Chinese Version of Difficult Passages

The following pertains to the Chinese Translation of the Arthapadasutra found here

The difficult passages are found on the PDF page 119, or page 90 on the actual print.

Here is the translation. You will have to look at the PDF for the Chinese source.

The translation speaks of “worldly objects” and “good form”. That makes it sound like worldly objects are “bad form”, unless by good form it means pleasant worldly objects. Strangely, the translation seems to indicate that good form ceases when there is still consciousness of form. That makes me think good form is pleasant worldly objects.

Given the Chinese source, what do you make of worldly objects and good form?

Added later: another interesting thing to note is the translation uses consciousness where the Pali uses sanna.

Added later still: are worldly objects name and form and with the cessation of name as recognition we are left with a bare form?

1 Like

What Bapat is translating as “worldly objects” is more literally “worldly form” (世色). What he translates as “good form” is more literally “beautiful form” (好色 = suvarṇa?).

Just looking at it for a bit, I’m a little confused by Bapat translating 細濡 as contact. I see that it must occur where P. phassa occurs (the Taisho editors have a note on it indicating that), but the word literally means “a little moisture” or maybe a “trickle.” I would need to see if it’s consistently used for phassa throughout to form an opinion, but it’s not a typical translation of contact. It looks more like P. asava or something similar.

Also, the Sanskrit cognate of P. sañña is saṃjñā, and it does often get used to mean “conscious” (as opposed to being unconscious) in that language outside of Buddhist literature. So that may be where Bapat is getting that reading.


I am thinking “beautiful form” is better thought of as “attractive worldly form”.

What does Bapat derive “inactive” from? What is it literally?

Yeah, the Chinese 好 means something attractive, like an attractive woman (or man).

Okay, I’m having deja vu: I’ve already looked at these verses in another thread for someone else:


Thanks for pointing this out. I did not follow that thread.

One thing that I noticed is that your translation has the line

where Bapat has

Your line seems to imply a formless state, but Bapat seems to imply an awareness of forms, the unworldly kind. Is this due to a typo or Bapat muffing a complex passage?

Added later: your version of the line could mean that form is not perceived leaving form unembellished, pure form
End Added later

This seems to imply the cessation of perception/recognition. Is that how you interpret it?

1 Like

Well, the honest answer is that philosophical verses like these are inherently difficult to resolve to a particular meaning without having the author on hand to explain what exactly they meant. And Buddhist authors are notoriously anonymous, aside from the late philosophical treatises. Nobody knows exactly how terse verses were intended to be read, really. That’s the fun of ancient poetry.

But, in that line, which in Chinese reads 不想想不色想, I’m assuming that the 不s (not) form a neither-nor compound. That’s why I don’t render 不色 as formless. Instead, I negated the entire expression 色想 perception of form. Otherwise, if there’s supposed to be a parallelism in the line, I would have to read the first half of it as “perceiving the perceptionless,” which doesn’t make as much sense to me.

Classical Chinese relies on consistent parallelisms to help the reader resolve its meaning, given there’s so little grammar to it, so it’s just natural to read it this way, I guess.


I suppose “not perceiving perception” could mean there is no recognition. “not without perception” could mean, but there is discernment. The “not perceiving form” could imply there are no attractive worldly objects which must be true if we are answering the question " By the attainment of what does the good(attractive worldly) form cease?”

Perception as recognition is the problem, hence

I think the problem with the Pali is that when it says

It is not clear that the form that needs to cease is perceived form(attractive world form) which is made more clear in the Chinese.

I think you nailed it.

This is also what the Pāli says of course. “na saññasaññī.” And the structure of the Pāli is identical to @cdpatton’s rendering as well (not X, not X).

The commentary glosses this as ‘normal perception’ and ‘visañña’ as distorted perception, which as Bhante Sujato pointed out is precisely the meaning of ‘visañña’ elsewhere in Pali.


My question to you is do the verses describe a state with pure form or a formless state? Because I think that that is the biggest issue.

I think there are three possibilities, and one way to include all of them in the passage:

  1. This is about formless states in general
  2. This is about the specific state of neither-perception-nor-non-perception
  3. This is about the samādhi state of the ariyas (e.g. the one in AN 10.7 and other suttas)

The way we can include all of these is by saying that this describes the strategy or method of practice that one undertakes for the gradual refinement / cessation of perception, as in DN 9 or MN 121/122. This would cover all three and be more practice-oriented, i.e. prescriptive, than descriptive.


A few things to consider,

  1. We were discussing the Chinese parallel.
  2. Visannasanni was not even mention by me, cdpatton, or in either translation of the Chinese.
  3. I mentioned the Pali only because in the Pali the question is how does form cease. In the Chinese, the question is how does attractive worldly form cease. Going into deep formless states is overkill given the question posed in the Chinese parallel.
  4. I think you are wrong when you say this

I think there is a fourth, pure form. Given that the Chinese parallel is asking how does attractive worldly form end, this seems a more measured response.

I am not a Theravadin. There are many experts with different opinions. I do not take what one person says as gospel. In the end, we are responsible for what we ourselves believe. It is impossible for me to take seriously that the entire canon came from one person when I see so many contradictions and layers in it.

The Buddha of the Atthakavagga does not engage in debates. He does not theorize about other realms, Snp4.3. Being in the world/contact is what causes suffering. He is not debating about the Brahminic notion of Atman or any other philosophic notion of self, he is trying to end our pain. Self in the world is visceral, not philosophical. Even a caveman had this simple gut level notion of self.

I hope I do not come off as hostile. I do not share all your premises. We are going to come to different conclusions. When I see the suttas you pointed out, I see them as anachronistic to the Atthakavagga. They do not carry the weight for me that they do for you.

I have been looking at Bapat’s translation of this stanza and I think I see the method in his madness.
It looks like the first ‘No’ or ‘not’ carries an implicit ‘nor’ with it.

Neither () nor ()

becomes: Neither (想想) nor (不色想)
becomes: Neither (想想) nor ((不色)想)
becomes: Neither (consciousness consciousness) nor ((not form)consciousness)
becomes: Neither (consciousness consciousness) nor ((formless)consciousness)
becomes: Neither consciousness nor formless consciousness

becomes: Neither (無想) nor (不行想)
becomes: Neither (無想) nor ((不行)想)
becomes: Neither (not consciousness) nor ((not active) consciousness)
becomes: Neither (unconsciousness) nor ((inactive) consciousness)
becomes: Neither unconsciousness nor inactive consciousness

I think this is how the author meant it.

I think the author read visannasanni as deranged consciousness and he took that to mean formless consciousness. The Athakavagga does not mention form or formless until Snp 4.11. Form was normative. Formless was not normative. I wonder if the Pali author thought of deranged perception as formless perception too.

I think the author read asanni as not consciousness or unconscious. This is understandable.

I think the author read vibhūtasaññī as ceased consciousness or inactive conscious. This is understandable too.


This is super unnecessarily over complicated.

I’m almost certain all this is pointing to is that our attachments to worldy objects (the physical world, the material world) keep us from being free.

Attachments caused by desire (the pleasant), and Identification with “form” (physical self) instead of spiritual self. It’s also pointing to the use of “words” (name) being a limiting mental construct. As soon as we name or label or describe something, the truth is lost or diluted - only through experience can we understand the incomprehensible.

A big part of this site is dedicated to translating and understanding early Buddhist texts. Many people here are accomplished translators. I am not, but @cdpatton is. You are going to see a lot of this kind of dialogue. Just so you know.

I have learned more things and changed my mind more times in the last year than in the prior six from this kind of thing. It also encourages people to read more deeply the texts and understand the practice and liberation better for it.

I hope you enjoy the site.


Perhaps I misunderstood the purpose of this site.

May I ask, are we here to understand and practice Buddhist principles or are we here to decipher and discuss linguistics?

Talk about our own practices is discouraged or at least that is how I read things. Perhaps, the @moderators can chime in with a more definitive answer.


Thank you :pray:t2: I appreciate it

Thanks @Raftafarian that is correct. Please refer to the following

I deleted my post as I worried it came across unintentionally charged. Apologies.

I expressed my feeling disappointment that it seems we are more focussed on translation & linguistics rather than truly understanding and practicing the meaning, which I know often requires outside sources to connect the dots.