This is the first in what will hopefully be many posts about Buddhist Hybrid Chinese. I envision this and future posts to be a place where we can discuss grammar and specialized Buddhist terminology in the Agamas. Although we will kind of be (partially) translating the sutras as we discuss them, I see the goal of these posts to be gaining a deeper understanding of grammar rather than getting complete translations. Of course, if we end up with a nice translation by the time we reach the end of a sutra, that’s great, too! I myself am interested in helping to translate the Agamas (and maybe even Vinaya texts) at some point in the future. However, I just want to make it clear this topic is not about asking for a translation, or jumping in and simply translating everything, but discussing the grammar and terminology. I guess I should also say that some knowledge of Chinese is assumed for participation in this topic.
I thought it would be best to pick a sutra ahead of time, and so picked this sutra: SuttaCentral. Discussing the whole of the sutra at once won’t work, so I copied the first two sentences, and only discussed the first two parts of the first sentence below.
Skipping the introduction that states the setting of the sutra, the Buddha begins by saying this:
As I understand it, this phrase follow the S-O-V format.
So 眾生 (all beings) is the subject, 色 (form/rupa) is the object, and 味 is the verb. The preposition 於 precedes the object. In modern Chinese 味 can mean taste or smell. It seems that it refers exclusively to taste in the EBTs, as in one of the 6 external sense bases (六外處). I don’t think that’s what intended here, obviously, but something along the lines of “delighting in,” as in the way we delight in pleasant tastes. Is there a Pali parallel for this sutra? The Pali and Sanskrit for 味 is rasa.
I’m not entirely sure what role 者 is playing here. I know it is often used to nominalize a verb or verb phrase, but when that is done the nominalized phrase usually becomes the subject of the sentence. However, this phrase already has a subject. So would the difference be between having and not having it literally be:
(no 者): “If all beings don’t delight in form…”
(with 者): “If all those beings don’t delight in form…” or “If all beings who don’t delight in form…”
I suppose it sounds a bit artificial in English either way, since this and the following phrase would mostly like be combined in a way they aren’t in Chinese.
The next phrase is
Here the subject is not explicitly stated, as is often the case, since it’s clear from the context we’re still talking about “all beings who don’t delight in form.” However, now it seems like a S -V-O structure is being used? I noticed this happens later in the sutra, too.
Anyway, in modern Chinese, 染 means to dye, pollute, or contaminate. This first occurrence of 染 is short for 染著, I believe. The full version is used in the second half of the sentence. 染著 is defined in terms of craving (貪愛) and attachment/grasping (執著). 染 seems to emphasize the polluting aspect of klesha, but is also synonymous with attachment/grasping. Grasping seems like a good translation for 執 since also means “to hold in the hand.” Anyway, maybe it would better to go with “attached to” rather than “defiled by” in a translation? Speaking in terms of attachment is probably more familiar to Buddhists.
Anyway, if I were to attempt a translation, I’d say something like,
Those beings who don’t delight in form are not defiled by (or attached to) it.
Please share your thoughts! I thought that after discussing this we could move onto to the rest of the first sentence and the second sentence. That shouldn’t take long since the only new grammar introduced is 以…故.