Etymology of nikaya

What is the etymology of the word nikāya? What is the meaning of ni in Sanskrit in this case? Is the ni part the same as the prefix in nirodha? Just wondering.


Though not a full answer to your question, the following quote might be relevant.

The term nikāya , a “collection” or “group”, is preferred in the Theravādin context, while the northern tradition usually used āgama , which has the sense of a “tradition” or “transmission”; however, these usages are not specific and may be used in any tradition

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It’s derived from an Indic verbal root cay ‘to collect, to layer, to string together’, with the prefix ni.
Yes - the same prefix is present in nirodha- (from the verbal root rudh with the prefix ni).

In Sri Lanka we use the word to reflect diffrent traditins of the linages. (Siyam Nikaya, Amarpura Nikaya etc)
So people get confused it with Majjhima Nikaya etc. (It took me years to understand the diffrence)

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@SarathW1 Yes, it’s the same in Burma and Thailand. It refers to an order of monastics.

@Leon So… what is the meaning of kaya? And ni? And rudh?

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Thanks for the questions!

Firstly, it is important to recognise that a word’s meaning is not necessarily directly determined by its formal etymology. In other words, we cannot say that because a given word is built from a particular verbal base, with a certain suffix, prefix etc, it follows that it must mean X. Philology has its limits and, while in use, languages are complex, evolving entities.

That said:

The prefix ni typically means ‘down, back, into’. It survives, for instance, in English nether.

Sanskrit kāya- can mean ‘body’ (both in a corporeal body and lived body sense). As I mentioned, it derives from the verbal root cay ‘to collect, layer’. Bodies are collections of anatomical parts.

Sanskrit rudh is a verbal root meaning ‘to restrain, to hold back’. With the prefix ni, the meaning is essentially the same, ‘to stop, to hinder’ etc.

Haven’t we been here before?



So nikaya means something like… “[a part cut out from a whole by going] into the body”?

Sorry, I’m not quite sure what you mean by “[a part cut out from a whole by going] into the body”.
As I said, formal (etymological) analysis of a word is one thing; a word’s attested meaning is another.
Sanskrit nikāyá- has the clearly attested meanings ‘collection, group, body, class’.

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Does it extend to the ‘n’ in no and not?

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Short answer, no.
The initial ‘n’ in ‘no’ and ‘not’ continues an old Indo-European negative particle *ne.

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