The Muni Sutta (Snp 1.12) is, along with the Khaggavisana, one of the outstanding texts of the first chapter of the Sutta Nipata. It is one of the texts that was translated by Ven Ñāñadīpa, so I get to have a look at his translation style, along with the work of Norman and Bodhi, my usual companions on the path and guides through the thickets.
As always, much of the hard work has been done by those who went before, but in a few small instances I feel I may be able to contribute a little.
In an idiom that will recur in the Sutta Nipata, the sage who has ended rebirth is described in some way as being beyond words or concepts.
Takkaṁ pahāya na upeti saṅkhaṁ.
These lines are tricky to get right, not least because the terms are not necessarily fixed in usage. Also, sayings of this kind are apt to be over-interpreted, so it’s important to be as precise as possible.
Here are the former renderings:
- Norman: leaving speculation behind, is not counted (in any category).
- Bodhi: having abandoned thought, cannot be designated
- Ñāñadīpa: Giving up thinking he does not enter the surveyable.
There are a number of issues here. I’m not convinced that takka means “thought” in the EBTs; it seems to refer to a more specialized process, i.e. “logic”, “rationalization”, or perhaps Norman’s “speculation”. It’s typically used of those philosophers who attempt to work out the world via a process of what in European philosophy is called “pure reason” (as opposed to empirical reasoning).
The idiom “having given up” (pahāya) is tricky, as clearly it doesn’t mean that a sage is incapable of thought (or logic or whatever). Either we need to read takka as something inherently bad (for which “speculation” might suffice) or we should read the verbal idiom less literally. As Ven Bodhi points out, the phrase must surely represent the stock phrase in the prose atakkāvacaro “gone beyond the scope of logic”.
Moving to the second part, none of the sources notice that na upeti saṅkhaṁ is in fact a stock idiom in prose with a clear meaning. At eg. SN 20.2:1.7 find:
Saṅkhampi na upeti upanidhimpi na upeti kalabhāgampi na upeti
it does not count, it cannot be compared, it is worth not a fraction.
Surely the sense must be the same here.
Ñāñadīpa’s “surveyable” seems odd in isolation, but he is connecting this word with the first line of the verse where the sage has saṅkhāya vatthūni “having surveyed the fields”. The sense is of assessing or judging the ground.
I’m not 100% happy, but for the verse as a whole I currently have:
Having assessed the fields and crushed the seeds,
they wouldn’t nurture it with moisture.
Truly that sage sees the utter ending of rebirth;
when logic’s left behind, assessments no longer apply.
Another tricky line concerns speech. It refers to someone who remains steady as a post when others speak about them.
Yasmiṁ pare vācāpariyantaṁ vadanti
The phrase vācāpariyantaṁ is rendered as “the end of words” (Ñāñadīpa), “in an extreme manner” (Norman), and “speak provocative words” (Bodhi).
None of them, nor the commentary, notice that this idiom is commonly used in the description of speech, and notably, of right speech.
The basic meaning of pariyanta is “limit, end”, and in the context of speech it means “succinct, to the point” as opposed to “rambling”:
nidhānavatiṁ vācaṁ bhāsitā hoti kālena sāpadesaṁ pariyantavatiṁ atthasaṁhitaṁ
They say things at the right time which are valuable, reasonable, succinct, and beneficial.
Unless the word is used here in an opposite manner to normal—something that is highly unusual in the Suttas—the initial a- has been elided in sandhi with vācā and we should read “endlessly”:
when others speak endlessly against them
The rest of it is pretty much the same in all the translations, just a few differences of style and phrasing.