Why "measureless space" rather than "infinite space"?

This question is for @cdpatton.

I noticed that at Dharma Pearls you translated what we usually see here as “infinite space” and “infinite consciousness” to “measureless space” and “measureless consciousness”. Here is an example.

Why is that? Is there a subtlety here to be understood?

Who can measure infinity?

Can what less than infinity be measured?

It is a strange way of putting it. I am curious what the Chinese is that he would have rendered it that way.

Consider this, can love be measured? Is love infinite? Measureless seems to leave more leeway as far as how it might be interpreted.

The Chinese word recorded in the sutta is: 無量 which means “immeasurable; boundless; unlimited”

The Chinese word for infinite is a bit different: 無盡 which means “endless; boundless; inexhaustible”

Technically (mathematically), it’s more complicated with measure and infinity.

But my guess is that the Chinese sutta does not pay much attention to the delicate points, for common usage these 2 words are actually synonyms for majority of people.


Do you know if the same is true with the Pali? That is, that it can be taken to mean something akin to incapable of being measured as opposed to endless? Being endless being one reason among many for something to be measureless.

You have to wonder if one means “open” (Buddhist) as in empty (of substance) and thus immeasurable - possibly beyond our conceptual categories (obviously empirically based, with the rationalist alternative being utterly dismissed) - and the other “infinite’” (Daoist) as in substantially inexhaustible and thus endlessly dynamic - possibly a self-creating dynamic (like the dyad of yin/yan), into which additional speculative “properties” like entropy could be introduced.

My own reason for asking is that I have lost depth perception during meditation. I have wondered if the metaphor in the discourse on emptiness of the bull’s hide being stretched flat by a hundred pegs refers to this phenomenon. A two dimensional representation of three dimensional space might be described as measureless or immeasurable space.

That said, cultural differences such as you mentioned could play a role in explaining the interpretation of the original Chinese translator. It would be helpful to better understand the Pali text to make a determination.

Maybe. I’ve seen stuff that suggests geometry of a sphere (there’s a technical term for it that I have forgotten) rather than euclidian geometry is closer to Buddhist metaphysics of space. But yes.

op. Riemannian geometry. There we go.

With regard to the sphere description, is it like a warped photograph? A flat image on a warped surface. That is how I would describe my own experience.

Could be. I dislike math, so I avoid this kind of stuff. Plus I suffer from vertigo, so I have no depth perception to lose.

There is however a description of a meditative experience from some monk (in Sri Lanka 8th c if I recall) that’s on this topic so important for you. Finding that was a late night adventure some time ago, so it is almost like a dream to me.

I will keep it in mind, and if I come across it again, I will pass it on.

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If you come across it, I would appreciate it. Thanks.

The Chinese 無量 is usually a literal translation of S. apramāṇa (where a = no, pramāṇa = measure). Both words can be translated as measureless, but people tend to treat measureless, infinite, unlimited as interchangeable. They mean the same thing, more or less.

Now, in the expression you’ve asked about, the Indic usually has the word S. ananta, which literally means “endless,” making it closer to English infinite. Chinese translations of that word can be different too, like 無邊 (limitless) or 無盡 (endless).

Generally, I would regard them all to mean basically the same thing. It’s curious that MA appears to have apramāṇa instead of ananta in this particular expression. It could have been the original read that way. I’ve learned that just about anything is possible with EBTs.