Appositional Nouns or Adjectively used Nouns?

A problem with which I see my self confronted is regarding the following sentence from the Brahmajālasutta, if I may pose briefly the issue: “acchariyaṃ, āvuso, abbhutaṃ, āvuso, yāvañcidaṃ tena bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā sammāsambuddhena sattānaṃ nānādhimuttikatā suppaṭividitā.”

The translations of Rhys Davids and Neumann regard the word group “bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā sammāsambuddhena” as appositions:"[…] that the Blessed One, he who knows and sees, the Arahat, the Buddha Supreme […]" (Rhys Davids. Dialogues of the Buddha). A textbook (Wijesekara. Syntax of the Cases in the Pāli Nikāyas) tells me that "There is no gen. of apposition in Indian languages, the nom. being the only idiom." and gives only for a double accusative another possibility for an appositional usage of nouns. Do I have therefore to regard the word group bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā as qualifying sammāsambuddhena? Should an appositional usage of nouns in other cases than the nominative or accusative not also be easily possible? The above sentence makes sense to me also in taking them as nouns in apposition being in the instrumental case. Are you aware of any specific rules regarding the above mentioned? Thank you so much!


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As far as I understand, the Genitive of Apposition is the name for a specific syntactic use of the Genitive case or an analagous construction where the “the same syntax that is used to express such relations as possession can also be used appositively” (Wikipedia) and the word in Gen refers to the same thing as the head word while not expressing the relation of possession. It is relatively widely used in the Classical and New Testament Greek, especially when referring to provocative images (‘temple of his body’, ‘sign of circumcision’). Among the modern European languages, I only know about it being more or less widely used only in English (‘month of December’, ‘City of New Orleans’). This Genitive of Apposition is opposed to the Genitive of Simple Apposition where the Genitive case is used solely due to the head word being in Gen. (cf. German ‘Im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes und des Heiligen Geistes’, ‘in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’).

It seems to me that this particular phrase you have quoted is a clear case of simple apposition in the Instrumental case (since tena and sammāsambuddhena are in Instr there is no ambiguity as to whether bhagavatā jānatā passatā arahatā are in Abl, pretty much the only possible grammatical alternative). To my knowledge, simple apposition governing the use of the same case, whether it is Nom, Gen, Instr, Abl or any other possible form, throughout the whole chain of nouns is a pretty straightforward matter in the Indo-European languages and possibly in many non-Indo-European ones as well. The only exception I know of is the use of the oblique case for the simple apposition in secondary cases, observed in the Tocharian languages, but it is a completely different story.

Not really, but I think it seems plausible we should follow the common sense and assume we are dealing with an apposition in Instr.


very nice to see your posts again @Vstakan!

I really appreciate questions on these gnarly details of grammar. They give me cold chills: my god, have I got everything wrong!!!

But anyway, i am no expert on this point. But to echo Vstakan, I don’t see any particular problem with it. Perhaps it was simply overlooked in Wijesekera (although that is usually a reliable source).

But I would draw attention to two separate issues: first, how the grammar is to be construed, and second, how it is to be expressed in English. For me, the catch here is “knowing and seeing”. It seems more natural to express this in English as “By the Buddha, who knows and sees” rather than “by the Buddha, the knower and seer”. But maybe I’m wrong, or maybe there’s another way to handle this.


Dear Vstakan,
thank you for having so quickly replied and the explanations and references – I have found a useful basis for some little further investigation in them. Some quotes and comments regarding these below.

I think Wijesekara meant precisely this use is not permissible in Pāli and Sanskrit:

It has to be remarked in this connection that in Pāli as in Skr. such usages as ‘the city of Pāṭaliputta’ etc. are not permissible.

I actually did not found anything in particular in his work which seems to speak against the simple apposition mentioned by you. If speaking of the Nom. being the only idiom, perhaps he referred merely to the first mentioned Genitive of apposition.

I looked up also the commentary, which seems to support your taking it in this way:

Yo so bhagavā samatiṃsa pāramiyo pūretvā sabbakilese bhañjitvā anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambuddho, tena bhagavatā tesaṃ tesaṃ sattānaṃ āsayānusayaṃ jānatā, hatthatale ṭhapitaṃ āmalakaṃ viya sabbañeyyadhammaṃ passatā.

I take here passatā and jānatā as being quite clearly taken in the way you and the other translators took it.


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