On a small detail in DN 26: what do they say when the apocalypse turns the corner

DN 26 presents a Buddhist apocalypse, the utter demise of society. Beings end up with swords in their hands, with no thought in mind but killing. After hiding for a period, they emerge and see each other for the first time. They embrace and shout words of celebration.

‘diṭṭhā, bho, sattā jīvasi, diṭṭhā, bho, sattā jīvasī’ti.

The words seem fairly standard. Diṭṭha is a common word for “seen”, and satta is “being”. A literal translation would then be:

“(You are) seen, good being, you live! (You are) seen, good being, you live!

It’s a bit unusual to refer to another person as “being”, but well, unusual things happen.

Rhys Davids translated it:

“Hail, O mortal, that thou livest still! O happy sight to find thee still alive!”

Maurice Walshe has:

“Good beings, I see that you are alive!”

But none of this is grammatical. The vocative address is bho (singular, “sir”, “my good man!”), agreeing with the singular verb (jīvasi). However, diṭṭhā and sattā under this reading must be plural. This puzzled me for a long time and I just chalked it up to a faulty transmission.

In fact, neither of these words are what they seem.

In my previous translation, I realized that diṭṭhā is Sanskrit diṣṭyā, an expression of glee and rejoicing: “fantastic, how fortunate”, per dn16:2.24.5 and ja81:1.4.

I only just now realized that sattā must be nominative singular for sattar (“enemy”), not plural of satta (“being”) which disagrees with both verb and vocative in number.

Thus for what I believe is the very first time, let me unveil an accurate translation of this sentence:

‘Fantastic, dear foe, you live! Fantastic, dear foe, you live!’

Much more dramatic!

The punctuation in the Mahasangiti edition is also incorrect. Since jīvasi is second person, sattā must be a vocative.

‘diṭṭhā, bho sattā, jīvasi, diṭṭhā, bho sattā, jīvasī’ti.


this is wonderful analysis Bhante. it’s small details like this that are the dhamma. thank you!


Well thank you, but I don’t know if I’d go that far! I do think it’s important to take care of all the little details.

I come across these little mistakes all the time. Of course I find them in my own translations as well, but then I get to fix them!

Here’s another one I just noticed. When speaking of the resurrection of the “sacrificial pillar” (yūpa) they both follow the commentary’s mistake and call it a “palace”, a point I have discussed before here and here.

They then go on to further misconstrue the (admittedly long and complex) passage.

Atha kho, bhikkhave, saṅkho nāma rājā yo so yūpo raññā mahāpanādena kārāpito, taṁ yūpaṁ ussāpetvā ajjhāvasitvā taṁ datvā vissajjitvā samaṇabrāhmaṇakapaṇaddhikavaṇibbakayācakānaṁ dānaṁ datvā metteyyassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa santike kesamassuṁ ohāretvā kāsāyāni vatthāni acchādetvā agārasmā anagāriyaṁ pabbajissati.

Here is Walshe’s translation, which in meaning is similar to RD.

Then King Sankha will re-erect the palace once built by King Mahāpanāda, and having lived in it, will give it up and present it to the ascetics and Brahmins, the beggars, the wayfarers, the destitute. Then, shaving off hair and beard, he will don yellow robes and go forth from the household life into homelessness under the supreme Buddha Metteyya.

They say Saṅkha “dwelt in” the palace, which of course makes little sense if it is a sacrificial post. But the verb is ajjhāvasati which in this sutta always means “reign”. Erecting the post evokes the horse sacrifice, which is pre-eminently the way kings established empire. The point is, of course, that this does the same job without killing.

Then, again thinking that it is a palace, they say he gave it to the needy. But what would the needy want with a post? In fact they misconstrued the syntax, as there are two separate acts of giving: ajjhāvasitvā taṁ datvā vissajjitvā, then dānaṁ datvā. The first refers to giving up the realm, i.e. abdicating the throne, the second to giving charity to the needy.

Then King Saṅkha will have the sacrificial post once built by King Mahāpanāda raised up. Having reigned, he will abdicate, offering charity to ascetics and brahmins, paupers, vagrants, nomads, and beggars. Then, having shaved off his hair and beard and dressed in ocher robes, he will go forth from the lay life to homelessness in the Buddha Metteyya’s presence.


Bhante, I can’t remember the exact sutta, but I seem to recall the Buddha saying something like one who is interested in the root-origins of words is great value. Small details (e.g., ‘parimukham’ which you posted about earlier) have direct implications for practice. It’s valuable work that you do.

I can appreciate the large amount of time and mental effort you dedicate to this work. Given this, my hope is that you yourself have opportunity to practice and gain benefit in this life itself :slight_smile:

My best wishes to you Bhante.