In MN 75, the wanderer Māgaṇḍiya criticizes the Buddha as a “life-destroyer” (as discussed in an earlier post), justifying this by saying:
Evañhi no sutte ocarati
Now, this is translated by Ven Bodhi as:
Because this has come down in our discourse.
And various other translators (Chalmers, Horner) render it in a similar way. Ven Nyanatusita in an unpublished note concurs, as does Ven Anālayo in his Comparative Study. This explanation follows the commentary.
Yet, despite this impressive agreement of authority, the phrase is curious on a number of levels.
Firstly, it is usually the case that in the EBTs it is the brahmins who possess scripture. But it is not clear whether Māgaṇḍiya is a brahmin. He’s said to be a “wanderer” (paribbājakā), a generic term that includes both brahmins and non-brahmins. In AN 5.294-302 a group called Māgaṇḍikas, presumably followers of Māgaṇḍiya, is mentioned along with multiple other groups of religious, which again includes both brahmins and non-brahmins. Given that he shows up at a fire chamber of a brahmin, he may well be a brahmin, but I am not entirely sure of this.
Somewhat more interestingly, the brahmanical scriptures are not usually referred to as sutta. Now, the word sūtra is used in Brahmanical contexts, and can be a generic term, so there is no great objection to it being used in this sense. However, I am not aware of any other cases where it is used in the EBTs to refer to non-Buddhist texts.
It is also rather odd to see someone claim that the Buddha is specifically identified in their scriptures. In my previous discussion I speculated that there may have been a prophecy or mention of a religious teacher who would lead people astray by speaking of the “destruction of life”, which Māgaṇḍiya took to mean the Buddha. This is possible, but very speculative. I don’t know of anything like this in any pre-Buddhist scriptures, although, of course, much has been lost.
But the most curious point here is the verb, ocarati. This is glossed in the commentary with āgacchati, a standard term to refer to scriptures that have been “passed down” in the oral tradition (i.e. āgama). But, while the root meanings of the words are similar, this is not the normal meaning of ocarati at all. In fact, it is normally used in the sense of “spying out”, in the literal sense. A spy is an ocaraka, i.e. “one who wanders undercover”, as in SN 3.11, Ud 6.2, Pj 2. The sense is a sneaky observation, spying, surveillance. I don’t think it’s used in any other sense in the EBTs.
Perhaps, then, rather than “passed down in scripture”, the sense is “this is spied out, i.e. revealed, in scripture”. Or perhaps the implication sticks closer to the root meaning of ocarati, ava (under-) carati (wandering), i.e. “This is implicit in our scripture.”
But there is another possibility. As well as meaning thread/discourse, sutta can mean “sleep”. We have already been introduced to this context, as the prompt for the discourse is when Māgaṇḍiya sees the Buddha’s grass mat for sleeping. It is perhaps not irrelevant that in the Upanishads, there is a great concern with the various states of sleep, and the kinds of knowledge that can be revealed thereby, as the self wanders about the world in dreams. Thus to claim something has been revealed in a dream is not, as we might think, a bit mad, but, in a spiritual adept, can be a kind of higher knowledge. Perhaps, then, Māgaṇḍiya’s claim to authority was not ancient scripture, but a mystic revelation:
For so it is revealed in our sleep
It would be understandable for the later Buddhist traditions, unfamiliar with the Upanishadic ideas about sleep, to think of scripture here.
There are, however, a number of objections to this reading. Grammatically, it is not entirely satisfactory. Ocarati is an active verb, which in the case of a scripture would be “so it comes down to us in a discourse” or “it reveals (or implies) this in a discourse”. It’s hard to see how to avoid a passive sense in the case of a dream.
In addition, when the revelations of a dream are spoken of, the Pali uses supina, i.e. “dream”, rather than “sleep”, as in AN 5.196.
Contextually, while the notion of sleep is introduced earlier, the idea of scripture is introduced later, when the Buddha and Māgaṇḍiya discuss a verse of ancient lore. So really either context would work, and this can’t help.
As you may have guessed from the amount of “maybes” and “perhaps” in this, I am really not sure of this. But on the whole, I am leaning to rendering the phrase:
For so it implies in a discourse of ours
By taking ocarati to mean “imply”, it avoids the problem of why there would be an explicit reference to the Buddha. It is a hidden knowledge, something that can only be teased out by a (in his own eyes) insightful guru such as Māgaṇḍiya. This doesn’t solve all the problems, but it seems to be the least implausible reading.