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.