Why is Satipatthana termed ekāyana?

“Monks, this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of dukkha and discontent, for acquiring the true method, for the realization of Nibbãna, namely, the four satipatthãnas.>

I have seen another translation which says:

“Monastics, this is the path where all things come together as one, to purify sentient beings, to make an end of pain and sadness, to get past sorrow and lamentation, to reach the way, to witness Nibbāna; that is, the four kinds of mindfulness meditation.

https://suttacentral.net/en/mn10>

Is is this a mistranslation. I wish to know how Bhante @sujato translate this.

This question is raised in DW.
If Satipathana is the direct path what are the indirect paths?

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=41&t=30652

I discussed the phrase ekāyana at length in A History of Mindfulness. It is a brahmanical term that has a specific philosophical meaning of “place of convergence”, “where all comes together as one”. The earlier rendering of “direct” way is based on an incomplete survey of the texts, and it is not correct.

10 Likes

Bhante, how do you currently translate it? In your book you had “path of convergence”, but I recall in SCDD you changed to some other word. Is the idea still the same just a different word, or is there a different angle in your current translation choice?

I quote the following from the book “Perspectives on Satipatthana” by Ven Analayo;

Madhyama Agama:
There is one path for the purification of beings, for going beyond sorrow and fear, for eradicating dukkha and distress, for abandoning weeping and tears, for attaining the right Dharma, namely the four satipatthanas.

Ekottarika-Agama:

There is a one going path for the purification of the actions of living beings, for removing worry and sorrow, for being without vexation, for attaining great knowledge and wisdom, for accomplishing the realization of Nirvana. That is: the five hindrances should be abandoned and the four satipatthanas should be attended to.

Having offered various other perspectives on pages 9, 10, 11 and 12, Ven Analayao concludes;
"Summing up, in my view a central aspect of satipatthana meditation is facing directly with awareness.

IMO, one should read the above mentioned pages before coming to any conclusions.
With Metta

In the Sinhalese language, this sounds like “one way” or “only way”

‘Only way’ : Soma thera
’Only way’ : Nyanasatta thera
’Direct path’ : Thanissaro bhikkhu
’Direct path’: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Looking at its context in the dhamma, to me the ‘only way’ sounds too narrow. There are Four Paths and the last path (overcoming agitations regarding the dhamma) doesn’t sound like it satipatthana (ie. samatha vipassana) to me.

In that sense ‘direct path’ sounds better. But as there is no indirect path, to contrast that with, I would prefer the ‘singular path’, the ‘one sure path’ or the ‘exceptional path’ to nibbana.

with metta

1 Like

This make more sense for me.
This has a sense of consolidation of all other seven factors.

1 Like

Maybe AN 10.95 is relevant; excerpt:

[Ananda:] Uttiya, suppose that there were a royal frontier fortress with strong ramparts, strong walls & arches, and a single gate. In it would be a wise, competent, & knowledgeable gatekeeper to keep out those he didn’t know and to let in those he did. Patrolling the path around the city, he wouldn’t see a crack or an opening in the walls big enough for even a cat to slip through. Although he wouldn’t know that ‘So-and-so many creatures enter or leave the city,’ he would know this: ‘Whatever large creatures enter or leave the city all enter or leave it through this gate.’

“In the same way, the Tathagata isn’t concerned with whether all the cosmos or half of it or a third of it will be led to release by means of that [Dhamma]. But he does know this: ‘All those who have been led, are being led, or will be led [to release] from the cosmos have done so, are doing so, or will do so after having abandoned the five hindrances—those defilements of awareness that weaken discernment—having well-established their minds in the four frames of reference, and having developed, as they have come to be, the seven factors for Awakening. When you asked the Blessed One this question, you had already asked it in another way. That’s why he didn’t respond.”

Perhaps one could think that in the same way that all the roads to get into the city converge at the gate, all the different practices that lead to nibbana converge at and go through the ‘gate’ of (right) satipathana.

Maybe it’s stretching the analogy of the fortress too far, but it makes me think of something like “this is the path where it all comes together” or “this is where everything comes together on the path” :slight_smile:

Edit: Building on Ven. Sujato’s ideas of course.

1 Like

Note that the translations here from Chinese texts are not based on the same Pali term, but on the renderings made by the Chinese translators of an Indic original that may or may not have been the same as the Pali. I examined many of the various renderings of the term in Chinese, and concluded that in many cases they likely read a slightly different form of the word : ekayāna, ekāyatana, etc. Whether this was because they simply misunderstood the word, or the text they had used a different spelling, I could not say.

The underlying problem is that this term is a prominent and well-defined term in Upanishadic philosophy, and Buddhist interpreters ancient and modern have either not been aware of this or have not recognized its significance. The key passage is at Brihadarannyaka 2.4.11.

The sense of “leading to convergence” is rather more specific than this. It means that satipatthana is the meditation that leads to oneness of mind or samādhi.

3 Likes

I think Satipathana go beyond Samadhi and lead it to Nibbana.

Yes, but that’s not what the word ekāyana means. It is a brahmanical term, used in Brahmanical texts, and in Buddhist texts by Brahmā.

2 Likes

Oh, I see what you mean.:grinning:
It is interesting to see how Buddha gave a different meaning to the same word.

I am the poor fool who wrote the entry for “eka” in the Critical Paali Dictionary, in the early 1980’s. … I say “fool”, because I remember it as a real torture, for a first job in this very detailed dictionary. When my article was finished I was asked to cut it down to half its size, which was another difficult job. — Glancing over the article again after a long time, I find that six different meanings were determined for this seemingly easy word, amongst them “only one, solitary”, “each and every one” and “united”.

I also re-read the article on “ekaayana” written by K. R. Norman, and could not find even a hint of the two (more recent) translations dicussed here.

Glancing through the refences to Paali texts where “ekaayana” occurs, I found an impressive array of both canonical and post-canonical references many of them connected to the context of Satipa.t.thaana.

But again no hint of the two modern English translations discussed here. There were references to the excellent Paali grammar Saddaniiti written in Bagan(Pagan), and even in the Paali commentaries a quotation from Pa.tisambhida- magga, which is no longer contained in the existing text.

So I am somewhat surprised that the age old, traditonal sense of “one and only path”, is not even mentioned in the discussion here.

I find both the more recent new translations interesting, Bhikkhu Anaalayo’s “direct path”, as well as Bhikkhu @Sujaato’s “unified path”.

But is it not possible that both are right?
I would like to see further evidence, that the old translation is wrong, and the new translations are an improvement.

There seems to be the possibility that they were hinted at in the Paali texts, but Western Paali scholars starting from the pioneers of the 19th century were more concerned with correct philology, than with correct meaning.

Kindly supply us with the full Sanskrit text of the passage from the Upanishads, that You have found.---- In Roman transcription it will be easier to read for me.

Thank you, bhante!

7 Likes

Here is the key Sanskrit passage.

sa yathā sarvāsām apāṃ samudra ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ sparśānāṃ tvag ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ gandhānāṃ nāsike ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ rasānāṃ jihvaikāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ rūpāṇāṃ cakṣur ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣaṃ śabdānāṃ śrotram ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ saṃkalpānāṃ mana ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarvāsāṃ vidyānāṃ hṛdayam ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ karmaṇāṃ hastāv ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣām ānandānām upastha ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ visargāṇāṃ pāyur ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣām adhvanāṃ pādāv ekāyanam |
evaṃ sarveṣāṃ vedānāṃ vāg ekāyanam || BrhUp_2,4.11 ||

Very briefly, the rendering “direct path” was from Nyanamoli, who based it on a single occurrence in the Pali in this sense. In the early Pali texts, this is the only occurrence outside of satipatthana, so he took this to indicate that this was the ordinary language meaning, and hence inferred from that to the meditation meaning.

This is normally a sound approach. However, in a subsequent article, Rupert Gethin drew upon a range of Sanskrit sources, demonstrating that ekāyana has a range of meanings, including the sense “direct”. Thus there is no reason to think that “direct” must apply in satipatthana. Rather, the Pali texts simply happen to have a smaller range of contexts for this term than the Sanskrit.

While Gethin’s article was useful, in my view he didn’t clearly distinguish between the various Sanskrit sources. It’s true that ekāyana has a range of meanings, but it is only used in a philosophically significant sense in one meaning, which is the passage above. This passage is from a section of the Brihadaranyaka that is proven to have deep and complex connections with the Pali texts, so it should be regarded as one of the, if not the, closest of all Brahmanical texts to the Buddha’s context.

That this is, in fact, the relevant context, is proven by the fact that the phrase ekāyana magga is, in the Pali suttas, placed into the mouth of Brahmā at SN 47.18:

Atha kho brahmā sahampati ekaṃsaṃ uttarāsaṅgaṃ karitvā yena bhagavā tenañjaliṃ paṇāmetvā bhagavantaṃ etadavoca: “evametaṃ, bhagavā, evametaṃ, sugata. Ekāyanvāyaṃ, bhante, maggo sattānaṃ visuddhiyā soka­pari­devā­naṃ samatikkamāya duk­kha­do­manas­sā­naṃ atthaṅgamāya ñāyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya, yadidaṃ—cattāro satipaṭṭhānā.

I discuss the various texts and contexts at more length in A History of Mindfulness. One of my basic arguments is that MN 10/DN 22 Satipatthana is clearly a late and composite text, and in a case such as this, the shorter and simpler texts of the Samyutta must have been the building blocks from which it was constructed. Hence SN 47.18 is likely the original context in which this term appears, and from here it was later swept up into “the” Satipatthana Sutta. Along the way, the Brahmanical context was lost, and hence the key to understanding.

I regard this as a solved problem. Not only does this yield a very satisfactory sense, it explains why the Buddhist tradition—including both the Pali and the Chinese—seem so confused about this term. They didn’t understand it, because they weren’t the target audience: brahmins were. Brahmins knew what it meant because it’s an important term in the Brihadaranyaka. The Buddhists forgot what the actual meaning of the term was, so in exegesis they proposed a series of possible interpretations.

6 Likes

V. Analayo spends 4 pages going over this and several ways of translating it in the 2nd Satipatthana book (pp. 8-11), including a whole page to refute the “convergence” idea. His own view converges on “direct”, having heavily invested in it, namely in the title of his 1st Satipatthana book, where he spends two pages explaining it.

In the 2nd book, footnote 2 on page 9 refers to an eight-page discussion of “the ekayana formula” by Rupert Gethin (in “The Buddhist Path of Awakning”, pp. 59-66, a good 10 years prior to VA’s book), which goes into usage of the term in Vedic texts, the Sutta-s, and commentaries.

At one point (p.64) Gethin writes:
In the examples I have given of the usage of ekayana there is evident both an ordinary literal application, and also a quite specific spiritual and mystical application. Accordingly, the commentaries feel it appropriate to delve deep into it for hidden meaning. And this is really where our problems start. Once we have identified ekayana as a spiritual and mystical term, it seems to me that it is perhaps inappropriate to look for a single straightforward meaning; the ambiguity of the term may well be relevant already in the Nikayas. Thus ekayana might be placed alongside such terms as kevalin, tathagata, and nibbana; that is, it should be included among those terms which embrace a certain range of ideas, and convey certain nuances that would have evoked something of an emotional response in those listening. In short, the term ekayana is untranslatable.

That makes sense, to my mind after reading the analyses of the range of meanings; or simply using “one-going” and living with the polysemy. Each view of a specific English term and meaning has limitations, and seems to invite debate.

Btw, the suspicion arises that V. Analayo read Gethin’s analysis quite closely – the final paragraphs of their respective discussions (VA 2nd book page 12 and RG page 66) are remarkably similar, in tone and as exprtession of dhamma.

(Sorry, this was written and submitted before noticing V. Sujato’s last post, but I’ll let it stand, in lieu of the formidable task of re-reading that part of “A History of Mindfulness” and analyzing it closely in comparison with Gethin’s examples.)

If he translate it as “direct” can we assume that there are other paths to Nibbana?
If so what are they?

Thank you! As if the Buddha would have spent a single jot of time teaching anything other than a direct path. It’s not a satisfactory meaning at all.

I couldn’t disagree more. Kevalin = “consummate one”, tathāgata = “Realized One”, nibbāna = extinguishment. None of these is less translatable or more emotive than, say, bilāra = “cat” or ratha = “chariot”.

In the Brihadaranyaka passage, ekāyana has an entirely clear and specific meaning, there is nothing mystical about it.

3 Likes

Is it possible other paths could be Paceka Buddhas path?

In the suttas, the only path to nibbana is the eightfold. Arahants, Buddhas, and Paccekabuddhas are simply different kinds of people following that path.

5 Likes