"To be or not to be" in Pāli and Chinese

chbj0301.pdf (495.4 KB)

Hi, All.

I wanted to spark a little discussion and debate with this, while at the same I am hoping people here will find this fun. There should be an opportunity for everyone here to show their stuff, as well as room for everyone to learn something.

I have an article on AN 4.199 in Chinese by Yang Yu-wen (楊郁文): a very distinguished scholar from Taiwan who, I believe, is a direct disciple of Yin-shun (印順). AN 4.199 describes 18 modes of reckoning of the self born of taṇhā (aṭṭhārasa taṇhā­vicari­tāni). I am far from a Pāli expert, but it seems that it is based on something along the lines of 18 conjugations of the Pāli verb for “to be.” (Please, correct me if that is wrong.)

He says the Pāli text is severely corrupted, and this article is his effort at correcting the improper conjugations of the original Pāli as well as the resultant improperly translated Chinese transmissions–of which there are several–based thereon.

Admittedly, the article is in Mandarin; but here is why I think this will work: First, our focus will not be the main text of the article, but only the various renderings of the 18 “craving-verbalizations” lifted from the Nikāyas and the Āgamas: which contain, maybe, 10 different Pāli and Chinese words total between them. Second, there is enough Pāli strewn about the article, I think, that Pāli people who might not read much Chinese should be able to follow. (Also, he cites modern translations of AN 4.199 from a few different languages, including English.) Lastly, it contains a few illustrative graphs which juxtapose all of the above very clearly. So, though I am new to this group and do not know who all is here, from what I have seen, I do not feel that it would be a discussion too difficult for some or most of us to follow, if not actually contributing.

And, if there is anyone who is still in doubt: yes, I am indeed a school teacher. So, if this seems like a pedantic, language-arts assignment, please, let 20 years of thinking up group activities for children day-in and day-out be my excuse. But anyone who feels adventurous and up for a little challenge, please, have a crack at this. I am hoping people find it fun as well as informative.

Allow me to break the ice with perhaps the only significant contribution I can make to this discussion: where Professor Yang has 我欲, I would substitute 我如.


(Piya Tan also has an article on this sutta which may be useful to read as well.)

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what i would like to learn is whether it’s known that Chinese Tipitakas were translated from Pali and if not, what the language/s of the base texts was/were

None of the āgamas were translated from Pali, as far as I know. In fact there is precious little evidence of Pali being used in India. However, there is one line saying the Sthaviras used “Paisaci” as their language.

Chinese Buddhist traditions generally followed Dharmaguptaka and Sarvāstivāda, which flourished along the Silk Road. Quite little is available when it comes to some other groups that had no Silk Road presence, such as the Sthaviras. We can know somewhat more about their counterparts, the Mahāsāṃghikas, because we have their Vinaya, and because they composed Mahāyāna sūtras that were widely circulated.

The Dīrgha Āgama is from the Dharmaguptaka sect and was translated from Gandhari. In fact, scholars did not know what type of language it was translated from. Then they discovered manuscripts of this missing language—Gandhari—and it fit. It was a very popular language for Buddhism in Northwest India around 2000 years ago, and many of the first sūtras translated into Chinese were translated from Gandhari.

The Saṃyukta Āgama and Madhyama Āgama were from the Sarvāstivāda sect, and were translated from a form of Buddhist Sanskrit. Some people think the SA at least was from the Mūlasarvāstivādins. By around 400 CE or so, the Sarvāstivāda were dominating Northwest India and Central Asia.

We don’t know much about the Ekottarika Āgama, which is an unusual text in many ways. Some scholars think it may have been Mahāsāṃghika, due to some Mahāyāna influences, as Mahāsāṃghika were instrumental in the development of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but even considered in its own context, this collection has some strange features…

There are a number of complete Vinayas also translated into Chinese, namely for the Mahāsāṃghika, Sarvāstivāda, Dharmaguptaka, and Mahīśāsaka. For abhidharma, the Sarvāstivāda abhidharma is available, and a variety of other works. Most of this material was probably translated from various forms of Buddhist Sanskrit.


Sorry, I was trying to be as concise as possible; and, in trying to be brief, I wound up speaking imprecisely and misrepresenting some things. Thank you LXNDR for pointing it out. (And llt for answering his question.) What I should have said was that Professor Yang says, in the Pāli, the 18 taṇhā­vicari­tā are corrupted: they are ungrammatical in their conjugations of the verb as the text stands now, and it is difficult to make sense of them. (I would appreciate if someone could tell me if that is truly so?) The Chinese versions show similar evidence of a corrupt text and also have issues with the intelligibility of the. So I think the main point was that the corruption found in the Āgamas, common to the Pāli as well, may stem from the Indic language texts on which they were based.

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and if they stem from a common ancestor and are indeed grammatically unsound, the corruption could rather be grammatical irregularity of the original text reflecting the actual vernacular

I’ve edited your post to add proper paragraph breaks. If you hit enter twice it creates proper paragraphs, and make it easier to read. :anjal:

I suspect you may be overestimating our ability to follow the essay without knowing Chinese!

I can’t comment on the essay, but I would be glad if the essence was translated or explained for us. But to confirm, yes, it is a very difficult passage. It has many variant readings, and because of the condensed and cryptic form of the words, it is very likely that there are misunderstandings that have crept in. For the record, this is my rendering:

When there is the concept ‘I am’, there are the concepts ‘I am such’, ‘I am thus’, ‘I am otherwise’; ‘I am fleeting’, ‘I am lasting’; ‘mine’, ‘such is mine’, ‘thus is mine’, ‘otherwise is mine’; ‘also mine’, ‘such is also mine’, ‘thus is also mine’, ‘otherwise is also mine’; ‘I will be’, ‘I will be such’, ‘I will be thus’, ‘I will be otherwise’.

And when translating I made the following note:

Many of these expressions are obscure, although the overall intent is clear. BBs translation follows the comm , from which I have departed in a few cases. For asasmīti hoti, satasmīti I derive from sat rather than sid, following Woodward and Piya Tan. However, the implication of existence is “eternal existence” so the meaning ends up the same, except the terms are reversed. for “san-ti” I tak san=sa4 in PTS dict, i.e sva=own, whereas BB takes it as siyā.

Okay, then. If you give me a few days, I’ll try to extract those key points I mentioned and prepare something–probably in a chart form, with some explanations. (Unless you were already working on that, llt.)

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