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Question about a translation choice in SA 296

I was looking through SA 296 when I came across an interesting line in the translation posted at SuttaCentral by Choong Mun-keat & prepared by Bhikkhu Sujato, who I hope might have a personal insight into the subject matter of my questioning, as I don’t know what “prepared by” entails.

The line in question is this: [quote]“Whether a Buddha arises in the world, or not, this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma, the element of dharma. [/quote]

Which in the Chinese is:[quote]若佛出世,若未出世,此法常住,法住法界,[/quote]

I am hardly one to accuse someone more qualified than I of misreading a text and producing a potentially misleading translation, as I am not of resolute persuasion that my speculations are of definite assuredness, however there are some things in Choong Mun-keat’s translation that make me puzzled, and I was hoping to share those hopefully with people more qualified than myself to see if they agree with my assessment or can show me where I go wrong.

The Chinese has 4 blocks of characters separated by commas- the English translation has 5 of these. The first two blocks of texts correspond to the Chinese more or less perfectly, the Chinese is slightly more detailed than the English in the second block (若未出世 means “if not-yet born” rather than “or not” but that is a minor point). The two things that puzzle me are the splitting of the 3rd block of characters into two separate clauses in the English, as well as the rendering of the word 法界 (dharmadhātu).

The translator splits 此法常住 into two different clauses in the English: “this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma,”. If you assign one English character per Chinese word, for a word-for-word rendering (this method does not produce “solidly readable” English translations, but does allow one to “get inside” the text to try to see it on its own ground rather than always in comparison), and if you have a knowledge of Classical Chinese grammar, one gets something like this:

[quote]若佛出世,若未出世,此法常住,法住法界,
ruò fó chū shì, ruò wèi chū shì, cǐ fǎ cháng zhù, fǎ zhù fǎ jiè,
If Buddha [is] born, if not-yet born, these dharmāḥ [are] permanent/constant [in their] dwelling[s], [these] dharmāḥ dwell [in] dharmadhātu[/quote]

“Dwelling/Dwellings/Dwell” here can also be read in the sense of "[proper] place/standing/habitation, rather than literally “dwelling” somewhere.

I am wondering why dharmadhātu was not translated as dharmadhātu. In its modern Mahāyāna usage, its interpretation is principally coloured by the manner in which it is used in the Avataṃsakasūtra, to refer to a tathātā/yathābhūtaṃ state of “reality (viewed) as-it-is/without delusion”, which also informs the function of tathātā-discourse in Tiāntāi, Zen, etc.

However, dharmadhātu appears in Pāli literature (and other EBTs?) as “dhammadhātu”, where it has a variety of meanings that are, as a whole, not easily paired down to simply to referring to any one particularly definable “element of dharma/dharmāḥ”.

In Theravāda orthodoxy, the term dhammadhātu generally refers via proxy to the (pseudo-?)omniscience of the Buddha. Is this an interpretation that studiers of EBTs disagree with? If so, has that informed the translation choice of “element of dharmāḥ” rather than “dharmadhātu”?

Similarly I am also wondering why the 3rd block of Chinese characters was split into two separate clauses for English-language rendering. Why is “此法常住” translated as “this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma,” when the word “status of dharma” seems absent from the Chinese text.

Similarly, why have the plurals been render as singular? The Chinese appeares to read 此法, meaning “these [many] dharmāḥ”, meaning that this particular sequence of characters refer to the dharmāḥ spoken of in the main body of the text before and after this sequence of characters, which are described as: [quote]此等諸法, or directly “this/these plural-marker myriad dharma/dharmāḥ”[/quote], not the Buddha’s teaching on on dependant origination (which is what it refers to in the Nikāya parallel). This āgama actually never seems to use 法/dharma in the sense of “the Teaching of the Buddha” and goes out of its way to doubly insignify the plurality of the dharmāḥ it speaks about (等諸).

The Chinese and English rendering seem to gloss over a subtle difference in the characterization and classifications of the dharma-theory presented in the text, as the meaning of the āgama to an English speaker, probably in the interest of bringing it into line with its corresponding Nikāya recension, seems to be partially harmonized, when in actuality the two of them are arguing for a subtly different interpretation of dhamma-theory expounded by the Buddha as related to dependent origination. This might make sense given that this is a Sarvāstivāda text, and their resencion of Buddhavacana implies a subtly differently interpreted/presented dhamma-theory, as evidenced by their later divergent Abhidharmāḥ. So I am wondering what the decision may have been to render these plurals as singular, changing the usage of 法/dharma from its “phenomena” meaning to its “the Teaching” meaning.

Anyways that is a summation of some of my points of confusion regarding this āgama translation.

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Some context as to why I think what is rendered in English as “the dharma” actually refers to a certain “these dharmāḥ (dharmas)”, and refers to the separate constituent dharmāḥ of what is called “dependant origination” in the Páli (there appears to be no single word than can express paṭiccasamuppāda in the Chinese lexicon of this specific piece of SA literature, the ágama instead describes a series of “self-evident” “predestined” dharmāḥ instead of referring to the whole of dependent origination as a process in-the-abstract). Consider the beginning of the Buddhavacana:

云何緣生法?謂無明、行。
How [does] predestination develop [in the] dharmāḥ? That-is-to-say, ignorance [leading to] capabilities/activities.

The list is later filled in as to what other specific dharmāḥ the discourse concerns:

謂緣無明有行,乃至緣生有老死。
that-is-to-say [the] predestination [of] ignorance [to] becoming [ie bhāva] [of] capability, and-furthermore [the] predestination [of] becoming [to] age and death.

And then goes on to clarify:

彼如來自覺知,成等正覺,為人演說,開示顯發,謂緣生故,有老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦。
This Tathāgata on his own initiative is aware, accomplishes [the] rank [of] samyaksaṃbodhi, conducts his speech, expresses, shows, cultivates, that-is-to-say [the] predestined development of causes, becoming aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, becoming-angry, and suffering.

Then the Buddhavacana concludes, concerning what was just expounded:

此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。
These many dharmāḥ, [these] dharmāḥ['s] residence/dwellinng/abiding, [these] dharmāḥ['s] emptiness, [these] dharmāḥ self-explain/[are-]thus [i.e. They have quality of being self-evident?], [these] dharmāḥ [are] thus-so, [these] dharmāḥ [do] not depart [from their] thusness/self-evidency, [these] dharmāḥ [are] not different/other than [their] thusness/self-evidency, judged as truly real, not delusional (or “without delusion”).

Then for good measure the ágama has the discourse repeated one final time:

如是隨順緣起,是名緣生法。
謂無明、行、識、名色、六入處、觸、受、愛、取、有、生、老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦,是名緣生法。
Thus following obeisance [to] causes [of] arisings, this [is] named [the] development [of the] predestination [of the] dharmāḥ. That-is-to-say ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses’ touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering, this [is] named [the] development [of the] predestination [of the] dharmāḥ.

And the ágama ends there. I apologize for my inconsistent diacritics on the word “ágama”, my phone cannot input macrons easily.

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hi @Coemgenu, i changed the category of the topic to one which seems more appropriate, and added a few tags, hope it’s OK with you

[quote=“LXNDR, post:3, topic:4508, full:true”]
hi @Coemgenu, i changed the category of the topic to one which seems more appropriate, and added a few tags, hope it’s OK with you
[/quote]That is quite alright and welcomed. It appears I had accidentally moved it to “the Watercooler” as a result of my poor grasp of this site’s functionality.

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This is getting a bit much for my very limited Chinese, hopefully someone more knowledgeable is around. FYI, “preparing” a text merely refers to getting the digital file in order, and doesn’t involve any understanding!

This phrase in Chinese parallels the Pali at SN 12.20, which is:

Uppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā

Focusing on the main section that you’re interested in, with a word-by-word analysis:

ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā
that property indeed stands, that stability of principle, that lawfulness of principle, specific conditionality.

Luckily we have a Sanskrit version of the same text at SF 163. In this case, the Sanskrit text is very likely to stem from the same, or very similar, tradition as the Chinese translation, and this passage bears this out:

sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharmasthitaye dhātuḥ
That principle indeed stands, that element of stability of principle

My Sanskrit grammar is not very good, so I’m not entirely confident about the syntax here, but it’s something like this.

The relation between the Sanskrit and Chinese is thus very close:

sthitā eveyaṃ dharmatā dharmasthitaye dhātuḥ
此法常住,               法住           法界

Both versions lack, in this passage, anything corresponding to the niyāma of the Pali, or to idapaccayatā at the end. In addition, they do not have dhātu near the beginning of the phrase, but at the end.

The only difference between the Sanskrit and Chinese is that the Chinese inserts an extra 法, which appears, as you said to represent dharmadhātu, a term not found in the Sanskrit. So either the Sanskrit text on which the Chinese translation was based differed in this word, or it was added by the translator, perhaps for clarity. The terms dharma and dhātu have almost identical meanings in the EBTs, and the notion of dharmadhātu as found in the Mahayana was as yet unknown when the Sanskrit text was formed; whether it may have influenced the Chinese translator, I could not say.

We should not draw any doctrinal conclusions from these variations, however. While the Sanskrit text lacks the terms niyāma and idapaccayatā here, in the body of the passage, it does include them a little later, when summing up the teaching by giving a long list of synonyms for pratītyasamutpāda:

iti yātra dharmatā dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā avitathatā ananyathā bhūtaṃ satyatā tattvatā yāthātathā aviparītatā aviparyastatā idaṃpratyayatā pratītyasamutpādānulomatā ayam ucyate pratītyasamutpādaḥ

Thus it seems clear that the differences between the texts are merely verbal.

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I think that the differences in the recensions can be brought into context by examining the doctrines and interpretations of the school that this āgama came from, the Sarvāstivāda. In the Nikāya recension, a number of qualities are given to paṭiccasamuppāda, namely, and forgive me for not being able to word-for-word it:

[quote]Uppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā.
Whether there is an arising of Tathagatas or no arising of Tathagatas, that element still persists, the stableness of the Dhamma, the fixed course of the Dhamma, specific conditionality.[/quote]

The meaning of this is not exceptionally esoteric or complicated, I don’t think. It merely says that the teaching of the Buddha, in as much as it is true and in as much as it relates to the subject matter of the sutta in question, is true regardless of whether or not a Buddha teaches it, i.e., dependant origination is not “created” or “made up” by the Buddha, or, the Dharma pre-exists the Buddha’s teaching of it.

I agree that the difference is highly subtle, but highly subtle differences in interpretation, wording, phrasing, etc, of the Buddhavacana can have extremely profound doctrinal implications when orthodoxies are built and/or arise out of the Buddhavacana’s interaction with practitioners and/or interpreters.

I think this is evidenced in the highly divergent Abhidharmāḥ generated by the Sarvāstivāda and Theravāda historically, particularly as related to the classifications of dharmāḥ presented in their respective divergent dhamma-theories. The Sarvāstivāda (or the “everything exists school” or the “all-existent school”, for those unfamiliar with them) held a doctrine of the quasi-eternal persistence of all dharmāḥ in the past, present, and future, as well as conceiving of existent reality as predicated on existent “prime dharmāḥ”. They were polemicized against by Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu as holding heretical metaphysics, in some interpretations of those writers’ works.

This āgama’s characterization of the natures of certain dharmāḥ (namely ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses’ touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering) is consistent with Sarvāstivāda orthodoxy, because the dharma themselves are described as “thus, thus-so, thusness”, lending to them the quasi-eternal “persistence” spoken of in the Nikāya-parallel when it speaks of “this element” in its text. In the Sarvāstivāda āgama-recension, this quasi-eternal persistence is ascribed to the particular dharmāḥ specified therein. In the Nikāya-parallel it is the “principal” or, to phrase it more loosely, the “process” of paṭiccasamuppāda that is a “persistent” element. Now this āgama does not go so far as later Sarvāstivāda orthodoxy would go in its treating of dharmāḥ as quasi-eternally persistent, but it does take a step in that direction that is not present in the Nikāya-parallel, wherein no dharmāḥ at all are characterized as persistent.

I think that this recension might be an example of the latent seeds of “potential-readings” from which later Sarvāstivāda elaborations of doctrine, based in their traditions of interpreting their Buddhavacana-recensions, would manifest concerning dhamma-theory, and ultimately metaphysics and ontology.

Just an interesting thing I think I may have observed in the sutta-parallels.

I understand your point, and I agree that this is sometimes the case. But I don’t think it is justified in the Sanskrit text; at the most, there is a weak hint in this direction. Perhaps the Chinese is different in this respect, but I’ll confine myself to the Indic here.

Both the Pali and Sanskrit begin by distinguishing dependent origination (i.e. the general principle) from dependently originated phenomena (i.e. dhammas). As you point out, the singular of dhamma is used for the former, the plural for the latter.

Skt: pratītyasamutpādaṃ vo bhikṣavo deśayiṣye pratītyasamutpannāṃś ca dharmān
Pali: Paṭic­ca­samup­pādañca vo, bhikkhave, desessāmi paṭic­ca­samup­panne ca dhamme

Both describe pratītyasamutpāda in similar terms:

Skt: iti yātra dharmatā dharmasthititā dharmaniyāmatā dharmayathātathā avitathatā ananyathā bhūtaṃ satyatā tattvatā yāthātathā aviparītatā aviparyastatā idaṃpratyayatā pratītyasamutpādānulomatā ayam ucyate pratītyasamutpādaḥ
Pali: Iti kho, bhikkhave, yā tatra tathatā avitathatā anaññathatā idappaccayatā—ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paṭic­ca­samup­pādo.

The Sanskrit adds more terms here, although, as noted above, some of these are found in the Pali earlier. The extra terms are just synonyms, so this doesn’t indicate any doctrinal shift.

Both texts go on to discuss the “dependently originated phenomena”, i.e. the various factors of DO. The presentation is somewhat different here, as they proceed in different directions. But neither of them say that these dhammas are eternal. The Pali emphasizes this point more:

avijjā, bhikkhave, aniccā saṅkhatā paṭic­ca­samup­pannā khayadhammā vayadhammā virāgadhammā nirodhadhammā. Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā

While the Sanskrit summarizes the list, merely saying that all the factors are dependently originated:

avidyā saṃskārā vijñānaṃ nāmarūpaṃ ṣaḍāyatanaṃ sparśo vedanā tṛṣṇā upādānaṃ bhavo jātir jarāmaraṇaṃ | ima ucyante pratītyasamutpannā dharmāḥ

The Sanskrit does not specifically emphasize impermanence. In itself, this is not very significant, as such verbal variations are common. Note, also that both the Pali and the Skt agree on the basic fact, that these things are paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā, and the Pali merely supplies some quasi-synonyms to flesh out this idea.

If it could be shown, however, that this was part of a systematic pattern, it might be taken as supporting evidence for the de-emphasis of impermanence in the Sarvastivada. And, as I noted at the beginning, I do agree that this emphasis is discernible occasionally in these Sanskritic texts. But in this specific instance, the tendency is very weak, if it is present at all.

But to respond to your basic point regarding the Chinese:

I don’t think this is correct. The DDB gives the meanings “here” or “this” for 此. Here it corresponds with the Indic ayaṁ, which is singular. In any case, the Sanskrit text clearly does not apply the ideas of stability, etc., to the phenomena, only to the principle.

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Definitely applies without any sort of regular pattern. As it is this is just a textual curiosity, albeit an interesting one. As I explore further into the āgamāḥ, the dhamma-theory therein is something that I am going to be paying very close attention to.

There is another possibility that is alternative to my own amateur pet hypothesis, which asserts that the ambiguity between “this dharma” and “these dharmāḥ” is merely a byproduct of the ambiguities of Chinese grammar, and a side-effect of the transmission of the Buddhavacana across highly unlike languages, that side effect being that the Chinese is rendered, perhaps, insufficiently clear.

In the Pāli text, there is a mention of “dhamma” and a mention of “dhammā” (dhammas):[quote]ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā
[… followed by…]
paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā?
[…after which follows a list of dhammā, specifically an outlining of the 12-links-discourse, more-or-less congruent to the list of dharmāḥ given in the āgama-parallel.][/quote]The first usage of “dhamma” is speaking about the principal or law of paṭiccasamuppāda. The second usage, dhammā, might refer to what is systematized as the twelve nidāni (nidanas).

If we look at the Chinese, there are also two usages of 法 that correspond with loosely where dhamma and dhammā correspondingly appear in the Nikāya-text. The first is given in [quote]云何為因緣法?謂此有故彼有,謂緣無明行,緣行識,乃至如是如是純大苦聚集。
To-say how [is] caused predestined dharma/dharmāḥ? To-speak-of this bhāva causing that bhāva, to-speak-of [the] predestination [of] ignorance [and] activities, predestination [of] activities [and] knowing, therefore concluding thus this pure great suffering aggregation origination (origination=集=samudaya, not 緣 as in 緣起)[/quote]

Later in the text, 法 appears again, just like in the Pāli, and is marked as a plurality (此等諸法), just as in the Pāli (dhammā).

It is possible that the two usages of 法 in the Chinese text correspond to the two different meanings of “dhamma” in its initial appearance (dhamma) in the Pali and its second appearance (dhammā).

There is only one other problem. In the Pāli, it is still the first, singular, instance of “dhamma” that is marked as ṭhitāva (persistent, I think?), not the dhammā. In the Chinese, the plural 法, 此等諸法, is marked as “法如、法爾”, not the potentially singular instance of 法, in the opening: 「我今當說因緣法[…].

To simplify, the conundrum is not quite gone with the above concessions, as:

Dhamma(s) mentioning #1: Pāli, dhamma. Ch, 此法. In the Pāli, the first is “persistent” and the second isn’t.
Dhamma(s) mentioning #2: Pāli, dhammā. Ch, 此等諸法. In the Chinese, the second is “thus” or has “thusness” and the first does not.

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Ahh, finally, I understand your point. I am very slow this morning.

But clearly there is a problem with the Chinese text. It seems to me that it has confused the two categories, and is likely a faulty transmission, whether in the original or in the translation.

But you are quite right, the text as it stands does lend itself to the Sarvastivadin perspective. Whether this is a mere accident, or an example of doctrinal bias influencing the text, I couldn’t say.

Yes, it is from the same, or very closely related, tradition.

If I recall correctly, Choong Mun-keat in his study of the Samyutta pointed out a few of this kind of cases.

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PS: Accidentally, what I said here: [quote=coemgenu][quote=sujato][quote=coëmgenu]The Chinese appeares to read 此法, meaning “these [many] dharmāḥ”[/quote]I don’t think this is correct. The DDB gives the meanings “here” or “this” for 此. [/quote]I am not sure if there is sufficient precedent, within the text itself, to argue that this particular instance of 此等諸法 is a different dharma spoken of than the other instances of 此法, especially considering that the first line of Buddhavacana:

「云何為因緣法?
To-say how because-of causality [are] predestined [the] dharmāḥ?[/quote]This is actually quite wrong. Somehow I missed the actual first line of the proposed Buddhavacana in this āgama, which is actually this in its entirety:[quote]云何為因緣法?謂此有故彼有,謂緣無明行,緣行識,乃至如是如是純大苦聚集。

「云何為因緣法?
To-say how [is] caused predestined dharma/dharmāḥ? To-speak-of this bhāva causing that bhāva, to-speak-of [the] predestination [of] ignorance [and] activities, predestination [of] activities [and] knowing, therefore concluding thus this pure great suffering aggregation origination.

To-say how because-of causality [is/are] predestined [the] dharm(a/āḥ)?[/quote]I had accidentally called the second section/paragraph the first. With this added material before, the āgama and nikāya recensions appear even closer, given that the two instances of 法 in the opening may well be matchable to the two usages of dhamma and dhammā in the nikāya opening, that is, the differentiation between the “dhamma” of paṭiccasamuppāda and the “dhammā” of the twelve nidāni that are themselves paṭic­ca­samup­pannā.

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[quote=“sujato, post:10, topic:4508”]
But clearly there is a problem with the Chinese text. It seems to me that it has confused the two categories, and is likely a faulty transmission, whether in the original or in the translation.

But you are quite right, the text as it stands does lend itself to the Sarvastivadin perspective. Whether this is a mere accident, or an example of doctrinal bias influencing the text, I couldn’t say.
[/quote]Either that, or this is simply a divergent recension, while the Sanskrit and the Pāli nikāya are convergent. But convergence does not necessarily imply greater authenticity, said the epistemic agnostic regarding EBT convergence-theory.

The Sarvāstivāda, IMO, has an equally-valid possibility of being “original Buddhism” as other postulated “Early Buddhism” frameworks of orthodoxy. If that is the case though, it is a depressing one, as it would imply “original/early” Buddhist orthodoxy is all but lost (and let us hope that is not the case).

The issue, IMO, is one of practicality for reconstructing and/or educatedly speculating as to “Early Buddhism”. Even if one line of Sarvāstivāda parallel-recension could be objectively determined as being “more correct” than any other, like the Pāli, for instance, and “objectively” proving that claim is at this point impossible, there is no continually-extant unbroken quasi-Sarvāstivāda tradition of āgama-interpretation that is not dramatically coloured by Mahāyāna discourse.

Of all the Mahāyāna greats that I can immediately recall, I believe it is Śramaṇa Zhìyǐ (538–597 CE) who gives the āgamāḥ the most attention, and even that attention is brief at best. He would have been working with the Chinese āgama preserved in the SA and/or SA-2, etc, recensions, as his knowledge of Indic languages was poor, and no one was around nearby at the time in China who could have taught him better. This would be a source of some interest, but unfortunately, from an EBT-informed perspective, his interpretations, as early in Chinese Buddhist discourse as they may be, are decidedly influenced by the nascent influence of Lotus Buddhism, which he is now considered the founder of, and are beholden to his operative Lotus-hermeneutic of interpretation, that is to say, beholden to the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (decidedly not an EBT!).

Is there any “Great Commentary” equivalent preserved that originates exclusively from within the Sarvāstivāda tradition? As far as I know, the case is that there is not such a thing. With such a vital body of outlined interpretational orthodoxy missing, the precise nuanced Sarvāstivāda tradition of how they interpreted their Buddhavacana becomes highly more speculative and inconclusive (with only their Abhidharma to guide us), as evidenced by the inconclusive speculation I offered.

IMO, the issue is one of practicality. If the Sarvāstivāda recension that is divergent is, in fact, authentic, than it becomes slightly less likely that we are able to produce a Buddhism from EBTs alone that is consistent in its dhamma-theory. If the convergent parallel recensions are correct, than the feasibility of producing a Buddhist orthodoxy from EBTs is unchanged. So while the divergent recension is [quote=sujato] likely a faulty transmission,[/quote]it could also not be. However, for practicality’s sake, it is prudent to consider it potentially as a faulty transmission more evidence to the contrary withstanding. Like you said earlier, I agree.

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[quote=“sujato, post:5, topic:4508”]
The terms dharma and dhātu have almost identical meanings in the EBTs, and the notion of dharmadhātu as found in the Mahayana was as yet unknown when the Sanskrit text was formed;
[/quote]Indeed, it seems the term dharmadhātu in the Chinese sticks out.

I am very willing to entertain an EBT reading of “dharmadhātu”, although I will also admit that the Mahāyāna usage of dharmadhātu seems curiously consonant with the proposed Buddhavacana of SA 296. That being said, what is an EBT reading of “dharmadhātu” or “dhammadhātu”? “Dhammadhātu” appears in the Pāli Canon, but does it appear in postulated EBTs contained therein? Or only later Theravāda materials?

Dharmadhātu is almost definitely not referring to the Buddha’s alleged omniscience either here.

If the terms dharma and dhātu mean almost the same thing, what do you think is meant here by “the element of dharma”? It seems a curious and vague thing to say, especially given the context around it (此法常住,法住法界,, which would then read, rendering it in the singular to avoid plurality-ambiguities: “this dharma permanent [in] dwelling/abiding, [this?] dharma dwells/abides [in] dharma element”). What do you think the “dharma element” being spoken of is if it is not dharmadhātu, the totality of all dharmāḥ?

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In principle, yes. But the text just doesn’t seem to make any sense as it stands.

Well there is the Mahavhibhasa, but it focuses on the Abhidhamma. In the Theravada tradition, the reason Buddhaghosa went to Sri Lanka was because the commentaries were lost in India.

In Pali, dhammadhātu is normally used in a restricted sense for the object of the sixth sense, i.e. the “element of mental phenomena”.

It’s also occasionally used in the sense of “the principle of the teaching” as in DN 14. Here, the meaning is similar to what we find in the original text, SA 296/SN 12.20, and would not be out of place there.

As to the exact phrasing of the sentence, I would want to study the Sanskrit more closely first. But the basic idea is that it refers to a natural law, a regular principle, etc.

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[quote=“sujato, post:14, topic:4508”]
As to the exact phrasing of the sentence, I would want to study the Sanskrit more closely first. But the basic idea is that it refers to a natural law, a regular principle, etc.
[/quote]This makes sense.

I think the key differentiation between this definition of dharmadhātu and the Avataṃsakasūtra-influenced reading is that this definition is in the singular, whereas in the Mahāyāna Avataṃsaka reading, there is an expanded sense of the singular “dharmadhātu”, as if this one notion “dharmadhātu” contained within it all possible viable “dharmadhātavaḥ” in an omnicentric united whole. Very interesting.

It seems the first definition takes, as you note, the “regular principal” reading, and the second definition takes the “universal principal” reading. Was the word “Dhamma/Dharma” ever used in the Buddha’s time to refer to a “universal” law/principal?

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The sense as found here is closest it comes to the idea of “universal law”. It was, in fact, probably this very passage, and others like it, that underlies the later meaning that you speak of.

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I may have accidentally went too far in my language in my eagerness to share my pet theory regarding the possibility of a Sarvāstivāda doctrinal connection in the dhamma-theory of SA 296.

The āgama does not nearly go so far as that it could be realistically said to be “espousing Sarvāstivāda orthodoxy” (although the labelling of any dhamma aside from Nibbana as “persistent”, “thus-so”, or quasi-eternal is definitely a step closer to the Sarvāstivāda interpretation than any other).

The dharmāḥ it lists as being “thus”/self-evident, are:[quote]無明、行、識、名色、六入處、觸、受、愛、取、有、生、老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦,
ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses’ touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering,
(Choong Mun-keat): Ignorance, activities, consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense-spheres, contact, feeling, craving, attachment, becoming, birth, aging-sickness-death-sorrow-affliction-suffering.[/quote]

These dharmāḥ are spoken of as having the quality of 緣 (fate/predestination) only because they will continue on regardless of if a Buddha is born to point them out.

Indeed, all of samsara is “quasi-eternal” if it is devoid of liberating teachings, yes? Without practice, there is no liberation, thus samsara continues.

So, in a way, it makes complete sense to call these dharmāḥ “fated” to occur, to call them “thus so”, because of the possibility that they will always continue, and always be occurring. Is there a doctrine that all beings will inevitably all be completely saved from suffering? I do not think such a thing exists in earlier Buddhist literature, although various contemporary schools believe in either the possibility or the assuredness of universal liberation.

It is linguistically odd to speak of any dharma as “persistent”, but not necessarily utterly wrong. We can find mention of “endless samsara”, etc, in other parts of the Pāli literature.


Secondly, regarding dharmadhātu: dharma, as used here, does seem to carry the implications of a “universal law” meaning, however, the “universe” which it is “universal” about, seems to be only samsara, which differentiates it from the Avataṃsakasūtra-derived meaning and greater Mahāyāna tathātā-discourse concerning the omnicentric totality of reality.

The only dharmāḥ spoken of are the “dharmāḥ of suffering”, if one will, namely, what I said above:[quote]無明、行、識、名色、六入處、觸、受、愛、取、有、生、老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦,
ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses’ touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering,
(Choong Mun-keat): Ignorance, activities, consciousness, name-and-form, the six sense-spheres, contact, feeling, craving, attachment, becoming, birth, aging-sickness-death-sorrow-affliction-suffering.[/quote] In short, dharmadhātu is used here exclusively in the negative, referring to dharmāḥ-of-suffering, which is a different usage than the one spoken of earlier here. Dharmadhātu, seems to refer to samsara, given that the only “contents” of dharmadhātu listed is fundamentally various forms of suffering.

Although it is odd in how it explains itself and how it labels dharmāḥ, it can definitely fit into espousing the same teaching as other EBTs.

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This is an excellent point, and I think it is generally true of teachings in the EBTs that can be said to have a sectarian slant to them. It’s not that they definitively espouse the doctrines of one sect or the other, but that they emphasize the teachings in such a way as to make it possible for the sectarians, much later, to point them out as support for their ideas.

It’s worth bearing in mind, also, that, while I personally don’t accept the Sarvastivada doctrine, it is not as obviously un-Buddhist as it first appears. It is a subtle philosophy, which was accepted by a large number of wise Buddhists in ancient India. The implications of it are quite similar to some possible theories on the nature of time that are found on the edges of modern physics.

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[quote=“sujato, post:5, topic:4508”]
…The only difference between the Sanskrit and Chinese is that the Chinese inserts an extra 法, which appears, as you said to represent dharmadhātu, a term not found in the Sanskrit. So either the Sanskrit text on which the Chinese translation was based differed in this word, or it was added by the translator, perhaps for clarity. …[/quote]

Given the 4-character blocking of the initial text quoted in the OP, might it also be that the Chinese translator just had to supply a 4th character in that line of verse?

I have little expertise in the overall topic, thought it’s very interesting to try to follow. But I do know, from a cursory study of ancient Chinese (in the context of the classical medicine), that the 4-character blocking is a sort of often occurring metric. Even many mnemonic aphorisms, adages in modern (medical) usage adhere to that style.

In fact, where I first came across that was being taught a little poem, in 4 blocks of 4 characters each (just like the OP quotation), which helps an acupuncturist remember:
for any problem of the face, needle point a;
… of the head, … point b;
… of the abdomen, … point c;
… of the back, … point d.

The thing to remember in this instance is that “the Chinese” is from the Taishō Tripitaka, a modern edition. The original sūtra had no punctuation. And worse, the Taishō has a reputation for mucking up the punctuation and so one must always take their punctuation as a guide rather than as a rule.

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