On walls and gems: a few notes on terms

The Pali veḷuriya is etymologically related to the English beryl.

However, despite the obvious historical connection, it is often translated and defined in dictionaries as lapis lazuli.

However, this seems to be a mistake. Lapis lazuli is described by its intense blue hue and dull luster, neither of which are characteristic of veḷuriya. Rather, veḷuriya is described as transparent, gleaming, and shining, which sounds much more like beryl. So in this case, the obvious translation is the correct one.

The connection with lapis lazuli appears to be based on Ja 32, where it is the color of a peacock’s neck. But beryl may be blue, and this could be referring to an emerald or sapphire; or else the term could just be vague. Regardless, the main references in the EBTs do not agree with the identification as lapis lazuli.

There’s a few Pali words for walls and similar structures, and it is worth sorting them out.

  • Pākāra: This is an encircling barrier for a town or city, and is sometimes translated as “fence” or else “embankment”. But a fence is usually a flimsy construction of wire or posts, while pākāra is made of brick, stone, or wood. It’s most commonly found in the description of psychic powers, as one of the things you can go right through. But growing up in Perth, getting through a fence was an after-school diversion, not an amazing power! On the other hand, it’s said to be something that you can listen through (AN 7.50), or dump urine over (Bi Pc 8), so “embankment” is probably not right either. The precise term is “rampart”.
  • Kuṭṭa or kuḍḍa: this means “wall”. Like pākāra, it may be made of brick, stone, or wood, so it was a substantial construction, which again is borne out by the fact that you need psychic powers to get through it. The commentaries say it means the wall of a house (geha-bhittiyā). But we also have the phrase tirokuḍḍa in the sense “outside the wall”. So it seems that, while pākāra was a rampart encircling the town, the kuḍḍa was the exterior wall of a house, or possibly a wall surrounding a house. The PTS dictionary’s idea that it is a simple wall of wattle and daub doesn’t seem justified.
  • Bhitti: This is the most general term for the wall of a house or building. It probably means something like “partition”, and may often have been a less substantial barrier.
  • Uddāpa: This is a more specialized term, part of the fortifications for a citadel. It is mentioned before pākāra, and the commentary says it is the foundation of a pākāra (pākāra-vatthu). Thus it seems it was a dug mound of earth upon which was built a rampart. “Embankment” works fine for this.
  • Vati: According to PTS dict, this means “fence”. However, it doesn’t appear to occur in the EBTs and I haven’t investigated it further.

He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. DN 2

Āvībhāvaṃ tirobhāvaṃ tirokuḍḍaṃ tiropākāraṃ tiropabbataṃ asajjamāno gacchati seyyathāpi ākāse.

Maybe more evidence against ontological reality?