we have translated 180 we just need to say that apadaṃ is something predicated of the Buddha. Metrically apadam is part of 179d, but syntactically goes with buddhaṃ.

kena padena nessatha? |179d|
By what sign will you lead him?
The verb is neti 'to lead', from √. The form nessatha is the second person plural future tense, "you (plural) will lead". The future can also be used to convey a hypothetical proposition. However, while 'lead' is the primary meaning and goes well with pada as "track", we need to consider that √has a range of other meanings. It can also mean 'takes, takes away, especially to take away in marriage, carries off.' In Sanskrit the verb can also mean 'to bring to subjection, subdue.' So we must consider that the sentence could read: "By what pada could you take him away?" or "By what pada could you subdue him?" And in each case "you" plural. 
We'll take 180a and b together, and 180cd is the same as 179cd.

yassa jālinī visattikā taṇhā n'atthi kuhiñci netave |180ab|
He has no lust, clinging, or craving to lead [him] anywhere.
Now the verb here is also from √., here a rare form of the infinitive 'to lead'. Although the sentence is phrased in the negative (n'atthi "there is not") let's first consider it in the positive. If we ignore the negative particle na for a minute the sentence would say that he is led by desire for sense experience, i.e., lust (jālinī), clinging (visattikā) or craving (taṇhā). Such a person would be padaṃ, which must mean they are characterised by a sign. And that sign is craving itself. By contrast, the Buddha is apadaṃ and thus he has no craving to lead him anywhere. Padaṃ and craving play the same role in the sentence. Ergo, what this verse means by padaṃ is craving. It's a little odd, but not as odd as the standard translations. 

Our finished translation is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (179) 
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
That awakened one, with limitless perception, who is himself signless,
By what sign will you lead him? (180)


As already mentioned, apada is used in it's most obvious sense of "without a foot" in many places. Snakes are the most obvious example of apada. The form apadaṃ only occurs in a very few suttas. For example in the Nivāpa Sutta (MN 25) we find out that a bhikkhu in the state of first jhāna cannot be followed by Māra or his retinue. I'm going to give Ñānamoḷi & Bodhi's (Ñ&B) translation to begin with.
Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, bhikkhu andhamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ adassanaṃ gato pāpimato. (MN i.159)
This bhikkhu is said to have blindfold Māra, to have become invisible to the Evil One by depriving Māra's eye of its opportunity. (Ñ&B 2001: 250-1)
The passage is repeated at AN iv.434. Now, on face value this translation is incomprehensible, because there is no word that means "opportunity". "To have become invisible to the Evil One" must translate adassanaṃ gato pāpimato.  So, "by depriving Māra's eye of its opportunity" therefore translates apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ. Mara's eye is māracakkhuṃ; vadhitvā is a gerund meaning 'having stuck, having killed' which must therefore correspond to Ñ&B's "depriving" (translating gerunds as English present participles is fine). So here apadaṃ must correspond to "of its opportunity", though it's not clear how this could work.

In these cases we usually suspect that the translators have bowed to Buddhaghosa, so the next step in following this thread is to look at the commentary. The corresponding passage in the Papañcasūdani is:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun" ti teneva pariyāyena yathā mārassa cakkhu apadaṃ hoti nippadaṃ, appatiṭṭhaṃ, nirārammaṇaṃ, evaṃ vadhitvāti attho.  (MA 2.163)
Apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhun is a way of saying (pariyāya) that the eye of Māra is without a sign, signless, unsupported, without any basis, this is what "destroying" means.
Having pondered this for a time, I don't think it makes any more sense than the sutta passage it is commenting on. The commentary on AN iv.434 (AA 4.201) is shorter but similar:
"Apadaṃ vadhitvā"ti nippadaṃ niravasesaṃ vadhitvā.
Apadaṃ vadhitvā [means] having destroyed [Māra's eyes] completely, signlessly.  (Bodhi 2012: 1832, n.1940)
In his comparative study of the Majjhima Nikāya and Madhyamāgama, Anālayo (2011) notes another similar passage in AN 9.39. Here a monk who has attained the 8 vimokkhas (the four rūpa jhānas and four arupa āyatanas) is:
antamakāsi māraṃ, apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ, adassanaṃ  gato pāpimato
One who has blinded Māra, put out Māra's eyes without a trace, and gone beyond the sight of the Evil One. (Bodhi 2012: 1306)
Where antamakasi is almost certainly meant to be andhamakāsi "blinded" and is translated accordingly (cf. Bodhi 2012: 1831, n.1939). So, in fact, the Ñ&B translation is not based on the commentary this time, and Bodhi has opted for a completely different translation in his solo work (which is quite unusual). Here Bodhi translates apadaṃ as "without a trace" which implies completeness. I'm not convinced that this is a possible connotation of apada, however. It seems more likely that having destroyed Māra's eye, he becomes apada; he cannot see a sign.

It's quite unusual for the patient of the gerund to come after the gerund in prose. The two phrases apadaṃ vadhitvā māracakkhuṃ and adassanaṃ gato pāpimato both have 10 syllables so may have originally come from verse, though I cannot locate this verse. 

This is a very difficult idiom to understand. The idea that it is explained by "tracks" or "leaving  tracks" seems a bit far-fetched. There are three apparently unrelated uses:

  1. When as animal has no feet, it is apada
  2. When the Buddha is without craving he is apada
  3. When Māra is without sight, blinded, he is also apada

I think all three are in fact connected by an obscure metaphor which relies not on the "track" sense of pada, but on "foot". The arising of craving is what propels people towards the object of desire. If craving is the "foot" that propels people around, then the Buddha is "footless". Remember also that in Dhp 179b jitaṃ yassa no yāti koci loke "What he has won does not go anywhere in the world." It does not go anywhere (no yāti koci) because it cannot go, because the Buddha's victory (jita) has deprived it of propulsion, in this metaphor it is now apada or footless. MN 25 asks Kathañca, bhikkhave, agati mārassa ca māraparisāya ca? "Where is it that Māra and his retinue are unable to go?" Māra cannot go where he cannot see. By blinding him we render him "footless", and cannot go anywhere.

With this in mind, we can also reconsider the translation of 179c in which the Buddha is described as anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ. I followed the herd here in translating anantagocara as 'limitless perception', but I noted that gocara literally means  'range of a cow' from cara 'walking' and go 'cow'. But what's interesting here is the juxtaposition of the 'range of a cow' being limitless and a being who is footless. When Māra is footless he cannot go anywhere. When the Buddha is footless he can go anywhere. Māra represents the world "out there", the Buddha represents the world "in here", in this arm-span length of body. Being footless in the physical world is crippling. Being footless in the sense of without craving to propel us into motion opens up the "inner" world completely. Mental "feet" like craving and hatred tend to propel us away from present experience, to lead us outwards towards the object of desire, or away from the object of aversion. Cut off those feet and we stay immersed in experience.

We can also point to another reading of 179cd/180cd
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
I suggested above that apadaṃ should be read as part of pada c. But. in fact. we could read it as part of pada d.
taṃ buddhaṃ anantagocaraṃ apadaṃ kena padena nessatha? |179|
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless?
I think this is a superior reading. It nicely exploits the ambiguity of pada in a play on words. We get something of the flavour of it by using "footpath" to juxtapose with "footless".


Having worked through the translation, we are now in a position to deal with the question of what a "trackless one" is. He is, shall we say, a misunderstanding. However, K. R. Norman is not easily mislead, so why does "trackless one" seem like a good translations here? Pada is a complex word and often difficult to translate. There isn't really a wholly satisfactory translation of "dhammapada."  When presented with an image using pada we tend to think of the figurative uses. We are so used to taking it abstractly or figuratively that we only translate pada as "foot" only when the situation demands it. I think the combination of the word pada and the verb √ are quite persuasive. We have a combination of tracks and leading, and the link between certain beings, the Buddha, and Māra all being apada is very obscure. 

On the other hand, taking Dhp 179 and 180 together it's more obvious, though still fairly obscure, that apada refers to the Buddha's lack of craving, but we do not know why it does. One of K R Norman's observations about the philologer is that they don't simply say what a text means, they say why it means that. So the job is only half complete. The key insight emerges out of following the thread a little further and looking at the handful of other times that the word apada is used. It is only used to describe: an animal without feet; the Buddha without craving; and Māra without sight. What the last two have in common is that they do not "go" anywhere. The footless animal, i.e.. a snake, ought not to go anywhere, but somehow does. So the link is locomotion. We can extend the comparison between the snake and the Buddha. Just as a snake is able to move about without any feet, the Buddha relates to other beings without any craving and, thus, without creating any karma that must ripen. Māra, on the other hand, is crippled when made footless/blind.

Now one of the traps for translators is to slavishly translate a word with the same English word each time it occurs. As in all languages, Pāḷi words have denotations and connotations. And just as in English a Pāḷi word may have multiple denotations and multiple connotations. People with very orderly minds like to think that language should restrict one word to one meaning so as to avoid ambiguity. But, in practice, such an ideal language has probably never existed. Language always involves ambiguity. And just as well, since almost all comedy depends on it, and communal laughter is an important evolutionary adaptation to living in large groups; and a good deal of poetry also depends on it. And in the case of these verses, I think that "path" is probably the best translation of padaṃ in 179d and 180d. This suggests that the poet was aware of the all the ambiguity and was exploiting it for effect. And, in fact, if someone is footless (and in this imagery unable to physically go anywhere) then where could you lead them? Political correctness had no place in the worldview of the people who composed and preserved these verses.

My final translation, then is:
What he has won cannot be lost,
What he has won does not go anywhere in the world.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (179)
He has no lust, clinging, or craving,
To lead him anywhere.
The range of that awakened one is limitless
By what footpath could you lead the footless? (180)
Pāḷi texts are seldom purposefully esoteric. On the whole we can take the suttas on face value. Of course, some of the metaphors have become reified or are obscure to us, but the feeling is that the author was not trying to misdirect us, they were trying to communicate in a fairly direct manner. Sometimes verses in the Dhammapada that use obscure metaphors can seem as though they are esoteric. Considering the huge popularity of the text, it is surprisingly difficult at times. It's a text to be quite wary of, especially in translation. Even the best translations sometimes fail to plumb the depths of the Dhammapada.



Anālayo (2011) A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya. Vol. 1 (Introduction, Studies of Discourses 1 to 90). Dharma Drum.

Bodhi (2012) The Numerical Discourses. Wisdom.

Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi. (2001) The Middle Length Discourses. Wisdom.

Norman, K. R. (2000) The Word of the Doctrine (Dhammapada). Pali Text Society.

12 June 2015

Alternate Karma Theory?

Revised 15 June 2015.

Many modern Buddhists find themselves struggling with the doctrines of Buddhism that rely on metaphysical speculation even though Buddhists regularly warn each other against speculating about metaphysics. The doctrine of rebirth is the one that usually heads the list. Literal rebirth seems very implausible in the light of other fields of knowledge. The doctrine of karma is allied to rebirth in the sense that if one is reborn it is because of karma. One of the main applications of pratītyasamutpāda has been to try to explain karma and historically this effort led to changes in the ways that Buddhists understood pratītyasamutpāda.

In my examination of the history of the idea of karma, in many blog essays and one published article (2014), I have noted that Buddhists themselves were often in dispute over the details of how karma could work. The idea of pratītyasamutpāda underwent significant change to try to accommodate karma. My 2014 article explained how the doctrine of karma itself undergoes a fundamental shift in the Mahāyāna that effectively decouples actions from consequences. The issue of whether there is or is not an interval between death and rebirth depends on how one interprets the karma doctrine to begin with. Despite an almost universal attempt by authors who write about Buddhism to present smoothed over accounts of these doctrines, what we find in the texts is a long history of dispute and alteration in search of coherence.

By now we know that no two Buddhist sects applied pratītyasamutpāda to the karma doctrine in the quite the same way. This knowledge may take some pressure off modern Buddhists who struggle to integrate Iron Age and medieval Buddhist ideas into their worldview. Even most Iron Age and medieval Buddhists could not quite believe it!

Although the archaeology of the karma is not complete, many of the main features have been exposed. Some details remain to be picked out. In this essay I will present a translation of a partial sutta from the Aṅguttara Nikāya. It lacks a nidāna, a framing story, and a proper ending. It's the middle of a text without a beginning or end. None-the-less it is interesting because the view of karma it presents is not in tune with the orthodox Theravāda doctrine, or with the other presentations of karma in the Nikāyas.

There is a counterpart sutra in the Chinese translation of the Madhyāgama (Taishō 26, no. 15; translated in Bingenheimer 2013). It is a more complete text, with a proper sutra opening and all that. I'll begin with my translation from the Pāḷi and then make a few comments. Where the Pali is tricky or unusual, I'll compare with the Chinese to see if it sheds any light.

Karajakāyasuttaṃ (AN 10.219; v.299-301)

“I do not say that intentional actions done (kata) and accumulated (upacita) are eliminated without having first experienced [the fruits], either arising in this life, or in the next, or some other. Nor however do I say that one makes an end to suffering without having first experienced the fruits of intentional actions done and accumulated.”  
[The Chinese text inserts a discourse on the dasakusalakammapatha here and it is precisely the one who cultivates this path who is able to radiate mettā etc] 
“Monks, this noble disciple, being without craving or aversion, unconfused, attentive, fully mindful (paṭisata), dwells suffusing one direction with feelings of loving kindness, with feelings of compassion, with feelings of sympathetic joy, and with feelings of equanimity. Similarly with the second, third, and fourth directions. Thus, they dwell suffusing above, below, across, and in all directions, everywhere, the entire world with feelings of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity that are extensive, lofty, immeasurable, without hatred or illwill.” 
“[The noble disciple] knows ‘formerly my mind (citta) was limited and undeveloped, but now my mind is unlimited and well developed. No measurable kamma dwells or lingers there now.’” 
“What do you think, monks, if a youth were to cultivate the liberation of the mind which is love from an early age, would they do an evil action?” 
“Indeed not, Sir.” 
“Not doing an evil action would they be touched by suffering?” 
“Indeed not, Sir. Not doing an evil action, how could they be  touched by suffering?” 
“In that case a man or woman should cultivate liberation of the mind through love. Monks, a man or a woman cannot take this body when they go. This internal mind is mortal, monks.”  
“They understand, ‘All that evil done through this action-born body in some past time is to be experienced here. It will not follow.” 
“Developed in this way, monks, liberation of the mind through love for a knowledgeable monk results in being a non-returner (anāgāmin) here, if they do not attain a higher liberation.”

I've noted the lack of framing story. We do not even get a city where it was preached. By contrast in the Madhyāgama version (MĀ 15) the passage is joined with a discourse on the dasakusalakammapatha or ten courses of right action. This might explain why the Karajakāya Sutta is in the chapter of tens (dasa aṅguttara). The previous two suttas (10.217-218) discuss how the practice of the right/wrong actions interact with the theory of kamma to produce different kinds of rebirth.

But if this is true, then we must also conclude it was classified with the tens before losing the parts concerned with the dasakusalakammapatha. In turn this is evidence that the Pāli Canon is not a complete and faithful record of Buddhist teachings as it is sometimes portrayed. Bits of the Aṅguttara Nikāya are missing!

I've compressed the sutta by combining the four brahmavihāras together. The CST edition has mettā and upekkhā spelt out in full, with abbreviated passages for kāruṇa and muditā. The gist of the story is that by dwelling in the fully developed brahmavihāras a practitioner may become a once returner. That one who practises the brahmavihāras will not be touched by disappointment (dukkha). And that karma all ripens in this life, it does not follow on. It is this last part which is the most interesting.

Before we compare this karma theory, a few remarks about the other aspects of the text. It is well known that mettā and the other brahmavihāras have been down played in the modern Theravāda. Richard Gombrich has made the case, based on his reading of the Tevijjā Sutta that brahmavihāra literally 'staying with Brahman' was originally a synonym for nirvāṇa (see Gombrich 2009: 80-84). This text seems to be somewhere in the middle on the issue of the value of practising the brahmavihāras, saying that at the very least one will become a non-returner (anāgāmin) The non-returner is a strange creature. They are not yet liberated from birth and death, but they are not required to be reborn in one of the five realms. After death, they exist in a definite sense, unlike a tathāgata about whom nothing may be said. As we saw earlier in the year, the anāgāmin is at the centre of the dispute over the antarābhava.

The other point is a moral one. If we take this text literally then it is saying that by radiating the brahmavihāras out to the four directions no dukkha will ever arise. In talking about this issue of dukkha in the Karajakāya with my Pāḷi reading group, I mentioned that following Sue Hamilton I take dukkha to refer to all unenlightened experience. I suggested that the focus on unpleasant experience was somewhat misleading, because from this point of view pleasant experience is also dukkha. The problem is in the translation of dukkha as 'suffering'. I have long argued for 'disappointment' as a serviceable translation. Our experience is dukkha because it does not conform to our expectation. Our expectation is that we will not suffer any undeserved pain or misery; and that we will experience all the pleasure and happiness we do deserve (based on what we believe we deserve of course). And that this is what constitutes a good life. So my reading is that the text is not saying that one radiating mettā etc. will never experience pain or suffering, but that they will never suffer disappointment, that whatever happens to them will be in line with their expectations. One cannot realistically be born a human being and expect not to suffer. The Pāli texts record a number of occasions when even the Buddha suffered physical pain (particularly the story of the stone sliver, Sakalika Sutta. SN 1.3).

Elsewhere, some early texts say that only dukkha arises and only dukkha ceases (See The Simile of the Chariot, 2009). Thus there is a conflict between those texts and this. If everything that arises is only dukkha, the idea that a person will not experience dukkha by radiating the brahmavihāras is a contradiction. The two ideas are mutually exclusive.

Now we return to the karma theory presented in the Karajakāya. The opening passage of the Karajakāya is a classic Pāli text account of the inescapability of karma. It insists that all the fruits of all the actions must be experienced, and all of them must be experienced before there is an end to suffering. This sentiment is repeated throughout the Nikāyas and is taken up by Buddhaghosa as Theravāda orthodoxy. Later Buddhists deprecate this original requirement of karma (see Attwood 2014).

Now part of the reason I wanted to translate this text and write about it stems from Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation in his Numerical Discourses (2012). The Pāli passage in question follows on from the revelation that one who suffuses the directions with love etc, will not experience dukkha. Next the Pāli reads:
"Bhāvetabbā kho panāyaṃ, bhikkhave, mettācetovimutti itthiyā vā purisena vā. Itthiyā vā, bhikkhave, purisassa vā nāyaṃ kāyo ādāya gamanīyo. Cittantaro ayaṃ, bhikkhave, macco." 
"So evaṃ pajānāti – ‘yaṃ kho me idaṃ kiñci pubbe iminā karajakāyena pāpakammaṃ kataṃ, sabbaṃ taṃ idha vedanīyaṃ; na taṃ anugaṃ bhavissatī’ti."
Compared to my translation above, Bodhi renders this:
"​A woman or man should develop this liberation of mind by loving kindness. A woman or man cannot take this body with them when ​they go. Mortals have mind as their core." 
"[The  noble disciple] understands: 'whatever bad deed I did here in the past with this deed-born body is all to be experienced here. It will not follow along." (p.1542; emphasis added)
The first part of this is fine, but when I read "Mortals have mind as their core." (translating cittantaro ayaṃ macco) my eyebrows shot up. What on earth could this mean? 

Cittantaro ayaṃ macco

"Cittantaro ayaṃ macco." is a common sentence structure in Pali and typically taken to read "this X is Y" though the word order is flexible. So it could be as Bodhi reads it "this mortal has an interior [which is] mind" or it might be read along the lines of "this internal mind is mortal". The compound cittantaro is a little unexpected. Antara is cognate with our word "interior", and of course the inside of something might be considered its 'core'. However, do mortals have a "core"? The usual idea in Buddhist metaphysics is to deny that anyone has a core, especially a mental core. Macco means 'one subject to death, a mortal', but note that it is in the singular,  'a mortal' (Cf Skt martya 'having death, dying, subject to death'; there is no connection to the English 'martyr'), rather than Bodhi's plural "mortals" but the statement does seem to be a generalisation. 

The compound cittantaro only occurs in this text. In this case Bodhi appears to be reading the compound as a bahuvrīhi 'has an inside which is citta'. As I have said this raises metaphysical objections. How else might we read the compound? If we look at other similar compounds we find
  • Buddh'antara - the time between the death of one Buddha and the appearance of another
  • eḷakam-antara - on the threshold or across a threshold (eḷaka),
  • daṇḍam-antara - amongst the firewood or across a stick (daṇḍa).
This suggests that Bodhi has misunderstood this compound. Margaret Cone is non-commital in her dictionary. In relation to this passage she ventures "having the interval of a thought-moment;" with a question mark to indicate she is unsure (DOP sv citta). That Cone is unsure is reassuring to me as I struggle to make sense of this passage. If she is unsure then I am not embarrassed about my confusion. Cone has picked up what similar compounds imply, i.e. that antara might mean in the 'space' between two moments in time. So that we would read the sentence as "a mortal has the interval of a thought moment". But again we have to ask, "What does this mean?" It has the advantage of not obviously violating Buddhist doctrine, but can we take it literally? A mortal typically lives many years and a thought moment is as long as the snap of one's fingers. The words make sense, but the sentence does not. 

Turning to Buddhaghosa, on this passage he says:
Cittantaroti cittakāraṇo, atha vā citteneva antariko. Ekasseva hi cuticittassa anantarā dutiye paṭisandhicitte devo nāma hoti, nerayiko nāma hoti, tiracchānagato nāma hoti. Purimanayepi cittena kāraṇabhūtena devo nerayiko vā hotīti attho. 
Bodhi translates most of this passage in note 2189 (p.1859), I finish it in square brackets:
“They have mind as their cause, or their interior is due to mind. For with the mind at rebirth that follows without interval the mind at death, one becomes a deva, a hell-being, or an animal.” [It means they were formerly a deva or hell-being though the cause or condition of mind (citta) also.] 
So Bodhi has translated in line with Buddhaghosa, as he usually does in these cases where the text is obscure. However, I once more have to quibble with how Bodhi is translating here. Cittakāraṇo must mean 'having a cause which is citta', though this is no help because the meaning of the sentence is still not clear. Antara and kāraṇa are by no means synonyms, so Buddhaghosa's logic is opaque. To say that a mortal has citta as their cause is possibly true from a Buddhist point of view, but it doesn't really make sense of the sutta. Again the words make sense, but the sentence does not. Bodhi then reads antariko as 'interior', which is allowed but also doubtful. What does it means to say that our interior is due to mind. As opposed to our exterior?

A lot depends on how we parse atha vā citteneva antariko. We can read citteneva as citte na eva or cittena eva (Bodhi adopts the latter). The former would mean that the whole sentence says something like "there is no interval for a thought event". I like this reading because it is followed by an insistence that the relinking mental event (paṭisandhicitta) follows immediately from the death mental event (cuticitta) with no interval. This is standard Theravāda metaphysics which requires that there never be an interruption of the stream of cittas. This makes sense, but is this really what the sutta is saying? I'm not sure.

My friend and Pāḷi guru, Dhīvan, has pointed out that in my first version of this essay I mistook a gerundive (grd) for a gerund (ger) in the PED entry. Gerundive is anther name for a future passive participle (fpp). The verb marati means 'he dies' and as an fpp takes the sense of 'one who must die', hence 'a mortal'. Dhīvan suggests that macco might represent a future passive participle (Skt martavyaḥ), and work in apposition to gamanīyo which is also a fpp. Then cittantaro and kāyo are in apposition also. Thus we could read the sutta as saying
nāyaṃ kāyo ādāya gamanīyo, cittantaro ayaṃ, bhikkhave, macco 
there is no going taking the body [with you], there is dying with the mind as interval. 
Dhīvan takes cittantaro as related to the measurelessness of the mind in the brahmavihāra state. One whose citta is limited (paritta) will be reborn, but one whose citta is immeasurable (appamāṇa) is not reborn, but becomes an anāgāmin (at least). This is an interesting solution to a difficult problem, but I still not convinced.

So, from the Pāli sources we have several alternative readings, none of them entirely satisfying. The Chinese text of MĀ 15 is somewhat different here (T 1.438.a19-20) :
若彼男女 在家、出家, 修慈心解脫者,不持此身往至彼世,但隨心去此。 
When those male or female 男女 laypeople 在家 or renunciates 出家 repeatedly practice (修...者)  the loving-kindness mind-liberation 慈心解脫, [they] do not carry 持 this body 身 towards 往至 the other world 彼世, [but] go there 去此 according to 但隨 the citta 心.
Cf "Bhāvetabbā kho panāyaṃ, bhikkhave, mettācetovimutti itthiyā vā purisena vā. Itthiyā vā, bhikkhave, purisassa vā nāyaṃ kāyo ādāya gamanīyo. Cittantaro ayaṃ, bhikkhave, macco." 
The first part of this passage is similar. It applies to men and women for example, itthiyā vā purisena vā = 男女 ; they cultivate mettācetovimutti  = 慈心解脫. When they go to the other world they do not take their body nāyaṃ kāyo ādāya  = 不持此身往至彼世. However, just where we wish the Chinese might shed some light on our text it is very different! Where the Pāḷi is weird, the Chinese is conventional, one goes to the next world according to one's citta (但隨心去此). Is this because the translator has smoothed out the text? Or is it because the Gāndhārī text was already different. And if the Gāndhārī text was different, why was it? Was one or other text corrupted? Or was it edited by sectarian interests? 

Of course Bodhi was obliged to settle on a translation, and he had 1500 pages of text to translate. But to my mind "Mortals have mind as their core" is unfortunate. It's not at all clear that this is what the text says, or even how Buddhaghosa understood the text. It's a very strange thing to find a Pāli text saying. On the other hand I don't see a way to resolve the quandary. 


Another curious feature in this text is the use of the indeclinable particle idha, meaning 'here, in this place', and especially 'in this world or present existence' (PED). To remind us, the one who is radiating the brahmavihāras knows:
‘yaṃ kho me idaṃ kiñci pubbe iminā karajakāyena pāpakammaṃ kataṃ, sabbaṃ taṃ idha vedanīyaṃ; na taṃ anugaṃ bhavissatī’ti.
I read:
All of that evil action done by me by this action-made body at sometime in the past must be experienced here (idha). It does not follow along. 
It's possible that Bodhi's Pali text has idha for idaṃ (4th word), I haven't checked the PTS edition, but otherwise his translation again seems slightly off when he refers to "Whatever bad deed I did here...", because in the CST text "here" is not specified. In any case we have a very intriguing statement about karma in this passage. Apparently the consequences of actions performed in the past do not follow one from life to life. They are to be experienced here (idha vedanīya). In fact this contradicts the opening lines of the Pāli sutta which say that the fruits of actions may arise to be experienced here and now (diṭṭheva dhamme upapajje), in the after-life (apare), or in due course (pariyāye). So again we are left wondering. If this an error or does it represent a minority report on karma? The trouble is that the idea is stated twice:  sabbaṃ taṃ idha vedanīyaṃ 'all that is to be experienced here' and then na taṃ anugaṃ bhavissati 'it will not follow along'. It is not accidental.

This last part is phrased curiously. "That", i.e. the evil action done formerly through the action-born-body (pubbe iminā karajakāyena pāpakammaṃ kataṃ), "will not become anuga." Anuga is an adjective from anu√gam a verb meaning 'to follow [along, after]'. So rather than saying the action will not follow (anugamissati) the Pāḷi says that it does not become (bhavissati) something which is anuga 'following or followed by'. The obvious interpretation is that the action determines one's rebirth, but does not follow one beyond death. This is interesting because it may well constitute a version of karma which is easier for some people to swallow. 

Buddhaghosa fudges this by defining the phrase as diṭṭhadhamma-vedanīya-koṭṭhāsavan "possessing a share to be experienced here and now".  This brings it into line with Theravāda orthodoxy, but the text very specifically says all (sabba) not just a share (koṭṭhāsa).

Again the Madhyāgama text is different (T 1.438.a21-22):
Bhikṣus 比丘 you should 應作是 think 念, “I 我 was formerly 本 heedless 放逸, I did 作 unskilful deeds 不善業, may 可 all 一切 retribution 報  be 是 suffered 受 now 今 and not in the other world 終不後世."
Rather than insisting that results must be experienced now, MĀ has a more plausible (i.e more orthodox) plea that it all be experienced now rather than later so as not to draw out the process across lifetimes. The wording is very different, so it cannot be a simple misreading. Is AN the sentiment of a heterodox sect whose views were included in the Pāḷi Canon. And MĀ a more orthodox rendering of the story? Is one text garbled, or the other edited for clarity? We just don't know. 


This is certainly an intriguing text. On face value it is a heterodox view on karma and rebirth. But it does not quite make sense on its own terms. Buddhaghosa shoehorns it into his orthodox Theravāda worldview in a way that is not entirely convincing. The Madhyāgama version of the story contradicts the Pāḷi precisely where it departs from orthodoxy. Though as we saw in relation to antarābhava the different Nikāya/Āgama recensions do reflect sectarian concerns.

The Madhyāgama text seems to be based on the same story, but records the details differently. The titles of the text are different and MĀ does not have an equivalent of the key Pāli term karajakāya 'action-born-body'. The MĀ text is titled 思經 The Sutra on Intention (cetanā). Note that the Karajakāya appears to be part of a set of suttas, and the previous two suttas in AN are called the Paṭhama and Dutiya Sañcetanika Sutta, where sañcetika could well be translated as 思. Overall the MĀ text is less problematic than the Pāḷi, but this may be because the Gāndhārī had more time to be edited than the Pāḷi before being committed to writing, or because the Chinese translators further smoothed out difficulties. On the other hand we can deduce that a large part of the Pāḷi text was lost after it was included in the Aṅguttara collection. So who knows what other changes it went through.

This is precisely the kind of wrinkle that scholars have overlooked or smoothed over in their accounts of Buddhist karma to date. It does not fit the view that the Canon is all the work of one mind, or the assertion that variations can be traced to a single source. All too often we see a plurality of Buddhist views, which are frequently incompatible and do not point to a single point of origin. As I have said previously, the early Buddhist texts represent the event horizon of an historical black hole. No information can ever come out of that black hole and it will always remain dark. All we can do is look at what we do see and conjecture about how it might have come about.

A fundamental problem I have identified is the overwhelming bias towards seeing history in terms of singular origin as represented in the tree as a metaphor for evolution. So engrained is this metaphor that it is very difficult to even think of other possibilities in evolution (particularly of recombination and synthesis). So we expect that Pāḷi and Chinese sources point to a common origin. Some aspects of the two texts are similar enough to suggest some common ancestry. Had the Pāḷi not become fragmented after being collected, then perhaps this similarity would be more striking. But there is no way, for example, to construct an ur-text from what we have. There is no obvious single underlying text that would give rise to the variants we have. The history is complex and now hidden from us. 

For me the idea that our history does not converge in the past has only emerged from years of studying early Buddhist texts and paying attention to inconsistencies. And there are far more inconsistencies than any Buddhist teacher and almost all scholars would have us believe. Inconsistency is a feature of the early Buddhist texts. That the Pali Canon preserves views which are not consistent with Theravāda orthodoxy is both interesting and useful. It suggests that the Theravādins preserved these texts, but that other unknown factors were at work in the collection process. Perhaps the Theravāda sect was once more diverse than it presently is with respect to doctrine. Buddhaghosa, as we see in his commentary on this sutta, had an homogenizing effect. At the very least we must think of the Pāḷi texts as a much more heterogeneous body of literature than we have previously.


Thanks to Dhīvan and Sarah from our Pāḷi reading group for input on the tricky passages. It is so great to have people to talk to about these things. 

My essays on karma & rebirth are collected under the afterlife tab at the top of the page.
Pāḷi texts from CST. Chinese texts from CBETA. 
Attwood, Jayarava. (2014) Escaping the Inescapable: Changes in Buddhist Karma. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Vol. 21.
Bingenheimer, Marcus [Ed.] (2013) The Madhyama Āgama: Middle Length Discourses, Taishō Vol. 2, No.26 (BDK English Tripiṭaka Series). Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai America. 
Bodhi. (2012). The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom Publications. 
Gombrich, Richard. (2009) What the Buddha Thought. Equinox.