Error in MA 2 third jhana formula (Charles Patton trans.)

Comparing with Numata edition of MA 2, I saw this footnote which explains the scribal error:




footnote 47:

Le zhu shi, Pāli sukha-vihāra. In the Chinese textual tradition the final character shi,

“room, abode,” is sometimes mistaken as kong, “emptiness.” Another variant is ding,


That kong/空 is a scribal error is supported by the lack of a corresponding

term in the Pāli version of the formula.

In the third jhana formula, Charles has:

“Furthermore, the noble disciple parts with joy and desire, and he is equanimous without further pursuit. With right mindfulness and right knowledge, he personally experiences the happiness that’s described by the nobles as the noble’s equanimity, mindfulness, happy abode, and emptiness. He attains the accomplishment of the third meditation. The noble disciple then is called ‘growing buds like bird beaks’ like the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven’s Pārijāta Tree growing buds like bird beaks.

It should just read “happy abode”, without “and emptiness”.

Also another question for Charles, can you explain how you arrived at the translation

he personally experiences the happiness that’s described by the nobles

(from pali “sukham ca kayena patisavedi” / pleasure (with the) body (身) (he) experiences)?

How do you understand the word “personal” in this context, or more importantly, how do you expect the audience to understand that to mean, in this 3rd jhana context?

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Whether or not 空 is a scribal error is a matter of opinion. It reoccurs in many of the passages in MA, but not all of them. I believe when I evaluated it’s occurrence throughout, I decided that it’s not so clear cut as the Numata translators seem to believe. Just my take on it. There’s no alternate reading for the deletion of 空, which is often the case for typos because later editions corrected them and the Taisho made a note of it.

This is one example of a number of what I guess you could call editorial issues with the Chinese MA. It’s not entirely consistent, but it’s also not that clear which way the stock passage should read. We should bear in mind the emptiness is not a foreign concept in the Agamas as compared to the Theravada canon, so it’s not outlandish that it would appear.

Edit: I went back and looked at this again, and it’s interesting to note that CBETA actually corrects the inconsistencies to read 空 rather than 室 or 定.

The Chinese reads 身覺樂,謂聖所說, so I take it to mean that the disciple experiences for himself what the noble (ariyan) disciples have described. I guess I have a difficult time reading 身 as “physically” when the Chinese proceeds to gloss 樂 as mental states like equanimity, etc. Chinese 身 functions very much like English “body,” meaning a physical body, an individual person, or a collection of things. As an adverb then it would mean “physically” (vs. mentally), “bodily,” or “personally.”


There is a similar situation with the pericope “此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。” at T99.84b16/SA 296, which Venerable Yin Shun, for instance, identifies as being 法定 properly. 法空 is likely to reflect the word dharmanairātmyatā, so the change from dhammaniyāmatā to dharmanairātmyatā IMO is a change that seems to have been likely made at an oral stage where one could mishear the word (due to a regional Prākritic accent?), either before this text was written down, or as it was translated, implying someone could have recited the text as the Chinese translation was prepared, rather than the Chinese having been from a Sanskrit/Prākrit text. Just a possibility, a pet theory. If the nairātmyatā/niyāmatā confusion was an oral/aural process of mishearing, then the Indic tradition the Chinese is a reflection of could well have had dharmanairātmyatā in it for a long time already, and there could have already been a longstanding tradition of understanding this word as dharmanairātmyatā by the time the Chinese was translated.

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Yes, I recall we discussed this once. It’s a tough one from just the Chinese side of things since it’s meaningful either way. Texts sort of mutate in these ways, by the random occurrence of typos and homophones and slight mistakes in pronunciation that create meaningful alternatives. And that’s setting aside intentional editing. It’s actually a little fascinating how this works. Even when the result is nonsensical, people can force a scriptural passage into being meaningful anyway.

Getting back to the OP’s question, my translation method is much more cautious towards preserving the text as it exists and not presuming that I can correct it if I want to. I do correct really obvious typos, or if I can see that other people (ancient and modern) agree with me. When it seems equally likely one way or the other, I leave it alone and translate it as it is, generally speaking. It’s too easy to get overconfident and start changing the text willy-nilly, otherwise.


Sorry, I don’t mean to repeat myself. I remember having spoken about this before, but I thought it was on DharmaWheel. “Apologies,” said the fellow from Canada.


Thanks for the explanation, and I agree with your approach here.

so to clarify, your translations will use the original sutra chinese, rather than CBETA, where they’re inconsistent with 3rd jhana? ( CBETA substituted in 空 rather than the original 室 (room) or 定 (samadhi) )?

Whether or not 空 is a scribal error is a matter of opinion. It reoccurs in many of the passages in MA, but not all of them. I believe when I evaluated it’s occurrence throughout, I decided that it’s not so clear cut as the Numata translators seem to believe. Just my take on it. There’s no alternate reading for the deletion of 空, which is often the case for typos because later editions corrected them and the Taisho made a note of it.

What about the 3rd jhana in the other agamas (besides MA), do they also have the extraneous ‘emptiness’ character (or other word)?

I find it really hard to believe sanskrit and pali EBT sources could have missed suññata from 3rd jhana standard formula. It’s an oral tradition, suññata is 3 syllables, it’s pretty hard to omit or forget with such frequent occurrence in the suttas, with all of those reciter monks.

But sukha is appearing twice in the 3rd jhana formula, in both chinese and pali sources.
The sukha translation I’m questioning here, is modifying the kāya 身.
I agree that the other sukha that appears in the “ariyas praising sukha abiding” is ambiguous (can not say for sure if it’s physical, mental, or both).

What do you think about kaya/body here in this SA passage, do you agree with this translation (by W. Chu)?

•SA 484: Ananda: “What constitutes a superior pleasure?” …“Ananda, from seclusion, some beings give rise to happiness and pleasure. Such [happiness and pleasure] pervade everywhere, nourish everywhere, and envelop and delight everywhere—the whole body is filled to the brim with them; the body is replete with them everywhere.”
(that line is describing first jhana)

Other places we could compare usage of kaya in a similar context, are the breath meditation passages.

SA 803 has awareness of the entire body (覺知一切身).

SA 807 also has awareness of the entire body (一切身覺).

SA 810 has awareness of all bodily formations (一切身行覺知).

MA 81 and MA 98 have that he trains mindful of the entire body on the in-breath (學一切身息入), and mindful of the entire body on the out-breath (學一切身息出).

EA 3.8 has that he completely observes the body (具觀身體), fully observing and knowing it from the head down to the feet (從頭至足皆當觀知).

No, it’s not that simple:

  • MA2 and MA3 have 空 without any alternate readings or corrections. That’s what the formula says in all editions.
  • In MA102 and 176, the Taisho reads 室, three earlier editions read 定, and CBETA corrects it to 空.
  • MA146, 164, 168 reads 室 in Taisho and other editions, and CBETA corrects it to 空.
  • In MA157 the Taisho has 室, three earlier editions have 空, and CBETA corrects Taisho to 空.

Etc. It’s a mess of conflicting readings. Before the Taisho, all three terms were occurring in various passages. The Taisho corrects it to 室 sometimes, and CBETA corrects it to 空 throughout. So, I’m actually undecided, but these early sutras made it easy for me because they don’t have alternate readings.

Yes. That’s the one I mean. The Chinese reads in full:


謂 is used to introduce a definition or explanation. It functions like “i.e.” or “that’s to say” in English. So, when I read this, I could read it a couple ways: What follows 謂 is glossing the whole definition of the third jhana/dhyana or just the last thing mentioned, which is 樂. I chose to read it the latter way. Everything leads up to feeling happy, and that happiness is as the nobles describe equanimity, mindfulness, happy living (abiding), and emptiness.

Another thing to notice is that 身 isn’t in instrumental case in the Chinese (there’s no preposition). This could be due to the translator, of course, but the result is that it’s either a noun (subject of 覺) or an adverb modifying 覺.

I can certainly see the argument that 身 is actually a noun. Then we would get “(his) body feels comfortable/good.” Or we could just take 身 as a pronoun substitute and get “he feels good.”

舉身 definitely means “whole body,” it’s a well-known expression.

Breath and mindfulness meditation practices specifically involve paying attention to physical sensations, so in those cases I would translate kaya as body/physical in those contexts. Again, I translate contextually being aware of the range of meanings words have and then go with what seems right to me. That’s what everyone does with ambiguous passages, and we sometimes land on different readings.


I do think in light of EBT from other schools, pali, sanskrit, tibetan, which don’t have those alternate readings jfor 3rd jhana, I think it’s fairly safe to conclude the chance of scribal error in agamas is super high. But I certainly can’t fault you for translating what’s in your source text, (from chinese to english), and it seems reasonable for Sutta Central to publish whatever they decide their source is, and not take on the added responsibility of fixing scribal errors.

I learned (intellectual reading) the 3rd jhana formula from B. Bodhi’s English translations initially, so that may influence my interpretation, but all the other English translations I’ve read for the 3rd jhana formula, never did it occur to me that what the “noble ones declaring” could mean anything other than the entire 3rd jhana description, and not just the “sukham ca kayena”. I don’t think the pali and sankskrit versions of grammar in 3rd jhana have that ambiguity possible. Given that, do you feel it’s wise to choose that interpretation that you’ve gone with?

And in light of your agreement that the SA passage describing first jhana as


In pali suttas, as well as the pali Abhidhamma, it’s very common for the Buddha to use kāya and citta (or mano) in passages to distinguish between physical and mental. In pali at least, that 3rd jhana phrase “sukham ca kayena patisamvedeti”, reads in just such a way, that the Buddha is going out of his way to point out that sukha is experienced with his physical body in 3rd jhana.

So in light of all of that, do you think it’s a good idea to translate away the physical body in 3rd jhana as you’ve done, if it’s possible that the Buddha was actually trying to emphasize the physical aspect of third jhana?

Why would first jhana be physical (from the SA passage), and suddenly not be physical in 3rd jhana?

I have to admit that I am suspicious of this whole line of thought. It’s certainly true that kaya and citta are juxatposed often in Buddhist texts. But that’s not happening in the dhyana definitions. In fact, I wonder why there’s this insistence that something physical is happening when the entire thrust of the four dhyanas is towards a refinement of mental states. Nor do I see what the use of kaya in descriptions of breath meditation or mindfulness of the body is relavant. Those are clearly meditations dealing with physical sensations, whereas the four dhyanas involve mental states.

But my own reasoning is less important than what MA actually says, of course. If you find something in MA that supports this reading (or if I do when I get back to it), I’ll change the translation.

Now that I’m gone and looked at SA 484, I see that it doesn’t even mention the dhyanas. Saying that it’s interpreting the first dhyana is itself an interpretation. I mean, yes, it glosses the highest happiness as parting with pleasures, but that’s hardly an explicit gloss of the first dhyana, which doesn’t even mention kaya in the stock passage.

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As a follow-up to the last reply, I’ve dug up some interesting material regarding both the SA 484 passage and the interpretation of kaya in the third dhyana stock passage from the Sarvastivada Abhidharma texts in Chinese.

Regarding the passage in SA 484, it’s only tangentially related to the dhyanas: It’s actually a description of the happiness experienced by beings born in the Brahma heavens. Almost an identical passage is found in T1536 discussing the Brahma world.


“Three happy births: There are sentient beings of such bodies who are nourished by the pleasure that arises from seclusion; completely nourished, delighted, completely delighted, fulfilled, and completely fulfilled. Having been nourished (to) completely fulfilled, they happily abide. This is the Heaven of the Brahma Assembly, and it’s the first happy birth.”

Regarding the stock passage of the four dhyanas, the Dharmaskandha Abhidharma has this commentary:

離喜者,云何喜?謂心欣極欣乃至歡喜歡喜性,總名為喜。心於此喜離染解脫,故名離喜。住捨正念正知者,彼於爾時安住行捨正念正知。云何捨?謂離喜時心平等性、心正[5]直性、心無警覺寂靜住性,總名為捨。云何正念?謂離喜時諸念隨念,乃至心明記性,總名正念。云何正知?謂離喜時所起於法[6]簡擇,乃至毘鉢舍那,總名正知。 身受樂者,身謂意身,由意身中有受樂故,四大種身亦得安適, 由此因緣名身受樂。此中樂者,謂離喜時已斷身重性、心重性,乃至身調柔性、心調柔性,總名為樂。此是受樂,非輕安樂。聖說應捨者,聖謂諸佛及佛弟子。說謂宣說,分別開示勸修定者應捨此樂,不應耽味,唯應住捨正念正知。第三者,謂此靜慮順次數中居第三故;復次此於九種次第定中在第三故。靜慮者,謂[7]在此定中行捨、正念、正知、身受樂、心一境性,總此五支名第三靜慮。(T1537.484b18-c7)

The bolded bit is what we’re interested in. It says:

“Bodily experiences pleasure”: Body means the mind-body (mano-kaya?). As a result of experiencing happiness in the mind-body, the body of the four elements also attains comfort.

So, while it may be technically correct to translate kaya as “body” if we’re being literal, it wasn’t understood to mean the physical body by this Sarvastivada Abhidharma text. Rather, as my sense is, it’s a mentally experienced happiness, which leads to the physical body being relaxed and feeling comfortable.


That is the Sarvastivada Abhidharma?
Is there an English translation by any chance of their entire commentary on all four jhanas, anapana, and seven awakening factors?
The part you quote about third jhana, is identical with how late Theravada re-defines the 4 jhanas, which is different than pali EBT interpretation.
I would not be using Sarvastivada Abhidharma as the authoritative guide if Agama EBT contradicts that.

To start with, MN 119, and its parallel MA 81, kayagata sati sutta, explicitly have the 4 jhanas and their similes as a kaya-anupassana exercise. I hope you do translate MA 81 into english at some point. It would be strange if you translate kaya/body/shen to english ‘body’ everywhere for all of those kaya anupassana exercises, but then suddenly in the 3rd jhana formula the body/shen goes missing.

As you pointed out in an earlier post, in chinese, ‘body’ works the way it does in English. People can tell by context if physical or metaphorical body is intended. I’ll try to look up some more agama passages that confirm the physicality of the 4 jhanas, but like wise, you should be showing us where in the agamas you get the idea that the 4 jhanas is purely mental phenomena. If you can not show that, then it would be far better to do a literal translation of 3rd body, and trust that people will know by context if ‘body’ should be physical or not. By doing that, you are blameless as a translator, whatever the truth is. But by imposing your interpretation and making ‘body’ disappear i third jhana, you run a great risk if you happen to be wrong in your interpretation.

In any case, I’m delighted that you are translating Agamas into English and hope many more suttas follow. Do you happen to know if Numata is releasing any more? Vol. 1 of MA containing 1-70 came out many years ago, and volume two was supposed to hit around 2015, still no sign of it. I wrote an email to them to inquire, no response.

There are probably translations of passages scattered around in scholarly papers, but they likely are in Chinese or Japanese academia. There’s not much interested in wholesale translations of these texts. It’s alot of material and not many people study them as a matter of practice.

Okay, I’ll take a look at this. I’ll be studying the treatment of the four dhyanas holistically, though. I’m less inclined to take a single gloss as authoritative because I think we actually have multiple voices speaking in the EBTs, which is why they contradict each other sometimes. Perhaps I could prioritize the sutras that deal with the topic, though.

My understanding is that the entire translation was completed and submitted but there’s some sort of hold up with the publisher no one gets an answer about.

If you’d like me to take your argument seriously, you’ll need to drop the threatening language. It’s ignorant and delusional. This is the second time I’ve been harassed in this way in the past week. If people think that bullying translators into adopting their preferred working is okay in Buddhism, then I may just stop translating. It’s all volunteer work in the first place.


there is a little list of references for those people

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That’s just the facts, not a threat. Anyone, me, you, professional or volunteer, who undertakes the task to translate the words of the Buddha, has a serious responsibility and takes on the consequences of knowingly or unknowingly propagating erroneous views that can harm the readers out there.

If you’ve worked in an academic environment before, you should be used to having your work challenged, and not take it personally. I’m not trying to bully anyone into adopting my preferred interpretation, I’m simply asking you to justify your interpretation. If you say, you believe Sarvastivada Abhidharma takes precedence over EBT, then I consider the matter closed, nothing further to discuss. But if you believe, like most people on SC, that EBT takes precedence, then there is some work to do to justify your interpretation.

You brushed aside my earlier point about sukha of 3rd jhana being qualified as kaya or citta, but look at the fourth jhana formula carefully. All five of the 5 fold vedana scheme is explicitly mentioned there. Why do you think that is?
4th jhana:
sukkhassa ca pahana (sukha indriya - physical origin, pleasure abandoned in 4th jhana)
dukkhassa ca pahana (dukkha indriya - physical origin, pain abandoned in 4th jhana)
pubbeva so-manassa (so-manassa indriya - mental pleasure, disappeared prior to 4th jhana)
do-manassa (do-manassa -indriya - mental pain, disappeared prior to 4th jhana)
upekkha indriya is comprised of upekkha and a-dukkham-a-sukham vedana.

The 4 jhana formula, as it is in this passage in question, and 99% of the time in the pali EBT, are mentioned together, almost never just 3rd jhana in isolation, so 4th jhana formula is part of the context you need to consider here.

Why would be the Buddha be so specific in mentioning all 5 vedana types in 4th jhana, then in 3rd jhana say that pīti (which is a so-manassa) has faded away, and sukha is “kayena”. That sure looks like he’s trying to differentiate for us whether 3rd jhana’s sukha is a somanassa (mental) or a sukha-indriya (physical).

Recall sukha vedana is comprised of both somanassa indriya (mental) and sukha indriya (physical).

So it seems really strange and careless of the Buddha in the midst of all that specificity in vedana type (physical or mental) to just casually throw in ‘sukha kayena’ in 3rd jhana that is intended to be a metaphorical expression of “he personally experiences.”

Please remember to keep it non personal


From Vedana samyutta, such as the dart sutta as a prime example, the first dart that hits is physical and unavoidable, the secondary darts that the ordinary worldling feels as mental suffering, is mental and optional.

So physical is first, and the mental follows, which is opposite to how you’re interpreting 3rd jhana sukha vedana.

This a theme often repeated in vedana samyutta, that vedana originates from the body/kaya.

SN 36.14

“Mendicants, suppose there was a guest house. Lodgers come from the east, west, north, and south. Aristocrats, brahmins, merchants, and workers all stay there. “Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, āgantukāgāraṃ. Tattha puratthimāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti, pacchimāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti, uttarāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti, dakkhiṇāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti. Khattiyāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti, brāhmaṇāpi āgantvā

vāsaṃ kappenti, vessāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti, suddāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti.

In the same way, various feelings arise in this body: pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings. Evameva kho, bhikkhave, imasmiṃ

kāyasmiṃ vividhā vedanā uppajjanti. Sukhāpi vedanā uppajjati, dukkhāpi vedanā uppajjati, adukkhamasukhāpi vedanā uppajjati. Also material pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings arise. Sāmisāpi sukhā vedanā uppajjati, sāmisāpi dukkhā vedanā uppajjati, sāmisāpi adukkhamasukhā vedanā uppajjati. Also spiritual pleasant, painful, and neutral feelings arise.” Nirāmisāpi sukhā vedanā uppajjati, nirāmisāpi dukkhā vedanā uppajjati, nirāmisāpi adukkhamasukhā vedanā uppajjatī”ti.

niramisa sukha, is exactly the sukha of the four jhanas, and it’s of physical origin ( kāyasmiṃ vividhā vedanā uppajjanti.)

I imagine the agama parallels say the same thing.

I think maybe you assume Sarvāstivaāda Abhidharma is equivalent to the Pāli tradition (all Abhidharma schools are the same?), and set up a dichotomy with it accompanied by what seems to be a mob-mentality appeal to a majority. Who are you to speak for “most people” on SC and assume they share your false dichotomies? You might as well be saying “You either love the Bible or you love Satan, those are the only two options,” IMO.

Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma is a patchwork of early sūtra citations and EBT exploration in general, before there was a word for it. It’s not Abhidhammatthasangaha. Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma is unlike the Pāli tradition in many ways, not better than it, but certainly different.

@cdpatton disagreed with William’s assertion that SA 484 referred to first jhana, and here is William’s response to that:

Dr. W. Chu’s response:

The Agama passage and the Commentary’s passage are not “nearly identical.” The latter is indeed about the Brahma realm. The former goes something like this:

What is called the “foremost in what can seen?”
“The foremost in what can be heard?”
“The foremost in the experience of pleasure?”

Answer: Being able to see Brahma the supreme overlord of the world is called “foremost in what can seen.” Being able to hear someone who marvels at the pleasure of jhana is the “foremost in what can be heard.” Experiencing jhana is the “foremost in the experience of pleasure.”

In the commentary, all “three pleasures” referred to successive levels of the Brahma realm. Whereas in the agama in question, only the first one is about the Brahma, and the rest are about jhanic experience specifically. The agama sutta in question contains these numerical lists that serve catechistic purposes rather than is specifically about the Brahma realm.


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You totally misunderstand the intent and point of what I said (that prompted your quote above).

The point, is that if cdpatton believes Sarvastivada Abhidharma has primacy over Sarvastivada sutra in cases of incongruence and/or contradiction, then I would consider the discussion closed because we fundamentally disagree on which source has primacy, and since my arguments are based on EBT, at that point we have to agree to disagree because we differ on which source is authoritative.

You’re right that I can’t speak for what “most people” on SC believe, so I retract that, and instead, I’ll just say that what I believe is that in the game of telephone (chinese whispers), I believe that most people would consider the first person in the chain (the person who first heard and transmitted the original speech) is much more likely to have an accurate transmission than everyone following him in the transmission chain.

As to your charge about false dichotomies, mob mentality, etc, I think you may want to re-read what I originally wrote (before your quote and erroneous assumption above). I was only comparing Theravada Abhidhamma and Sarvastivada Abhidharma on their interpretation of 3rd jhana being nearly identical, nowhere was I making sweeping generalizations about the rest of their respectively differing vast doctrines.

To expand on that 3rd jhana difference, what I thought the clear implication was, is that just as one should not treat Theravada Abhidhamma 3rd jhana interpretation as being the same or more authoritative than EBT theravada, one should not assume Sarvastivada Abhidharma interpretation of 3rd jhana, is the same or more authoritative than Sarvastivada agama straightforward interpretation of 3rd jhana.

I understand that Ancient Chinese is one tough nut to crack, and it’s only natural one is going to consult Sarvistivada Abhidharma or any other commentary to at least hear what they have to say about the matter.