Confusion regarding two recensions of the Paccayasutta

I had an older thread in which I hashed over some of this, but I’ve learn some since then and I think a new discussion might be in order.

I would like to start with a presentation of an amateur translation of a section of the Paccayasutta parallel at T99.84b12/SA296. This translation is going to differ from the one by (Ven? I can’t figure out if he’s a monk or not) Choong Mun-Keat. I will discuss what’s differing between the established translation (which seems interpret the Chinese according to the Pāli, a sensible practice tbh) and (my) confusion regarding these seemingly very divergent recensions (well, it’s really just an plural at an odd place) of Buddhavacana after this:

Like this I heard:

One time, the Buddha dwelt at Rājagṛha in the bamboo garden.

At that time, the Bhagavān said to the myriad monks: "I now shall speak of the pratītyasamutpāda dharma and the pratītyasamutpannā dharmas.

And what is the pratītyasamutpāda dharma? It is ‘this is and therefore that is,’ it is ‘because of ignorance there are the activities, because of the activities, [there is] consciousness, and so on like this [to] the great aggregated mass of suffering.’

And what are the pratītyasamutpannā dharmas? They are ignorance, the activities, (etc.) Whether a Buddha arises in the world or if one doesn’t arise, these dharmas are permanently abiding, [they are] dharmas abiding as dharma-constituent (dhātu). The Tathāgata himself is that which has become aware of this, has attained samyaksaṁbodhi, and, for men, speaks of it, explains it, demonstrates it, and sends it out. It is because of ignorance there are the activities, and so on, dependently arisen (pratītyasamutpannā), there is age and death.

Whether a Buddha arises in the world or if one doesn’t arise, these dharmas are permanently abiding, are dharmas abiding as dharma-constituent. The Tathāgata himself is that which has become aware of this, has attained samyaksaṁbodhi, and, for men, speaks of it, explains it, demonstrates it, and sends it out. It is because of birth there is age, sickness, death, sadness, rage, and angst.

These pluralistic and myriad dharmas are dharmas abiding as dharmas of emptiness, are dharmas of suchness, are dharmas in their manner, are dharmas not contrary to suchness, are dharmas no different than suchness, are truth and reality without error. Like this, subordinated to pratītyasamutpāda, there are the pratītyasamutpannā dharmas. They are ignorance, the activities, consciousness, name-and-form, the six entrance bases, touching, feeling, craving, clinging, being, birth, age, sickness, death, sadness, rage, angst; these are called the pratītyasamutpannā dharmas.

I would like to tag @cdpatton and Ven @sujato should more of my daft mediocrity humour them. With 此等諸法, the translator seems to be really, really, stressing the plurality of these 法, which are clearly the pratītyasamutpannā dharmāḥ from the Sanskrit recension at SF 163 which is paṭiccasamuppanne ca dhamme in Pāli. The plurality is marked so thoroughly (a twofold signification, if you will), that it makes me wonder how the translator was addressing the slew of 法+X compounds that follow it on occasion. Choong Mun-Keat renders these in the singular, which matches the extant Indic manuscripts, it seems.

In addition, pratītyasamutpāda itself is being described as a dharma, something that never happens in either the Pāli or Sanskrit.

Corresponding to the tricky section in Chinese with 法住法界, we have something in the Sanskrit that mostly matches the gist of the Pāli, iti yātra dharmatā dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā avitathatā ananyathā bhūtaṃ satyatā tattvatā yāthātathā aviparītatā aviparyastatā idaṃpratyayatā pratītyasamutpādānulomatā ayam ucyate pratītyasamutpādaḥ. There is no need to think this applies to a 此等諸法, is there? Certainly, it has dharmatā, which I believe the Pāli lacks. Dharmatā could be 法如, but it is appearing in a different position in the sentence and it is unclear (to me at least) if 法如 would have necessarily meant dharmatā at this stage of Chinese translation.

There is no plurality spoken of, as far as I can see, in the Pāli or Sanskrit, that is dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā. The plurality is marked as so in the Chinese (Sarvāstivāda) recension.

Basically, in closing, in the Pāli & Sanskrit, pratītyasamutpāda is the element (I believe the Pāli has dhātu) that is dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā. In Chinese, the pratītyasamutpannā dharmāḥ are dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā, possibly dharmasthititā dharmanairātmyatā dharmayathātathā. The dharmāḥ vs the dharma.

Interesting, no? I apologize if people recognize this line of inquiry from years ago, I’m just better able to explain it now.

As usual, if there are silly mistakes in the rendering above, I am quite eager for correction.


I would translate 此等諸法 as “these dharmas” or “these types of dharmas”. 等 creates a class from a noun or pronoun it follows, and translators used it to ensure we know its plural. They do the same thing for “we” (吾等) and “all you” (汝等).

This sutra is tough to translate without an Indic text to work from, and it’s hard to imagine what native Chinese readers thought of those terms at the time. Someone would have to explain it in lectures.

For example, I’m inclined to read 因緣法及緣生法 as “the rule of causal conditioning and conditionally arisen things.” Makes sense to me, and it makes sense throughout the text, really. I suspect the translator was trying to set these terms up as ideas or teachings, so he added 法. I’ve seen this strategy in other texts to create an abstract noun. Chinese readers would have to know the convention to read it correctly.

The occurrence of Dharmadhatu is interesting. I’m reminded of the mystery of what the term means in later Mahayana works like the Avatamsaka Sutra. I think this is a good clue. It’s the place where eternal rules reside, or how it is that they do, at least. Buddhas don’t create them, they discover them “in the dharma realm” (or something like that). In fact, I’m inclined to read dhātu as a realm, not an element. Stuff abides in it. It’s a location, however abstract or metaphorical.

And who knows what 法如 and 法爾 mean. “Dharma suchness” and “Dharma thatness”?

I guess I would translate:
“These things are things that abide, things that are empty, things that are such, things that are so, things that aren’t separate from suchness, and things aren’t different from suchness when investigated truly and without error.”

Something like that. What else can you do without a commentary?


Forgive the levity, but this just occured to me: “Guys, I’m going to teach you the dependent arising… thing, and the dependently arisen… things.”

I feel like it’s Bro Buddha. Let’s put my aside aside now.


Hah! Yes. I don’t really like “thing” but it’s less wordy than phenomena and general enough for what dharma stands for without context. Of course, there are still translators out there who translate 法 literally as “law” throughout. It’s an awkward word.


Alternatively, the Prākrit could have had retained a minority phrasing something like, “the dependent origination of the dharma(s) and the dependently arisen dharmas.” Possibly, one supposes. That wouldn’t be incredibly off-seeming to me, but I don’t know if such a phrase, “dependent origination (of the) dharma(s)” is naturally occuring in Indic Buddhist literature.

I don’t actually mind law, in the sense that “the laws” could be loosely stretched to have a meaning sembling dharma in its plural maybe, though with a much different surface connotation. But I certainly get all its pitfalls too. I come from a background in religious studies in addition to musicology, although I don’t have any academic credentials of note and have never published anything, so I have something of a fondness for “the Law” or even “the Good Law” for saddharma. There is a translator of the Sanskritic Nepalese Lotus Sūtra who rendered the title “the Sūtra of the White Lotus of the Good Law,” which is my favourite phrasing of the Sanskrit title by far. Maybe I’m just a sentimental type somewhat loving even the awkward language of the King James Bible. These Buddhist texts are often awkward-seeming in an interesting way that reminds me of old “literal” translations from the 17-1800s from Greek and Latin in addition to that particular famous Bible translation from ancient Hebrew, although the content of dharma texts and Biblical materials is obviously quite different.

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Hello Coemgenu. The above translation sounds as though it is contrary to the Pali sutta SN 12.20. The above translation appears to say each condition or individual dhamma is impermanent. But SN 12.20 appears to say the relevant Dhamma-Niyama (Law of Conditionality) is permanent yet each individual condition (paccaya) is impermanent. I hope I have expressed the distinction clearly. Regards. :slightly_smiling_face:

And what, bhikkhus, is dependent origination? ‘With birth as condition, aging-and-death comes to be’: whether there is an arising of Tathagatas or no arising of Tathagatas, that element still persists, the stableness of the Dhamma, the fixed course of the Dhamma, specific conditionality

And what, bhikkhus, are the dependently arisen phenomena? Aging-and-death, bhikkhus, is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation.

SN 12.20

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I am glad you are back. I cannot respond to you now, but it is good to know you are posting again.

It turns out I lied, I could respond and I did have the time to respond. This edit was on the same day as the section of the post above.

Yes, I agree it’s contrary to the Pāli recension. Hence the “confusion.” AFAIK, the above is, more or less, an accurate English rendition of the recension preserved in the Chinese translation of Sarvāstivāda Buddhavacana (with suitable commentary/responce/clarification from @cdpatton).

Thanks Coemgenu :heart_eyes: