Parallels and translation of SN 22.7: help!

I was hoping that @llt or someone else with good Chinese could help me out. I’m translating SN 22.7, and there’s a difficult passage:

Tassa rūpa­vi­pari­ṇā­mānupa­rivat­tijā paritassanā dhamma­samup­pādā cittaṃ pariyādāya tiṭṭhanti.

Ven Bodi translates as:

Agitation and a constellation of mental states born of preoccupation with the change of form remain obsessing his mind.

With the following note:

Spk explains paritassanādhammasamuppādā as a dvanda compound: taṇhāparitassanā ca akusaladhammasamuppādā ca; “the agitation of craving and a constellation of unwholesome states.” The long compound might also have been construed as a tappurisa: “a constellation of states (arisen from, associated with) agitation.” While both Spk and Spkpṭ understand paritassanā in the sense of craving, it seems to me that the text emphasizes bhaya-paritassanā, “agitation through fear.”

I find this a very implausible rendering, and am not aware of anywhere else that samuppāda can be rendered as “constellation”.

Dhammasamuppada occurs in two other contexts, AN 6.62 and Thag 16.1, where in both cases it has the expected meaning of “origination of phenomena”, in the context of what will be reborn.

In our current sutta, surely this must be similar. The anxiety arises because of the disappearance of form, i.e. death, and worry over what will originate in the future, i.e. kim bhavissāmi. In Ven Bodhi’s rendering, there’s no real explanation of how or why the anxiety occurs, which is the point of the sutta.

I’d prefer to translate something like:

Anxiety about the origination of things that’s born of latching on to the perishing of form occupies their mind.

But I’m not really happy with it.

Ven Bodhi in a earlier note acknowledges there is some corruption with this passage, and I suspect as much here, too. I can’t really justify the grammar of this, but unless some other option appears, meaning takes precedence. Perhaps @Brahmali might have an opinion here?

We give two parallels for this on SC, SA 43 and SA 66. It seems to me that SA 66 is a mistake, and should not be listed as parallel. SA 43 is a parallel, and I believe the exact phrase is this one:


But I may well be mistaken, and in any case I can’t construe the meaning.

not sure if that’s any help and hope i’m not stating the obvious, but the exact same phrase appears in MN 138 which deals with the same topic (in fact they appear to be partial parallels), MA 164 is listed as its parallel, search hasn’t produced in it the Chinese equivalent phrase you quote, so maybe in that particular parallel sutta it’s translated differently (how i’m obviously unable to figure out due to lack of knowledge in Chinese) and may as well shed some light on the meaning of the Pali term, unless it’s too an erroneous or approximate parallel

Thanks, yes MN 138 has an exact parallel of this passage. BB translates it there as:

Agitated mental states born of preoccupation with the change of material form arise together

He quotes the same commentarial explanation, but in SN his translation more closely follows the comm.

Hopefully someone with good Chinese can check MA 164 for us.

Hm… here is a first stab at the passage from SA 43…

The foolish and unlearned ordinary person perceives in form a self, or other than a self, and abides in that appearance; perceiving that form is a self, “self” is grasped. Being grasped, then whether that form changes, or otherwise, the mind also turns along with it; the mind having turned along with it, there is the arising of grasping and attachment according to mental abiding. In accordance with this mental abiding, there is the arising of terror, obstruction, and mental chaos caused by grasping and attachment.

MA 164 has something a bit different, and a few variations, but the gist is that if the mind does not go outward and become scattered, but instead abides inside, then it is not subject to suffering and terror, and also not subject to further birth, old age, sickness, death, etc.

Basically the idea seems to be that if your mind clings to some thought or sensory experience, then you are mentally abiding in that, and then it drags your mind around, bringing you through all sorts of different states including suffering, chaos, terror, etc. But if you don’t, then your mind will peacefully abide “inside,” i.e., in its own natural state free from distractions.

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I wonder if it makes any difference between ­_samup­pādā_ and ­_samup­pāda_.


The syntax seems to mirror the Pali closely, and this must be the exact phrase paralleling the Pali paritassanā dhamma­samup­pādā. It seems to confirm the use of samuppāda in the sense of “arising” rather than “constellation”. As for “grasping and attachment”, would your sense be that this is merely a loose translation, or a different original? Since the Pali uses the main term of the passage, paritassanā, here, you’d expect the Chinese to be consistent on this point, I guess. But if I’m not wrong the Chinese here uses a term for “fear” to stand for paritassana.

Unlikely, it’s the subject of the sentence, and agrees with tiṭṭhanti. Which is of course one of the reasons why my translation is ungrammatical.

Here are a couple of other renderings of this passage:

Woodward: From this being busied with the altering body, worried thoughts arise and persist, laying hold of the heart.

Walshe’s is simply a modernization of this.

Walshe: Due to this preoccupation with bodily change, worried thoughts arise and persist, laying a firm hold on his mind.

Clearly they divide the phrase differently than the commentary: paritassanā-dhamma+samuppādā “worried-thoughts arise”, which hardly seems justifiable. And I’m not sure where “persist” comes from, unless it is the tiṭṭhanti at the end; but pariyādāya tiṭṭhanti is a common verbal phrase and should be rendered together. (In fact I render it as one verb, “occupy”.) tl;dr, this doesn’t help.

And some renderings of the parallel passage in MN 138:

Horner: there is disturbance for him born of his occupation with the alteration in the material shape; mental objects, arising, persist in obsessing his thought

Horner construes the syntax quite differently, dividing the sentence in two halves. This of course assumes that paritassanā dhamma­samup­pādā is not a single compound. Ven Bodhi in his notes assumes it is a single compound, but I can’t see a good reason why this should be so. The commentary doesn’t seem to require it, and most editions I have seen divide the phrase.

Thanissaro: With the agitations born from the alteration in accordance with the change in form and coming from the co-arising of (unskillful mental) qualities, his mind stays consumed.

Thanissaro takes rūpa­vipari­ṇā­mānupa­rivat­tijā and dhamma­samup­pādā as parallel phrases, each being causes of paritassanā. This seems like a promising approach. -samuppādā and -jā have the same meaning, and it’s normal for Pali sentences to use such parallels.

But this begs the question as to what dhammasamuppādā means. Thanissaro follows the commentary with “co-arising of (unskillful mental) qualities”. Perhaps we would be better off taking it as a variation of paṭiccasamuppāda, in the sense of “natural arising”, i.e. “originating in accordance with the natural principles of cause and effect”.

Anxieties occupy their mind, born of latching on to the perishing of form, and originating in accordance with natural principles.

you translate vi­pari­ṇā­ma as perishing, but the dictionary meaning is change and in the text it’s backed up by the pair aññathā hoti

besides, perishing narrows the meaning of the passage as far as i understand it, making it seem to be concerned with death, whereas death is only one case of form (and other aggregates) change

what are your reasons for such choice?

Well spotted! Yes indeed, my rendering of viparinama was chosen very carefully to emphasize the meaning of death.

One of the primary shifts between the EBTs and later Buddhism was the treatment of time. In the EBTs, the basic time frame is a lifetime, and the basic meaning of impermanence is therefore death. In later texts, the basic time frame became the “moment”, and the basic meaning of impermanence became “rise and fall”.

This has, like so many Abhidhammic ideas, influenced modern translators and compilers of dictionaries, via the commentaries, and shifts the meaning of many passages.

In addition, we have the extra problem that in modern times “change” is associated with progress, and is often seen as largely positive. But viparinama is regularly used in passages where it’s highly negative emotional charge is seen. Actually, this meaning was brought out better in the older PTS dict, but has been lost in some more modern translations:

change (for the worse), reverse, vicissitude

So in rendering passages we should try to bring out these aspects of the terms, rather than leave them as cold technical terms. Here’s some examples.

Take SN 22.4:

taṃ rūpaṃ vipariṇamati aññathā hoti. Tassa rūpa­vi­pari­ṇāmañ­ñathā­bhāvā uppajjanti soka­pari­deva­duk­kha­do­manas­supāyāsā.
But that form of theirs changes and perishes, which gives rise to sorrow, crying, pain, sadness, and distress.

Or AN 5.30

Piyānaṃ kho, nāgita, vipariṇāmaññathābhāvā uppajjanti sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupāyāsā
When loved ones change and perish, sorrow, crying, pain, sadness, and distress arise.

Or AN 10.29:

“As far as Kāsi and Kosala extend, and as far as the realm of King Pasenadi of Kosala extends, King Pasenadi is said to be the foremost. But even King Pasenadi changes and perishes. Seeing this, a learned noble disciple becomes disillusioned with it.

And in some cases, translating it as “change” or “alteration” is clearly incorrect, eg. SN 22.38, where it is obviously a synonym of “cessation”.

yaṃ kho, āvuso, rūpaṃ atītaṃ niruddhaṃ vipariṇataṃ
Form that has passed, ceased, perished.


DOP gives “an event, a matter” as a possible meaning of dhammasamuppāda, and quotes S V 374,1 as a reference. The obvious meaning of dhammasamuppāda, as you point out, is “the arising of a phenomenon”, which in a given context could refer to “an event” (not momentary but durable). Ven. Bodhi instead translates S V 374,1 as “issue concerning the Dhamma,” but I am not sure how he justifies this (it seems he has struggled with this word). To me the rendering in DOP makes better sense.

If we take paritassanādhammasamuppādā as one long compound (thereby allowing for the genitive form of paritassanā), this could be rendered as “events of agitation” or “occurrences of agitation”. The sentence could be translated as follows: “Because he pursues the changing form (rūpa­vi­pari­ṇā­mānupa­rivat­tijā), occurrences (dhammasamuppādā) of agitation (paritassanā) preoccupy his mind.” Or perhaps: “Because he is preoccupied with the alteration of form, agitation repeatedly takes hold of his mind”. (Also, I wonder whether it would be better to render this as “his form”, or even “his body”, rather than just “form”, since this is the required contextual meaning and it makes it clearer what is going on.)

Just one possibility among many, I suppose. However, this translation has the benefit of following the Pali as it stands, and not assuming any corruption of the text (apart from the joining of paritassanā and dhammasamuppādā into one long compound).


I’d overlooked this, so thanks. This is SN 55.23, which in the MS edition on SC is not given as a compound, hence escaping my search.

kocideva dhammo samuppādo uppajjeyya

In this case the commentary doesn’t support the translation “issue concerning the Dhamma”, but simply “business”:

kiñcideva kāraṇaṃ uppajjeyya

But it’s a very different context. I’ll give some thought to your suggestion, I’m not sure about it right now.

I was actually quite happy with my modified translation, do you have any thoughts on that?

Anxieties born of latching on to the perishing of form and originating in accordance with natural principles occupy their mind.

The SA passage is mainly about grasping and attachment, and at least that part seems pretty clear from it. The things about fear are just in a short list, but are not the main subjects of the passage. It does not seem to be overly interpretive. The style seems to be pretty typical, at least.

One of the interesting things is that by looking at some particles like 已, and parallel forms, we can break apart the Chinese passage into sections without needing to rely on the punctuation. Maybe seeing it broken down this way may be more helpful.

How does grasping cause the arising of attachment?

The foolish and unlearned ordinary person perceives in form a self, or other than a self, and abides in that appearance; perceiving that form is a self, “self” is grasped.

Being grasped, then whether that form changes, or otherwise, the mind also turns along with it.

The mind having turned along with it, there is the arising of grasping and attachment according to mental abiding.

In accordance with this mental abiding, there is the arising of terror, obstruction, and mental chaos, caused by grasping and attachment.

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Interesting, that’s a lot clearer. The Pali paritassati harks back to dual roots of “craving” and “fear”, and is ambiguous because of this. It seems that in the Sanskrit text, at least as translated, the sense of “craving” is paramount in the body of the sutta, but a series of terms for fear are at the end. This seems to suggest, to me at least, that the original had a similar ambiguity as we find in the Pali, which might say something as to the dialectical roots of this text. But that would be beyond my abilities!

Regardless, the main point is that samuppada has been translated in its normal meaning of 'origination". So that’s useful.

As a non-native English speaker, I have to re-read this sentence 3 times to understand it’s meaning. So I’d be a lot happier with something simpler.

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O dear, let me try again!

Anxieties occupy their mind, born of latching on to the perishing of form, and originating in accordance with natural principles.

Is that better? I was using the other version because I found it easier to construe the negative form of the sentence, but anyway.

Heh. After the first read, I liked it. Then the ‘and originating in accordance with natural principles’ part started to seem weird to me and I decided to try to rewrite the sentence so that it was as easy as possible for me to understand. And the first try ended up to be your original translation :smiley: So basically I don’t know what I’m talking about :slight_smile:

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Welcome to my world. :wink:

If its any consolation, it’s probably clearer in context. But if you do have an idea, let me know.

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thank you for the explanation, i agree with the assumption that original whatever, and ideas in particular, are as a rule simpler and more straightforward

yet in the contexts you adduced reference to death can only be deduced as it’s not stated in plain language. i assume that if the authors wished to emphasize death they’d use its direct signifier without resorting to allusions

besides death, change is also falling physically ill, getting maimed, disabled, becoming mentally deranged, losing pleasant feelings, peacefulness and basically becoming in any respect different from the norm or from the state one associates or likes to associate with oneself, which are all too matters of concern for and reasons for anxiety in human beings

and this broader understanding actually deepens the teaching

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This works technically, except that it seems closer to translating dhammatā than dhammā. But my real concern is whether “anxieties … originating in accordance with natural principles” is particularly meaningful. Everything originates according to natural principles, and for this very reason it doesn’t actually add anything. I am not aware that the suttas speak of defilements in this way, even using different terminology.

Oh the dukkha of translating!


For what it’s worth, there is nothing about dharmas in the Chinese version. Maybe there was some influence from abhidharmic thought and terminology? If so, then interpreting it in that context might be appropriate.