MN 24 Rathavinīta offers the classic simile of a series of chariots ready to convey King Pasenadi from Sāvatthī to Sāketa, paralleling the various stages of the path. In the well-known translations by Vens Bodhi and Thanissaro, it is translated as the “relay chariots”. However I think this is a mistake.
The word is a compound of two elements, both of which are well understood.
- ratha: chariot, cart, coach
- vinīta: the past participle of naya, i.e. “led”, but almost always used in the sense of “trained, educated”.
Now, obviously the sutta describes a “relay of chariots”, but the question is, is this what the word vinīta actually means? While it may be a plausible extension of the basic meaning, I can’t find any other uses of the word in this sense. And there are other words in Pali that express the idea more clearly (parampara).
The PTS dictionary says that rathavinīta means “a relay”. The early translation by Lord Chalmers has “seven carriages in relays”. The problem, as hinted in Chalmer’s rendering, is that the word appears in plural. That is to say, it is not “a relay of seven chariots”, but “seven relays of chariots” or something similar. And that is, in fact, exactly the rendering adopted by Horner in her translation. This is of course a little odd, since there is only one relay consisting of seven chariots.
Ñāṇamoḷi changed the rendering to “relay coaches”. (This raises the incidental question: if we’re happy to render ratha as “coach”, why not use the perfectly good English word for this: stagecoach. However, I think it’s unlikely that a covered, four-wheeled wagon is intended, so I’ll stick with “chariot”.) Ven Bodhi changed this to “relay chariots”, which was adopted by Ven Thanissaro as well. This is grammatically questionable, however, as it omits the plural for the “relays”.
None of this really addresses the issue of whether the word has anything to do with a “relay”. Somewhat unusually, all these translators ignore the commentary:
Sattarathavinītānīti vinītaassājāniyayutte satta rathe
“Seven rathavinītas”: seven chariots yoked with trained thoroughbreds.
Thus the commentary takes vinīta in its usual sense as “trained”. In this case the compound must be, not a tappurisa (“relay of chariots” or “chariots for relays”) but a kammadhāraya (“chariots that are well-trained”), to be resolved rathā vinītā. For those who think I always disagree with the commentaries just out of principle, here’s a case where I actually agree!
The sense is that the chariots are primed and ready to go, waiting for the king. This, of course, connects directly with the message of the sutta. The various aspects of practice are each effective and capable at doing their job, they only wait for us to actually practice them.
Using “trained” directly for the chariots is a little odd. Perhaps we could use “prepared” or something similar.