Vimuttimagga passage

So the 600 AD translation by Ven Samghapala of Vimuttimagga is rather tricky to read.

彼坐禪人以九小煩惱。清淨心現念入息。彼相得起。名相者。如抽綿抽古貝 | 觸身成樂觸。如涼 風 觸身成樂觸。如見入出息風觸。鼻口脣念作風想。
Those seated meditating persons who because of the nine lesser defilements purify their heart, to these there manifests a notion while breathing. Describing it, it (i.e. the notion) is like drawing the fine thread (through the needle’s eye?), like drawing the (thread of the?) silk-cotton tree (through the loom?). The sensation of the body is a perfectly pleasant feeling. It is like the cool wind touching the body, a perfectly pleasant feeling. It is like perceiving the entrances and exits of the breath as sensations of wind. The nose, the mouth, the lips, (all of these) undertake the wind-mindfulness (activity).

There’s a lot here that I am basically guessing. The expressions to do with loomwork are very terse. I am wondering if I can tag @cdpatton and he can look at this mess I’ve made and see what he thinks of the passage.


I see the man himself responding. The race is on to finish typing this first!

I have a lot of editorial whatever in the form of “([…] ?).” It is because I am wondering if the 抽綿 is like threading, the thread moving through something, like the needle’s eye or the cloth, like the breath moves through the opening of the lips and nose like later in the section. It just occurred to me that I should clarify that I looked at a translation and am trying to see what the Chinese says more directly than what the other translator gave. I’m not planning on publishing plagiarized material or presenting it here.

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I’m can only find two places in all of CBETA with these expressions, this being one. 抽 means pulling or taking something with a hand like drawing straws or taking a out a hairpin. And the upshot is that it’s a pleasant body contact, so maybe it’s just referring to the texture of cotton (compared to wool etc?) when you feel it passing through the fingers. Not sure without some external reference to ground the expression in a concrete meaning.

抽綿 occurs once in a Chinese exegetical text in the Xuzang canon (X784 in CBETA) as “making something longer,” so it probably does refer to pulling thread. That passage is all I can find for an attestation of meaning so far.


It is from a thread on DhammaWheel. I’m not sure the translator. @Ceisiwr probably knows. They have “a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton,” but their translation seems loose.

To the yogin who attends to the incoming breath with mind that is cleansed of the nine lesser defilements the image arises with a pleasant feeling similar to that which is produced in the action of spinning cotton or silk cotton. Also, it is likened to the pleasant feeling produced by a breeze. Thus in breathing in and out, air touches the nose or the lip and causes the setting-up of air perception mindfulness.

The sense of the Chinese is all there, but it is so re-ordered that I don’t get how they intuited the grammatical function of placing “incoming breath” way at the beginning like they do and numerous other things. The problem of course is my poor comprehension, though it does seem like an odd text.

You connected it with feeling cotton/silk passing through fingers. Do you think the text is comparing breath exiting the mouth with silk/cotton fabric being passed through it and brushing against the lips, nose, mouth as it exits, as opposed to the breath exiting the mouth like a thread through fabric in sewing?

I’m not sure the translator.

In my copy of the text it states that it was translated by Rev N.R.M. Ehara & Soma Thera.

Muller’s dictionary has several terms with the verb 抽 in classical Chinese that involving pulling things out with the hand like hairpins, lottery straws, and drawers. So, it’s a pretty specific action. Pulling cotton into thread manually would fit. Let me look it up in Gakken.

Yeah, Gakken uses pulling out thread as a specific example for the meaning of 抽.

I would guess someone thought there was something pleasant and relaxing about doing that, on par with enjoying a cool breeze.

BTW, Hirakawa says 古貝 = karpāsa, which my Sanskrit dict says is raw cotton.

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While I have you attention, 觸身成樂觸 took me for a spin too and I have the rather artificial “perfectly…” business above. It’s like “the contact/sensation of the body attains a pleasant contact/sensation” or something.

成 is a verb of accomplishment: become, complete, accomplish, make.

I would read 觸身成樂觸 as “contacting the body, it becomes a pleasant contact”. It’s awkward to render into English. The basic idea is it feels good to the body.


“Contact body become pleasant contact.”

Me Buddha, you Jane.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Chinese is so interestingly sparse.


The word order is everything when it comes to deciding part of speech, and then there’s the understood subjects and pronouns. It is like reading telegraph messages sometimes. True classical Chinese is even harder to follow. Buddhist translations are kind of like classical Chinese children’s books, spelling things out so much.

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I was a while ago looking at Zhao’s Essays at T1858 to compare it with the BDK translation and it’s a fascinating sea of obscurity. Similarly, anything by Ven Zhiyi or a similarly fluent native Chinese Buddhist writer always seems so extraordinarily less intuitive than looking at Ven Kumarajiva’s translations of sutras.

The trick is to learn to see the clauses. 以 is like a preposition that announces that a clause is beginning. They can be instrument or conditional or even just a direct object, but they usually go between the subject and verb if they are adverbial. So, when I read that first sentence I think, “Okay, I have the subject at the start, then there’s an adverbial clause. Where’s the verb after it? Ah, it must be 清淨. So, the punctuation is probably off.”

I end up with “By being purified of the nine lesser klesas, the person sitting in meditation is presently mindful of breathing in.” In English, we don’t leave a adverbial clause between subject and verb, so it require rearrangement. Literally, though, it’s two sentences. “The person sitting in meditation is purified of the nine lesser klesas. Their mind is presently mindful of breathing in.”

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Meditator being mindful of the (in) breaths the mind purify of the nine lesser defilements , with that arises a sign . This sign , is kind of like spinning silk or cotton , (and) touches the body which give rise to sukha . Likened to the cool breezes touches the body give rise to sukha .
This breeze (wind) contact is like perceiving the in and out breathing . Whereby this wind (breathing) meditation take in mindfulness of nose , mouth and lips .


名相者 is very tricky. Looking at it, I had a vague incoherent sense of “(named) characteristic defined as,” but it doesn’t seem common. How normal is this usage, I wonder?

The translator was a monk from Cambodia. I wonder if his Chinese is refined or eccentric?

I see now that Muller says it can mean “name and form” = nāma-saṃsthāna = what’s seen and perceived. 相 is such a problematic word in Buddhist translations.