Lying still like a corpse

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;
balavā dubbaloriva;
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,
sayetha matasāyikan”ti.

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:

śayīta mṛgaśāyikām
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
sayetha matasāyikan”ti.
lie still like a corpse.


Just throwing this out there…
Any possibility that it could relate to being corpse like, as in no longer being reactive, when there is a possibility of conditions causing an effect, being without volition, not interacting or responding? Like a corpse

Note; not coming from a translation perspective, but more from a dhamma side. Always hoping for more dhamma exsposition :slight_smile:



Could it be an ‘a’ is missing


rest in that deathless state.

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This seems to resonate with K.R Normans interpretation.

nābhinandāmi maraṇaṃ nābhinandāmi jīvitaṃ,
Kālaṃ ca patikaṅkhāmi nibbisaṃ bhatako yathā.

I don’t long for death;
I don’t long for life;
I await my time,
Like a worker waiting for their wages. -Thag 15.1


In the arc of dependent origination, we can delight in the beginning and walk , ignorant, into the suffering. And wail and cry.

Or we can be at peace with the ending, seeing the arc of it all from birth to death, and abide, at peace, at rest on the passing of all ephemeral things.

Lying on the bed of birth, grasping, tossing and turning, restless all night tired all day.
Lying on the bed of death, letting go, at rest, at peace with metta for all, in equanimity abiding.


I love your two lines here… but ‘with joy abiding’… hmmm I’d be content with equanimity :wink:

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Lol. Edited. Exuberance restrained. :pray:

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I get a very Taoist flavor from the paradoxical/cryptic way that language is used in that passage. For example, from the the Tao Te Ching (S. Mitchell translation).

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.