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Ekodi is a curiously obscure term: does it mean “web”?

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#1

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 12.2.2.4. (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:

Or 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.


#2

I’m probably missing something - but why not go for the more obvious sandhi of eka+udi ?

The PTS dictionary even refers to ekodi, and a sense of one-arising would fit well with the 2nd jhana

udi
(or udī) is artificial adj. formn. fr. udeti, meaning “rising, excelling”, in expln. of ekodi at Vism.156 (udayatī ti udi uṭṭhapetī ti attho).


#3

If I may add another hint to take ekodi as eka+udi. In the standard simile for the 2nd jhana (as in MN 39, MN 77, or MN 119) it says

Just as though there were a lake whose waters welled up… the cool fount of water welling up in the lake would make the cool water drench, steep, fill, and pervade the lake

granted, we don’t find udeti here either, but isn’t the simile more compatible with a rising movement than with a weaving process?


#4

My vote:
Samadhi: Unification
Citta-ekaggata: One-pointedness

As for ekodi:

PTS Pali-English dictionary The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English dictionary
Ekodi,(adj.) [most likely eka + odi for odhi,see avadhi2& cp.avadahati,avadahana,lit.of one attention,limited to one point.Thus also suggested by Morris J.P.T.S.1885,32 sq.The word was Sanskritised into ekoti,e.g.at M Vastu III,212,213; Lal.Vist.147,439] concentrated,attentive,fixed A.III,354; Nd1 478.Usually in compn. with kṛ & bhū (which points however to a form ekoda° with the regular change of a to i in connection with these roots!),as ekodi-karoti to concentrate M.I,116; S.IV,263; °bhavati to become settled S.IV,196; V,144; °bhūta concentrated Sn.975; °bhāvaconcentration,fixing one’s mind on one point D.I,37; III,78,131; A.I,254; III,24; Vism.156 (expld. as eko udeti); Dhs.161 (cp.Dhs.trsln. 46); DhsA.169; Nett 89.(Page 160)

I would suggest Concentration for ekodi.


#5

Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, i was thinking about your suggestion, without conclusion. It seems like a reasonable possibility. But I can’t see any specific reason to prefer it. That the Vism uses it is interesting, but of course it is very common for the commentaries to play around with multiple “etymologies” as a teaching method.

However, I don’t think the 2nd jhana formula is relevant here. The rising there refers to the welling up of pīti, not to samādhi.


#6

I’m really in no position to have a balanced judgment. I’d have gone with odi because of the simple derivation and the older references, not even because of Viss.

Looking up ūti in sanskrit, we have ‘texture’ ‘web’ as a legitimate meaning. We have ‘tissue’ in the Bhagavata Purana, and ‘weaving’ at the ‘lexicographers’. So I guess it’s ok to go with this.

The main references are for ‘help, protection, promoting…’ though, attested in the Rg- and Atharvaveda. Also anūti is ‘no help’.

Again udi as ‘rising’ in sanskrit is found all over the place, from the Rgveda to the Ramayana.

I’m interested in [quote=“sujato, post:5, topic:3823”]
The rising there refers to the welling up of pīti, not to samādhi.
[/quote]

You seem to imply that the samadhi is not converging around the uprising piti? I would have taken it as the same movement, like a source of light gradually dispelling the fuzziness around it. or the kernel of a snowflake growing in all directions.


Ekagga vs Ekodibhāva
#7

There is an interesting passage in DN 19 that suggests something completely different: [edit:] singleness

‘ekodibhūto’ti ahaṃ bhoto ājānāmi. idhekacco vivittaṃ senāsanaṃ bhajati araññaṃ rukkhamūlaṃ pabbataṃ kandaraṃ giriguhaṃ susānaṃ vanapatthaṃ abbhokāsaṃ palālapuñjaṃ, iti ekodibhūto’ti ahaṃ bhoto ājānāmi.

I understand “Alone, intent”. That means that one goes off on one’s own and chooses a lodging in the forest, at the foot of a tree, in a mountain glen, in a rocky cave, a charnel-ground, in the jungle or on a heap of grass in the open. This is how I understand “Alone, intent”.


#8

Interesting reference, thanks. I’m not sure what to make of it, though.


#9

ekodibhūto perhaps, mean ‘pick oneself up’?
(just a wild guess, not to be taken seriously)


Interesting idea of woven strands.
I use to think of laminated stack of transparencies; occasionally i use the expression like overlapping of perceptions. 

Just thought of another analogy of a projector. Imagine that the glass of the projector has multiple cavities design and each cavity surface has different drawing image, and that each cavity draws the light source from a single bulb, and  project out the lights to a single location.  In this way, a combination images is being projected onto the same location. Lacking of one cavity image changes the overall appearance.
What if the bulb in replaced by a LED and it only direct the light onto one cavity, there will be one clear image.

Note: I'm actually painting a different picture than woven, hope it does not cause confusion!

#10

Bhante, I was digging around a bit on this term just now and am wondering whether ekodibhāva might be taken as “union”, perhaps standing a smidge closer to the defunct metaphor of “web”. Eg:

ajjhattaṃ sampasādanaṃ cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ

internal completion (of rūpakāya) that is union to mind

(with cetaso as dative)

The precedence I would cite for this kind of union-of-two-things would be from the Ayoguḷa Sutta SN 51.3 where the Buddha describes to Ānanda how he’s able to ‘physically’ travel to the Brahma worlds by “converging body in mind and mind in body”:

Yasmiṃ, ānanda, samaye tathāgato kāyampi citte samodahati cittampi kāye samodahati…

:anjal:


#11

Eka means one. I wondered if it was derived from one object of meditation.

It could, more likely mean one focus.


#12

Perhaps it can be seen as emphasizing singleness since the influence of eka seems predominant on the overall meaning of the word.

After all, “unification” for “ekodibhava” may not be such a bad rendering, unless drawing from the DN 19 usage it would mean some kind of mental seclusion from the rest of the world (which could also make sense), but unification resonates better compared to other terms such as samadhi, which also points to unification, as collectedness.


#13

I’m torn between the 2, Unity and Union. Both equally applicable. The analogy of projector does shows the possibility of both words.
A product of unity, tend to be stable and stay in its product form; whereas a product of union is more or less conditional. Thus, a vote for union would make better sense for me.

However, there is something that bothers me. As being careful, what if the direction of interpretation is wrong? There is logical sense both words, unity and union, but there is a question of why it does not appear in the 1st Jhana? The analogy of projector does also shows the possibility of something else.

Ekodibhuto, if we split the word to ekodi+bhuta; ekodibhava to ekodi+bhava, both appear that the word is formed with the same pattern.

I find ekodibhuto, being understood as ‘Alone, ardent’, looking at the context of the passage seems completely logical. However, when both words, ekodibhuto and ekodibhava are place together, there is a similarity; render the interpretation of ekodibhuto looks suspicious. We know that, alone in the jungle, to survive is it self a struggle. So, normally, we read that a company of bhikkhus goes into the forest and ‘each will split from the pack’ to choose their own suitable spot to meditate; and each of them is not far apart from each other, and this still occurs in the tradition now in some forest bhikkhu. And that raise suspicious on rendering ekodibhava as unity or bond.

In the Jhana 1~4, we see that ekodibhava appear in the second Jhana but not the first. If we compare the structure of ekaggata and ekodibhava, to say that just because of ‘eka’, the two is synonym is a bit unconvincing; if without preconceives interpretation of both terms! I just fail to see the similarity.

Other than the 4 Jhanas, such as in MN119 (Kāyagatāsati) “sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati” without bhava; which imply that there is no ‘pack’. And we have others such as MN122 (Mahāsuññata) “saṇṭhapeti sannisādeti ekodiṃ karoti samādahati” which pretty much similar, that does not describe splitting from the pack scenario.

The question that I would like to raise is what if ekodibhuto means ‘one splitting-from/not-in the pack’; as there is similarity in the 2nd Jhana, vitakka-vicara (considered as one/a pack) ‘split-off’ from vitakka-vicara-piti-sukha; a drop off (suspends) from the pack.

If we look at how ‘di’ is use in english language, we see di’rection, di’vergent, di’gress… . In Malay, ‘di’ point to direction, in Vietnam language ‘di’ means go. What I am considering is, if there is a possibility that ekodibhava mean ‘a condition of existence whereby one drop-off from the pack’.

We may end up with no ekaggata mentioned in Jhana, which is something new. That would end up another puzzle to be solved! The question is; ekaggata, either being mentioned or not in Jhana formula, does it make any different? In the subtle development of vitakka-vicara-piti-sukha, it already well cover by ekaggata involvement; else unlikely for the pack to develop to such extent. As far as i’m concerned, i’m comfortable even though Jhana stock formula does not have the word ekaggata, i’ve never doubt its present!

Anyway, is there any indication in pali that ‘di’ is being used in the sense of split-off/drop-off/suspend? If not, part of the text above just junk, so no worries …

Found this in a search:
uḍḍeti ; (u + ḍī + e) flies ; suspends

note: my mistake, “sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati” not in 4th jhana.


#15

The solution seems to be in sasaṅkhāraniggayhavāritagato (sa-saṅkhāra-niggayha-vārita-gato) in AN 3.101 - see also the Pali.

Sasaṅkhāraniggayhavāritagato (translated as):

  • reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the defilements]. (Bodhi)
  • kept in place by the fabrication of forceful restraint. (Thanissaro)
  • maintained by suppressing the defilements through strenuous effort. (Piya Tan)
  • a state dependent on painful habitual restraint. (Woodward)

Note: sasaṅkhāra (lit. “with formation”) is translated as “forceful”, or “strenuous”; or even “painful”.
Wouldn’t it be possible to see unification, as the termination of the saṃ+khāra itself (Sk: saṃ = “together,” and karoti = “to make.”) - as the stilling, if not the ending of that synergy (co-ordinated activity) between two or more things. In this case, between defilement and non defilement. Namely, the progressive unification between the extremes that are the gross defilements & the Dhamma - both being transcended into one. Into neither, nor?
And I am not talking “grey” here. I meant “neither, nor”. Huge difference.

As in “transcendence” - viz. rising (above) to one - to something higher.

As in: “I have the right to ask for justice (revenge,) if someone offences me. But I don’t use that right. I go beyond justice. I transcend justice and offence - I experience something higher, that is neither revenge, nor offence”.
The oneness of the neither, nor - (eka-udi >> rising above, excelling, surpassing the one).

I’d be inclined to favor @Gabriel’s choice.

Ekodi - Some suttas with parallels
With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhāna, which has internal placidity and unification of mind (cetaso ekodibhāvaṃ) and consists of rapture and pleasure born of concentration, without thought and examination.
AN 3.58

“So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is devoted to the higher mind,
(1) there are in him gross defilements: bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done,
(2) there remain in him middling defilements: sensual thoughts, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of harming. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done,
(3) there remain in him subtle defilements: thoughts about his relations, thoughts about his country, and thoughts about his reputation. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done, then there remain thoughts connected with the Dhamma. That concentration is not peaceful and sublime, not gained by full tranquilization, not attained to unification (ekodibhāvādhigato), but is reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing (sasaṅkhāraniggayhavāritagato) [the defilements] .

“But, bhikkhus, there comes a time when his mind becomes internally steady, composed, unified (ekodi), and concentrated. That concentration is peaceful and sublime, gained by full tranquilization, and attained to unification (ekodibhāvādhigato); it is not reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the defilements]. Then, there being a suitable basis, he is capable of realizing any state realizable by direct knowledge toward which he might incline his mind.
AN 3.101
Pali

Again, a bhikkhu’s mind is seized by restlessness about the Dhamma. But there comes an occasion when his mind becomes internally steady, composed, unified (ekodi), and concentrated. Then the path is generated in him. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he is pursuing, developing, and cultivating this path, the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.
AN 4.170

So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu’s mind (citta) has been subdued (udujitaṃ), well subdued, regarding the six bases for contact (phassāyatanesu), it then becomes inwardly steady, settled, unified (ekodi), and concentrated.
SN 35.246

Then, friends, the Blessed One came to me by means of spiritual power and said this: ‘Moggallāna, Moggallāna, do not be negligent, brahmin, regarding the signless concentration of mind. Steady your mind in the signless concentration of mind, unify your mind (cittaṃ ekodiṃ) in the signless concentration of mind, concentrate your mind in the signless concentration of mind.’
SN 40.9

Come, friends, dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, unified (ekodibhūtā ), with limpid mind, concentrated, with one-pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is. Dwell contemplating feelings in feelings …
Etha tumhe, āvuso, kāye kāyānupassino viharatha ātāpino sampajānā ekodibhūtā vippasannacittā samāhitā ekaggacittā, kāyassa yathābhūtaṃ ñāṇāya; vedanāsu vedanānupassino viharatha…
SN 47.4

Metta


Some remarks on the Shorter Discourse on Emptiness
#16

Hi, everyone. Finally I’ve a reason to join this forum, and the reason is being interested in nailing the meaning of the mysterious ekodi.

Does it mean “web” (or I should say “one-web”? I don’t think so. Even the source of it, i.e. the Śatapatha Brahmaṇa, as quoted by OP, don’t seem to be a good support for that translation.

Consider this (and tell me if I’m misunderstanding it): The English translation goes

(Emphases and italics mine)

As I understand the above, Prishthya and Abhiplava that are to be made “two warps” aren’t their Stotras and Sastras, which are to be made to “run together” (saṃcārayati).

After all, two warps to be woven together don’t “run together”, they cross each other.

While I’m not sure what the quote is saying as a whole, I’m interested in the part that says “run together, with one and the same aim, into a common web” (at least that’s how it’s translated).

Considering the above, it doesn’t seem necessary that
ūtim is translated as “web”, while “run together, with one and the same aim” reminds me of a Chinese translation of “ekodi”: 一趣 (one destination/objective).

If the Chinese translation is correct, and so we take ūti to mean “destination”, the phrase seems to make good sense:
“run together, with one and the same aim, to a common destination”. (I believe “to” is more grammatical than “into”.)

Comments, anybody?


#17

Welcome to the forum Venerable :slight_smile:

If you need any assistance or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

We look forward to seeing you on the boards :slightly_smiling_face:


#18

Thinking about weaving, I recall warps are collections of separate threads, ordered, appropriately separated, under the right amount of tension, which are United into cloth by weft threads run skillfully through openings created by raising and releasing alternating threads in the warp. Too much tension on the weft distorts the cloth, too much or too little tension on the warp makes weaving very difficult.

In a deliberate disciplined repetitive manner, yes.

:slight_smile: Maybe that image of the actions might bring some clarity to the metaphor?

Welcome, Venerable.


#19

Another Chinese translation for ekodi is 一致. In modern Chinese it means “consistent”, but it may not apply as it’s a term from Chinese Buddhist scriptures dated long time ago when Chinese was quite different. In this case, a possible meaning for 致 is “devote oneself efforts to”, thus making 一致 like “one devotion” as in towards a task. So, in idiomatic English, “focus(ed)”.

I know I’m like throwing in a whole bunch of stuff here. Hopefully something I have here might trigger somebody’s mind to find the right meaning or translation.


#20

Actually, “focus(ed)” connects with 一趣 (one destination/objective) too. I’m now inclined to this translation for ekodi.