The meaning of "發菩提心" in the context of SA 659


I would like to ask @cdpatton to give his opinion about my research below if he doesn’t mind.

We talked about how “發菩提心” or “初發菩提心” seemed to be translated from bodhicittotpāda. What if “發菩提心” or “初發菩提心” wasn’t translated from bodhicittotpāda at all? What if the phrase was translated from something similar but not quite the same?

While I was searching for something completely unrelated to this topic, I stumbled upon Chinese EA 21.2 by chance, and I found this word: “覺意”.

“覺” seems to be equivalent to “菩提”, while “意” seems to be equivalent to “心”. “覺意” in EA 21.2 seems to mean “awakening” instead of “bodhicitta” where it’s used in the context of practice that is undertaken by disciples and the Buddha himself, namely: the absorptions, sense restraint, and detachment.

The seven factors of awakening in T 125 is also translated as “七覺意” instead of “七覺支” in both T 26 and T 99 or “七覺分” in T 99. I don’t think “七覺意” means “the seven kinds of bodhicitta”, especially when it’s explicitly explained in EA 39.6 and EA 39.7 as “the seven factors of awakening”. It’s also mentioned alongside the other 37 wings to awakening in EA 8.6.

What’s more, “覺意” is listed as synonymous with “菩提心” where its (菩提心) Sanskrit original is listed as “bodhi” instead of “bodhicitta” here:覺意.

This is purely speculative but “發菩提心” possibly wasn’t translated from bodhicittotpāda, and “心” wasn’t translated from “citta”. Possibly, “發” was translated from Sanskrit “utpāda” which means coming into existence or arising, while “菩提心” was translated not from “bodhicitta”, but from “bodhi”. Why is the word “bodhi” transliterated instead of translated? I have no clue, but the same thing happened with the word “Tathagata” in SA 1158 where it’s the only place in the entire T 99 collection where it’s transliterated as “多陀阿伽度” instead of the usual translation “如來”.

So, just as “覺意” in T 125 wasn’t translated from “bodhicitta”, but from “bodhi” where “意” is added to “覺” for some reason, in the same way, “菩提心” possibly wasn’t translated from “bodhicitta”, but from “bodhi” where “心” is added to “菩提” for some reason.

In other words, in my speculation, “發菩提心” possibly means “arising of awakening”, and “初發菩提心” possibly means “initial arising of awakening” or something like “inception of the arising of awakening”.

So, I would like to borrow yours and Ven Choong Mun-keat’s translations and change them a bit like this:

What is the faculty of faith? If the noble disciple’s pure faith is that attained by the Tathagata’s arising of awakening, this is called the faculty of faith.

What is faith-faculty? If a noble disciple gives rise to awakening with regard to the Tathagata to attain a mind of pure faith, this is called faith faculty.

What do you think about my speculation? Is it sound?


發 is not the usual verb for “to give rise to [x]”. Ordinarily, it’s used for beginning a task, firing arrows, and the like. If a Chinese writer wants to say “produced” or “give rise to” they would use verbs like 生, 出,or 起, but it’s true that 發 overlaps those meanings. This doesn’t refute what you’re saying, but I do ask myself “But why didn’t the writer choose another word?” when I speculate like this in my own head.

心 does get placed after mental nouns like emotions and feelings to indicate a state of mind. In that case, you can skip translating 心 literally. A “sad state-of-mind” becomes “feeling sad” or “sadness” in English.

There are a couple interesting passages in T126, which is Faxian’s translation of the introduction section of the Ekottarika. He uses the expression 發菩提心 in the way I think you are arguing for. It seems to just mean that a person takes awakening to be possible in regard to the object. In one passage, the object is the three jewels, and in the other it’s paired with giving rise to faith and confidence. If you search for 發菩提心, you can find them in T126.

And I like my initial translation even less. I think Mun-keat is correct in the basic grammar.


Ah, I see. Thank you for telling me this. Definitely something to be remembered.

Thank you for pointing me to T 126. I did, indeed, find “發菩提心” in T 126, along with “初發” as well. It seems “發菩提心” can be employed in the context of early Buddhism after all.

If SA 659 were a text of a similar nature to many texts in T 125 or to MA 66 that you mentioned before, I wouldn’t think too much about it since those clearly have the flavor of Mahayana Buddhism, especially with Ven Maitreya’s vow to become a Buddha in the future in MA 66. There is no way to refute that. The problem with SA 659 is that it’s an early Buddhist text where its doctrinal teaching is about the five faculties, something that is associated with “sravaka” rather than “bodhisattva” or “bodhicitta”. This is why I think there’s a possibility, even if it’s very small, that “發菩提心” in SA 659 may be employed in the context of early Buddhism, and how “發菩提心” in the context of SA 659 need not be taken as reflecting Mahayana Buddhism’s influence. In the end though, this is just a possibility.

I’m just someone who is very interested in the EBTs of the northern traditions, whether in ancient Chinese or ancient Indian, and just trying to make sense of 發菩提心’s usage in the context of SA 659 had given me quite a headache. I can’t imagine what you and other translators have to go through when you find this kind of word or expression that will definitely pop up here and there in Chinese Buddhist texts.

Since you’re an expert in translating Chinese Buddhist texts, I would like to ask you (this is going to be a little off-topic) a question if you don’t mind. Of all the Chinese Buddhist texts that you translated (doesn’t matter if it’s early Buddhist, Mahayana Buddhist, commentaries, or treatises), which one was the most difficult or took you the longest to translate?


I’m not sure what the best answer to this question would be. It depends on when I was translating it. When I first tried to translate the Lotus Sutra in my 20s I had no idea what transliterations were nor any good references, so it took weeks to get through the list of bodhisattva names. These days, I would say it just depends on how familiar I am with the vocabulary of the translator, which changed quite a bit from one era to the next. I would struggle today with Chu Fahu’s works because I’m more familiar with Kumarajiva-era works.

Overall, the nature of the material is also a major source of ease or difficulty. A text that is mostly philosophical is easier because it’s full of standard terminology.

A story with lots of concrete nouns (animals, plants, furniture, clothing, tools, weapons, etc) can slow to a crawl by comparison because of the detective work required to figure exactly what these things were. Indian animals are translated with names of Chinese animals, for example, and same with plants and trees. And then there are the mythical Chinese animals that you didn’t know existed until you encounter it in these texts. You end up rifling through all kinds of references tracking them down as best you can, and have to give up sometimes and just fudge it or guess.

Even the grammar of texts can cause some consternation. Chinese texts are written documents that sometimes differ in terms of the dialect that was used by the writers. Add to that variation the fact that ancient texts are just naturally more obscure, and you find that sometimes grammar words you don’t quite understand and can’t find good references to figure out. Most of them assume you’re reading classical literature like the Analects or Chuangzi, etc.


Thank you very much for your comprehensive answer.