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Paṭisambhidā as Tools for Textual Analysis

Bhante @sujato, on a recent thread, you spoke about the four paṭisambhidā as textual analysis. That is a viewpoint which I have never heard before; I have always only heard them referred to within the context of being analytical knowledge. But what you said was very intriguing and I would like to hear more.

Part of my dissertation is concerned with studying Buddhism on its own terms. I am interested EBT texts which promote the study of Buddhism in a manner which is consistent with modern views on responsible scholarship, and which provide the tools for doing so: tools which promote logic, critical thinking, non-subjectivity, and, specifically, tools which are relevant in the field of textual criticism. With respect to the latter, the Four Great References, obviously, immediately come to mind. Now you have, at least for me, introduced the 4 paṭisambhidā into the discourse.

Can I ask you to go into it a little deeper than you did on the previous thread? Is there conclusive sutta-based support which shows them to be concerned with textual analysis? Or, is there any scholarly reference to them being tools for textual as opposed to more generally logical analysis?

Thank you.

As an anthropologist and former prof in religious studies I always kind of smile about this word :laughing:

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Well, there’s very little about them in the suttas. There is some thought that they are, in fact, entirely a sectarian invention, due to their greater prominence in Theravada. Either they were pre-sectarian, but neglected in northern schools and emphasized in Theravada; or they appeared a little later, perhaps after the Mahasanghika schism. The Patisambhidamagga is one of the texts rejected by the Mahasanghika. In any case, they are characteristic of Theravada.

As for their nature, surely the mere names of the factors is enough? Clearly nirutti and patibhāna are about texts, and given that, dhamma and attha must also have their very common sense of “text” and “meaning”.

The only oddity for me is that attha precedes dhamma, which seems counter-intuitive. I don’t really have an explanation for this, but in the northern tradition dharma (sometimes? always?) comes first, so perhaps this is just an early confusion.

Note that the Sanskrit form is pratisamvid, which reinforces the idea that there was some confusion at an early date. It seems that in the northern tradition they were closely connected with texts.

http://www.buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xpr-ddb.pl?q=四無礙辯

What can we say about them from the Suttas?

  • AN 7.38: They are things to be realized, i.e. meditative attainments rather than simple intellectual skills. Seven factors are given here; these are a somewhat heterogenous group, and I am not really sure what to make of them.
  • AN 7.39: is the same, but said to be how Sariputta attained them. So we know that they are associated with Sariputta, and by association, with detailed analytical approaches to teachings.
  • AN 4.172: Sariputta himself speaks, claiming he attained patisambhidas a fortnight after ordianing, i.e. on the same day as his arahantship. He connects them with his skill in analyzing teachings and answering any question.
  • AN 5.86: mentioned as one of a series of qualities that endear one to fellow-monastics. This doesn’t really clarify anything, but it certainly fits with the idea that it is about textual analysis, i.e. one is good at helping monastics answer problems with the teachings.
  • AN 1.218: Mahakotthita is said to be the foremost in them. Again, a teacher closely associated with an analytical style.
  • AN 1.175–186: They appear in the world (alongside many other marvellous things) with the appearance of a Buddha.
  • AN 4.140: here they are associated with the capacity of a teacher who never runs out of things to say or ways of saying them.
  • AN 5.95: One who realizes the patisambhidas will soon become an arahant. This one is interesting, as I believe the orthodox position is that patisambhidas are a property of certain arahants, whereas here they precede the attainment.

So it seems that in the early texts, they only appear in AN. I’m going to go out on a limb here and hypothesize that none of these have parallels. SC doesn’t list parallels for any one them, the only ones in doubt are those in the Ones, where you’d want to have a closer look.

In the Niddesa we’re introduced to structural division: the first three patisambhidas are needed to enable the fourth. In other words, by a knowledge of the text, meaning, and terminology one can improvise dhamma talks.

Then there is Vibhanga 15.

Atthe ñāṇaṁ atthapaṭisambhidā, dhamme ñāṇaṁ dhammapaṭisambhidā, tatra dhammaniruttābhilāpe ñāṇaṁ niruttipaṭisambhidā, ñāṇesu ñāṇaṁ paṭibhānapaṭisambhidā
Knowledge of meaning is atthapaṭisambhidā, knowledge of text is dhammapaṭisambhidā, knowledge of the expression of dhamma terminology is niruttipaṭisambhidā, knowledge of those knowledges is paṭibhānapaṭisambhidā.

However the explanation in the rest of the passage does not restrict these to textual knowledge, rather they are equated with knowledge of cause and effect, and so on. It all seems quite artificial to me, but what would I know? Generally, though, the point is that these knowledges are connected with the experience of a practitioner, and enable the practitioner to articulate that experience.

I won’t discuss the Patisambhidamagga, that would take too long!


To sum up: I believe the patisambhidas were occasionally mentioned in the early texts referring to a special lucidity of understanding and expression of the teachings. They may be pre-sectarian, but there is a strong suspicion that they were introduced later; perhaps after the Mahasanghika schism, and perhaps even as a consequence of that schism.

Feeling anxious, one might imagine, about the drift in meaning and interpretation of texts, the ancient Sthaviras wanted to emphasize that wise arahants did not just see reality, but saw in detail the specific connection between that reality and its expression in teachings. Thus those with a different textual interpretation are not really arahants.

In any case, patisambhidas are said to be a quality of certain highly analytical arahants, and manifest as an advanced stage of insight. Presumably, like all insight in Buddhism, they are conditioned by the practice of the path as well as personal spiritual potential (indriya).

The insight would enable one to see clearly the relation between the experience and the expression of the truths. One endowed with such lucidity would be an exceptionally precise and fluent teacher, able to answer any question with detail and confidence.

Later, the tradition emphasized the patisambhidas as more about seeing phenomena than seeing teachings. Of course, at the end of the day, these things are highly linked and it’s probably impossible to really separate them.

What they aren’t is a magical language beam into the brain.


BTW if there are any wikipedeistas reading, there’s a bad mistake on the page, it says that the patisambhidas only appear in KN and Abhidhamma, which, well see above.

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Thank you very much, Bhante, for this detailed and very thorough answer. This was very, very helpful.

I was stuck in the idea of some distinction between orally-transmitted and written texts (a distinction which is totally inappropriate in this context). Yes, it becomes embarrassingly obvious once you expand the range of the word.

If you don’t mind, I’ll just cite the above in my report as a “personal communication”.

Thank you again.

Fyi, there is a reference to patisambhida (pratisaṁvida) in the Arthaviniscaya Sutra, a semi-Abhidharma work of Sarvastivada/Sautrantika affiliation, which defined the four analytical knowledge slightly different from Theravada texts:

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Thank you. I will look into it.

The only place I find the full list is in the alternate version of the Saṅgīti Sutra (the one I suspect is Mahāsāṃghika or similar). It lists four unobstructed understandings (四無礙解) as those of meaning (義無礙解), dharma (法無礙解), delightful speech (樂說無礙解), and discernment/eloquence (辯才無礙解).

Four non-obstructions are also mentioned alongside the four fearlessnesses in the Kāśyapīya Saṃyukta Āgama (T100.392b19, No. 54).

This relationship with the four kinds of fearlessness is quite common in Mahayana sutras like the Prajnaparamita. The litany of the Buddha’s powers in Xuanzang’s translations is the ten powers, four kinds of fearlessness, four unobstructed understandings, great kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, and 18 special qualities. It would seem this is the way it was usually employed in the northern tradition. As a result, it’s also often used to describe the virtues of bodhisattva-mahāsattvas. In that use, I can see it turning into something do to with skill in teaching and language.

The definition Muller provides is likely drawn from Chinese exegetical traditions (which are focused on explaining Mahayana texts and ideas), his dictionary’s focus isn’t on early Indian texts.

Perhaps the Theravada liked the basic concept and put it to another use. It seems like some later development. I could definitely see it arising along with the multiplicity of scriptures and advent of writing.

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Maybe somewhere between “sometimes" and “mostly”? Because, first of all, although the Chinese dictionary entries I found pretty much all listed dharma first (in accord with Mahāyāna traditions?), the northern Arthaviniścaya Sūtra which @seniya provided still maintains the “southern” order (i.e., attha first); as do, apparently, the texts @cdpatton mentioned.

I, too, thought this puzzling: that is, if we’re taking dhamma/dharma to mean “text.” I wondered if it was possible that dhamma/dharma might have another meaning; if there mightn’t be some relationship with atthaveda and dhammaveda, or atthapaṭisaṁvedī and dhammapaṭisaṁvedī–or, alternatively, if those terms mightn’t actually be better understood in this “textual” context we’re discussing. (To that extent, I guess we’d have to question whether or not attha/artha in those contexts had a different meaning as well.) I don’t know if simply the order between attha/artha and dhamma/dharma is sufficient to determine the original import of these terms; but, inspired by the three of you, I went on a bit of a search.

First, in T1536, the Vimuttāyatana Sutta parallel, where the Pāli has “atthapaṭisaṁvedī” and “dhammapaṭisaṁvedī,” the Chinese has the “northern” order: “若法若義.”

Next, if we expand our range of parallels for the Saṅgīti Sutta, we get T12《大集法門》, DĀ 9《眾集》, DĀ 10《十上》, and SF 253 Saṅgīti:

  • T12, as was mentioned by @cdpatton, does have the *pratisaṁvit (here called the 四無礙解) in the order noted in his post. However, T12 also details the 五解脫處 (the five *vimuktyāyatanāni); and, in that portion of the text, we see consistently see 法 before 義. In fact, whereas, with regard to the causal process, Pāli vimuttāyatanāni refrains (here and elsewhere) consistently give the impression that the states of atthapraṭisaṁvedī and dhammapaṭisaṁvedī, arise simultaneously, the T12 is explicit in explaining that *dharmapraṭisaṁvedī gives rise to *arthapraṭisaṁvedī (“隨知一法,即解一義”).

  • DĀ 9 also has the *pratisaṁvit, but here they are all four called 四 辯才: the name given to the fourth *pratisaṁvit in T12. They appear sans explication, but dhammapaṭisambhida/*dharmapratisaṁvit precedes *atthapaṭisambhida/ arthapratisaṁvit ("…法辯、義辯…"). The five *vimuktyāyatanāni also appear later in DĀ 9 as the 五喜解脫入, with *dharmapraṭisaṁvedī and *arthapraṭisaṁvedī listed in that order, though it is unclear whether or not they arise simultaneously (“分別法義”) (*Note-I’m reading 法義 as a dvanda and not as a tappurisa).

  • DĀ 10 gives the very same 四辯才 as DĀ 9, following the same order as well. It also essentially repeats DĀ 9 word-for-word in its entry on the five vimuttāyatanāni/ vimuktyāyatanāni (called here simply the 五解脫入).

  • SF 253, like DN 33, doesn’t seem to list the paṭisambhidā/pratisaṁvit. Both versions, however, do list and explain the five vimuktyāyatanāni, again giving arthapratisaṁvedī and dharmapratisaṁvedī in that order. Also similar to the Pāli, they appear in SF 253 to arise simultaneously as well–at least as concerns the first vimuktyāyatana. Because, further down in the text, for subsequent vimuktyāyatanāni, SF 253 appears to explain arthapratisaṁvedī as arising from dharmas (“teṣu dharmeṣv arthapratisaṁvedī bhavati”).

Pāli discourses with refrains containing atthaveda and dhammaveda seem in general to be describing a similar process as the Vimuttāyatana Sutta, with the syntax simply requiring different grammar constructions. They appear all over the place, and they invariably list atthaveda before dhammaveda. Again, there seems to be no discernible temporal order, so I presume simultaneity. I couldn’t search every occurrence for parallels; but a quick run-through gave me the impression that that causal chain doesn’t appear in the Āgamas very often, if at all.

My choice in the end is to go with dhamma/dharma preceding attha/artha logically and temporally, and to take their appearance in lists in the reverse order as being merely a literary convention. If for no other reason, I would say so because, in an EBT context at least, it is only this order and not the other that I have seen given an explicit (and quite reasonable) explanation of a causal relationship.

Lastly, it also seems to me not that the meanings of dhamma/dharma and attha/artha in the paṭisambhidā should be seen in light of other texts, but rather that those other texts might be better understood if read within the context of the paṭisambhidā: i.e., as “text” and “meaning” within the framework of textual analysis. (Although I will say that, depending on the context, it may be appropriate to expand the meaning of dhamma/dharma to include “textual content”–and thence, “subject matter,” “teachings,” “topic for discussion,” “object for reflection,” etc.–but, nevertheless, very much rooted in textual review.) This all makes far more sense to me than the common translations along the lines of “joyful knowledge of the goal and the Dharma,” and so on.

These are just my views; so, if anyone has additional information, a better understanding, or sees any flaws in my reasoning, please feel free to speak up: I readily invite any and all correction of wrong views.

In any case, I thank everyone who contributed; beyond just the original question on the paṭisambhidā, this little foray has cleared up something which has troubled me for a long time regarding atthaveda and dhammaveda. Thank you.

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Great catch @knotty36 on finding the alternate translation. A text search for 四辯才 yields a few passages in Agamas that are of interest. A couple in EA may be unrecognized parallels.

  • EA 4.3: A monk attained the 四辯才 and could understand how to answer tough questions.
  • EA 5.1: A nun attained 四辯才 and didn’t feel timid.
  • EA 26.9: Śāriputra comments on the meaning of 四辯才.
  • EA 29.5: The Buddha gives us definitions for 四辯才.
  • DA 1: 四辯才 occurs in a verse with a little context.

It’s interesting that EA maintains the artha-dharma order, while DA doesn’t.

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Oh wow, thanks so much for this!

I have never made the connection between the patisambhidas and the vimuttāyata, and also dhammavadi/atthavedi. :mindblown:

The question then becomes, is it that:

Or is it that the northern traditions melded the less known bhid into -vid?

A knowledge of dialects would be super-handy here, @Suvira I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?

I’m sure there have been scholarly papers on the topic, does anyone know of any?

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Thank you for tagging me. I haven’t found a lot of literature around many of the details of phonetic corruptions/divergence between the Pāli and the Sanskrit, despite it often being noted in Edgerton and Critical Pali Dictionary, which is a shame. Bhante @sujato will remember we only had tatsvabhāvaiṣīya for tassapapiyyasika just the other day. Now we have pratisamvidā for paṭisambhidā, too.

Anyway, I consulted Mayrhofer’s Etymologisches Woerterbuch des Altindoarischen. There is no indication of cross-over or relation between the roots vid and bhid.

In addition to Edgerton Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary, I also consulted Turner’s A comparative dictionary of Indo-Aryan languages.

In Sinhala (Turner no. 9496), the aspiration on root bhid is lost. bid as opposed to bhid, cf modern Sinhala binda= broken. So bid and vid might not be too far apart. I could imagine something ambiguous, like original -saṃvida-saṃbida-saṃbhida (by incorrect back formation or variable aspiration/re-aspiration, e.g. from not recognizing root bid as representing vid in a context where bid/bhid are allomorphs).

See text below about de-aspiration (and pedantic re-aspiration) in Old Sinhalese in general. From Levman, “The Language of Early Buddhism”. I am not 100% certain what the statement from Paranavithana about pedantic scribal aspiration means, maybe that sometimes aspirates have been re-added over-zealously in written texts.

OS is an Old Prakrit which has several similarities with the language of the Aśokan edicts, but also several major differences which may have led to ambiguities in the transmission (from Geiger 1935: xxiv, attested in various cave transcriptions from the second century BCE onwards):

  1. (1)

de-aspiration of all aspirates: e.g. P Dhammarakkhita (‘protected by the Dhamma’), OS Damarakita; sometimes the aspirated consonant is resolved by splitting, e.g. P ghāṇa (‘nose’) > OS gahaṇa (Geiger 1938: §36.2). Where the aspirate is retained it does not reflect OI or MI phonology, suggesting that these words, like the other de-aspirates, were pronounced without the aspirate, the phenomenon being due to the “pedantry of scribes”(Paranavithana 1970: xxxi). The de-aspiration feature is probably due to Dravidian influence, because of the proximity of the island to south-east India and Dravidian immigration from that locale.

I don’t like the idea of going from original -sambhida-sambida so much, except maybe by corruption, because Gandhari, for example, typically preserves aspirated bh. Actually, basically all Indian languages have bh except for Romany and Sinhalese. And sambhida is not attested in Indian literature in this sense, only samvida. Variable aspiration has also been noted with bh in general, for example Pali bhisa for Skt bisa,= “lotus-stalk”. See also Pali bhasta (a he goat), cf Vedic basta. So I can’t really say clearly that “bhid” here either means “bid” (=vid) or “bhid” (as in bheda) on purely phonetic grounds.

It is not clear to me what the underlying Prakrit of 無礙解 (unobstructed knowledge) or 四辯才(four skills in discussion) is either. These terms mightn’t be tied very closely to the Prakrit, but 無礙解 has more of a sense of “thoroughly known” as pratisamvidā to me. 四辯才 might just be describing the contents of the list.

non liquet.

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Okay, that’s interesting, so it suggests that the Pali version is a false reconstruction of the Indic.

It happens in oral texts, too. In Thailand, it’s common to hear the anumodana pronounced thus:

bhavatu sabbamaṅgalaṁ
phawatu sapphamaṅkharaṁ

Where all the phonetic changes are regular and expected, except l → r. Thai officially has the letter r, pronounced pretty much the same as in pali, but hardly any dialects actually use it, they just have l. But in the chant, apparently in an effort to be “formally correct”, Thai monks have got in the habit of changing l to r. :man_shrugging:

Anyhoo, if the form of the word is more likely to be correct in the northern traditions, it gives prima facie plausibility, albeit weak, to the idea that the sequence of terms might be more reliable, too.

Regarding some of the explanations above, particularly the Arthaviniscaya, it says of artha:

the unchanging knowledge of the ultimate truth.

So this is an interpretive red flag, as there’s no concept of “ultimate truth” in the EBTs.

When researching many years ago the “six rules” of the sikkhamana, I noticed that the Vinayas had different takes. There was overlap, in that they related to the five precepts or similar, but the details were very different. I concluded that, whereas in most cases, when we see similarities, we conclude there is a shared source, in this case it was likely that the inherited text merely mentioned the “six rules” but that the monks did not know what they actually were, and filled them in from other precepts. Presumably the bhikkhunis knew, at least at one point.

Perhaps we are in a similar situation with the patisambhida/pratisamvid: each tradition inherits a bare list of terms, but without sufficient context or detail to consolidate the meaning, hence elaborated according to their own understanding.

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Oh, check this out, I haven’t look at it for a while:

This is the first para in Patisambhidamagga explaining the patisambhidas:

Kathaṁ atthanānatte paññā atthapaṭisambhide ñāṇaṁ, dhammanānatte paññā dhammapaṭisambhide ñāṇaṁ, niruttinānatte paññā niruttipaṭisambhide ñāṇaṁ, paṭibhānanānatte paññā paṭibhānapaṭisambhide ñāṇaṁ? Saddhindriyaṁ dhammo, vīriyindriyaṁ dhammo, satindriyaṁ dhammo, samādhindriyaṁ dhammo, paññindriyaṁ dhammo. Añño saddhindriyaṁ dhammo, añño vīriyindriyaṁ dhammo, añño satindriyaṁ dhammo, añño samādhindriyaṁ dhammo, añño paññindriyaṁ dhammo. Yena ñāṇena ime nānā dhammā ñātā, teneva ñāṇena ime nānā dhammā paṭividitāti. Tena vuccati— “dhammanānatte paññā dhammapaṭisambhide ñāṇaṁ”.

So even the key Theravadin text uses paṭivid as the defining verb for patisambhida. That seems significant!

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:exploding_head: Ahah! The sneaky aspiration is looking a little more busted!

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Thank you for your compliments @cdpatton and @sujato . All I can say is that you two provide great inspiration and a good example to follow.

What it says to me is that this sort of EBT “factors of stream-entry”-type path is much more text-based, much more doctrinal study-based in its early stages than I previously thought.

In any case, this new direction the two of you have taken, @Suvira and @sujato, is very exciting to watch develop. My Pāli is just enough to follow the arguments and evidence offered: not really enough to contribute, though; so I’ve remained silent.

I’m a little confused, though; maybe I’m missing something.

Am I correct in understanding that the root of pratisaṁvit supposed to be vid? And then it was phonetic confusion surrounding this vid which give birth to bhid via bid? I ask because I looked up the paṭividita @sujato found in the Paṭisambhidāmagga and found it listed as the ppp for paṭivijānāti. Wouldn’t the root then be jñā? Whence, then, the vidbidbhid? (If I’m understanding you correctly.) Maybe someone mistook the root? Or maybe they replaced bhid for vid/bid with little or no care about the root? Still, how would they have gotten the sense of bhid (“split”) from vid (“know”)? Might it have come from the vi- of vijānāti?

Please excuse my ignorance if these are overly rudimentary questions;, as I said, my Pāli is only in its beginning stages. Thank you.

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It’s not actually that straight forward, past participle pa.tividita should be understood as having root vid, which has rare present verb form vidati (to know). Your dictionary has likely given pativijAnAti as a synonym due to the rareness of verb vidati. Cf vindati. A similar thing happens with verb passati (=dassati) I.e. different roots are used in different forms.

Re: how would they get bhid (to split) from vid/bid (to know)?

I wouldn’t assume a priori that “bhid” in patisambhidA means “to split”, given that the only attestation of this meaning seems to be the Pali commentary. It is precisely the fact that we do not know for sure what “bhid” in patisambhidA means which is the problem.

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Aahhh! See? Even just reading your comments is a lesson.

At the same time I was posting to you, I was asking a classmate of mine who’s recently returned from studying Sanskrit in Germany for several years. He is just getting familiar with Buddhist texts, but he said something similar regarding the rarity of vid-verbs in BHSk.

It was Concise Pali-English Dictionary which said: “paṭividita: [pp. of paṭivijānāti] known; ascertained.” I just stopped there because it seemed reasonable, but I should have been a bit more fastidious; because, in the PTS dictionary, it says: “Paṭividita, [pp. of paṭi+vid] known, ascertained D. I, 2; Ps. I, 188.”

I was thinking maybe a connection to bheda? PTS does say: " Bheda, [fr. bhid, cp. Ved. & Class. Sk. bheda in same meanings]."

And, for what it’s worth, the 辯 of 四辯才 (just as the 解 of 無礙解) connotes separation, delineation, discrimination, etc. The theme of splitting does seem strong, irrespective of it’s origins.

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Yes, sometimes these words do have those meanings, which we can see in words like 分解 and 辯别. However, 四無礙解 (four unobstructed 解) is also glossed as 四無礙智 (four unobstructed knowledges) , so I have concluded that 解 is meaning 智 (knowledge) here. It seems reasonable to me in this context to understand that 辯才 is 口才 (oratory skill), i.e. 善言辞 (good at speaking). I am not an expert on these terms, but there is nothing about splitting that I can see. @cdpatton?

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Wow! Well I certainly appreciate your indulgence in maintaining the dialogue, Venerable. I had no idea at the outset that this thread would take so many twists and turns. But I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree with several of the points you made.

I don’t think “sometimes” is an accurate assessment of how foundational the idea of “splitting” is to both of these words. Maybe we’re getting hung up on the word “split”? Let’s try “separation.” In addition to the examples you provided,

  • For 解, we have 解剖,解体,解放,解脱,解开,解释,解散, and many, many others; all of which somehow have the idea of “separation” contained within their basic meaning–either literally (as in physical separation) or metaphorically (as in an abstract separation). The first three definitions given here for 解 are “剖开,分开”; “把束缚着、系着的东西打开”; and “除去,除,废除”; all of which place great emphasis on separation.

  • For 辩, only one definition is given here, which reads: “说明是非或争论真假.” I think the separation between, if you will, right and wrong (是非) and true and false (真假) is intrinsic to the word’s basic meaning. We also have the compound words 分辨 and even 辩解 reinforcing the idea of separation for辩 and, in the case of the latter, 解 as well.

  • Even 辨–a homophonous, nearly synonymous, cognate of 辩, which can form the word 辨别, “distinguish between”: essentially a synonym for the 辩别 you gave above–is defined here as “分别,分析,明察.”

Hhmmm… 解 meaning 智? That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that before. I’ll have to think about that one. Do you have any other examples in Chinese (Buddhist or non-)?

Also, you said 四碍解 was “glossed as” 四碍智. Can I ask: do you mean the dictionary definition listed two separate translations, or the former was actually glossed as the latter in a primary text? Because, if it was two separate translations, my first thought would be that the Chinese translators who chose 解 may have been following bhid, while those who chose 智 could have been following vid. Again, irrespective of the “original” word may have been, by the time the Chinese translations were happening, the vid/bid/bhid confusion should have arisen and the idea of “separation” crept in, no?

I, too, am very interested to hear @cdpatton 's opinion on all of this.

I do have a Pāli/Sanskrit question for you, though, Venerable: can I ask you where in the Indic you might see the 无碍, “unobstructed” as having come from? Is it apparent upon dissecting paṭisambhidā and pratisaṁvit into their constituent parts? Or, does it maybe come from the commentarial literature somewhere? If you don’t know, that’s fine; but it’d be interesting to find out.

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Sorry, I’ve been traveling since yesterday.

解 is one of those multi-purpose words in Chinese.

The basic meaning is to free something from some binding (which is a problem), like when Zuangzi’s master butcher separates the limbs of an animal by expertly cutting the joints. But the meaning is about the freeing of the limbs, not the cutting per se. The master butcher frees the limbs without cutting anything, thus his knife never gets dull. He does this by understanding exactly how to move his knife between the spaces in the joints. A common butcher just chops them. This meaning extends abstractly into lots of contexts, like untying knots, solving problems, freeing someone who is tied up, liberating someone from suffering, etc.

One of the more common varieties of this meaning is to understand something. From there, as a verb, it becomes explaining something to someone else. Originally, it probably was used for understanding how to solve problems (and thus being free of them) or explaining their solutions, but after a while it became generalized. So, I could see someone glossing it as 智. People who know how to 解 are also 智. I usually translate it as “understanding” in that usage, but it does have the connotation of freeing someone from a vexing problem, which is how we end up with words like 解脫.

辯才 is usually a word for rhetorical skill or eloquence. Someone who is well-spoken. It is interesting to note that 辨 and 辯 are often used interchangeably, but 辯才 wasn’t a word invented for Buddhist translations, so I wouldn’t get carried away with thinking about that here. In general, the Chinese concept of skill in speaking is not as sophistic as it is in the Western traditions, where we’ve had democratic systems that encourage manipulative rhetoric to sway public opinion.

In China, it would have been more about being able to express complex ideas or logic clearly in an effective and convincing way to other intelligent people, such as when the shi debated public policy in front of the emperor or prime minister. So, it implies that a person is good at discernment (since sophistry is going to be panned by intelligent people), hence the confusion that we see between 辯 and 辨 in Buddhist texts. They are close synonyms in addition to being homophones.

I think, overall, these translations are interesting in that they actually support the Pali reading bhid rather than vid, at least in the case of the Dharmaguptaka texts (which dovetails with the close parallels between their canon and the Theravada). I’m also intrigued by this translation being in the Ekottarika. Similar things make me wonder if it doesn’t have Dharmaguptaka material instead of Mahasamghika (as everyone assumes). There were strains of Dharmaguptakas in Central Asia who adopted the Mahasamghika ideas about the Buddha and proto-Mahayana texts.

[Edit: Another thing I should have pointed out is that there’s historical distance between 四無礙解 and 四辯才. The former is a later translation that we find used by Xuanzang and others who were most likely working with BHS and Sanskrit texts. We find the latter in earlier translations that were probably in Central Asian or Prakrit. So, they may not be translating the exact same words.]

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