Sutta Nipata 2.9 offers a short discourse. An unnamed interlocuter asks about the morality to follow. This is ashort discourse with a simple message, but the language is surprisingly tricky. I keep tripping over rare words like sakāsa or unusual forms like erayitaṁ.
The sutta starts with the question, “With what morality … would a person be established?”
A note on the Pali, the third line has niviṭṭhassa, which is not the dative “for one who is established” but niviṭṭh’assa “would one be established”. Assa is third optative singular of atthi, glossed as bhāveyya.
The third line as translated by Norman says “would a man be properly established”. Ven Bodhi as “can a person be properly settled”. Neither of these, it seems to me, really make it clear what is meant. Niviṭṭha means to become established, but it is regularly used in the context of morality to refer to someone who has become habituated. In a negative sense it can be translated a “hardened” criminal. What it means is that there is a solid foundation in morality.
With what morality, what conduct,
fostering what deeds,
would a person lay the foundations right,
and reach the highest goal?
The second verse includes two similar phrases, kālaññū and khaṇaññū. Clearly these are virtually identical in literal meaning: “one who knows the time”, “one who knows the moment”. Bodhi doesn’t clearly distinguish the senses:
one should know the proper time
one who knows the occasion
Norman’s translation is almost identical.
But if they mean exactly the same thing, why have both of them? It sounds clunky, like bad verse. In good poetry, you include things that are similar but subtly different in order to sound the bell when the two ring against each other.
Kālaññū has the sense of someone who knows the appropriate occasion. In this case, go to a teacher for a Dhamma talk when they are prepared and ready in the Dhamma hall. Not yelling questions at them over the walls of the toilet stall, just for example.
Khaṇaññū has the sense of someone who is aware of the preciousness of the moment. The khaṇa means the chance, the opportunity, the fleeting moment that is gone all too soon.
Ven Thanissaro captures this well. As often, he is sensitive to poetic nuances that more literal translators miss.
should have a sense of the time for seeing teachers;
should value the opportunity when a talk on Dhamma’s in progress;
Here’s my rendering:
“Honoring elders without jealousy,
they’d know the right time to visit their teachers.
Treasuring the chance for a Dhamma talk,
they’d listen carefully to the fine words.
In verse four, there’s an unusual phrase, dhammavinicchayaññū. Vinicchaya is one of those terms that’s common in later Pali (in the sense of “judgement, decision”) but rare in the canon. Ven Bodhi has “knowing how to judge the Dhamma”, Norman has “knowing the exegesis of the doctrine”. I can’t help feeling that both of these lean a little too heavily on the later sense.
A similar phrase occurs only once else in the early texts, at Dhp 144, where, as one might suspect, it’s part of a series of familar terms (sīla, saddhā, samādhi), making it clear that it isn’t really a specialized term, but rather a poetic variation of dhammavicaya.
Near the end the text refers to the teaching that is ariyapavedite, translated by Norman, Thanissaro and Bodhi in the plural with something like “proclaimed by the noble ones”. But this is a synonym of tathāgatapavedita and it means “proclaimed by the Noble One” i.e. the Buddha.