I found a snippet of the Bhava Sutta (AN 3.76/77) quoted in the Hindu epic Mahabharata(MB), and I believe it has preserved a better reading than the Pali version that has come down to us.
In the Shanti Parva of the MB, while talking about various after-life theories, a view is quoted as “Kecid aahuh” i.e. “some say”; This is followed by a versified extract from the Bhava sutta containing the simile of field, seed and moisture;
But there is a significant difference:
Pali Bhava Sutta : Field = Kamma, Seed = Vinnana, Moisture = Tanha
MB versified quote : Field = Avijja, Seed = Kamma, Moisture = Tanha
2,211.031a avidyākarmaceṣṭānāṃ ke cid āhuḥ punarbhavam
12,211.031c kāraṇaṃ lobhamohau tu doṣāṇāṃ ca niṣevaṇam
12,211.032a avidyāṃ kṣetram āhur hi karma bījaṃ tathā kṛtam
12,211.032c tṛṣṇāsaṃjananaṃ sneha eṣa teṣāṃ punarbhavaḥ
I feel that the MB version is more accurate because:
The same Bhava Sutta talks of ‘vepakka’ or ‘fruition’ of Kamma; So it is more natural to suppose Kamma is also the seed/bija which comes to fruition.
The second version of the sutta (AN 3.77), which I feel is the more accurate, says ‘cetana’ is established (instead of ‘vinnana’ is established as in AN 3.76); Now, Buddha famously said ‘Cetanaham bhikkhave kammam vadami’;
If Cetana is established/planted, it makes more sense for Kamma to be the seed/bija which is planted since Kamma = Cetana;
The Sutta talks of two contributing factors for bhava - Avijja and Tanha; (Avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ); So it would be natural for both Avijja and Tanha to be mentioned in the simile; The pali version does not include Avijja in the simile whereas the MB version does;
The simile and the explanatory wordings in the Sutta make better sense with the MB version;
Avijja = niivarana = Field
Note : ‘Niivarana’ is a term related to ‘aavarana’ and occurs together with it in Tipitaka; Both stem from the same root vr/vrnoti meaning to cover/conceal. The field covers/conceals the seed; So Avijja which is the nivarana being the field is more apt than kamma being the field;
Tanha = Samyojana = Moisture
Note: Samyojana is to bind well; Moisture binds seed to field/soil. Both MB and pali version agree in making Tanha the moisture that binds.
Kamma = Cetana which is patitthita = Seed
Note: Kamma ripens. So Kamma being the seed is more apt.
Question : Does anyone know of any parallel agama version in chinese/sanskrit/tibetan or through quotations in vasubandhu etc where a buddhist source corraborates the MB reading?
Any other comments - esp. on the philosophical implications?