In Theragatha 8.1, the verses of Mahakaccāyana, we find some difficult lines. The final verse speaks of one who practices thus:
Cakkhumāssa yathā andho,
Though you have eyes, be as if blind;
sotavā badhiro yathā;
though you have ears, be as if deaf;
Paññavāssa yathā mūgo,
though you have wisdom, be as if stupid;
though you have strength, be as if feeble.
These lines are straightforward. But, unusually, the verse extends the normal four-line format to add another two lines. And these lines have proven quite difficult to render.
Atha atthe samuppanne,
K.R. Norman, the foremost Indological linguist of the 20th century, taking attha in the sense of “goal”, renders the lines thus:
When the goal has been attained one should lie on the bed of death.
Well. That’s a left turn! Get enlightened and die … Not sure if it’s a persuasive pitch for the Dhamma. But this reading is not convincing, for samuppanne in locative always refers to a “time that has come”, not something that has been attained. Norman discusses the interpretive difficulties in his usual learned style, and notes that the commentaries offer contradictory readings.
To get an idea of how uncertain the lines are, here is the rendering by T.W. Rhys Davids in his translation of the Milinda (Mil 7.2.2), where this verse is quoted:
As each new object rises to his ken,
On the sweet couch of blest Nirvāṇa’s peace
Let him lie down and rest.
Here samuppanne more convincingly refers to something that arises, while he evidently takes attha to mean the “object” that has arisen, harking back to the theme of sense restraint in the previous lines. But attha does not, so far as I know, have this sense in early texts, although this could of course be simply an unusual idiom. A bigger difficulty is then how to deal with the next line, where Rhys Davids’ rendering might charitably be described as loosely inspired by its source material.
Norman refers to the Sanskrit śāyikā for the sense of sāyika , saying that it means the “act of sleeping”. But I think he misses the sense. Monier-Williams quotes the form mṛgaśāyikā, the recumbent posture of an antelope:
let him lie as still as an antelope
Note that the form of this phrase is practically identical with the Pali line.
That this sense is relevant here is further supported by the only other Pali occurrence of matasāyika in Ja 142 Sigala Jātaka. The background story tells of a man who wished to trap a jackal by lying perfectly still in a charnel ground, pretending to be dead. But of course, the clever jackal sees through his ruse, tugging at the man’s club and noticing that he clenches it and won’t let go. Chalmers’ translation is too free to give much hint what he thought matasāyika means, but surely, by analogy from mṛgaśāyikā, it must be “lying still as a corpse”.
This then brings the final lines nicely into agreement with the rest of the verse. Among sights be as if blind, and finally lie down as if dead.
So that’s the last line sorted. But the previous line is still not really clear. I propose that it continues the paradoxical flavor of the previous lines, using attha neither as “goal” nor as “sense object”, but in the sense of “issue, matter”. When things come up, just pretend you’re a corpse: don’t get involved, don’t make a problem out of them.
Atha atthe samuppanne,
And when issues come up
lie still like a corpse.