29 March 2013

Finding Easter Eggs in Pāli Texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


KC: CBETA. http://tripitaka.cbeta.org/T02n0099_012 
KP: Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana Tipiṭaka. Version 4.0. 1995. Vipassana Research Institute 
KS: Tripāṭhī, Chandra. (Ed.) (1962). 'Fünfundzwanzig Sūtras Des Nidānasaṃyukta' in Sanskrittexte aus den Turfanfunden (Vol. VIII). Edited by Ernst Waldschmidt. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962. [Includes translation into German]: 167-170. 
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2010) ‘Taking Account of the Indic Source-text,’ in Translating Buddhist Chinese: Problems and Prospects. Konrad Meisig (ed.). Harrossowitz Verlag. 
Choong Mun-keat & Piya Tan (2004) ‘Saṃyukta Āgama 301 = Taishō 2.99.85c-86a’. Dharmafarer. Online: dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/6.13a-Sa-301-Kaccayanagotta-S-rev.pdf (pages numbered 89-91) 
Lapis Lazuli Texts (2011) ‘Saṃyuktāgama 301: Kātyāyana.’ Wikisource. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/ Saṃyuktāgama_301:_Kātyāyana
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