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How to parse "nuttha"?

Hello all,

First the preamble. The complex word form nuttha occurs several times in the early Buddhist texts. See this search. All occurrences are in direct quotes of the form: “kāya nuttha, N, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā …”, where N is a vocative noun. The import, somewhat simplified, is “N, what were you talking about just now?” It must be noted that N is sometimes singular and sometimes plural. As noted in this discussion, on dhammawheel, this could be parsed: nuttha = nu + attha or possibly ettha); here attha would be 3rd. pl. of atthi.

My questions are:

  1. Is the plural form, attha, possible when N is singular (as in many IE languages)?
  2. If not, how does one analyze nuttha? As ettha in all cases?

David.

It’s not an easy one. Checking the Dhammawheel discussion from many years ago, it’s worth noting that the full commentarial explanation (from DN 1) is as follows:

Tattha kāya nutthāti katamāya nu kathāya sannisinnā bhavathāti attho. Kāya netthātipi pāḷi, tassā katamāya nu etthāti attho kāya notthātipi pāḷi. Tassāpi purimoyeva attho.
Herein, kāya nuttha means “for what discussion might you all be seated”. The Pali also has the readings Kāya nettha, which means “for what here”, and kāya nottha, which has the same meaning as the former reading.

Here the commentarial gloss bhavatha definitely indicates that it is reading attha as second plural, either indicative or optative. Ven @Dhammanando in his comment there is confident it is indicative, but I’m not sure why, it seems to me the optative mood would be more fitting.

Regardless, since as you point out the subject can be singular, it seems we have to rule out this reading, as the verb must be plural.

This leaves us with the reading kāya nu ettha. In addition, this seems the most plausible to me in terms of overall sentence structure. The full idiom is divided into two echoing parts:

“kāya nuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā,
kā ca pana vo antarākathā vippakatā”ti?

The second part clearly lacks an active verb, making do with a past participle. Reading ettha, the two halves are symmetrical.

Moreover, ettha chimes with etarahi in the kind of reduplicated phrasing that we find all the time in Pali: “here and now”. The whole phrase, in fact, now consists of chiming pairs: kāya/kathāya, ettha/etarahi, sannisinnā/sannipatitā. This doesn’t prove anything, but it is consistent with idiomatic phrasing generally that it is euphonious.

Interestingly, Ven Bodhi translates it in different ways. From the 1970s in DN 1 he had “What kind of discussion were you holding just now, bhikkhus?” and most recently in AN 4.185 “What discussion were you engaged in just now”. In both of these he renders etarahi as “just now”, and the idiom as a whole is not very literally rendered, making it unclear how he reads nuttha. When editing Ven Nyanamoli’s translation, however, in MN 26 he has “for what discussion are you sitting together here now?”, which is more literal, and clearly identifies the “here”.

This text (kāyanuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā) is found by CST4 only 4 times in all of the Tipitaka, so let’s look at the Burmese translation of all four. :sun_with_face:

DN1 Brahmajala Sutta
“kāyanuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā”
“ရဟန်းတို့ ယခုအခါ အဘယ်စကားဖြင့် စုဝေးထိုင်နေကုန်သနည်း၊”
“Monks, right now, by what speech (are you) meeting, sitting, (and) staying (here)?”

  • the word “here” is not included in the translation. The word “stay” here indicates, that the Burmese masters read it as nu+attha.

AN 10 5.10. Bhandana Sutta
“kāya nuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā”
“ရဟန်းတို့ ယခုအခါ အဘယ်စကားဖြင့် အညီအညွတ် ထိုင်နေလျက် စည်းဝေးကြကုန်သနည်း၊”
“Monks, right now, by what speech (are you) unitedly sitting, staying, (and) meeting?”

  • the word “here” is not included in the translation. The word “stay” here indicates, that the Burmese masters read it as nu+attha.

AN 10 (7)2.9. Paṭhamakathāvatthu Suttaṃ
“kāya nuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā”
“ရဟန်းတို့ ယခုအခါ၌ အဘယ်စကားဖြင့် အညီအညွတ်စုဝေး ထိုင်နေကြကုန်သနည်း”
“Monks, right now, by what speech (are you) unitedly sitting, staying, (and) meeting?”

  • the word “here” is not included in the translation. The word “stay” here indicates, that the Burmese masters read it as nu+attha.

Udana 2.2. Rāja Suttaṃ
“kāya nuttha, bhikkhave, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā sannipatitā”
“ရဟန်းတို့ ယခုအခါ အဘယ်စကားဖြင့် စုဝေးထိုင်နေကြကုန်သနည်း”
“Monks, right now, by what speech (are you) meeting, sitting, (and) staying (here)?”

  • the word “here” is not included in the translation. The word “stay” here indicates, that the Burmese masters read it as nu+attha.

:sun_with_face:

Hello Venerables @sujato , @sarana, @Dhammanando, and all.

Thanks Venerables @sujato abd @sarana for your replies. Very helpful.

It looks like this will likely become a discussion since it seems likely that no definitive answer will emerge.

Ven. @Dhammanando can, of course, speak for himself. His argument that attha is indicative seems to be based on the conjugation tables he gave in the DhammaWheel discussion referred to above. I must admit that the grammars I have don’t give attha as an optative form of the verb. I only see it, as an indicative or imperative form of the verb atthi with root as. The imperative doesn’t fit the context.

Interestingly, Duroiselle gives attha as, among other things, an alternative form of atra, meaning “here”. It seems that this meaning of attha may also occur in Margaret Cone’s Dictionary of Pali, Vol. 1, although, not owning the dictionary, I can’t be sure.

David.

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The search is too specific: you need to search for just the word nuttha, else you will ignore the cases where it is used with the singular vocative.

The singular usage is not uncommon, it occurs in MN 76, MN 77, MN 79, MN 108, DN 9, and DN 25.

Having said which, I realize now I was mistaken when I said:

It’s not that the subject can be singular, but that the addressee in the vocative is in singular. In Pali idiom, the singular vocative is used when addressing a group via its leader, so we have, eg. from DN 25:

kāya nuttha, nigrodha, etarahi kathāya sannisinnā

Sannisinnā is in plural, even though the vocative is plural.

This means that the reading attha can’t be ruled out on grammatical grounds. I still feel that the alternate reading ettha is more plausible, but that’s just preference.

Indeed it does, although she does not refer to this phrase, giving only a couple of instances in later texts. CPD notes it is “only found in texts as (doubtful) v. l. for ettha or tattha”.

Also seemingly confirmed by the tables of Anandajoti, although this does not try to be comprehensive. He gives assatha as second plural optative.

https://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/Textual-Studies/Grammar/Guide-to-Pali-Grammar.htm#Verbs

.

Moved. :slight_smile:

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