[…] I’ll return to the subject, though not in the way that you request. Instead I propose to take a close look at just one randomly selected
page from the Pure Dhamma website. (Actually I started out by randomly selecting three pages, intending to comment on all of them, but there were so many mistakes on just the first one that I’ve decided to call it a day).
The page in question purports to be about the meaning of the
saṃ part of the word saṃsāra and is found in a section of the website ominously entitled “Key Dhamma Concepts that have Been Hidden”. […]
The article opens with the exciting revelation of a Pali term whose meaning has allegedly been “hidden for thousands of years” but has now been rediscovered.
A key word, the meaning of which has been hidden for thousands of years, is “san” (pronounced like son).
Sad to say,
saṃ is actually one of the most common prefixes in Pali and Sanskrit, as well as in many modern Indian languages. There is no mystery to the word at all. Functionally it’s simply the Indic equivalent of the Latin “com-”. Its range of meanings in both Pali and Sanskrit is well-known and well-documented and at no time has its meaning been “hidden”.
However, by asserting that the meaning of some key Pali term
has been hidden or lost or misunderstood by lesser mortals, messianic revisionist Theravadins grant themselves the luxury of assigning whatever new meaning they like to it…
Not according to the texts, which consistently explain
saṃ in the noun saṃsāra and in the verb saṃsarati as being a term used in the sense of abbocchinnaṃ an adverb meaning ‘continuously’ or ‘without interruption’. For example:
Khandhānañ’ ca paṭipāṭi, dhātu-āyatanāna ca,
Abbocchinnaṃ vattamānā, saṃsāro’ ti pavuccatī ti.
The process of the aggregates, elements and bases,
Proceeding without interruption is called ‘saṃsāra’.
(DA. ii. 496)
It’s correct that the
saṃ- in saṃsāra and the saṅ- in saṅkhyā are one and the same verbal prefix. But from their sharing of the same prefix it doesn’t follow that the meaning of saṃsāra can be derived from the meaning of saṅkhyā.
We wouldn’t say, for example, that the meaning of ‘transport’ can be inferred from the meaning of ‘transgender’, or that the meaning of ‘confetti’ can shed light on the meaning of ‘community’ just because the two items in each pair happen to share the same Latin prefixes.
“Khyä” or “Khaya” is used to indicate removal. Nibbana is attained via removal of defilements (raga, dosa, moha), and thus Nibbana is “ragakkhaya“, “dosakkhaya“, and “mohakkhaya“.
Etymologically there is no connection between the
-khyā in saṅkhyā and the khaya in rāgakkhaya. One is derived from the verb saṅkhāyati (to count or calculate) and the other from the verb khayati (to wither). The disparateness of the two can be seen even more starkly in Sanskrit, where their respective cognates are saṅkhāyati and kṣinoti.
Like ‘dick’ and ‘dyke’ or ‘blob’ and ‘bulb’,
khaya and khyā are unrelated words that just happen to share two consonants.
Just by knowing this, it is possible to understand the roots of many common words, such as sankhara, sansara, sanna, samma, etc. Let us analyze some of these words.
The writer seems to be confusing roots (
dhātu) and prefixes ( upasagga). Saṅkhāra, saṃsāra, and saññā all share the prefix saṃ. But their roots — and it is these, not the prefixes that are the primary source of a Pali word’s meaning — are √khar (= Skt. kṛ), √sar (= sṛ), and √ñā (= jñā) respectively.
sammā, this is an indeclinable particle ( nipāta) and as such has no verbal root and no relationship whatever with the three nouns.
mā is a prohibitive particle (“Don’t!” Let it not!”). It’s also an indeclinable, which means it’s neither reducible nor modifiable nor combinable with other words. Indeclinables are to Pali philology what inert gases are to chemistry. As such it has no more to do with the mā sound in sammā than it does with the mā sound in Māra or marble or marzipan or Margate or Marlene Dietrich. It just happens to sound the same.
Knowing the correct meaning of such terms, leads to clear understanding of many terms:
Indeed. And like so many things in this world, the correct meaning is not arrived at merely by wishing it were so.
sāra in saṃsāra doesn’t mean fruitful. In the Suttas the Buddha connects the noun saṃsāra with the verb saṃsarati. This verb’s primary meaning is to repeatedly come (or go) somewhere or to wander or move about continuously. From this we get the secondary meaning, to transmigrate.
No, this is both etymologically wrong and factually wrong as to what
sammādiṭṭhi is. What the writer is describing is diṭṭhujukamma, the action of straightening of one’s views. If one is successful at this then sammādiṭṭhi is the result.
Sandittiko = san + ditthi (meaning vision) = ability to see “san”; one becomes sanditthiko at the Sotapanna stage. Most texts define sandittiko with inconsistent words like, self-evident, immediately apparent, visible here and now, etc.
There are two traditional etymologies for
sandiṭṭhiko, one of which gives rise to the translation “to be seen by oneself” and the other to translations like “self-evident”. But regardless of which of these one prefers, the term is one of the special qualities of the Dhamma, not of any person. And so to speak of somebody “becoming” sandiṭṭhiko at the sotāpanna stage is nonsensical.
A nice example to illustrate the significance of “san”, is to examine the verse that Ven. Assaji delivered to Upatissa (the lay name of Ven. Sariputta, who was a chief disciple of the Buddha):
“Ye dhamma hetu pabbava, te san hetun Thathagatho aha, Te san ca yo nirodho, evan vadi maha Samano”
Te = three, hetu = cause, nirodha = nir+uda = stop from arising
The translation is now crystal clear:
“All dhamma (in this world) arise due to causes arising from the three “san”s: raga, dosa, moha. The Buddha has shown how to eliminate those “san”s and thus stop dhamma from arising”
This part is the clearest evidence so far that the author is attempting to explain points of Pali without having learned anything of the language at all. The word
tesaṃ is simply the demonstrative pronoun te (‘this’, ‘that’) in the genitive plural case. It means “of these”, “of those”. The saṃ part is an inflectional ending ([i]
vibhatti). It has absolutely nothing to do with the prefix saṃ in saṃsāra.
Each Pali word is packed with lot of information, and thus commentaries were written to expound the meaning of important Pali words.
A good example is the key Pali word “anicca“. In Sanskrit it is “anitya“, and this is what normally translated to English as “impermanence”. But the actual meaning of anicca is very clear in Sinhala: The Pali word “icca” (pronounced “ichcha”) is the same in Sinhala, with the idea of “this is what I like”. Thus anicca has the meaning “cannot keep it the way I like”.
nicca in anicca has nothing to do with the adjective iccha (wishing) or the noun icchā (a wish) or the verb icchati (to wish).
The colloquial Sinhala pronunciation of it is actually a mispronunciation when judged by the phonetic descriptions in the ancient Pali grammars. When Sri Lankans pronounce Pali words their commonest mistake is to make aspirated consonants into non-aspirates and non-aspirated consonants into aspirates. This can be seen in the unorthodox romanization system used at the Pure Dhamma site:
gathi instead of gati
hethu-pala instead of hetu-phala.
micca-ditthi instead of micchā-diṭṭhi
satipattana instead of satipaṭṭhāna
By contrast, this is the international standard used by indologists for over a century:
ක ඛ ග ඝ ඞ
ka, kha, ga, gha, ṅa
ච ඡ ජ ඣ ඤ
ca, cha, ja, jha, ña
ට ඨ ඩ ඪ ණ
ṭa, ṭha, ḍa, ḍha, ṇa
ත ථ ද ධ න
ta, tha, da, dha, na
ප ඵ බ භ ම
pa, pha, ba, bha, ma
ය ර ල ව ස හ ළ ං
ya, ra, la, va, sa, ha, ḷa, ṃ
The Pure Dhamma website offers a variety of revisionist readings of the Pali Suttas based upon the site-owner’s (or his guru’s) claimed re-discovery of supposed hidden meanings of key Pali terms.
These proposed hidden meanings, when not presented merely as bald assertions, are defended by resort to Pali philological analysis.
But since the site-owner is demonstrably incompetent in both Indic philology in general and Pali in particular his arguments are undeserving of credence. Rather than leading to the true understanding of the Dhamma via the revelation of higher (but long-concealed) meanings, they lead only to baloney.