The usage of 是我 & 有我 in Chinese translations of the Dhamma

There are no peculiarities or quirks to the Chinese rendering of anattā, it is a rather straightforward coinage, interpreting the a- as “without/not/lacking” (one word can cover all of these functions) they used 無 (wú), and for attā, they elected to use a pronoun, namely “I/me” 我 (wǒ). “Without me”, “not me”, these are some very straightforward ways to render this, IMO at least.

However the matter is not so straightforward when the Chinese Dhamma has to talk about attā by itself. One would think that 我 could serve as a rendering for attā alone, however this would probably cause a lot of problems of intellegibility in the Chinese, having this pronoun function frequently as something other than a pronoun. There is the possibility of 自 (zì), which often means “one’s self”, but it has the drawback of ideally requiring a verb immediately after it to be intelligibly read as a reflexive.

What they elected for was, among other adaptions likely, 是我 (shì wǒ) & 有我 (yǒu wǒ), two “special” clarifications of 我. The meaning and ramifications of these clarifications are what interests me here in inquiring, and how that impacts selflessness in EBTs.

The 是 in 是我 often means “to be”, “exists”, “really”, and “correctly”. Somewhere among those readings may lie why this adaption was chosen, as it is close to the second adaption: 有我

有 is listed in the NTI dictionary as being a frequent stand-in for bhava in translated Buddhist Chinese. It would be interesting if this pointing to something like a “bhava-attā” form in the Indic originals, but I know nothing about Indic languages and if such a thing can ever be demonstrated to have ever possibly existed as a word.

Any thoughts as to why these specific characters may have been chosen and why 無我 appears to feature no qualifiers before 我 and its opposite does? Is there a similar phenomenon in any other languages of EBTs? This could be very interesting, because it would say much about how the early translators themselves understood the Dhamma.

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Hi @Coemgenu ,

{
< The 是 in 是我 often means “to be”, “exists”, “really”, and “correctly”. Somewhere among those readings may lie why this adaption was chosen, as it is close to the second adaption: 有我

有 is listed in the NTI dictionary as being a frequent stand-in for bhava in translated Buddhist Chinese. It would be interesting if this pointing to something like a “bhava-attā” form in the Indic originals, but I know nothing about Indic languages and if such a thing can ever be demonstrated to have ever possibly existed as a word. >
}

是我 = is self

有我 = have self

Sutta central

As I am sure you are well aware, the core concept within Lao Zi is 无为而无不为, this is sometimes abbreviated just as 无为 or even just as 无 alone. Does anyone think that there is some form of a link or reason to connect to use of the 无 of 无我 here. According to numerous Theravada Venerable’s that I have asked, they say the core essence of Buddhism is non-self. Is there any link between the 无 used in these core concepts or is it just coincidence. I’d be interested get your opinions?

[quote=“Shaun, post:4, topic:5038”]
As I am sure you are well aware, the core concept within Lao Zi is 无为而无不为, this is sometimes abbreviated just as 无为 or even just as 无 alone.
[/quote]If you are interested in the role of the 無為法 in early Chinese Buddhism I would humbly recommend this essay that I wrote here with at least one caveat: there is a pretty brutal generalization about the term sankara dhamma (caused by my amateurishness) which is contextualized in the following discussion by @knotty36, as well as a few other mistakes that are caught in the subsequent discussion.

Incidentally, when I looked up 无为而无不为 I got “without action yet without non-action”, is this close to your understanding?


[quote=“James2997, post:2, topic:5038”]
是我 = is self

有我 = have self
[/quote]How does this relate to 有為 & 是為, specifically in the case of constructions like 有為法 ? It seems that 有 & 是 are being used as some sort of “opposite” of 無, which was suggested by another user in the Qu Tan thread… I am just wondering what the specific readings of the characters we should use is.

e.g.
asaṃskṛtadharma :arrow_right: 無為法
saṃskṛtadharma :arrow_right: 有為法

What is the reading of 有, it is just “having action dharma”? I had a suspicion it was related to the Indic bhava but no way to be sure.

@Coemgenu,
无为而无不为 =
(Dao) being actionless yet
everything is accomplished
(In accord to Dao)

From Lao Zi Dao De Jing :
Chapter 37 : 道常无为而无不为。
Chapter 48 :为学日益,为道日损,损之又损,以至于无为,无为而无不为。

If you apply it in Buddhist context ,
meaning will be different .

( “” 有為 & 是為, specifically in the case of constructions like 有為法 ? It seems that 有 & 是 are being used as some sort of “opposite” of 無 “” ) =
有为meant " the manifested "
是为meant " is for " ,
depending on the whole sentence !

e.g.
asaṃskṛtadharma :arrow_right: 無為法
saṃskṛtadharma :arrow_right: 有為法 “” )
Note that : Here it refers to buddhism teaching !

无为法 = The unmanifested dhamma
有为法 = The manifested dhamma

[quote=“James2997, post:6, topic:5038”]
无为而无不为 =
(Dao) being actionless yet
everything is accomplished
(In accord to Dao)
[/quote]The “yet everything is accomplished” is due to the double negative in 无不(为), correct?

Well , we have to go back to lao zi teaching to understand that.

The Dao is nameless formless ALL less etc
therefore it is Non Action . 无(non)为(doing)

Yet , the name form ALL ness etc
Is the Functioning / Action side of it !
无(not)不为(non doing) = Not Non Action
( ie : full of action )

I think the best ‘direct’ english translation of wu wei er wu bu wei is: (through) “non-action” , “nothing is not done.” In other words by using wu wei you can do anything.

In my 20 years of study on Lao Zi, I believe wu wei was intentionally designed to have multiply meaning; less interference (in governing and leading), having an empty mind (in action), living ‘less’ as I call it, which means living more and more simply, and also doing less (which means following natures laws/ideas/seasons).

I believe the Dao on the other hand refers to Lao Zi’s teachings (Lao Zi’s mind map or the path to achieve wu wei), the laws of nature and contains a parallel meaning to “wu” which means emptiness. I feel it to was purposely given multiple meanings.

The way the Dao functions though is through yin/yang (also known as the Tai-ji), and it produced all the manifestations of the physical world we see; which in Chinese contains the trinity; heaven, man and earth, and from this everything came out. Hence Dao, produces 1, one produces 2, 2 produces 3 and 3 produces everything. This idea was clearly taken from an early book; the ‘Book of Changes’ in terms of the way the ‘lines’ are brought together to make the images. The only difference was that Lao Zi made it philosophical.

D.T. Suzuki said: “The evolution of Buddhism under Daoist conditions” referring to Zen Buddhism, this is very obvious to me when studying Zen books. I was more interested to know if there are parallels in the Theravada tradition as I am much less read in this school of Buddhist thought.

@Coemgenu,
IN Chinese literary ,
Double negatives does not necessarily mean arrive at positive answer .
So , here it should not be a negative polarity .

@Shaun,

According to my understanding , zen , mahayana , vajrayana teachings may seem to have similarities with Hinduism , Taiosm etc , and may have some influence of its , seems so .
But , there is a fundamental different from them .

@Shaun ,

From what I understand ,
The core teaching of Buddha
Is Not " not self " ,

But , The Core Teaching is
" Causal Intertwined Dhamma " !!!

That’s make it entirely different from other religions and philosophical thinking .

James: But , The Core Teaching is
" Causal Intertwined Dhamma " !!!

Thats interesting I have this same question to many Venerables:

Theravada always comes back with no-self
Mahayana is generally Buddha Nature
Vajrayana is compassion

James: IN Chinese literary ,
Double negatives does not necessarily mean arrive at positive answer .
So , here it should not be a negative polar

I disagree, this is Daoism, at its base it is yin/yang. Even the paragraph structure of the entire DDJ is setup yin then yang , or yang then yin. The entire book is polars. In terms of Chinese literally in general you are correct.

@Shaun ,
Mahayana and vajrayana is on Buddha nature and Bodhicitta ,
Theravada is on Not self ,
because after Buddha parinibbana ,
The focus point was changed .
Gotama Buddha through out his life time ,
Main Teaching were on Causal Links .

James thats interesting, I’d like to know what others think about you statement :slight_smile: on the essence of Buddhism.

@Shaun ,

Well , let say i show you a picture with 5 things , so one may sees 1 of the 5 , out of 5.
Each person focus maybe different or same with others .
And being influence by our own background ,
One may see in buddhism ~
impermanence , not self , compassion ,
Lord Buddha image , etc .

@Shaun ,

About the Core Teaching or
Essence of buddhism ,

You can check out at :

http://agama.buddhason.org/SN/SN0291.htm

http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/anguttara/03/an03-112.html

Also :
Please refer to Chinese samyukta Agama
Sutta 296 with regards to the Causal Links teachings !

http://agama.buddhason.org/SA/SA0296.htm

[quote=“Shaun, post:15, topic:5038”]
So , here it should not be a negative polar
[/quote]I agree, I deleted my earlier question about negative polarity in Chinese because I decided it wasn’t really necessary, clearly negative polarity isn’t at work, because then the phrase itself would be redundant.

Peace to All:
This popped up in my e-mail box on Thursday because my name was mentioned, but my schedule forced me to wait until the weeked to get to any input. This has been a pretty interesting discussion to watch. In hopes that it might, if not further the discussion a bit, at least add to general fountain of knowledge, can I add on two or three things?

In addition to 我, for attā, the Āgamas also use 神 (spirit; god), probably to convey the sense of a spiritual agent of efficacy inhabiting (while, simultaneously, transcending) the core of the individual, human self–and, probably, all life, now that I think about it. I am far from the Vedic expert, but, along with simply meaning a first-person “self” (what is conveyed by 我), that is another nuance of the Brahmanist concept of attā, no? I think later translators, possibly Mahāyānists, combined them and came up with 神我, which is maybe closer to encompassing the whole of the concept attā.

As 有 is the opposite of 無, 是 is the opposite of 非. 非 is found in the compound 非我, another Chinese rendering of anattā, used exactly like 無我. So, the 是 of 是我 would derive quite naturally from 非我. (I do not know, though, one would have to check which respective Āgamas use 無我 vs. 非我 viz a viz 有我 vs. 是我 to know if this is historical.) Incidently, 非我 is actually more in-line with the Pāli word anattā linguistically, I think. 非 negates verbs and concepts ("(is) not;" “non-”), while 無, as you said means

which makes me think of SN 44.10 and Vacchagotta directly asking the Buddha, “atthattā (有我) or natthattā(無我)?”

Again, I am not a Pāli expert here, but I read in a David Kalapahuna book, I believe, that, conceptually as well, there is a big difference in “not self” (anattā/非我) vs. “no self” (nirattā/無我). I know Thanissāro argues there is. Perhaps someone who is more expert in Pāli could explain the difference, if there is any, in these grammatical terms/concepts.

Peace.

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