Buddhist Hybrid Chinese Study 2: SA 501

This time I picked this sutra: SA 501. I don’t think it has a lot of new grammar, but is interesting to me because it gets into samadhi/dhyana terminology. The Pali parallel is SN 21.1. Venerable Mahāmoggallāna is the one speaking in this sutra. After the usual introduction, it starts with:

At that time, the Venerable Maudgalyayana said to the bhikshus, “One time, the Bhagavan was staying in Rajagaha, at Kalandaka’s Bamboo Grove.”

Fairly straightforward.


Here we see the 於…中 locative phrase cdpatton mentioned in the last BHC thread. Nice to see that again so soon. Helps in remembering it! So there’s the subject (我)- adverbial phrase (於此耆闍崛山中)- verb (住).

獨一靜處 is a phrase that pops up quite a lot. 處 is the verb, and 獨一 and 靜 are the adverbs. Edwin Pulleyblank’s Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar says 獨 can mean “only” as an adverb, or “alone,” like it does in modern Chinese, when acting as an adjective. So is the use of 一 (yi) needed here because it is acting as an adverb? “Only one” = alone? Maybe they just needed an extra character to round up to 5 characters, or something like that.

作如是念 - If I’m parsing this right, I believe its 作-如是-念. In English, we talk about “having” thoughts. However, 作 means to make or do (I believe it means the same thing in classical Chinese). So literally, this would be “[I] did/made this thought,” or “[I] did/made a thought like this.”

So, we have:

I was staying at this same Gijjha-kuṭa. Abiding silently in solitude, I had this thought:

I think I’ll stop there for the night.


One of the difficulties that they had with classical Chinese was that individual words with multiple readings could be misunderstood if more than one reading fit the context. We suffer from this in English a little bit, too! Chinese translators dealt with by coining two-character words that made it clear which reading was intended. So, in the case of 獨一, 一 is clarifying that 獨 means “solitary.” This is yet another way it’s tough to read classical Chinese. There aren’t any explicit word boundaries, so we can get confused about whether to read a pair of characters as one word or two.


It’s interesting that the Chinese of that era had the same problem as us, ha-ha. Adding additional Dharmic meanings to characters makes it even more difficult to select the right reading. That’s just part of the fun, I guess.


云何 is an interrogative that can mean why, how, and sometimes what. I have an app that combines several dictionaries, and according to this one 漢英英漢英英佛教詞彙, the Sanskrit is katham-krtva, and,

This form is usually used by a person of higher status directing a question at a person of lower status.

Muller’s DDB backs up the Sanskrit, but doesn’t offer the same explanation.

It seems like the question 云何為聖默然? could be translated in two ways depending on how 爲 is being used. If 為 is acting as a copula verb (to be), then “what” would be the most logical translation of 云何. So, “What is noble silence(聖默然)?” The concluding remark, 是名聖默然 (“This is called noble silence.”) seems to pair best with that. If 爲 is read as “to make or do,” then 云何 would be “how,” and the question would be (somewhat literally), “How is noble silence made?” or “How is noble silence done?” That doesn’t pair so nicely with “This is called noble silence,” though.

Again (復) I had this thought:


Now we start to get into the technical dhyana (jhana) terminology. This is the familiar description of the second dhyana. 息 means to calm, stop, or cease. 覺 and 觀 mean vitarka and vicāra in Sanskrit, respectively. Muller’s DDB lists 尋伺 as synonymous with 覺觀. It seems that 覺觀 is the earlier translation for vitarka and vicāra.


I believe this is the equivalent of “with internal clarity and confidence, and unified mind” in the parallel. However, 淨 in Chinese carries a stronger connotation of being clean or pure. 一心 matches quite well with “unified mind,” though.


無 is a negation, often times specifically of 有. So no vitarka and vicāra. 三昧 means samadhi, although using that as a translation gets a bit tricky since another word that seems to be synonymous with samadhi is used later in the sutra. 生 means to birth, create, or give rise to. 喜樂 are priti and sukha, two of my favorite words from the sutras.


I’ve run out of free look ups on Muller’s DDB, but I want to finish this up tonight.

第二禪 means the second dhyana. I looked up 具足住 yesterday. As I recall, it means something like “to firmly abide in.” Like I said before, 是名聖默然 (“This is called noble silence.”)

“What is noble silence?” Again I had this thought, “If a bhikshu calms vitarka and vicāra, [then with] a purified and unified mind, [and] without vitarka and vicāra, [the bhikshu’s] samadhi gives rise to priti and sukha, [and then the bhikshu] abides firmly in the second jhana. This is called noble silence.”

The trickiest things is putting all of these parts together. I know from the Enligsh translations of the Pali that’s there’s a fixed sequence of events here. However, I don’t see that clearly expressed in the Chinese, unless the order of the phrases is meant to convey that. I’m guessing this is another case of the Chinese translators dropping “unnecessary” grammatical connective tissue?

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云何 (為) seems to be often used to form a rhetorical question to begin an explanation or definition of a term previously introduced. It can sometimes be translated as “what does x mean?” or simply as you do “what is x?


I think 具足usually means something like ‘complete, perfect, having it all’ . The DDB gives ‘fully abiding’ for 具足住.


Ah, so my memory wasn’t too far off.


I believe the meaning of 當 here is “to undertake or perform.”

Something I haven’t pointed out before is that words like now, today, tomorrow, etc., follow the subject in Chinese. This is true in both modern Chinese and classical Chinese (as far as I know). 我今 is literally “I now…” whereas in English we’d say “Now I…” In modern Chinese, 今 is much more commonly used to mean “today(今天)” instead of “now,” like it’s being used here. However, my modern Chinese dictionary has 今兒 as an entry meaning “the present; now.” I never heard people use it that way in the part of China I lived in, or in Taiwan. I never lived in northern China, though, and the addition of the 兒 makes this seem like it could be something said in northern China.

Now I also will undertake noble silence.

Then the sequence of actions describing the attainment of the second jhana is given again:

[then] calming vitarka and vicāra, [with] a purified and unified mind, [and] without vitarka and vicāra, samadhi gave rise to priti and sukha

This phrase has something I saw in another sutra: 具足住多住. The “verb+多+verb” seems to indicate something like “ardently verbing.” The example I saw in the other sutra was 修習多修習, which the DDB translates as “cultivate practices assiduously.” I think this works similarly with any verb. If so, that would make this “ardently and fully abiding.” As a side note, 具足住多住 seems to be capturing what Bhante Sujato translates as “enters and remains.” The character 住 is what’s being translated as “to abide.” It is still used in modern Chinese, and means the same thing: to live (at a place). This matches nicely with the Pali and Sanskrit “vihara,” which doubles as “to live at” and “to meditate,” as in Brahmavihara.

In the next part, 多住已, 已 means to stop or cease. So the “ardent abiding” ceased. That sounds a bit awkward in English, but means the mind pulled out of the second dhyana.

Again vitaka and vicara arose in [my] mind.

To finish up for the night:

Again I had a thought, “Now I also will undertake noble silence.” [I] calmed vitaka and vicara. [With] a purified and unified mind lacking vitaka and vicara, samadhi gave rise to priti and sukha. [And I] ardently and fully abided [in the second dhyana]. [But] the ardent abiding ceased, [and] again vitaka and vicara arose in [my] mind.

I had my first vaccine shot today. So I’m feeling a bit spacey, but want to get back to this.


This sentence is fairly straight forward. The only tricky part is 汝當聖默然. The reason it’s tricky is that I believe this to be a imperative sentence, but there isn’t anything to really indicate that other than context. Looking in Pulleyblank’s Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar, it says that in classical Chinese there wasn’t anything in the written word to indicate the imperative. You have to rely on context.

放逸 is pramāda in Sanskrit. It looks like pamāda is the Pali. So there isn’t any confusion around this word.

At that time, the Bhagavān knew my thought. [He] disappeared from the Bamboo Monastery [and] appeared before me in Gijjha-kuṭa. [He] said to me, "Maudgalyāyana! You [should continue] undertaking noble silence. Don’t give rise to negligence. "


I believe 已 and 即 are acting together here to mean “after…then…” In modern Chinese, 離 means to leave or separate. Muller’s DDB has “remove” as another possible meaning. I’m not sure which is best here.

After hearing the Bhagavān’s words, [I] then again removed vitaka and vicara. [With] a calm and unified mind, [and] without vitarka and vicāra, samadhi gave rise to priti and sukha. [I then] abided in the second dhyana.


再三 is a new term for me. I didn’t get any hits in Muller’s DDB or the Chinese->Chinese Buddhist dictionaries. I found it in non-specialized Chinese dictionaries, though. It means “over and over,” or “repeatedly.”

The first occurrence of 再三 is, I think, referring to the process of attaining but being unable to abide in the second dhyana, which is talked about in the previous sentence. So,

[Attaining but not abiding in the second dhyana] like this over and over, the Buddha also repeatedly told me, "Moggallāna! You [should continue] undertaking noble silence. Don’t [be] negligent. "

In this sentence, the 生 is missing from what the Buddha tells Mahāmaudgalyāyana: 莫放逸. This feels more like the Buddha is saying, “Don’t give up!” But “Don’t [be] negligent.” is more literal.

I then again calmed vitaka and vicara, [and with] a calm and unified mind, [and] without vitarka and vicāra, samadhi gave rise to priti and sukha. [I then] abided in the third dhyana.

Yay, he did it!

This is one of the places where the Chinese differs from the Pali in a small but significant way. At this point in the Pali parallel, Mahāmaudgalyāyana does not attain the third jhana. He simply continues abiding in noble silence (the second jhana). Interesting. This almost makes it seem like he was trying to attain the third dhyana the whole time, and not just stay in the second dhyana. I think this might be a error in the Chinese text, honestly.

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I would translate 離 as “part from” or “secluded from”, or if bolder as “beyond”


“Don’t be negligent” should be the correct one, this is a common mistake westerners make when translating the word appamāda, they always make it have a positive meaning like “heedfulness”, but actually it means “Don’t be careless”, (like when you remind your child when he or she is first learning how to drive a car)

But you’ve done a good job! Learning Literary Chinese should be encouraged, even in China or Vietnam or any eastern countries, majority of the voluminous tripitaka haven’t yet been translated into modern languages afaik.
Most of the dhamma talks, biographies and the history records also. And the people who have knowledge about the language are disappearing more day by day now.

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Thanks for the feedback!

Yeah, I think there’s enough work there to keep several people busy for the whole of their lives. For example, in another thread @llt mentioned all the Sarvastivada meditation texts that haven’t been translated yet. I personally find that kind of stuff really interesting, and would love to see more of it translated.


Wow, just found this 藏經词典. Not sure how I missed that before. It has several dictionaries, including Sanskrit->Chinese, Pali->Chinese, Sanskrit->English, and a Pali Dictionary that has Pali in Roman script along with English and Chinese definitions! Here’s the link to the Pali dictionary 巴利语辭典. Unfortunately, the dictionaries aren’t searchable. Making those searchable wouldn’t be too hard if one had the data. Hmm…

Anyway, moving on…


This sentence is a rather tricky. 正說 means “correct teaching(s),” and is the opposite of 邪說, if it’s treated as a noun. However, based on what the Pali says, 正 would be an adverb and 說 the verb. Looking at the equivalent of the first five characters, 若正說佛子, Bhante Sujato’s translation of the Pali has “if anyone should be rightly called a disciple…” My first thought was that the Chinese meant “If disciples(佛子) of the correct teachings…” What do you think @cdpatton?

佛口生, 法化生, and 得佛法分 don’t lend themselves to natural sounding English translations. Literally, 佛口生 would be “born from the Buddha’s mouth.” I think “words” is probably what’s meant, though. 法化 is literally a “Dharma transformation.” So 法化生 would be something like “born from a Dharma transformation.” And according to Muller’s DDB, 法分 in 得佛法分 means

Dharma-portion, Dharma-allotment. Oneʼs own understanding and mastery of the Buddhaʼs teachings.

Less literally, 得佛法分 would be “attained understanding of the Buddha’s teaching,” which isn’t so bad.

Going with my first hunch regarding 正說, we’d end up with something like:

If disciples of the correct teachings [are] born from the Buddha’s words, [are] born from a transformation by the Dharma, and [have] attained an understanding of the Dharma…


This whole sentence has a more complex use of the 若…則 construct we’ve seen before. It also has something very common in classical Chinese: the use of 也 as a copula verb (to be). Here 也 is simply showing two nouns to be equivalent. Although 也 comes at the end, you have to figure out where the first noun ends, the second begins, and mentally insert the 也 between them. Here it would be 我身也是, since in classical Chinese 是 means “this” and not “to be.” 是 refers back to the 佛子 in the previous part of the sentence. 身is being used as a reflexive pronoun here, and not to mean “body.” I’d translate this last bit as,

Then I myself am this.

To put it altogether,

If disciples of the correct teachings [are] born from the Buddha’s words, [are] born from a transformation by the Dharma, and [have] attained understanding of the Dharma, then I myself am this.

Going with something closer to the translation of the Pali (“if anyone should be rightly called a disciple…”) would require a lot more injecting of words that aren’t there in the Chinese. But maybe a native speaker would fill those words in for themselves?

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uhm, there should be a comma here:

若正說, 佛子從佛口生

so it would be rendered as: If rightly speaking / if speaking in way that is correct, the son of the Buddha / the Buddha’s disciple is born from the Buddha’s mouth.

從法化生, you divide the sentence incorrecly in this one. It should be 從法/ 化生. With 化生 means “spontaneous born”, as in “the animals are born from the womb, the gods are spontaneous born.”

So the sentence is rendered as: “spontaneous born from the Dharma”

法分 means Dharma inheritance or Dharma heritage

So 得佛法分 is “gained the Buddha’s Dharma heritage”, or “inherited the Buddha’s Dharma heritage/fortune.”

Then I myself is this person.


I agree with @UttamaSanti. The entire sentence is a play on the brahmana’s claim that they were originally born from Brahma’s mouth.


Wow, I really butchered that sentence! It was quite hard to parse.

Ah, so then it is being used like an adverb + verb.

Great. Thanks!

That makes more sense than what Muller’s DDB has. Thanks again!

Cool. Thanks! I’m going to search the Agamas for the Brahmin version to compare them.

Thanks you both for your feedback! I don’t claim to be qualified to translate these texts, and am not attempting to provide a translation of them. My posts are just me documenting my process of trying to understand them. “Translating” them into English is just part of that process. I originally hoped that these posts would be a dialogue, and welcome people to point out my mistakes. That’s how we learn!


Don’t say that, you’re doing great, translating is not that difficult, I hope you keep that up, in a year, you’ll accumulate a lot of skills in translating. And I don’t see anyway better to learn a dead language than to translating it, making it back alive.

We’re all learners here! We learn from each other.


@cdpatton Were you talking about this?


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That’s an example. It’s found in a few places in the EBTs like DN 27/DA 5, too. The Buddhists really liked this rhetorical device of reversing their opponents claims or redefining their terms to their own purposes.


I think the last few sentences of this sutra will be hard going.


所以者何 seems to be a multipurpose question. I’ve seen it translated as “Why is that?” a lot. Muller’s DDB has “why is it so?” as the basic meaning, with tat kasya as the Sanskrit. I’m not sure how to get that from the Chinese, though. Does 所以 mean “reason” here? Any ideas?

Literally, 我是佛子 would be “I, this disciple of the Buddha.” Usually 是 refers back to something in a previous sentence or phrase, but here it feels like it’s emphasizing being a disciple of the Buddha. Sound right?

I think enough has been said about 從佛口生,從法化生,得佛法分.

I’m quite mystified by 以少方便. Does it mean “with little effort”? I know what the rest of the terms mean (except for the last one):
得禪 - attained dhyana
解脫- [attained] liberation
三昧 - [attained] samadhi
正受 - [attained] the formless dhyanas (?)
Muller’s DDB has a link to the Monier-Williams dictionary

samāpatti : (with Buddhists) a subdivision of the fourth stage of abstract meditation (there are eight Samāpattis)

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I usually translate it with a question like “Why is that?” or “What’s the reason for that?” Literally, 者 is nominalizing 以. “That’s because of what?”

是 is a copula in a verbless sentence to equate the subject and predicate. Classical Chinese doesn’t really have a copula verb like English does, but 是 serves the same purpose in this situation, so it can be treated like “to be” in a translation. “I am a son of the Buddha who’s born from the Buddha’s mouth …”

正受 is a tough case for any translator, I think. It’s related to meditation, but I’m still not sure how to translate it at this point. I think I encountered it once so far and settled on “correct attainment” for the time being. There are sutras that equate it with the higher meditative states like SA 456, but in SA 883, it seems to be distinct from samadhi. A person can be “good at” one and not the other. Perhaps it has something to do with the perception of the different objects of each of the higher states? SA 456 seems to give it that meaning, but what English would work for it?