There are a few terms used in conjunction with the 5th Bodhi factor:
I’ve looked in several dictionaries, but they do not seem to tell me much about the etymologies, or how these terms might differ from others, why they would be used, etc.
There also seem to be some very different translation choices used between Buddhist traditions (for equivalent terms). Translations from Pali tend to interpret these as related to calmness, but Northern traditions tend to interpret them as more about pliancy.
Can someone tell me a bit more about the Pali terms?
So it seems as if the term is exclusively Buddhist, and in Indic sources always used in the sense of “tranquillity”. You refer to “Northern” sources: where exactly do you see the sense of “pilancy”? I’m wondering if it may be a translation issue.
I am not sure about Tibetan Buddhism, but at least in Chan Buddhism, this state is held to be a important precursor to entering samādhi. This state of passaddhi, usually translated as qing’an (輕安), has a position in Chan Buddhism that is very analogous to “access concentration” in modern Theravāda Buddhism. Those people who are into Chan Buddhism will know that qing’an is an important stage before samādhi, although they probably will not know that it is also in the āgamas, or one of the Seven Factors of Bodhi.
Often Buddhist works on meditation translated from Chinese mention the state of qing’an, but this term is translated in various ways, so that it is not clear at all what even the original Chinese term was, much less the Pali or Sanskrit. But here are two examples. The first is from Nan Huai-Chin, from the 1984 translation of his work Tao & Longevity, which contains an appendix on cultivating samādhi (an extract from his first book written in 1955). Keep in mind these translations are typically pretty rough and in this case were done by someone not very familiar with Buddhism. Here qing’an is translated as “lightness.”
When restlessness and torpor both disappear, and the mind suddenly fixes on a single thing in the absence of sleep and restlessness, then lightness occurs. For some, this sensation begins at the top of the head, whereas for others it originates in the soles of the feet. When lightness begins at the top of the head, the top of the head feels fresh and cool as if cream were being gently poured over it. The Buddhists and Taoists call this “internal baptism.” This sensation circulates around the entire body, the mind is rested, the body is relaxed, and one feels so soft and flexible that it often seems as if the bones themselves have dissolved. It is then natural for the body to become straight as a pine tree. The mind is clear and there are no feelings of restlessness or torpor in response to external surroundings. One experiences a natural state of joy. […] If one continues to maintain the state of lightness without interruption, then one’s samadhi will become firm and stable. One will feel calm and clear. […] The vital force becomes highly active once one has initiated the ch’i currents and yang ch’i circulates throughout the entire body. If one forgets to focus his attention on a single phenomenon then his sexual desires will grow stronger. This could be dangerous and one should therefore be careful. Once one has passed beyond this stage, he will have already passed beyond the “warm” stage and advanced to the “top” stage. Then the ch’i and the breath will return to their origin, the mind will stop, and the external realm will grow calm and quiet. […] A person who reaches this point in the cultivation of samadhi may experience the cessation of his breath and his pulse. In Buddhist, as well as in other, teachings this is described in great detail. […]
In that passage, “warm” (uṣmagata) and “top” (mūrdhan) are referring to two stages of prayoga in Sarvāstivāda meditation systems. In the 2004 compilation The Chan Handbook, by Hsuan Hua, this state is also described briefly. Here they translate qing’an as “lightness and ease.”
With internal breathing all the pores on the body are breathing. A person who is breathing internally appears to be dead, but actually he has not died. He does not breathe externally, but the internal breathing comes alive. […] But at this point, you should not think that you are great. You have merely activated an initial expedient and are experiencing the state of lightness and ease.
The clearest translation of passaddhi into Chinese is qing’an (輕安), which literally means “lightness and ease.” Several other translations are also widely used throughout the CBETA canon, though, including: 除, 猗, and 倚. Interpreting these characters is somewhat problematic, though. In DDB, I see that 輕安 is defined as “pliancy,” while 猗 is defined as “flexibility,” but with no further explanation. The character used in the SA, which is 猗, is obscure and most definitions given are meaningless, like the woofing of a dog.
Interestingly, our unusual Ekottarika Āgama comes in with some useful interpretation. In EA 17.1, after describing Rāhula entering samādhi, it says that his mind was pure without the dust of defilements (心清淨無塵穢), and his physical body was supple and soft (身體柔軟).
I am not familiar with the Tibetan terms, but it appears that they tend to be interpreted along the lines of “pliancy” or “flexibility.” Interestingly, the term is defined by Asaṅga in a way that would make us believe that it is the opposite of, and the antidote to, sluggishness and obscuration.
Then as I was searching around, I found that there is an interesting appearance in a fragment of Tocharian A, that actually describes the Sanskrit term. The following fragment is found in the appendices of The Tocharian Subjunctive: A Study in Syntax and Verbal Stem Formation, by Michaël Peyrot.
One of the interesting things about topics like this is that we have descriptions of a state from the āgamas and nikāyas (passaddhi), but described in practical terms, from a different cultural context.
A lot of Chinese Buddhism has been affected by Daoism (and vice-versa), so that some descriptions of phenomena such as this will be described in more concrete and physical ways, in terms of subtle energy and channels, the five elements, or with reference to poems and classics from outside Buddhism.
I think there are many such connections to be made between Buddhist traditions, and between Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions also. As long as we don’t go full “New Age,” and proceed with caution, it could be fruitful. The EBT’s are an important nexus point for many of these traditions, because their frameworks for meditation are early and deeply influenced Yoga, later Buddhism, Daoism, etc.
I was a bit worried that maybe the translation of this term as pliancy was without basis, but it appears there is some historical interpretation to back it up. Still, it seems to be interpreted with a variety of different meanings such as openness, clarity, tranquility, calm, lightness, pliancy, softness, flexibility, etc. No matter what I pick, none will represent all the meanings. Oh well.
Śrambh in Sanskrit is a root meaning “trust” or “confide” (though different from the root of saddha, śrad, meaning something similar, “trust, faith, belief, reverence”). It is a difficult linguistic trail to trace. It could have the sense of: “Trusting one’s surroundings, one feels safe and at ease/tranquil; on familiar ground; the way one feels at home”). That said, I sometimes wonder whether passaddhi started with the root śram (“tired, reclined, resting”; the same as aśram) and got corrupted somewhere along the way or was a term of art in the nominal form rooted in śram, but then took on the verbal form that picked up the “bh” from śrambh. Perhaps that’s a little far-fetched, but stranger things have happened.
Pasāda (prasāda in Skt) does not share an etymology with passaddhi. The former, and you can see this sense a little more clearly in Dhammapada verse 2 (form: pasānnena), is rooted in language meaning “bright, pure, clear” rather than “calm” or “confidence.”