Some translation issues in the Nivāpa Sutta

Is this your latest for jhāna?

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Yes, it is.

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That’s not cool. What’s cool is how you managed to game Discourse’s five-character minimum for posts.

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I had no idea. Just naturally cool I guess …


It must be a burden.

We should have more monastics with sīti in their name, like sīti-bhūto, “the cool one”.


While I’ve got you here, do you have any thoughts about door knockers? There’s the idiom avāpuraṇaṁ ādāya, which is usually translated, “taking a key”, spoken as part of making an announcement. I’ve never seen an explanation of why you’d use a “key” to make an announcement, or indeed, any reason to think that anyone, especially monks, would have a sophisticated thing like a lock and key.

Another idiom is where someone knocks on the door of a hut, where we find, aggaḷaṃ ākoṭesi. I wondered why they were said to knock specifically on the latch (aggaḷa), but then it occurred to me that they were probably knocking with the latch. If it was a sizeable bolt-type thing, it seems to have doubled service as a latch and a door-knocker.

In Ss2, we have (your translation):

avāpuraṇaṃ ādāya ghaṭikaṃ ugghāṭetvā kavāṭaṃ paṇāmetvā vihāraṃ pāvisi.
Udāyī took the key, unlatched the bolt, opened the door, and entered the dwelling.

I wonder whether avāpuraṇa and ghaṭika are parts of the aggaḷa? Or are they just different things? Or different terms for the same thing?

In any case, combining the two cases suggests that, just as the aggaḷa was used as a knocker, the avāpuraṇa was used in the same way, except it was obviously detached. Maybe it was just a bolt that was knocked against a block of wood or bell of some sort.

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Yes, it is a bit curious. The commentary seems to consistently gloss it with kuñcika, which also seems to mean key. But we are at the most talking about some sort of proto-key, and for this reason this translation may be misleading regardless.

This does merit more research, but unfortunately I am in Bangkok right now, and I don’t really have the required tools.


What’s up in Bangkok?

Doing a retreat.

Lovely. Well, have fun.

I seem to recall Ven Anālayo talking about this idea of a ‘proto-key’ somewhere. But I’m afraid I can’t remember if it was in a lecture or a paper (so I’m not much help), but if i’m remembering correctly, he had tracked down some research as to what this was probably about.

Thanks, Linda. That was actually very helpful; I have been able to track down the reference. It’s in his Comparative Study of the Majjhima: footnote 148 to the Bakkula Sutta. The footnote says the following:

MN 124 at MN III 127,24 adds that he had made a tour of the dwelling places of the other monks to make this announcement. Regarding the reference to his taking a “door-opener”, apāpuraṇa ādāya (Be-MN III 168,16: _apāpuraṇa_), in order to announce his impending final Nirvāṇa to the other monks, helpful information can be found in von Hinüber 1992: 14-18, who explains that this expression probably refers to a simple type of lock, found at the inside of a door, whose bolt can be closed from the outside with the help of a rope that is connected to this bolt and then put through a small hole in the door so as to be accessible from the outside. The same rope does, however, not allow opening the door from the outside, for which an apāpuraṇa is required, a simple type of “key” that allows opening any lock of such a type. Hence, with the help of an apāpuraṇa any door with this kind of lock in a monastery could be opened in order to enter and convey some message to the monk(s) staying inside.

So Ven. Anālayo renders it as “door-opener”. But this seems a bit imprecise to me. The point is that the device functions as a kind of key; it is not merely a device to open a door, such as a door-handle. Moreover, if von Hinüber is right, the avāpuraṇa seems to have been a universal kind of key, something like a “universal bolt-opener.”

That is helpful. If correct it explains how it functioned in announcements.

@Brahmali @sujato

Great, I’m gald you were able to find the reference. Interestingly this description fits the type of latch we have on a gate outside. Amazing it’s the same simple design.

Really? Can you send us a photo?

Sorry, not sure how to reduce the size of the photos. This lock is a little more sophisticated in that it has a little chain instead of a rope and the bolt inside is metal not wood. Also, with this one, it is possible to open the door from the outside by pulling on the chain which lifts the latch inside. That is, unless someone has carelessly or roughly closed the gate previously which causes the chain to get tangled in the bolt on the inside thus preventing opening the door next time you need to get in from the otuside. Many times I’ve had to get a stool and climb up to reach over the top of the gate and untanlge the little chain so I could get inside!


Okay, cool, thanks. But this is different, in that the chain is there so that you can open from the outside, whereas according to the description, a rope is used to close it from the outside, whereas a “key” is needed to open it. I’m still not entirely sure I can visualize exactly what’s happening.

The problem is that if you can pull a string to close the latch from the outside, why can’t you also open it? All the designs I’ve seen allow this. I can only guess that the string pulled the bolt shut horizontally, rather than lifting it up. Once the bolt was pulled shut, it couldn’t be pushed open by the same string. For that, a key is required.

But I can’t find any design like this, and I wonder where Von Hinuber got the idea of a rope from; I can’t see it in the Pali texts. But this is all getting too complicated, i will open up a new thread.

Yeah, I realized that after I wrote the first e-mail. I was thinking of the rope (or chain) in a hole as I’d never seen this before our gate. As you say, maybe a horizontal latch. Now I’m curious, let me know if your discover anything else.