Diṭṭhadhammanibbāna - elaboration of meaning

Diṭṭhadhammanibbāna seems to be generally translated as ‘nibbāna here and now’ or ‘nibbāna in this very life’.

Why?

Does anyone have any alternatives, or an explanation of the linguistics of this term?

Isn’t it about seeing - dassati? Could it be something like the nibbāna from seeing (/directly experiencing) dhamma?

If we do not neglect the ambiguities which may have been discounted in usual translations, what are the possible meanings for this term?

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An example, SN 12.16 says:

Bhikkhu, if one teaches the Dhamma for the purpose of revulsion towards birth … for the purpose of revulsion towards ignorance, for its fading away and cessation, one is fit to be called a bhikkhu who is a speaker on the Dhamma. If one is practising for the purpose of revulsion towards ignorance, for its fading away and cessation, one is fit to be called a bhikkhu who is practising in accordance with the Dhamma. If, through revulsion towards ignorance, through its fading away and cessation, one is liberated by nonclinging, one is fit to be called a bhikkhu who has attained Nibbāna in this very life.”

And Ven. Bodhi’s note in “Connected Discourses”:

Ditthadhammanibbanappatto. This statement shows the arahant, or asekha, who has completed the training.

So in that sense, the arahant has attained what’s called the “Nibbana with residue remaining”/SaupadisesaNibbana, ie. while s/he’s still alive and with the Five Aggregates still functioning, but without lust, defilements, etc.

The diṭṭhadhamma- part is the compounded form of the common phrase diṭṭhe’va dhamme. Contextually it’s fairly easy to show that the phrase does indeed mean “in this very life” or “here and now”, but lexically it’s not immediately apparent how exactly the combination of these three components generates such a meaning.

In the commentaries the usual gloss for diṭṭhe’va dhamme is ‘in this very individuality’ (imasmiṃyeva attabhāve). However, given that dhamma is never used in the Suttas for attabhāva (or vice versa), and nor is attabhāva among the list of commentarial meanings of dhamma, it would seem that this gloss is an interpretive rather than a strictly lexical one.

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@santa100 thank you for those quotes, although I do not see anything there to back up the translation. That passage would still make sense if it were actually meaning ‘nibbāna from seeing (/directly experiencing) dhamma’.

Thanks @Dhammanando. I am a total beginner at Pāli. Would you mind elaborating on the phrase ‘diṭṭhe’va dhamme’? I cannot see how it could mean ‘in this very individuality’.

diṭṭha: [pp. of *dassati] seen
eva: [emphatic particle] “so, even, just”
dhamma: (I prefer to leave this word untranslated)

Would I be right to assume that diṭṭheva and dhamme are both in the locative? Why is it that it cannot be meaning ‘when the dhamma is seen’? Or even ‘when the dhamma is visible’? As a locative absolutive construction. (@sujato I would greatly appreciate anything you can say about this :anjal: )

I found that it often occurs as ‘diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṃ’, such as in AN 3.73:

Sa kho so, mahānāma, ariyasāvako evaṃ sīlasampanno evaṃ samā­dhi­sam­panno evaṃ paññāsampanno āsavānaṃ khayā anāsavaṃ cetovimuttiṃ paññāvimuttiṃ diṭṭheva dhamme sayaṃ abhiññā sacchikatvā upasampajja viharati.

Bodhi’s translation:

" When this noble disciple is thus accomplished in virtuous behavior, concentration, and wisdom , with the destruction of the taints, he realizes for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, and having entered upon it, he dwells in it.

Thanissaro’s translation:

“Then there is the disciple of the noble ones—thus consummate in virtue, thus consummate in concentration, thus consummate in discernment—who, through the ending of the mental fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now.

Or in AN 3.69:

Diṭṭheva dhamme sukhaṃ viharati avighātaṃ anupāyāsaṃ apariḷāhaṃ. Diṭṭheva dhamme parinibbāyati.

Bodhi’s translation is:

He dwells happily in this very life, without distress, anguish, or fever, and in this very life he attains nibbana.

Or Thanissaro’s:

He dwells in ease right in the here-&-now—feeling unthreatened, placid, unfeverish—and is unbound right in the here-&-now.

I am not able to see from the context any clarity that this is meaning ‘in the hear and now’ or ‘in this very life’. I see no reason why this is not simply about seeing the dhamma.

I have made an attempt at re-translating the passage above from AN 3.73 as follows:

When this noble disciple is thus accomplished in virtuous behavior, concentration, and wisdom, with the destruction of the taints, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, when the dhamma is seen by him he recognises and experiences it, and having entered upon it, he dwells in it.

I have kept sequence of phrases closer to the Pāli and temporarily ignored the assumption about ‘in this life’. I would really appreciate feedback on this atttempt.

Also as a side note, I noticed that the sutta numberings for these two suttas above differs - for example AN 3.73 in Suttacentral is listed on the Pāli Reader as AN 3.74. Which system of numbering is most proper or appropriate for academic referencing?

In my last post I noted that attabhāva is not in fact one of the meanings of dhamma. That being so, in glossing the phrase in the way that they do, clearly the commentators are treating it as an idiomatic construction. The fact that the meaning, “in this very individuality” cannot be straightforwardly derived from the components of diṭṭhe’va dhamme is unremarkable, for non-conformity to the principle of compositionality is precisely what makes an idiom an idiom.

Yes.

That would require dhamma to be in the accusative case.

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The contexts that are relevant for ascertaining the phrase’s meaning are those in which it is being opposed to, or contrasted with, something else. For example:

abhisamparāyaṃ
samparāye
kāyassa ca bhedā paraṃ maraṇā

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Just to add to what Ven Dhammanando has said, there are a number of similar and related idioms that refer to the present life. One of the most important examples is sandiṭṭhika, which also contain the root “to see”

I believe that the roots of the idiom lie in the idea that there is “this world”, i.e. the temporal world visible to the senses, and the “other world”, i.e the next life, the other side, and so on. This notion predates Buddhism, and informs a number of idioms found in the Suttas.

In English, when we say “here and now” we usually mean something very immediate, literally the present. But diṭṭhadhamma is broader, so I usually translate as “in the present life” or “in this very life”.

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I’ve been studying the Bible recently and it strikes me how (with some reservations of course) the idea of ‘dhamma’ is similar to the Biblical ‘logos’. It seems that Biblical scholars have pretty much the same problems when it comes to translating it to modern languages. The same might apply to translating philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome.

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Indeed, it seems quite similar. In translating dharma into Greek, the Ashokan edicts use eusebeia, which seems to mean something more like “piety”. But then his teachings focused more on simple ethics, so this would have been apt.

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Thank you @Sujato and @Dhammanando.

I am a bit slow so I have thus far only taken a look at this term. I found:
te diṭṭheva dhamme sandiṭṭhikaṃ sippaphalaṃ upajīvanti

which Bhikkhu Bodhi translates as:
"All those (who practise these crafts) enjoy here and now the visible fruits of their crafts.”

I have made an attempt at translating this myself. Here is my attempt:
"[They] live off that dhamma (= for example ‘thing’ perhaps?) which [they] have really seen (or ‘is really seen’)- the visible fruits of [their] craft."

What do you think? Is this linguistically possible?

I see how it would be possible for a phrase like
’when the dhamma was/has been/is really seen/known/understood(/visible?)'
could come to be taken as, or mean, ‘this world’.

I could imagine that it could be taken as refering to the present. Since it is only in the present that we are able to se anything! ‘This world’ in which we live is eternally present. No-one can live in the future. No-one can se in the future. Because when seeing happens, is presently.

But if the original meaning was about direct experience (which can naturally only happen int he present), I am at this point interested in whether or not these teachings were given with that original meaning, or not.

And that is why I have attempted to translate occurences of this term with that apparently original meaning. So far, my attempts have made a lot of sense to me, and in fact seemingly better sense than the usual translatoin which seems to rely on the assumption that the later meaning was meant in these contexts. Of course this is why I am submitting my attempts at Pāli translatoin of these passages here, to see if I am making some error (which I sincerely hope will be pointed out if that is the case.

Now to go back to what you said,

Do you have any references for this? I.e. of this term being used to unambiguously refer to the later meaning, and not the original meaning, in pre-Buddhist texts?

And, do any of you have any examples from the Early Buddhist Texts in which the meaning is unambiguously the later meaning, and cannot be the original meaning? If so I would sincerely like to have a look at those examples, as that would seem the best way to prove that this was the intended meaning in (at least some of) the early Buddhist teachings.

No. It is an idiom, and dhamma does not mean “thing” here.

No, the original meaning was about “this world”. It is a more primitive conception than the Buddhist idea of present moment awareness.

If we entertain the hypothetical possibility that the meaning is not the idiomatic meaning it is usually translated as, and instead treat the words by using their individual meaning as words, and account for the grammar and so on (which others have also done, including Prof. Gombrich), then is my translation possible? We can leave out my translatoin of dhamma for a moment - leaving dhamma untranslated, is my translatoin possible?

The reason I ask is that to examine the possibility that the idiomatic assumption is wrong, we must temporarily entertain the other possibility. Then if we employ that possibility (this translating ‘diṭṭheva dhamme’ as something like one of these options: ‘when the dhamma was/has been/is really seen/known/understood(/visible?)’) and find that it indeed does not make sense in context, that can really back up the conclusion that the correct interpretation is indeed the idiomatic one.

However, if our examination results in the translatoins all making sense without the idiomatic meaning, this for me sustains the possibility of the correct conclusion being that this phrase was not meant idiomatically.

And there is also the possibility that the change from non-idiomatic, to idiomatic (‘in this life’ etc.), happened within the early Buddhist texts themselves. However, at the moment it is not clear to me whether the phrase became fixed as idiom before, during or after the period of the early Buddhist texts.

So if we temporarily entertain that possibility, and take diṭṭheva dhamme at face value, non-idiomatically, is my translation possibly correct under those circumstances (if dhamme is left untranslated)? And my next question would be, why is it impossible for dhamma to mean ‘thing’ here?

How do we know this? What is the evidence?

No.

You are taking dhamme to be singular. But if that were so then it would be in the locative case. This is impossible, for upajīvati takes an accusative object. So one would need to take dhamme as being in the accusative plural. But this too is impossible because the sippaphalaṃ (for which you are supposing it to stand) is singular.

Now if I may reiterate my earlier hint: the suttas that are most relevant to determining the meaning of diṭṭhe dhamme are those where it is juxtaposed or contrasted with something else. When this is the case, the something else is always some word or phrase referring to the next life. There may be one or two among these that could be procrusteanly stretched and mutilated to support your present conjectures, but such are vastly outnumbered by those where the traditional gloss on ditṭheva dhamme is really the only plausible one.

The wise person, charitable and virtuous,
acts for the good of both kinds of relatives,
those who have passed away
and those still living in this world.
(ñātīnaṃ pubbapetānaṃ, diṭṭhe dhamme ca jīvataṃ)
an5.58

“The wise person who is diligent
Secures both kinds of good:
The good visible in this very life
And the good of the future life.
(diṭṭhe dhamme ca yo attho, yo cattho samparāyiko)
sn3.17

“Those who reverence the old—
those men are skilled in dhamma,
Worthy of praise here and now
and a happy bourn hereafter.”
(diṭṭhe dhamme ca pāsaṃsā, samparāye ca suggati)
pi-tv-kd16

“If they come back to the human state
They are born in a poor family
Where clothes, food, pleasures, and sport
Are obtained only with difficulty.
“Whatever the fools may expect from others,
Even that they do not obtain.
This is the result in this very life;
And in the future a bad destination.”
(diṭṭhe dhamm’esa vipāko, samparāye ca duggati)
sn1.49

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