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What is the correct translation of this section please

“Yasmiñca pana, bho gotama, samaye imañca kāyaṃ nikkhipati, satto ca aññataraṃ kāyaṃ anupapanno hoti, imassa pana bhavaṃ gotamo kiṃ upādānasmiṃ paññāpetī”ti? “Yasmiṃ kho, vaccha, samaye imañca kāyaṃ nikkhipati, satto ca aññataraṃ kāyaṃ anupapanno hoti, tamahaṃ taṇhūpādānaṃ vadāmi. Taṇhā hissa, vaccha, tasmiṃ samaye upādānaṃ hotī”ti

This section is from SN 44.9 Kutuhalasala Sutta. I have seen two translations and they are contradictory. I would appreciate if Bhante Sujato could translate this for the benefit of all.
With Metta

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“But when a sentient being has laid down this body and has not been reborn in another body, what does Master Gotama say is its fuel then?”

“When a sentient being has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in another body, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

The term upādāna means both “fuel” and “grasping”. Normally I translate as “grasping”, but as the sense of “fuel” predominates here, I use that.

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Dear Bhante,
Thanks for your response. Ven: Bhkku Bodhi translates it in the same way and he adds the following comment.
"Tam aham tanhupadanam vadami. The Buddha’s statement seems to imply that a temporal gap can intervene between the death moment and reconception. Since this contradicts Theravada orthodoxy, SPK (Attakatha and Tika) contends that at the death moment itself the being is said to be “not yet reborn” because the rebirth consciousness has not yet arisen."

And, Ven: Katukurunde Knanananda, in his Law of Dependent Arising ( Vol 4, Chapter 17) offers the following.

“But unfortunately, Dear listeners, due to misinterpretation of this
simile and this paragraph, the modern readers understand this as
‘antarābhava’ – a period of existence between death and next
birth. We have often explained in our books that the theory of
interim birth is unacceptable. How did this misconception come
about? One reason is the misinterpretation of the simile. Here
Vacchagotta questions, not regarding the gap between two
existences, but regarding the passage from one existence to the
next. There is also a very intricate language problem visible here.
In the process of the Buddha word passing from one generation to
the next generation, confusion regarding phrases and words
occurred. Sometimes the version in one written copy differed
from another. Those who profess the theory of antarābhava read
‘anuppatto’ which means ‘reached’ as ‘anuppanno’ which means
‘not born’. Anuppatto means the opposite of anuppanno. These
theorizers explain their position thus.
A being lays down the body. Did he enter the next birth?
No, not yet. ‘anuppanno’ ‘not born’. What is the grasping during
this gap? That is their interpretation. But I have emphatically
pointed out the special word ‘aññataraṁ’ that occurs here. It
means ‘a certain’. We use this adjective always with something
existing, not with something non-existant. If we select something
really existing and use the word aññaṁ before it, it is correct.
This is a very subtle point. But why go so far? It’s clear that
Vaccha questions how one birth leads to another.”

Both seem to agree that there is no interim state. How does this compare with other parallels and do you agree that there is no interim state.? Please explain as this is a very crucial point where there should not be any misunderstanding.
With Metta

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Thanks for this passage, it made me look closer at the text, and I must change my translation above. But first a couple of points.

I don’t think it’s correct to say that Ven Bodhi agrees there is no in-between state. He is pointing out that the commentary interprets the passage in such a way as to exclude an in-between state. I can’t recall any statement of his personal views—perhaps someone can help me out here—but it is virtually a consensus view among students of early Buddhism that the suttas do in fact support the existence of an in-between state. This is not based on just this one passage, but on a wide range of criteria. I wrote an essay on this some time ago, perhaps you will find it useful.

RebirthandInbetweenState.pdf (147.3 KB)

I have briefly checked the 4 Chinese parallels for this sutta, but am unable to discern anything that might help. Perhaps @llt might help us here.

But now to Ven Ñāṇānanda’s argument. A few preliminaries. Towards the end, he refers to aññaṁ where he (I think) means aññataraṁ. Presumably this is a copy-editing error, and illustrates the point that he makes that text readings are not error free!

Throughout, Ñāṇānanda refers to the reading anuppanno. This is the mainline reading of the PTS edition, and is presumably supported by the Sinhala manuscripts. The Burmese texts have anupapanno. The difference is that, as I discussed in a previous post, upapanna always refers to rebirth, whereas uppanna has a more general meaning. Nevertheless, in this context it is clear that rebirth is the topic, so the difference is immaterial. The related passages I quote below support the reading upapanna so I use that.

He argues that the reading anuppatto (reached, arrived) is to be preferred to anupapanno (is reborn). As he says, despite sounding similar, they have opposite meanings: anu-§patta, “reached”, an-upa-panna “not reborn”.

However, anuppatto is not found in any manuscript that I am aware of, nor is it supported by the commentary, which, if I am not mistaken, requires reading anupapanno. Furthermore, the text uses the term upapanna in various forms throughout. This would seem to be an open and shut case. However, there is, curiously enough, a note on this point in the PTS edition of the text, which says that:

The true reading ought to be anuppatto.

It’s unusual for editors to make such a bold claim unsupported by a manuscript reading. There’s no explanation for this.

In any case, given the lack of manuscript support, there seems no reason to accept the proposed reading anuppatta. Indeed, related passages confirm anupapanna.

The second argument Ven Ñāṇānanda makes concerns the term aññatara. He says this must refer to something existent. Since the next body is not existent until one takes rebirth in it, this cannot be what is meant. Now, I’m not entirely sure of this argument. It is true that aññatara normally applies to something that exists, but whether it is impossible to apply to something non-existent seems unlikely to me. However, we can, as it turns out, leave that argument aside. For an investigation into similar terms used throughout the suttas shows that all of us were wrong.

As Ñāṇānanda says, aññatara means “a certain”. Yet all the translations I know of (myself, Ven Bodhi, Ven Thanissaro, Woodward) translate it as “other, another”. But this would be añña. I had just assumed it was an unusual expression, but it turns out it’s not unusual at all.

When I was looking closer at this passage, I began to be uncomfortable with the use of kāyaṁ in accusative. Normally this is the object of the verb, and it didn’t seem quite right to express that someone is reborn “in” a body in accusative.

However, expressions of the general form aññataraṃ kāyaṃ upapanno are found quite widely in the suttas.

AN 5.100: Tena kho pana samayena kakudho nāma koliyaputto āyasmato mahāmoggallānassa upaṭṭhāko adhunākālaṅkato aññataraṃ manomayaṃ kāyaṃ upapanno.
At that time the Koliyan named Kakudha—Venerable Mahāmoggallāna’s attendant—had just died, and was reborn in a certain group of mind-made gods.

AN 6.44, AN 10.75: So kālaṅkato bhagavatā byākato sakadāgāmī satto tusitaṃ kāyaṃ upapanno
When he died the Buddha declared that he was a once-returner, who was reborn in the group of Joyful Gods.

Sometimes another term is used instead of kāya. We find loka:

AN 7.56: Tena kho pana samayena tisso nāma bhikkhu adhunākālaṅkato aññataraṃ brahmalokaṃ upapanno hoti.
Now, at that time a monk called Tissa had recently died and been reborn in a certain Brahmā realm.

Or nikāya:

DN 33: aññataraṃ dīghāyukaṃ devanikāyaṃ upapanno hoti
… is reborn in a certain order of long-lived gods.

But they mean the same thing.

In other passages we find a similar construction, with the place of rebirth in accusative, although aññataraṃ is not used.

AN 8.29: ayañca puggalo nirayaṃ upapanno hoti.
But that person has been reborn in hell.

AN 10.89: Kālaṅkato ca, bhante, kokāliko bhikkhu padumaṃ nirayaṃ upapanno sāriputtamoggallānesu cittaṃ āghātetvā
The mendicant Kokālika was reborn in the pink lotus hell because of his resentment for Sāriputta and Moggallāna.

AN 10.177: Sace pana, bho gotama, so peto ñātisālohito taṃ ṭhānaṃ anupapanno hoti, ko taṃ dānaṃ paribhuñjatī
“But Master Gotama, who partakes of that gift if the departed relative is not reborn in that place?”

Taken together, these passages show that “subject in nominative” upapanna (is reborn in) “place of rebirth in accusative” is a regular construction in the suttas. They confirm that upapanna is indeed the correct reading.

More interestingly, they show that aññataraṃ does indeed mean “a certain”, not “another”. In this context, it can be rendered with “one of the”, “a”, etc.

And most strikingly, they show that kāya in such contexts does not mean “body”, but rather “place of rebirth”. This is a standard meaning of kāya in the suttas. It is used in the sense of “group”, “order”, in a way not too dissimilar to the English “corporation” or “body corporate” (which means “body body”!). The sense more specifically means “a group of gods, an order of celestial beings”, but it’s used, as the examples above show, in a way that’s indistinguishable from other terms for the place of rebirth.

It seems that the confusion arises because the word kāya is used in two distinct senses in the same sentence. While this might seem confusing, it’s no harder to grok than, say, “I was really tired, but I managed to haul my body along to the meeting of the body corporate.”

Thus it would seem that the correct translation should be as follows.

“But when a sentient being has laid down this body and has not been reborn in one of the realms, what does Master Gotama say is their fuel then?”

“When a sentient being has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

So thanks to Ven Ñāṇānanda’s criticism, we can amend a long-standing and significant error in translating this important passage. Nevertheless, the amended translation doesn’t support his view. It still clearly assumes that there is a period of time between one life and the next, in agreement with the mainstream view of the suttas.


Finally, a comment on another aspect of this passage that bothers me, although it doesn’t pertain to the above discussion. The term satta has been rendered here by translators, in accord with the commentary, as “being, sentient being”, which is indeed by far the most common meaning in the suttas. However, compare with the odd term in AN 6.44 and AN 10.75, sakadāgāmī satto. Now BB follows the normalized reading sakadāgāmippatto, although he notes this is against the commentary. But perhaps we should prefer satta as the lectio difficilior here.

While satta occurs in the vast majority of cases in the sense “sentient being”, it is also found occasionally in the EBTs as the past participle of sajjati in the sense “attached”. (see DN 19#84 and pi-tv-kd5#21). This would make sense in AN 6.44 and AN 10.75. But it would make even better sense in SN 44.9. After all, not everyone who dies and has not been reborn has craving as their fuel; only those who are attached. So perhaps instead we should translate:

“But when someone who is attached has laid down this body and has not been reborn in one of the realms, what does Master Gotama say is their fuel then?”

“When someone who is attached has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”

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Checking the parallels in SC, I just see two: SA 957, and SA-2 190.

In SA 957, we actually see a clear indication that there is some other body between lives, because it literally says that he travels in a mind-made body (乘意生身) to go be born in another place. I translate that loosely as “travel,” but it actually is closer to “ride,” and when used as a noun it means “chariot” or “vehicle.” This is an interesting idea, then, that the mind “rides” upon this body that it generates…

In SA-2 190, the discussion is more “dry” and similar to that of the SN, but it says that when the body dies (身死), and that made from mind (意生 i.e. mind-made body) is nearby, then in that gap (中間), who is it that is doing the grasping?

Anyways, from what I can tell, both parallels clearly have some idea that there is some temporary intermediate state with a mind-made body (意生身). In SA 957, the body is envisioned traveling along from one life to the next, while SA-2 190 gives an illustration of a mind-made body near its dead physical body, presumably not being immediately whisked away by the forces of karma.

Finally, I’ll add that the term for mind-made body in Chinese literally means something like mind-arisen body, or mind-born body. The mind gives rise to this body, or alternately, the mind gives birth to this body.

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Thanks so much. You’re right about there being 2 parallels, I was misled by our staging site, which repeats them both, a bug I guess.

It seems that, while the different versions stem from schools with opposing ideas about this, they retain the same basic message. But the idiom with the mind-made body traveling across is an interesting variation.

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Dear Bhante,
Thank you very much for your lengthy response and for me definitely it will take sometime to digest them all.
Having said that, I remember reading some material that support such an interim state in the book “Many Mansions-The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation” by Gina Cerminara. This book is not about Buddhism but a story of a psychiatrist who has recorded his findings after hypnotizing his clients who apparently awaited the orders of a so called master when they died in their previous births.

Also, I believe that Mahayanists support the idea of an interim state.

You are correct about Ven: BB and I agree that he does not explicitly say that.

And thanks again for your essay on this subject.

With Metta

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There are also countless Near Death Experiences that seem to support the existence of an in-between state in a mind-made body. Some people discount these as hallucinations of the dying brain but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Luckily these NDEs seem to become more and more common as medical science manages to “bring back” more and more people. The book “Conciousness Beyond Life” by Dr. Pim van Lommel was pretty good on this subject.

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Indeed they do; but it’s not just them. Most of the early schools of Buddhism accepted the idea. The Sri Lankan Theravada school was very much in the minority. Which doesn’t mean they’re wrong, of course, but it does suggest that the other point of view has something to it.

The classical Theravadin argument against the in-between state is found at Kv 8.2, which you can read in translation on SC if you like.

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Dear Bhante Sujato
I read both your essay and the translation of Kv 8.2 and I have become more knowledgeable about this issue than before. Thank you again
With Metta