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On being put in heaven or hell

When translating the nikayas, we come across a rather notorious Pali idiom:

yathābhataṃ nikkhitto evaṃ niraye (or sagge)

I have translated it as “raised up to heaven” or “cast down to hell”, using idiomatic English phrases and avoiding trying to solve a problem that has defeated better minds than I.

Ven Bodhi has notes on this in all his main nikaya translations, none of which are conclusive. The PTS dictionary likewise has an inconclusive discussion.

Apart from the context here, the phrase yathābhata is found in two places in the EBTs. The basic sense is “as carried”, but it must be rendered differently per context.

Vinaya Pacittiya 1:1.7 (Brahmali transl.)

Yathābhataṃ lasuṇaṃ parikkhayaṃ agamāsi
The garlic was used up as soon as it arrived there.

DN 23:23.52

yathābhatena bhaṇḍena satthaṃ payāpetha
continue with our goods laden as before

This last reference is omitted from the dictionary discussion. Ven Bodhi in CDB says yathaābhataṁ is an indeclinable with an adverbal function, yet here we have a declined form in instrumental.

The Itivuttaka contributes to the understanding, for the verses of Iti 20 and 21 have a more clear expression of the idiomatic phrase. It is a somewhat unusual case where the poetic version is more linguistically clear than the prose. It is clearly much earlier than any other exegesis. Here it is with a (too) literal translation. The lines are referring to someone who has gone to hell or heaven.

Yathā haritvā nikkhipeyya, evamevaṃ tathāvidho
As if, having been taken, one would be placed, just so is such a person.

Note that here haritvā appears without the prefix ā-, suggesting the compound should be resolved yathā bhataṁ (“as if taken”) rather than yathā ābhataṁ (“as if brought”). I’m not sure how significant this is. It could be merely metrical license.

I think the overall sense here is clear enough, and I am happy to read the prose idiom in this light. I’m still not 100% clear, though, on what the metaphorical force is. The idea seems to be of a force or happening that is irresistible, that one’s karma simply takes you there without question. It seems to call back to an idiom, but we don’t know what that was. Maybe:

Such a person is like someone who has been taken up and put down.

Almost like someone who has been swept up by the wind. Or else, I’m wondering whether it might relate to being arrested.

Such a person is like someone who has been carried away and placed (in a cell).

Or perhaps more likely, given that both our real-world examples refer to the transport of goods:

Such a person is like goods that would be put down after being transported.

Currently I am translating it a little more interpretatively:

Such a person is raised up (or “cast down”) as surely
as if they’d been carried and put there.

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Why not simply “Such a person is carried off to he(aven/ll) as surely as if they’d been put there"?

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I’m far from expert enough to even comment here, but I like the sensibility and context of the last translation: “Such a person is raised up (or “cast down”) as surely as if they’d been carried and put there.”

A quick google of the original phrase returns searches that comment on ditthi, or the case of being cast into “hell” according to one’s kamma. But to me, the best outcome here is to translate these themes of being raised up or cast down as psychological or kammic states, rather than physical destinations. That our actions, skillful or unskillful, will irretrievably deliver us to these positive or negative states of existence, or of merit/demerit.

Dear Bhante, just going on the context you’ve given, I’m getting something like:

Which way having carried; cast down one might do. Exactly to exactly to that way (their) kind is.

I’m getting the sense that the way a person carries themselves in this life determines the kind of rebirth they might have. Which agrees with the sense of karma you mentioned.

Kind regards Ani

And thus are we transported to the heaven or hell of our intentions.

Dear Bhante,
The Pali word ‘bhata’ seems to refer to the sanskrit word 'bhrta’which means ‘held/carried’;
Nikkhitta/nikshipta means dropped down/put down;

Perhaps the phrase ‘yathabhatam’ means - even as held/even as carried;
Eg- The garlic was used up even as it was held (i.e. as soon as it was brought)

So in the context of hell/heaven it might be something like - is dropped in hell(or heaven) as something being held is dropped; the implication being, that rebirth is involuntary - no choice after death but its like something carried and put down (by Karma).

Note: I think ‘hara’ in ‘haritva’ also has the meaning of ‘being carried/borne’ - apart from the common meaning of ‘taken’; Eg bhārahāra from the famous Bhara sutta. (Ref: Monier williams sanskrit dictionary for hara)

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It misplaces the metaphor. The idiom “carried off and put down” is a single idea, and going to hell is compared to that idea: “one goes to hell just like being carried and put down”.

Indeed. I think bhata vs. hata is merely a phonetic difference (cf. eg. hoti vs bhavati)

I’m pretty sure the sense is “carried” rather than simply “held”. Again, the basic sense of the metaphor is not really in dispute. The problem is that it seems to have a metaphorical or idiomatic force for which the context is lost.

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How about “as if delivered there”? This contains both the notion of being carried and being put down; like mail or a parcel is delivered.

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Hmm, good idea! I might just use that one.

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