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.
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.