SN 1.1 "Crossing the Flood" and Its Parallels

I’m going to try something different with this essay. I’m going to list the four versions that I’ve been able to locate along with translations and let readers draw conclusions and ask questions about them. I think it’s a good example of the kinds of variation we see between EBT canons. I chose Bodhi’s translation of the Pali because it rhymes with the other parallels better.

SN 1.1 - Theravāda Version

Pali English (Bodhi)
evaṃ me sutaṃ— ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapiṇḍika’s Park.
Atha kho aññatarā devatā abhikkantāya rattiyā abhikkantavaṇṇā kevalakappaṃ jetavanaṃ obhāsetvā yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ aṭṭhāsi. Ekamantaṃ ṭhitā kho sā devatā bhagavantaṃ etadavoca: “kathaṃ nu tvaṃ, mārisa, oghamatarī”ti? Then, when the night had advanced, a certain devatā of stunning beauty, illuminating the entire Jeta’s Grove, approached the Blessed One. Having approached, he paid homage to the Blessed One, stood to one side, and said to him: “How, dear sir, did you cross the flood?”
“Appatiṭṭhaṃ khvāhaṃ, āvuso, anāyūhaṃ oghamatarin”ti. “By not halting, friend, and by not straining I crossed the flood.”
“Yathākathaṃ pana tvaṃ, mārisa, appatiṭṭhaṃ anāyūhaṃ oghamatarī”ti? “But how is it, dear sir, that by not halting and by not straining you crossed the flood?”
“Yadāsvāhaṃ, āvuso, santiṭṭhāmi tadāssu saṃsīdāmi; yadāsvāhaṃ, āvuso, āyūhāmi tadāssu nibbuyhāmi. Evaṃ khvāhaṃ, āvuso, appatiṭṭhaṃ anāyūhaṃ oghamatarin”ti. “When I came to a standstill, friend, then I sank; but when I struggled, then I got swept away. It is in this way, friend, that by not halting and by not straining I crossed the flood.”
The devatā:
“Cirassaṃ vata passāmi, “After a long time at last I see
brāhmaṇaṃ parinibbutaṃ; A brahmin who is fully quenched,
Appatiṭṭhaṃ anāyūhaṃ, Who by not halting, not straining,
tiṇṇaṃ loke visattikan”ti. Has crossed over attachment to the world.”
Idamavoca sā devatā. Samanuñño satthā ahosi. Atha kho sā devatā: “samanuñño me satthā”ti bhagavantaṃ abhivādetvā padakkhiṇaṃ katvā tatthevantaradhāyīti. This is what that devatā said. The Teacher approved. Then that devatā, thinking, “The Teacher has approved of me,” paid homage to the Blessed One and, keeping him on the right, disappeared right there.

SA 25.57 (T99.1267) - (Mūla?) Sarvâstivāda Version

Chinese English
[0348b07] 如是我聞:一時,佛住舍衛國祇樹給孤獨園。 Thus I have heard: One time, the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove of Śrāvastī.
時,有一天子,容色絕妙,於後夜時來詣佛所,稽首佛足,退坐一面。身諸光明遍照祇樹給孤獨園。時,彼天子白佛言:「世尊!比丘!比丘度駛流耶?」 It was then that a god with a marvelous appearance visited the Buddha late at night. That god bowed at the Buddha’s feet and withdrew to sit to one side. The radiance of its body illuminated the entirety of Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park and Jeta’s Grove. That god then asked the Buddha, “Bhagavān! Monk, monk! Did you cross the flood?”
佛言:「如是,天子!」 The Buddha said, “Yes, god.”
天子復問:「無所攀緣,亦無所住,度駛流耶?」 The god again asked, “Did you cross the flood without any support and no place to stand?”
佛言:「如是,天子!」 The Buddha said, “Yes, god.”
天子復問:「無所攀緣,亦無所住而度駛流,其義云何?」 The god again asked, “What do you mean, you crossed the flood without any support and no place to stand?”
佛言:「天子!我如是如是抱,如是如是直進,則不為水之所㵱。如是如是不抱。如是如是不直進,則為水所㵱。如是,天子!名為無所攀緣,亦無所住而度駛流。」 The Buddha said, “God, I again and again held firm and again and again I moved forward; then the water didn’t carry me away. Again and again, I didn’t hold firm and again and again I didn’t move forward; then the water carried me away. Thus, god: This is called crossing the flood without any support and no place to stand.”
時,彼天子復說偈言: That god spoke again in verse:
「久見婆羅門, “Long have I watched this priest
逮得般涅槃, Who has attained parinirvāṇa.*
一切怖已過, Having gone beyond all fear,
永超世恩愛。」 He has forever transcended love of the world.”
時,彼天子聞佛所說,歡喜隨喜,稽首佛足,即沒不現。 When that god heard what the Buddha taught, he rejoiced and was delighted. He bowed to the Buddha’s feet and disappeared.

SA2 180 (T100.180) - Kāśyapīya Version

Chinese English
[0438c12] 如是我聞:一時,佛在舍衛國祇樹給孤獨園。 Thus I have heard: One time, the Buddha was staying at Anāthapiṇḍada’s Park in Jeta’s Grove of Śrāvastī.
時有一天,光色倍常,於其夜中,來詣佛所,威光顯照,遍于祇洹,晃然大明,却坐一面,而問佛言:「瞿曇!汝為能度瀑駛流耶?」 There was a god whose radiance was double the usual amount. It came during the night to visit the Buddha. Its impressive light illuminated the entirety of Jeta’s Grove, bright as daylight. He withdrew to sit at one side and asked the Buddha, “Gautama, were you able to cross the flood?”
爾時,世尊答言:「實爾!」 The Bhagavān then replied, “I really did.”
天言:「瞿曇!如此駛流,深廣無際,傍無攀緣,中無安足,而能得度,甚為奇特。 The god asked, “Gautama, given that the flood is deep, wide, and unending, has no support on its sides, and has no solid footing in the middle, it’s amazing that you were able to cross it!”
佛言:「實爾。」 The Buddha said, “I really did.”
天復問曰:「瞿曇!汝今云何於此駛流,無可攀挽,無安足處,而能得度?」 The god again asked, “Gautama, how were you able to cross the flood without support and without solid footing?”
佛答天曰:「若我懈怠,必為沈沒。若為沈沒,必為所漂。若我精進,必不沈沒。若不沈沒,不為所漂。我於如是大洪流中,無可攀挽,無安足處,而能得度此大駛流。」 The Buddha answered the god, “If I was lax, I was sure to go under, and I surely would have been washed away if I went under. If I exerted myself, then I was sure not to go under, and I wouldn’t have been washed away if I didn’t go under. Thus, I was able to cross this great flood that lacked support or solid footing.”
天即讚言:「善哉!善哉!比丘於此駛流,無所攀挽,而能得度,甚為希有!」 The deva then praised him, “Good! Good, monk! It’s amazing that you were able to cross the flood without support or solid footing!”
天復以偈讚言: The god again praised him in verse:
「我昔已曾見, “In the past, I’ve seen
婆羅門涅槃, This priest’s Nirvāṇa.*
久捨於嫌怖, Long has he renounced hate and fear,
能度世間愛。」 Able to cross over craving for the world.”
爾時,此天說此偈已,歡喜還宮。 After this god spoke this verse, he rejoiced and returned to his palace.

* It should be noted that in both the Pali and Sanskrit versions of this verse, what the Chinese transliterates as 般涅槃 and 涅槃 is actually a verb (Skt. parinirvṛta). SA 1267’s verse adds a verb for attainment and makes 般涅槃 its object, whereas, SA2 180 does appear to be transliterating a verb. The Chinese transliteration for Nirvāṇa is ambiguous, but it does sometimes appear to function as a verb as in the above verse, telling us indirectly that the original was probably nirvṛta rather than nirvāṇa, despite the transliteration sounding like “ne-buan” with an “n” on the end.

Yogâcārabhūmi Passage (T1579.378a) - (Mūla?) Sarvâstivāda Version

Sanskrit Chinese English Translation of Chinese
bhikṣo bhikṣo ogham atārṣīḥ [0378a03] 苾芻苾芻已度暴流耶。 “Monk, monk! Did you cross the flood?”
āma devate 告言。如是天。 “Yes, god.”
anālambe ’pratiṣṭhe ogham atārṣīḥ 無攀無住。已度暴流耶。 “With no support or place to stand, you’ve crossed the flood?”
āma devate 告言。如是天。 “Yes, god.”
yathā kathaṃ tvaṃ bhikṣo anālambe apratiṣṭhe ogham atārṣīḥ 苾芻汝今。猶如何等。無攀無住。已度暴流。 “What was it like, crossing the flood with no support or place to stand?”
yathā yathāhaṃ devate āyūhāmi 如如我劬勞 "Again and again, I overexerted myself;
tathā tathā saṃsīdāmi 如是如是劣 Again and again, I was weak.
yathā yathā saṃsīdāmi 如如我劣已 Again and again, I had been weak;
tathā tathā saṃtiṣṭhe 如是如是住 Again and again, I stood in place.
yathā yathā saṃtiṣṭhe 如如我住已 Again and again, I had stood in place;
tathā tathā uhye 如是如是漂 Again and again, I was washed away.
yathā yathāhaṃ devate nāyūhāmi 天我如如捨劬勞 Again and again, god, I discarded overexertion;
tathā tathā na saṃsīdāmīti 如是如是無減劣 Again and again, I wasn’t deficient."
vistareṇa śuklapakṣo veditavyaḥ 如是廣說鮮白品 Thus, explain what’s light and pure in detail.
此中祇焰頌應知 This is the way the verse [spoken in] glowing Jeta[vana] should be known.

I included this last excerpt because two things stand out to me immediately:

  1. Asaṅga appears to be reading a version of the sutra that matches SA 1267. E.g., the devatā addresses the Buddha as “Monk, monk!” and the expressions yathā yathā and tathā tathā recur in the Buddha’s answer.
  2. Xuanzang doesn’t read saṃsīdāmi to mean sinking in the water, but as being weakened or made inadequate.

Thank you for this! When I first read this particular sutta on SC, I was reminded of Ajahn Chah’s last letter to Ajahn Sumedho…

Whenever you have feelings of love or hate for anything whatsoever, these will
be your aides and partners in building parami. The Buddha-Dhamma is not to be
found in moving forwards, nor in moving backwards, nor in standing still. This,
Sumedho, is your place of non-abiding.

The parallels give us a fresh perspective on what “going with the flow” really entails.