"Bhikkhūnaṃ akārako" in the Vinaya's Gilānavatthukathā

In the “Homeless fellow humans” thread @Sabbamitta wrote:

The part in bold came as quite a surprise to me, for what I remembered the passage saying was that the sick monk’s companions were callously neglecting him merely because his present incapacitation rendered him useless to them.

So I checked with the Pali, along with the English and German translations, and see that there’s quite a difference in how the respective translators have construed the phrase bhikkhūnaṃ akārako (lit. “non-doer for the monks”).

Here’s the Pali:

“Kissa taṃ bhikkhū na upaṭṭhentī”ti?
“Ahaṃ kho, bhante, bhikkhūnaṃ akārako, tena maṃ bhikkhū na upaṭṭhentī”ti.

The German translator renders the phrase fairly expansively:

„Weshalb, pflegen die Mönche dich nicht?“
„Auch ich, Verehrungswürdiger, habe den Mönchen nichts getan (nicht geholfen), daher pflegen die Mönche mich nicht.“

[“Why, don’t the monks care for you?” — “As I, sir, haven’t done anything for the monks (haven’t helped them), therefore the monks don’t take care of me.”]

By contrast, the English translator has:

“Why do not the monks tend you?”
“I, Lord, am of no use to the monks, therefore the monks do not tend me.”

… which I suppose is the source of what I remembered the neglectful monks saying.

Having only just made this discovery I don’t yet have any preference between the German and English renderings, but as it’s a rather intriguing difference I thought I’d bring it to your attention.

@Brahmali @Sujato


Interesting difference. It seems on first glance that Horner got it right here, else a past participle would have been used.


I don’t think that’s so certain, bhante. For example, in the Udāna we find:

Manussānaṃ etad’ahosi: akārakā ime samaṇā sakyaputtiyā, na’y’imehi kataṃ…

Then it occurred to those people: “These Sakyan ascetics are not the doers, [the murder of Sundarī] wasn’t done by them…”
(Ud 4.8)

Even if the kataṃ clause had been omitted, the context would still require us to take akārakā as referring to the non-doers of something in the past.

The problem with the Mahāvagga passage is that the context seems to allow for both possibilities. I notice that Asian translators are also divided on this issue, with the Thais and Vietnamese both taking it as past tense and the Sinhalese as present.


To be honest this distinction has never occurred to me. I have always understood the passage to mean that the ill monk is generally of no use to the rest of the monks. To me it is just too obvious that he doesn’t do anything for the others while he is ill. It’s hard to imagine, I feel, that they would use this as an excuse not to look after him.

And I don’t think a past tense is required for the passage to have this more general meaning. In English, too, you can use the present tense to describe a general state of affairs.

By the way, the passage is found in Cīvarakkhandhaka, around the three quarter mark (pg. 301 of the PTS version).