In MN 44 Cūḷavedalla we find the nun Dhammadinnā expertly answering a range of subtle questions for the layman Visākha.
In one of the question, he asks whether the three groups of the training—ethics, samādhi, wisdom—are saṅgahita by the eightfold path, or vice versa.
This is apparently the only case of the word saṅgahita occurring in its doctrinal sense, which later became a standard term for analyzing concepts in the Abhidhamma and later Vinaya texts such as the Parivara.
In our current context, Chalmers, Thanissaro, and Ñāṇamoḷi/Bodhi used “included” for saṅgahita, while Hornner had “arranged in the class”, which is a little obscure. Here is Ven Bodhi’s translation of the relevant passage:
“Lady, are the three aggregates included by the Noble Eightfold Path, or is the Noble Eightfold Path included by the three aggregates?”
“The three aggregates are not included by the Noble Eightfold Path, friend Visākha, but the Noble Eightfold Path is included by the three aggregates. Right speech, right action, and right livelihood—these states are included in the aggregate of virtue. Right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration—these states are included in the aggregate of concentration. Right view and right intention—these states are included in the aggregate of wisdom.”
The PTS dictionary has a rather odd entry for this term, ignoring the early uses of the term in this passage and the Vinaya, as well as the central uses in the Abhidhamma, while at the same time citing several meanings that are almost indistinguishable.
Let us look more closely at the sense in the early texts, especially as used in similes.
In the Vinaya, at Pj 1, the teachings are compared to a bunch of flowers, and the suttas to a string (sutta) that “ties them together” (saṅgahita).
In the Milinda, at Mil 3.2.1, the question is asked as to how a person can remain the same individual if they are constantly changing. Nāgasena answers that a person remains the same individual through their life because the different stages of life are “held together” because of the body (imameva kāyaṃ nissāya sabbe te ekasaṅgahitā).
In the Kathāvatthu, at Kv 7.1, the classical Abhidhamma sense of saṅgahita is defended, and the similes given are two bullocks held together by a rope or a yoke, an alms-bowl held together by a suspender (? I am not sure of this), and a dog tied up by a leash.
Clearly, we so far have a very clear and consistent use, from the Vinaya through to late Abhidhamma. It is close in meaning to “included” but not quite.
In the Sutta Nipāta, at Snp 2.14#14, a meditator is said to keep the mind from wandering outside, instead being saṅgahitattabhāva. This is a more difficult and abstract term, but given what we have seen, it must mean something like “collected or held within oneself”. It certainly doesn’t mean included or classified.
Finally, the most common sense of saṅgahita is in an entirely different context. Frequently in the Aṅguttara (AN 8.46, etc.), and occasionally elsewhere, saṅgahita is used in a stock passage that describes a virtuous laywoman. This sense is entirely missing from the PTS dictionary.
It’s when a female is well-organized at work, manages the domestic help, acts lovingly toward her husband, and protects his earnings.
This is further described like this:
She knows what work her husband’s domestic slaves, servants, and workers have completed, and what they’ve left incomplete. She knows who is sick, and who is fit or unwell. She distributes to each a fair portion of various foods.
While here the term “manage” works well, it really has the same basic meaning as we have seen above: she is the one who “holds the household together”. In this way her work is seen as valuable and meaningful.
Now, this may be entirely a coincidence, but I can’t help noticing that this important Abhidhamma concept was a term most commonly used of a woman’s domestic duties, and was introduced in its doctrinal sense in a dialogue with a nun.
To return to our basic passage, it seems that rather than being a category in which things are “included”, the sense of saṅgahita is a unifying principle that holds things together. Perhaps the difference doesn’t matter, but at least I hope to have shown a “unifying thread” in the uses of this term in the Pali, including several contexts ignored by the dictionary. My current translation is:
“Are the three practice categories grouped together by the noble eightfold path? Or is the noble eightfold path grouped together by the three practice categories?”
“The three practice categories are not grouped together by the noble eightfold path. Rather, the noble eightfold path is grouped together by the three practice categories. Right speech, right action, and right livelihood: these things are grouped in the category of ethics. Right effort, right mindfulness, and right samādhi: these things are grouped in the category of samādhi. Right view and right motivation: these things are grouped in the category of wisdom.”