In the grand old tradition of Buddhist studies, we have spent a lot of time discussing various aspects of meditation, especially to do with samadhi. As you know, like all translators I struggle with trying to render these well in English.
One term that is perhaps unduly neglected is ekodi. This is found very centrally in the formula for the second jhana, usually translated “unification” or “oneness”.
The curious thing is that mostly we discuss its cousin, ekaggatā, and relegate ekodi to a footnote, as a synonym. But the fact is that ekodi occurs far more often in the EBTs, maybe ten times as often (although counting is difficult due to abbreviations).
Even more significantly, it is placed right in the middle of the jhana formula, which by any account must be the oldest and most important statement on samadhi/jhana in the EBTs. By contrast, ekaggatā occurs only in more marginal cases, where it serves to define or act as synonym for samādhi.
In form, ekaggatā feels like a formal, obvious word, whereas ekodi feels more quirky, less standard.
In fact, it feels like ekaggatā was introduced to normalize the unfamiliar ekodi, and in later texts it came to virtually supplant it. I am not suggesting that this shift postdates the Buddha. It could well have been introduced by him. But its takeover of Buddhist meditation vocabulary is certainly an artifact of the Abhidhamma age.
That ekodi was sidelined is no mystery when we realize that its etymology and exact meaning are obscure. This has been debated by scholars for over a hundred years, without any really compelling conclusion.
The PTS Dictionary suggests the correct reading should be ekodhi, and traces its etymology to ava-dahati. If correct, this would be nice and simple, as it becomes simply a variant of samādhi, from the same root.
The problem, though, is that the reading ekodi is very widely attested, and the Sanskrit version ekoti does not support this derivation. Thus Edgerton in his Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (BHS) Dictionary supports Lévi and Renou in tracing oti to ūti in the sense of “web”. This is an obscure word, not otherwise found in Pali, and not very well attested in Sanskrit either.
The Critical Pali Dictionary accepts ūti, but allows as possible meanings either “web” or “effort”. But it seems hard to understand what “effort” could mean here, so this should be discounted. Cone’s Dictionary of Pali says “perhaps” it means web, citing the BHS usage.
Why the tendency to ascribe the sense to such an obscure term? These references all hark back to a single reference in the Śatapatha Brahmaṇa. This is a text on interpretation and practice of Vedic ritual, which preceded the Buddha, and was probably located in a similar area. In other words, it is a relevant text for the linguistic culture of the EBTs. The passage occurs at SB 184.108.40.206. (Titus text, with translation by Eggeling. If anyone has a more modern translation, that would be useful!)
pṛṣṭhyābhiplavau tantre kurvīteti ha smāha paiṅgyaḥ
‘Let him make the Prishthya and Abhiplava two warps,’ said Paiṅgya;
tayo stotrāṇi ca śastrāṇi ca saṃcārayed iti sa yat saṃcārayati tasmād ime prāṇā nānā santa ekotayaḥ samānam ūtim anusaṃcaranty atha yan na saṃcārayet pramāyuko yajamānaḥ syād eṣa ha vai pramāyuko yo 'ndho vā badhiro vā
let him make their Stotras and Sastras run together:’ inasmuch as he makes them run together, these (channels of the) vital airs, though separate from one another, run together, with one and the same aim, into a common web; but were he not to make them run together, the Sacrificer would be liable to perish; and liable to perish, indeed, is one who is either blind or deaf.
The text answers an obscure problem of interpretation of the ritual. The question had been asked as two how different rituals, the Prishthya and Abhiplava, could be reconciled. The answer calls upon a metaphor of weaving. The “two warps" (tantra) are the webs of cloth that are woven together to become one. Like this:
It’s a lovely image, showing how in the Vedic tradition, the different approaches to ritual were integrated, with the idea that what results is better, stronger, and more beautiful than the individual rituals.
This metaphor works nicely in the context of samādhi. The different “strands” of the mind are woven together to produce a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
If this is, indeed, the correct derivation, then the question is to what extent is it still relevant in the EBTs. This reference is obscure, and it would hardly have been known to anyone outside of brahmanical ritual specialists. It’s not like, say, the Gayatri Mantra, which would have been familiar to everyone. Nowhere in the Buddhist texts is there a specific evocation of this metaphor in this context; the imagery of weaving is, rather, associated with craving and rebirth.
Perhaps, then, the metaphor had already receded, and the term was felt to mean simply “unified”. But as a more idiomatic term, it was gradually replaced with the clearer ekaggatā. We could reflect this difference by using “unification” for ekaggatā and “unity” for ekodibhāva.