24 October 2014

When Did Language Evolve?

This question is one of the most interesting and most difficult to answer of all the interesting questions that scientists seek answers for. Language is one of the defining characteristics of humans. Yes, some animals do have relatively sophisticated signs they use with each other, but language in all it's glory – phonology, morphology, syntax and grammar – is something that sets humans apart. Robin Dunbar's recent book Pelican Introduction to Human Evolution (2014) has a nice little essay on the subject (235-244) that I'll attempt to précis here.

In fact the question when did language evolve devolves into two questions:
  1. When did humans evolve the capability for language?
  2. When did humans begin to use language. 
Before we examine the evidence we need to quickly outline Dunbar's main themes. The book draws on two main fields of research other than anthropology and paleo-anthropology. Dunbar's main work is on what he calls The Social Brain Hypothesis. Dunbar found a correlation between the ratio of neo-cortex to brain size (volume) and the size of groups in social animals. Taking certain other factors into account, the correlation allows Dunbar to accurately predict the average group size for any social animal. In fact social animals occupy the centre of a series of concentric groups of increasing size. For humans it turns out that the numbers are (approximately): 5, 15, 50, 150, 500, 1500. These numbers correspond to structures within human groups. The community has 150 and this is the most famous Dunbar Number. 150 is the mean size of communities in the Doomsday Book for example. (see 70-71 for a range of other correlations). The SBH says we can only keep track of the business (mates, kin, alliances etc) of about 150 other people. We might know 500 by name and 1500 or more people by sight, but we won't know about their likes and dislikes or their relationships with other group members. Chimpanzee's by contrast live in communities of about 50 and don't have the larger groupings. Using this correlation Dunbar is able to calculate what size of groups our distant ancestors lived in. And this leads to the second field of research. 

Social animals have an extra time pressure that solitary animals do not. As well as feeding, resting and mating, social animals have to socialise, or put effort into maintaining social links. Primates do this primarily by grooming each other (though bonobo chimps also use sexual activity). Grooming causes both partners to produced endorphins, thus creating a sense of well-being. By studying living primates we can see how much time they spend doing various activities and build up models called Time Budgets. In groups of 150 there is simply not enough time to do everything. In order to maintain these large groups we need to do more than eat raw vegetation and pick fleas of each other. Dunbar explores how we might have responded to the time pressure of larger groups. For example cooking food increases the calories available and decreases the amount of time needed for feeding. Singing and dancing together also create a sense of well-being in a group, and do so far more efficiently than one-to-one grooming.

Some physical changes associated with language use occur at the same time as changes in our brain size that coincide with living in larger group sizes. So there is no doubt that language use is correlated with changes in the brain, but we're not sure yet whether it was causal and in which direction.

The Evidence

Dunbar considers a range of evidence in trying to answer the question of when humans began to use language. Some of it does not tell us much in the long run. For example the lateralisation of the brain—into left and right, with the left side slightly larger—was once seen as an important development. However, it's not language specific. For all we know it might be related to right-handed spear throwing (in humans) and in fact the same lateralisation is present in prehistoric sharks. The emergence of symbolism—as in cave painting and grave goods—has also been seen as significant. The use of symbolism starts around 40,000 bp which is interesting, but post dates some of the other developments (below) very considerably. 

There is also genetic evidence. But again the genes cited—FoxP2 and MYH16—lack specificity. Because mutation in FoxP2 is associated with speech and grammar difficulties, it's still sometimes called "the language gene". However, for example, mice were recently implanted with the FoxP2 gene and did not start talking. What they did do is learn better, in particularly they found "...it easier to transform new experiences into routine procedures." FoxP2 is now known to be shared with Neanderthals and thus to be at least 800,000 years old (the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and Archaic Modern Humans). MYH16 is even older at 2.4 Million years. Inactivation of MYH16 decreases the size of the jaw and associated muscles. The argument being, though this cannot be substantiated, that it made speaking possible. Thus the genetic evidence is also, to date, inconclusive. Language use being such a complex task suggests that no one gene is going to be more than a tiny part of a larger story.

In terms of anatomy we can look at the thoracic nerves, the hypoglossal canal in the skull, the position of the hyoid bone, and the ear canals. Thoracic nerves control the chest and diaphragm and since breath control is required for speech we expect to see significant enlargement of these nerves in modern humans. The hypoglossal canal is where cranial nerve XII, which "innervates the tongue and mouth" emerges from the skull. Both are significantly larger in modern humans than in apes. Sketchy fossil records suggest that Homo Heidelbergensis, Neanderthals and Archaic Modern Humans (AMH) all had human-like values for these nerves. The hyoid bone connects the base of the tongue to the top of the larynx and in humans is positioned low allowing us to make certain sounds, particularly the vowels. Neanderthals also seem to have had low hyoid bones. Finally the ear canals, as well as providing us with balance also allow us to hear. We know that chimp and human canals differ in ways that affect how we hear speech. 500,000 year old AMHs had similar ear canals to humans. 

The physical evidence suggests that many of the key anatomical changes were in place for humans (and Neanderthals) to start speaking roughly 500,000 years bp. Dunbar notes that this coincides with when the time demands for grooming would have risen above 20% of available time. 
"it is very likely that a more complex vocal repertoire evolved quite early on in hominin evolution in response to increasing group size." (241).
In fact we see parallels in the complexity of some bird calls (chickadees). There is also direct evidence that primate facial and gestural repertoires increase in complexity with increasing group size (241). 

A key ability some social animals have is the ability to form impressions of the intentions of another animal. This is called mentalising. Social animals need to know the disposition of the other members of their community and have developed the ability to infer this from clues such as posture, facial expressions and tone of voice. One of the main things we do with language is report on other people. If I tell you "Brian likes Mary" you must understand your own mind, my mind, and Brian's mind: that's 3rd order mentalising. No doubt you'd probably wonder whether Mary knows that you know that I told you that Brian likes her, and how she would respond to this and that's 4th order. Humans average out at being capable of 5th order mentalising. This ability to mentalise bares "an uncanny resemblance to the embeddedness of clauses in the grammatical structure of sentences" (242): e.g. Shakespeare attempts to have us, the audience, believe that Othello thinks that Iago is telling the truth when he says that Desdemona returns the love that Cassio has for her. Understanding this play requires the audience to use 5th order mentalising. Shakespeare is revered as a story teller partly because he must have been able to sustain 6th order mentalising. He must have been able to see the 5th order story from our point of view. 

It turns out that we can estimate mentalising capability from neuro-imaging studies of various primates. We think that Australopithecus would have managed 2nd order mentalising on average. Homo erectus and heidelbergensis averaged 3rd order, but certain members might have reached 4th order. Neanderthals averaged 4th order, but some individuals reached 5th order. And modern humans average 5th order and some reach to 6th order. So it's possible that Neanderthals had language, but it would not have been as sophisticated as ours. We also know that Neanderthals had large brains, but their increase in brain size was mainly in the occipital lobe concerned with eyesight (and their eyes were also larger than ours), whereas as Homo sapiens' increase in brain size was more in the frontal lobes, so Neanderthals may not have been capable of quite the same levels of abstraction as modern humans, but could see well in low light levels. 

Putting it all together.

It seems that by 500,000 years ago we had all the physical and mental equipment for using language in place. Archaic humans and (probably) Neanderthals, were anatomically capable of using language. Physical evidence suggests language use at least by 40,000 years ago. Language being a complex phenomenon, we must look for complex conditions related to its evolution. Michael Witzel's study in comparative mythology (See: Origins of the World's Mythologies) suggests that story telling and mythology dates from at least 70,000 ybp. By the time modern humans left Africa they had well developed mythic narratives which involved abstractions and metaphors. I think this points to Modern Humans (ca 250,000-100,000 ybp) using speech in symbolic ways from very early on.

Some suggest that language developed alongside hunting of large animals, but just because we hunted together does not mean that hunting was a driver of language, as Dunbar points out: many animals hunt as packs without language. Wolves, orca, humpback whales, and dolphins all use sophisticated, coordinated hunting strategies without the need to sit down and explain everything first. More likely is that complex tool making and use was accompanied by more sophisticated communication, if not fully developed language. 

We might also usefully consider work by George Lakoff into the nature of metaphor and abstraction. Both are rooted in our experience of interacting physically with the world. I think, but cannot prove, that our hand gestures as we speak are related to the metaphors of interaction we are invoking, that is to say our hands act out the interactions underlying our abstractions and metaphors. Gesture can be powerfully communicative as anyone who knows sign language will attest, and infants can learn to communicate with gestures long before they learn to speak (though the jury is still out on whether this facilitates later language development). The way signers convey metaphors also gives us potential insights into the process of using language to communicate. Language is not simply or only speech. The nature of it must be understood within paradigms of the embodied mind. Presumably at first we talked mainly about our physical interactions with the world and each other. Then we discovered the use of similes: "the man can run fast, like a cheetah"; and then the use of metaphors: "the man is a predator". This progression is creatively explored in literature in China Miéville's novel Embassytown. Presumably this all took a long time. Along with mentalising, this ability presumably also evolved in sophistication over time producing changes that any one generation might not have noticed. 

Finally out of left field I would like to highlight research into "conversational grunts", these are the non-language sounds (mmm, uh, huh, ah, etc) that we make when we listen to others speaking to let the talker know we are listening. We can actually signify a great deal simply by intonation of a sound like /mmm/: affirmation, disagreement, disapproval, happiness etc. Other research into this kind of area, e.g. sound symbolism, show that communicating, especially our emotional state (and this is extremely important in socialising) can be done without semantics. 

Language is not simply about communicating abstracts, though fully fledged language has this facility. Through language we communicate our disposition and socialise more effectively: language use allows us to use our time more efficiently. Language seems to have evolved alongside our larger brains and group sizes; alongside tool use and other indicators of increasing sophistication of our minds. It seems the capability was anatomically in place long before we began to use it. The communication of even archaic humans was likely a good deal more sophisticated than modern day apes.

Once language did evolve note that it constantly and rapidly changed. Language was almost certainly never a universal. Each language group (unconsciously) adapted language to reinforce group membership and identity. In the extreme we find 1000 of the worlds 7000 languages on the island of New Guinea. Language differences make inter-community communication difficult. Until the advent of civilisation language would have been a defining feature of one's identity. And this might explain why some languages developed very complex grammar that is difficult to learn except from growing up with it. Some of the changes in grammar might be explained by expanded worldviews. Trade links and the possibility of travel outside the range of one's tribe made possible by civilisation and empires, exposed us to strangers. It's worth reading Dunbar's theoretical book in conjunction with something like Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday which describes the day-to-day reality of hunter-gatherer life.

Dunbar's book is unique in its approach to human evolution. The combination of the Social Brain Hypothesis and Time Budget modelling allow Dunbar to draw a compelling picture of how our distance ancestors might have lived and also when they might have adopted new technologies like fire for cooking, and of course language use. A good deal of the time he is drawing directly on his own research or research conducted by members of his research group at Oxford. While we will only ever be able to infer how pre-historic humans lived from such evidence as has survived the millennia, Dunbar shows that we can obtain much more detail than before. His book takes us from SVGA to HD. Language use is in fact only a small part of the book, but it highlights the kinds of inferences that can be drawn, and of course language use is iconically human (Koko et al notwithstanding). Understanding where we came from and how we developed over time is a key task for understanding who we are now.


17 October 2014

Anicca, Dukkha, Anattā

This essay discusses the Aniccavaggo (the Section on Impermanence) in Saṃyutta 35 (Saḷāyatanā the six sense bases) in the fourth book of the Saṃyutta Nikāya (SN iv.1ff). The key words nibbindati, virajjati and vimuccati mark these passages as relating to the third stage of the Spiral Path, the stage of paññā (Skt prajñā) which I will translate here as "understanding". These texts lay out, in a very accessible way, some important ideas with regard to what Buddhists are seeking to understand. At least for the early Buddhists, understanding has a specific domain and content. 

I'll present my translation the first text of the section (with notes on the 2nd and third which differ only by substituting dukkha and anattan for anicca) and then discuss the texts afterwards. There are 12 texts in this section, but we can easily summarise them because there is considerable repetition with minor variation. Each text is presented with more or less identical wording focussing first on impermanence (anicca), then on disappointment (dukkha), and finally on insubstantiality (anattan); and each of these is repeated from the "subjective" (ajjhatta) and "objective" (bāhira) points of view; and finally with respect to the past, present and future giving twelve variations on the basic text. Only the first text in the section has a tradition nidāna or framing narrative.

1. Ajjhattāniccasuttaṃ ~ 2. Ajjhattadukkhasuttaṃ ~ 3. Ajjhattānattasuttaṃ
The Suttas on Subjective Impermanence, Disappointment and Non-identification. (SN 35: 1-3)
1. Evaṃ me sutaṃ. Ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme. Tatra kho bhagavā bhikkhū āmantesi – ‘‘bhikkhavo’’ti. ‘‘Bhadante’’ti te bhikkhū bhagavato paccassosuṃ. Bhagavā etadavoca –
Thus I heard. One time the Bhagavan was staying in Sāvatthī in the Jeta Grove or Anāthapiṇḍika's park. Right there the Bhagavan addressed the bhikkhus: "bhikkhus!"
"Sir?", the bhikkhus replied.
This is what the Bhagavan said:
‘‘Cakkhuṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā. Yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. Sotaṃ aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ…pe… ghānaṃ aniccaṃ. Yadaniccaṃ…pe… jivhā aniccā. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā. Yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. Kāyo anicco. Yadaniccaṃ…pe… mano anicco. Yadaniccaṃ taṃ dukkhaṃ; yaṃ dukkhaṃ tadanattā. Yadanattā taṃ ‘netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā’ti evametaṃ yathābhūtaṃ sammappaññāya daṭṭhabbaṃ. 
The eye is impermanent [2. disappointing; 3. Insubstantial]. What is impermanent is disappointing. What is disappointing cannot be identified with a Self. Of that which cannot be identified with [we say] "It is not mine; I am not this; this is not my Self." Just this is to be seen as it is, with perfect understanding (samma-paññā). The ear is impermanent, etc The nose, etc, The tongue, etc. The body, etc
Evaṃ passaṃ, bhikkhave, sutavā ariyasāvako cakkhusmimpi nibbindati, sotasmimpi nibbindati, ghānasmimpi nibbindati, jivhāyapi nibbindati, kāyasmimpi nibbindati, manasmimpi nibbindati. Nibbindaṃ virajjati; virāgā vimuccati; vimuttasmiṃ vimuttamiti ñāṇaṃ hoti. ‘Khīṇā jāti, vusitaṃ brahmacariyaṃ, kataṃ karaṇīyaṃ, nāparaṃ itthattāyā’ti pajānātī’’ti. 
Seeing this way, bhikkhus, the educated insightful disciple, is disenchanted with the eye; disenchanted with the ear, disenchanted with the nose, disenchanted with the tongue, disenchanted with the mind. Being disenchanted they can disentangle themselves. Having disentangled themselves, they are freed. Being free there is the knowledge "I am free". They know: "birth is ended; the religious life is fulfilled; the task is completed; I'll never be reborn."

The other texts in the section are:
4. Bāhirāniccasuttaṃ
5. Bāhiradukkhasuttaṃ6. Bāhirānattasuttaṃ 
The Suttas on Objective Impermanence, Disappointment and Non-identification.
7. Ajjhattāniccātītānāgatasuttaṃ 8. Ajjhattadukkhātītānāgatasuttaṃ
9. Ajjhattānattātītānāgatasuttaṃ
The Suttas on Past and Future Subjective Impermanence, Disappointment and Non-identification.
10. Bāhirāniccātītānāgatasuttaṃ 11. Bāhiradukkhātītānāgatasuttaṃ 12. Bāhirānattātītānāgatasuttaṃ.
The Suttas on Past and Future Objective Impermanence, Disappointment and Non-identification.


I've made the point about the domain of application for paṭiccasamuppāda many times, but not for a while. So to reiterate, these texts confirm the summary found in the Sabba Sutta. The domain of application of paṭiccasamuppāda is the sensory world; that is to say the domain of experience. 

Here we focus on the two aspects of sense experience: the "subjective" (internal = ajjhatta) aspect in terms of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind; and the "objective" (external = bāhira) in the sense of forms, sounds, odours, tastes, tactile sensations and mental-activity. This is a relatively unsophisticated view of sensory perception in which the eye does the action of seeing as well as all the processing that we now associate with the brain. The eye passes on the seen to the manas which carries out the other functions, such as naming (saññā) and attraction/repulsion (saṅkhārā), etc. Both subjective and objective aspects of experience are treated identically. 

I'm usually wary of the terms subjective and objective for reasons I've spelled out in previous essays (See esp. Subjective & Objective). The term here is purely epistemological. The experience of seeing a form has two aspects: the seen and the seeing. No ontological conclusions can be drawn from this. From the mere experience of seeing a form we cannot know the nature of the form nor of the eye. Where form is defined, it is defined in experiential terms: colour, resistance, shape, texture. In the Buddhist description of experience both form and eye—i.e. both sense object (alambana) and sense faculty (indriya) —are necessary for the arising of sense cognition (viññāna) and the three together give rise to a sensory experience (vedanā "a known", "a datum"). There are no pure forms or ideas as in Plato's account of phenomena and noumena. Indeed noumena are implicitly denied here and elsewhere. 

Later Buddhism insists that the subject/object distinction is just something we impose on experience, an argument which is itself based on deep meditative experience. But even when the distinction is acknowledged, as it is here, there is no difference in treatment, no suggestion of ontological speculation or position taking. Even in form etc., there is nothing in experience to identify with. 

The object of knowing and seeing (ñānadassana), then, is the process of sensory perception. It is not "reality". When we say that we see "things" as they really are (yathābhūta), we do not mean "things" in the the general sense of "everything" (reality) but specifically we mean the things experience. We may choose to generalise this into a Theory of Everything, but this generalisation creates many philosophical problems of the kind that Buddhist philosophers are still arguing about. As a theory of why experience is disappointing the traditional account is still quite workable and based on sound foundations that will make it relevant for the foreseeable future. The rest, the arguments about the nature of reality and all that (all ontological arguments), are already anachronistic and irrelevant. 

It is evametaṃ 'just this' relation to sense experience that is to be seen with perfect understanding (samma-paññā; Skt. samyak-prajñā). In Buddhist jargon, right-view consists in correctly seeing experience as it is. To take this statement in context, we know that a similar analysis is carried out with regard to the khandhas (the factors of experience). So neither the factors of experience, nor the content of experience, nor any aspect of experience, is permanent. And what is impermanent is disappointing; and what is disappointing cannot be our Self. This logic is almost certainly drawn from the Brahmanical sphere. It represents a direct contradiction of the Vedantic ideal of saccidānanda. These are the three characteristics (trilakṣaṇa) of brahman/ātman: being (sat < √as), consciousness (cit) and bliss (ānanda). But we know that the early Buddhists denied that experience has being. In fact neither existence (astitā < √as) nor non-existence (na-astitā) apply to the domain of experience. And because experience is anicca it is dukkha rather than sukkha; sukkha being a synonym for ānanda. Nothing that is dukkha can possibly ātman or brahman. This parallel between Buddhist and Vedantic thought was established by K R Norman (1981). 

The Buddhist analysis blocks identification with any aspect of experience as our essence, self, soul or any enduring entity - which is why I'm suggesting "non-identification" as a translation of anattan (Skt. anātman). If ātman means 'myself' (reflexive pronoun) then an-ātman can be seen as a bahuvrīhi compound: "without a myself", "non-self-referential". Since absolutely every experience is impermanent, disappointing and non-self-referential even if we did have a soul, we'd never have access to knowledge of it, since knowledge is mental and thus an aspect of the experiential domain. If we can know something permanent, then if we do not presently know it, we'll never know it; or if we presently know it, we've always known it and always will. Ignorance of a soul is either impossible or absolute, precisely because the soul is defined as permanent. Thus if we don't know now, we never will. This is the essence of the argument that Nāgārjuna went on to make about dharmas having svabhāva (See Emptiness for Beginners). 

Note also that, though many Buddhists claim that bodhi has no intellectual content, this text and countless others like it, ascribe a very specific content to the experience of vimutti. Firstly one knows that having become disenchanted with the sensory world and losing interest in the froth of the play of thoughts and emotions one has disentangled oneself from it all. We cease to suspend our disbelief in the play of senses and see sense experience as it is (yathābhūta). There is nothing here about seeing reality. And being free from entanglement, free from the automatic moving towards attractive sensations and automatic moving away from repulsive sensations, we know that we are free. Interestingly this is expressed in the first person: vimuttami (i.e. vimuttaṃ asmi) 'I am freed'. But then there are a series of realisations related to the ending of rebirth. Being free from automatic responses one cannot carry out the kind of actions that contribute to rebirth. One is free in the precise sense of being free from rebirth

Those who do not believe in rebirth have yet to propose an alternative understanding of this process of disenchantment and what it signifies. This maybe because so few of the proponents of a no-rebirth (apunabhava) Buddhism have experienced liberation for themselves. We won't have a truly modern Buddhism until we have a number of credible first-hand accounts of liberation in rationalist terms. As far as I know most people who have insight still resort to traditional narratives to describe their experience. This may be because the traditionalists are more motivated to practice with sufficient intensity. 


Norman, K. R.  (1981) 'A Note on Attā in the Alagaddūpama Sutta.' Studies in Indian Philosophy LD Series, 84 – 1981

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, 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 was evidently similar to the Sanskrit of KS and carried out by Guṇabhadra in the 5th century CE. 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]  because of 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 while CC has 世人: "in the world" versus "worldly people". CC adds that the worldly people are 顛倒 "top-down" or "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: Skt:
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 in this latter passage. It makes more sense to refer to "two extremes" (antau; in the dual) 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.

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