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


Hi CD ,

Actually (惡不善法) should be just
“unwholesome” dharma .


Furthermore, the noble disciple parts with desire and parts with evil or unwholesome things. With thought and investigation, this seclusion produces joy and happiness, and he attains the accomplishment of the first meditation. The noble disciple then is called ‘leaves growing back again’ like the leaves growing back on the Trāyastriṃśa Heaven’s Pārijāta Tree.



Please refer to another translation .



I spent some time today looking at other Chinese translations regarding the issue of the extra thing (emptiness, concentration, or room) added to the formula and also the problem of translating kaya in the third dhyana.

First, it does seem likely that the addition in MA is spurious because it doesn’t occur in the Dirgha Agama or the Samyukta Agama. Should I delete it? I’m not completely sure that’s the best thing to do, but readers will be alerted that MA is an outlier with a footnote in future translations.

Second, comparing Chinese translations in other texts for the third dhyana is pretty interesting, and it largely confirms that some Indian/Central Asian translators in ancient times didn’t think kaya meant the physical body alone, but rather the entire person (five skandhas).

It’s possible that the formula actually varied from source to source given some of the divergences we see below, but some of these variations are likely to be the translators’ interpretations. That’s valuable because those interpretations give us witness to meaning, not just words.

I’ll begin with the Samyukta Agama:

SA 347 reads: 尊者離喜,捨心住正念正智,身心受樂,聖說及捨,具足第三禪 (T99.97a11)

“The venerable parts with pleasure and with equanimity abides in right mindfulness and right knowledge. His body and mind feel happy/comfort. As the nobles say, he reaches equanimity and completes the third dhyana.”

SA 483 reads: 彼比丘離喜貪,捨心住正念正知,安樂住彼聖說捨,第三禪具足住 (T99.123b09)

“Thus monk parts with pleasant desire and with equanimity abides in right mindfulness and right knowledge. (He) happily abides as that noble describes equanimity. This is the third dhyana’s complete abiding.”

Here, Gunabhadra doesn’t seem to think including kaya as particularly important: It’s omitted.

SA 869: 離貪喜,捨住正念正智,覺身樂,聖人能說能捨念樂住,第三禪具足住

Parting with pleasant desires and with equanimity abiding in right mindfulness and right knowledge, he feels bodily happiness. The noble ones describe it as being equanimous, mindful, and happily abiding. That’s the third dhyana’s complete abiding.

This passage looks like the most literal translation in SA, and it doesn’t gloss kaya in this case. Given the other translations, though, we have to wonder a couple things. What is Gunabhadra telling us with the other more interpretative translations? Did the passages actually vary in the original?

Unless we can find fragments of the Sarvastivada Samyukta Agama of these texts from the same era (4th c. CE), we don’t know the answer to the second question, except that the variation itself makes us scratch our heads.

The answer to the first question seems pretty clear though: Gunabhadra doesn’t think kaya means “physical body” in the third dhyana passage.

The Dirgha Agama is more consistent than the Samyukta. An example:

DA 17: 猶如有人除喜入捨,自知身樂,賢聖所求,護念一心,入第三禪 (T1.75a05)

“It’s like when a person discards pleasure and enters equanimity. He knows for himself (personal/bodily) happiness that was sought by the nobles. Carefully mindful and unified in mind, he enters the third dhyana.”

This version could be read either way in terms of kaya, I think. There’s a fuller version that goes:

DA 6 : 捨喜守護,專心不亂,自知身樂,賢聖所求,護念、樂行,行第三禪 (T1.42a27)

“Parting with pleasure, careful, focused in mind, and undistracted, he knows himself the (personal/bodily) happiness that was sought by the nobles. Carefully mindful and happily living, he practices the third dhyana.”

What about the Ekottarika Agama? It has a formula that departs with the Pali somewhat, but it does have the awkward kaya reading without really helping us:

EA 12.1: 復次,比丘!捨於念,修於護,恒自覺知身[8]覺樂,諸賢聖所求,護念清淨,行於三禪。(T125.569a29)

“Furthermore, monk, discard your thoughts and cultivate carefulness. Always self-aware, you’ll know (personal/bodily) happiness that’s sought by the nobles. Carefully mindful and pure, you’ll be practicing the third dhyana.”

These are just a few examples drawn from the four agama collections, of course. There’s probably dozens if not hundreds of other Chinese translations of the formula found in all the alternate translations, abhidharma, and later texts. Overall, my conclusion is that this passage has been causing controversies since ancient times and that different people understood it differently. Until I find some real glosses that make it clear which way kaya should be read, I’m undecided.

MA 81, BTW, doesn’t help us resolve this because it doesn’t say anything other than accomplishing the practice of mindfulness of the body makes it easier to attain the four dhyanas. The dhyanas only get a single mention in the list of benefits at the end of the sutra.



Thank you @cdpatton for that report sharing your findings on the divergence of translation/interpretation of 3rd jhana within the various Agama schools. I’ll have more comments on it later, but in short I’m content that you are showing care and consideration in how to resolve this important controversial topic.

I took a look at MA 81, the parallel to MN 119 kayagata sati sutta. MN 119 is to MN 10 satipatthana sutta, as MA 81 kayagata sati is to MA 98 (chinese || to MN 10 satipatthana).

Working with Analayo’s English translation of MA 98, comparing it to a google translate version of MA 81, I was able to discern, like the MN 119 and MN 10 situation, MA 81 (kayagata sati) contains the same exercises as satipatthana’s kaya-anupassana (physical body contemplation).

There is one notable difference between the pali and chinese versions of the famous 4 jhana similes. In MN 119, the similes appear right along side and standard 4 jhana formulas. In the Agamas, the similes appear, but without the standard jhana formulas.

Here is my modified version of Analayo’s chinese translation, with help from Dr. W. Chu (expert in Chinese Agama and classical ancient Chinese language). The parenthetical comments are mine, the 4 jhana similes in MA 81 don’t actually use the word ‘jhana’, I’m inserting interpretation in those parenthetical comments from MN 119 and MN 122)

To me, the jhana similes in MA 81 and MA 98, even though they don’t explicitly use the word ‘jhana’ are incontrovertibly referring to the 4 jhana standard formulas.

I would like to hear from @cdpatton on why he doesn’t think this is describing 3rd jhana, and also his thoughts on SA 484, in light of Dr. Chu’s response.

(7. Third jhana simile)

「復 次,比丘修習念身,比丘者 “Again, monks, {a monk} practices body-immersed-mindfulness like this:

(implicit 3rd jhana body work, labeled ‘samadhi’ later in refrain)

無喜生樂, without rapture (pīti) with pleasure (sukha),
漬身 潤澤, completely drenches and pervades his body with pleasure born of the absence of rapture [experienced in the third absorption],
普遍充滿於此身中, so that there is no part within his body that is not pervaded
無喜生樂無處 不遍。 by pleasure born of the absence of rapture.

(3rd jhana simile of lotus pond)

猶青蓮華,紅、赤、白蓮, “It is just as a blue, red, or white lotus,
水生水長,在於 水底, being born in the water and having come to growth in the water, remains submerged in water,
根莖華葉,悉漬潤澤, with every part of its roots, stem, flower, and leaves completely drenched and pervaded [by water],
普遍充滿無處不 周。 so that there is no part that is not pervaded by it.

(repeat implicit 3rd jhana body work)

如是比丘 “In the same way a monk
無喜生樂, without rapture (pīti) with pleasure (sukha),
漬身潤澤, completely drenches and pervades his body with pleasure born of the absence of rapture [experienced in the third absorption],
普遍充 滿於此身中, so that there is no part within his body that is not pervaded
無喜生樂無處不遍。 by pleasure born of the absence of rapture.
如是比 丘隨其身行,便知上如真。 if a monk practices this way he realizes truth

(refrain: exercise is to be done with samādhi of 4 jhānas quality)

彼若如是在遠離獨住, "If he abides in seclusion by himself in such a manner–
心無放 逸, his mind doesn’t give in to heedlessness,
修行精勤, and he assiduously cultivates it;
斷心諸患而得定心, he eradicates all the defects of the mind so that he attains a composed/samādhi mind–
得定心 已, having attained samādhi mind,
則知上如真。 then he would be able to know as it is the aforementioned [念身 exercise].
是謂比丘修習念身。 This is called a bhikshu practicing the remembrance (sati) of the body."


Translation of
Gautama Saṅghadeva / 僧伽提婆(Samgha-deva)



Can you explain what you mean, what point are you driving at? I don’t read Chinese, I’ve only studied some of the agama passages relevant to jhana and samadhi practices to compare with EBT pali.

I see the 4 characters you have quoted highlighted contains kaya/body and sukha in there. What’s the general idea of the rest of that sentence and sutta?


Full SA 484 translation of relevant first jhana section here:


Hi , just another text for your reference .

復次,行禪者離於喜欲,捨無求遊,正念正智 而身覺樂 ,謂聖所說、聖所捨、念、樂住、空,得第三禪成就遊。

Furthermore ,
Practitioner by withdrawing from rapture attachment , relinquishing and not pursuing it thus accomplish third jhana with right mindfulness right comprehension that filled physical body with bliss ; of which the noble proclaim , the noble by relinquishing , mindful , pleasant abiding , emptiness , attained to third jhana successfully .


ok, thanks. Based on your english translation of that, I see that’s standard third jhana formula, with the sunyata, so it should be the same passage of the OP of the MA 2.

If the MA is similar to MN in frequency of four jhana standard formula occcurrence, there should be around 1/3 of 200 (or however many total in MA). I’d expect to see upwards of 3rd jhana standard formula occurring upwards of 50 times.

I see you’ve translated it as “physical body”. Is this what cdpatton was talking about with different chinese translators translating standard 4 jhana formulas differently? In other words, so even within MA, we won’t find the same 4 jhana Chinese source text on sutta central consistently, or is MA 176 containing the same exact jhana formula as MA 2, and you interpret it as physical body that experiences sukha, and not as cdpatton has rendered, “personally experienced”?

I’d like to hear other Chinese readers chime in and share you how interpret that part of 3rd jhana, and whats the general sense you get of how most Chinese transalators would render that kaya /body in 3rd jhana. Do they follow the Sarvastivada Abhidharma interpretation as cdpatton did (kaya is a mental body that experiences a purely mental sukha/happiness), or do they follow the interpretation of the sautrantika, who were contemporaries of Sarvastavadins and said 3rd jhana sukha experienced by the kaya is physical vedana, experienced with the physical body?

Note that the Sautrantika, which means “sutta method”, are basically my spiritual ancestors. They didn’t dismiss the entire Abhidharma, but wherever the orthodoxy contradicted the EBT (early Buddhist texts, agama sutras or pali suttas), they held that the EBT was the authoritative reference, not the Abhdidhamma.

The BDK numata translations of MA, with B. Analayo as the editor in chief, standardized on their jhana formulas, so even though they have a team of translators working on English to Chinese translations, you should see the same 4 jhana formula in the entire MA. So based on their translation of MA 2, they also, like the Sautrantikas, follow the standard EBT translation of 3rd jhana kāya is a “body” that experiences sukha/pleasure.

In the Pali EBT world, B. Sujato is the only translator I know of that translates 3rd jhana kāya as “he personally experiences” (removing kāya out of the translation and interpreting it as a pure mental experience of sukha).

Among notable pali to english translators, B. Bodhi, Thanissaro, Rupert Gethin (President of pali text society), B. Anandajoti, B. Analayo, all render 3rd jhana kāya as “body”. Even Theravada Abhidhamma English translators translate 3rd jhāna’s pali kāya as English “body”. Abhidhamma followers interpret English “body” in that context of 3rd jhana to mean “a body of mental aggregates devoid of rupa”.

A key point here, is the difference between translation and interpretation. I don’t know for sure that all of the English translators I just named in the above paragraph subscribe to a view that “body” means “physical body”, as we see Theravada Abhidharma translators mean the English word “body” in third jhana to mean something else, but there’s great value in consistency and transparency in how one translates. From B. Sujato’s translation of ‘kaya’ as ‘he personally experiences sukha’, we know for sure he interprets ‘kaya’ as not being a physical body, and chose a translation that ensure that no other reader could possibly interpret a physical body from his 3rd jhana translation.


How are you determining there was an error?


I’m not fluent in the Chinese written language to be more specific. But I am fluent in EBT, and am intimately familiar with all of the pali EBT passages on samadhi, jhana, vedana samyutta, 7 awakening factors, and I have traced in great detail exactly how the 4 jhanas have changed in meaning in the Theravada tradition from EBT through Abhidhamma into Visuddhimagga period.

There are only about 25 words in the 3rd jhana formula, and I do know how to use a chinese english dictionary. The Chinese words in their standard 3rd jhana formula match very close the word order and meaning of pali and sanskrit (from which Chinese translations were derived) equivalents, so it was very easy to spot that in Chinese ‘sunyata’/emptiness was an error.

Plugging sutta central’s Chinese Agama into google translate, will give you a rough translation that gives a somewhat of an idea what the sutra is about, and allow you to zero in on the phrase and use a dictionary to get more detail.


I find the Vietnamese is often a little more cogent than the Chinese after being put through an automatic translator.


That doesn’t strike me as a terribly strong foundation from which to judge the accuracy of a translation done by someone who does read the language in question.
Any time I’ve used Google Translate, for really mundane Chinese, Japanese, or Korean text, it has turned out almost as confusing as the original language. :laughing:


(responding to nadine)
There are two issues.

  1. The sunyata that appears in some chinese 3rd jhana passages, you can refer to cdpatton’s explanation earlier in the thread. That is not an error on cdpatton’s part, that’s with CBETA agama source.
  2. The second issue of making kaya/body disappear in the 3rd jhana formula, that’s not a translation accuracy issue, that’s an interpretation and understanding of EBT issue. You can be the greatest chinese language scholar of all time, and it’s not going to help you at all for this specific issue. What makes you qualified is knowing how four jhanas, 5 indriya-vedana scheme, kaya, 7 awakening factors is understood in the pali and agama EBT, versus their commentary and Abhidhamma counterparts.


that is a great tip. that makes sense. Ancient classical chinese is hard for anyone to understand, whereas a vietnamese translation of that ancient chinese is likely to be in a ‘plain english’ modern style of vietnamese most people easily understand.


Interesting; do you have any papers available that we can read on this?


I wouldn’t go too far, the Vietnamese translations here follow very closely the Classical Chinese. It is in “hybrid Classical Vietnamese” sort of. Sometimes you’ll find the exact same gibberish from your translator going from Chinese to English and Vietnamese to English.


Probably a good time to bring back an old thread that explores the Middle Indo Aryan understanding of the term kāya as used in the texts in Pali and Chinese -

Anyone ready for a formless kāya?


Sorry to see your volunteer translation work is being heavily criticized. I say sorry because such criticism would likely deter volunteers like you, Charles, who are doing their best to make the dhamma more available through translation work, which I’m sure is very challenging and time consuming.

There have been at least several instances in the past where others “attacked” Bhante @sujato translation choices. I wonder if it would be helpful to look at how Bhante replied Charles? Or perhaps he has some suggestions.

Thanks so much Charles for your translation work. I really look forward to delving into the agamas at some point.

metta to all :slight_smile:


Yes, Bhante would be a good resource with regard to your experience here, @cdpatton.


For all the good work you’re doing, a big 善哉! 善哉!

Don’t worry about his attacks on your translation of the word “kāyena” in the 3rd Dhyana pericope. He’s conveniently left out mention that the word is not functioning nominally there, but adverbially. The great Sanskritist Wijesekara would approve of your translation. Ample examples from the Pali about “kāyena” meaning “personally” have been cited to him in the past, but he always ducks and evades answering.

If he decides to take rebirth here again under a different guise, don’t hold back on the MIA grammatical point that has been thoroughly ventilated previously.

Again, pls keep up the good work.