Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Coëmgenu
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Thu Dec 29, 2016 10:42 pm

Split from this thread in classical Theravāda, concerning the Paccayasutta (SN 12.20), which this thread is also about.
Javi wrote:With the commentary it seems to make sense to me. The "law" of patticasamuppada is just something that can be said to be stable.

Of course you wouldn't say that that "law" is some kind of ontological thing, just like you wouldn't say that the laws of physics are some ontological existing thing. It's just that the patterns of causality are repeatedly observed to be stable. You drop a ball again and again and it falls. You observe death again and again and it is conditioned by birth.
Bakmoon wrote:
CecilN wrote:
Javi wrote:Of course you wouldn't say that that "law" is some kind of ontological thing...
Is this a crime or sin? What is the relevance of this "ontological thing" to Buddhism?
Javi wrote:just like you wouldn't say that the laws of physics are some ontological existing thing.
Please explain more?
Javi wrote: It's just that the patterns of causality are repeatedly observed to be stable.
But the sutta states the patterns of causality exist independent of observation.
Javi wrote:You drop a ball again and again and it falls. You observe death again and again and it is conditioned by birth.
But the sutta states the patterns of causality exist independent of observation; that is, independent of the enlightenment of a Buddha. When not one person in the universe penetrates the reality of 'not-self' (anatta), everything in the universe is still anatta.
Javi is saying that dependent origination is not an entity or substance that somehow inheres inside dhammas, but is a description of how dhammas behave. The idea that dependent origination could somehow be an entity or substance is very strange indeed I think, because dependent origination is a set of causal links. If DO were somehow a substance, it would absurdly follow that each dhamma has tucked up inside of it all twelve of the links of DO.
The Pali literature calls the "law" of paṭiccasamuppāda "unchanging/permanent" more or less. And that is sufficient for setting up a "first principal" of metaphysics based on the Pali.

The secondary point that has come up (and this one relates solely to Sarvāstivāda metaphysics so is less directly relevant to practitioners as it is simply academic curiousity) in this discussion on the Paccayasutta and its āgama parallels (SN 12.20, SA 296, SF 163) (of which, I believe SA296 argues from a Sarvāstivāda POV vis-à-vis Dhamma-Theory) is whether or not the "unchanging/permanent" element/nature/quality (dhātu, in the Pali) is an integral part of the dhammas themselves or is seperate from the dhammas themselves. If the dhātu is an intrinsic element to the dhammas then the nature of being a dhamma necessitates that dhammas have a particular dhātu that is permanent (which would be the nature of being a dhamma) even if any specific dhamma was not permanent individually.

Its not the most relevant to practice however, hence why I put the discussion in "Connections to Other Paths".

A heresy in Dhamma-Theory may lead to eventual mispractice, but mainstream Buddhism does not support svabhāva Dhamma-Theory, so its a non-issue for a practitioner.
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

CecilN
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by CecilN » Fri Dec 30, 2016 1:13 am

Coëmgenu wrote:The Pali literature calls the "law" of paṭiccasamuppāda "unchanging/permanent" more or less.
Yes.
Coëmgenu wrote:And that is sufficient for setting up a "first principal" of metaphysics based on the Pali.
No.

The leap to "metaphysics" does not necessarily apply from the premise of "unchanging/permanent". The logic here is flawed.
Coëmgenu wrote:A heresy in Dhamma-Theory may lead to eventual mispractice, but mainstream Buddhism does not support svabhāva Dhamma-Theory, so its a non-issue for a practitioner.
No.

To hold all things are always permanently absolutely unchangingly 'not-self' ('anatta') does not lead to eventual mispractise. It is the very opposite that leads to mispractise. Only certain Buddhist sects or cults deny the 'sabhava' nature of anatta.

In the Pali, only conditioned phenomena (sankhara) are impermanent. The laws of Dhamma are permanent/sabhava.

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Dec 30, 2016 1:36 am

CecilN wrote:The leap to "metaphysics" does not necessarily apply from the premise of "unchanging/permanent". The logic here is flawed.
I direct you to the definition of metaphysics I put at the OP of the thread:
Metaphysics: a branch of inquiry that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
CecilN wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:A heresy in Dhamma-Theory may lead to eventual mispractice, but mainstream Buddhism does not support svabhāva Dhamma-Theory, so its a non-issue for a practitioner.
No.

To hold all things are always permanently absolutely unchangingly 'not-self' ('anatta') does not lead to eventual mispractise. It is the very opposite that leads to mispractise. Only certain Buddhist sects or cults deny the 'sabhava' nature of anatta.
The ramifications of the Sarvāstivāda misconception, in practice, are seen here, if Ven Dhammanando will forgive me my quoting of him here:
Dhammanando wrote:The supposed transformation of passions posited by Tantric Buddhists (as opposed to the abandoning of them taught by the Buddha) is premised upon the Sarvāstivādin conception of dharmas, i.e. that dharmas are entities that persist through the three periods of time. If they didn't persist in this way there would be no possibility of grasping hold of a nasty dharma, so to speak, and transforming it into a nice one. However, since the Sarvāstivādin conception of dharmas was soundly refuted by Moggalliputtatissa at the Third Council we may safely dismiss the Vajrayāna’s preaching.
In the Sarvāstivāda-related sub-discussion, the subject matter concerns svabhāva-dhamma, the notion that the dhammas themselves have an element that is svabhāva, not the svabhāva of paṭiccasamuppāda, which is well-established in the Pali Canon (SN 12.20, the sutta that inspired this article).
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

CecilN
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by CecilN » Fri Dec 30, 2016 1:43 am

Coëmgenu wrote:I direct you to the definition of metaphysics I put at the OP of the thread:
Metaphysics: a branch of inquiry that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
Dependent origination is about how suffering arises (and how suffering can be ended). To quote:
Now this has been said by the Blessed One: “One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering.’ MN 28
Where as your definition of metaphysics could apply to just about anything.

Coëmgenu wrote:All experiences in the sensory world are in fact expressions of the Dhamma, and therefore contain the key to enlightenment.
The experience of sex-drugs-rocknroll does not contain the key to enlightenment. That is why George Michael died unenlightened.

The key to enlightenment is all conditioned experienced has an inherent impermanent, unsatisfactory & not-self sabhava nature that ordinary experience is blind to & does not discern.

Enlightenment sees what has always been there but has always been missed due to the blindness of ignorance & craving.
Coëmgenu wrote:Keeping in mind the assumption that all experiences are fundamentally experiences of suffering, of samsara, in one way or another.
The experience of enlightenment & Nibbana is not suffering nor samsara.

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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Dec 30, 2016 1:50 am

CecilN wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:I direct you to the definition of metaphysics I put at the OP of the thread:
Metaphysics: a branch of inquiry that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.
Dependent origination is about how suffering arises (and how suffering can be ended). To quote:
Now this has been said by the Blessed One: “One who sees dependent origination sees the Dhamma; one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent origination.” And these five aggregates affected by clinging are dependently arisen. The desire, indulgence, inclination, and holding based on these five aggregates affected by clinging is the origin of suffering. The removal of desire and lust, the abandonment of desire and lust for these five aggregates affected by clinging is the cessation of suffering.’ MN 28
Where as your definition of metaphysics could apply to just about anything.
Well that is what metaphysics is, like it or leave it. Its a broad area of inquiry that is largely unescapable.
CecilN wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:All experiences in the sensory world are in fact expressions of the Dhamma, and therefore contain the key to enlightenment.
The experience of sex-drugs-rocknroll does not contain the key to enlightenment. That is why George Michael died unenlightened.
The point here, expressed better by the formal terminology of "all contact at the sense bases is tathātā, therefore analysis of that contact at the sense base holds the key to realization of tathātā" is that through analysis of "sex-drugs-rocknroll", from a perspective rooted in the Buddhadhamma, one can see the arising of "sex-drugs-rocknroll", one can see the falling of "sex-drugs-rocknroll". One can see the impermanence of "sex-drugs-rocknroll". One can see the suffering inherent in "sex-drugs-rocknroll".
CecilN wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:Keeping in mind the assumption that all experiences are fundamentally experiences of suffering, of samsara, in one way or another.
The experience of enlightenment & Nibbana is not suffering.
In my quote, the intended meaning was "all experiences referred to here are fundamentally experiences of suffering, of samsara", but I was insufficiently clear, my apologies.
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

Bakmoon
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Bakmoon » Fri Dec 30, 2016 2:44 am

Coëmgenu wrote:The Pali literature calls the "law" of paṭiccasamuppāda "unchanging/permanent" more or less. And that is sufficient for setting up a "first principal" of metaphysics based on the Pali.
I think we need to be very careful and very clear with how we use the word metaphysics, because it has a variety of distinct meanings and senses. Often it is used synonymous with ontology because ontology is often regarded as the core sub-discipline of metaphysics, but metaphysics is broader than that. Often by metaphysics we mean that we are talking about the most fundamental principles by which things operate, and this is distinct from questions of existence as such. Cosmology, for example, is a sub-discipline of metaphysics, but not ontology, for example.

I don't think that anyone disagrees that DO is metaphysical in the broader sense of the term.
Coëmgenu wrote:The secondary point that has come up (and this one relates solely to Sarvāstivāda metaphysics so is less directly relevant to practitioners as it is simply academic curiousity) in this discussion on the Paccayasutta and its āgama parallels (SN 12.20, SA 296, SF 163) (of which, I believe SA296 argues from a Sarvāstivāda POV vis-à-vis Dhamma-Theory) is whether or not the "unchanging/permanent" element/nature/quality (dhātu, in the Pali) is an integral part of the dhammas themselves or is seperate from the dhammas themselves. If the dhātu is an intrinsic element to the dhammas then the nature of being a dhamma necessitates that dhammas have a particular dhātu that is permanent (which would be the nature of being a dhamma) even if any specific dhamma was not permanent individually.
That's the part I'm having difficulty understanding. I can't see how DO can be a dhātu in the sense of substance literally adhering to a dhamma, because DO is a set of principles about causation. I can see how one can imagine dhammas of fire having a fire-dhātu that is some kind of internal potency or essence, but I can't see how anyone could imagine the twelve links being a dhātu in that sense.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Fri Dec 30, 2016 10:42 pm

Bakmoon wrote:I don't think that anyone disagrees that DO is metaphysical in the broader sense of the term.
You would be surprised how many people think the proper definition of metaphysics is "rumination on what does not exist".
Bakmoon wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:The secondary point that has come up (and this one relates solely to Sarvāstivāda metaphysics so is less directly relevant to practitioners as it is simply academic curiousity) in this discussion on the Paccayasutta and its āgama parallels (SN 12.20, SA 296, SF 163) (of which, I believe SA296 argues from a Sarvāstivāda POV vis-à-vis Dhamma-Theory) is whether or not the "unchanging/permanent" element/nature/quality (dhātu, in the Pali) is an integral part of the dhammas themselves or is seperate from the dhammas themselves. If the dhātu is an intrinsic element to the dhammas then the nature of being a dhamma necessitates that dhammas have a particular dhātu that is permanent (which would be the nature of being a dhamma) even if any specific dhamma was not permanent individually.
That's the part I'm having difficulty understanding. I can't see how DO can be a dhātu in the sense of substance literally adhering to a dhamma, because DO is a set of principles about causation. I can see how one can imagine dhammas of fire having a fire-dhātu that is some kind of internal potency or essence, but I can't see how anyone could imagine the twelve links being a dhātu in that sense.
I don't think that the svabhāva-dharma view was about DO being a "substance". After all "dhātu" does not necessarily mean "material component". It simply means "nature/quality/element", without needing to be substantial.

What I think is being argued from the āgama is that there is an innate inner nature that all dhammas share, that all dhammas are, on one fundamental level, the same and unchanging, on account of the svabhāva-dhātu. Where this misconception, from a mainstream Buddhist POV, leads one to go off-track on terms of worldview is when one ascents to the notion that there is a svabhāva-dhātu in dhammas, and knows also that nibbana is also a dhamma. What is the dhātu allegedly shared between "dhammas arised by causal condition" and "Nibbana"?

I suspect this is the origin of some tathātā(truth/reality)-teachings in Mahāyāna Buddhism particularly East Asian Madhyamika-Tiāntái. That is, in what I have been exposed too from the Madhyamika-Tiāntái school, svabhāva-dharma-dhātu would be called tathātā, but I need to do more research.
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

Bakmoon
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Bakmoon » Sat Dec 31, 2016 10:33 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:What I think is being argued from the āgama is that there is an innate inner nature that all dhammas share, that all dhammas are, on one fundamental level, the same and unchanging, on account of the svabhāva-dhātu. Where this misconception, from a mainstream Buddhist POV, leads one to go off-track on terms of worldview is when one ascents to the notion that there is a svabhāva-dhātu in dhammas, and knows also that nibbana is also a dhamma. What is the dhātu allegedly shared between "dhammas arised by causal condition" and "Nibbana"?

I suspect this is the origin of some tathātā(truth/reality)-teachings in Mahāyāna Buddhism particularly East Asian Madhyamika-Tiāntái. That is, in what I have been exposed too from the Madhyamika-Tiāntái school, svabhāva-dharma-dhātu would be called tathātā, but I need to do more research.
I think taking the passage in that sense is to conflate the term Dhatu with the idea of a substance or essence, which doesn't really make sense in context. I think contextually the term Dhatu means property/attribute/quality, namely the fact that DO is true. It remains eternally true that with ignorance as a condition formations arise, etc... That doesn't mean that all dhammas partake of an essential with-ignorance-as-a-condition-formations-arise-ness though.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Thu Jan 05, 2017 12:35 am

Bakmoon wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:What I think is being argued from the āgama is that there is an innate inner nature that all dhammas share, that all dhammas are, on one fundamental level, the same and unchanging, on account of the svabhāva-dhātu. Where this misconception, from a mainstream Buddhist POV, leads one to go off-track on terms of worldview is when one ascents to the notion that there is a svabhāva-dhātu in dhammas, and knows also that nibbana is also a dhamma. What is the dhātu allegedly shared between "dhammas arised by causal condition" and "Nibbana"?

I suspect this is the origin of some tathātā(truth/reality)-teachings in Mahāyāna Buddhism particularly East Asian Madhyamika-Tiāntái. That is, in what I have been exposed too from the Madhyamika-Tiāntái school, svabhāva-dharma-dhātu would be called tathātā, but I need to do more research.
I think taking the passage in that sense is to conflate the term Dhatu with the idea of a substance or essence, which doesn't really make sense in context. I think contextually the term Dhatu means property/attribute/quality, namely the fact that DO is true. It remains eternally true that with ignorance as a condition formations arise, etc... That doesn't mean that all dhammas partake of an essential with-ignorance-as-a-condition-formations-arise-ness though.
I read the "dhātu" in "ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā" as referring to paṭiccasamuppāda itself, as in, paṭiccasamuppāda is a dhātu with "persistence". I am not an expert in any of this though.

It makes me wonder if the saupādisesa ca nibbānadhātu (Nibbana-dhātu with residue) spoken of in the Nibbānadhātusutta (Iti 44) is the "persistence" of the persistent paṭiccasamuppāda dhātu spoken of in the Paccayasutta, assuming of course that the Paccayasutta does indeed label paṭiccasamuppāda as a dhātu, it may well not.
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Buddhists Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:47 pm

Attention!

There is a very serious translation error in the translation of SA 296 that I posted earlier on this thread.

The word 真如/zhēnrú does not appear in SA 296.

I really don't know how this happened, its very embarrassing, the best I can figure I must have been working on multiple Chinese documents and accidentally copy/pasted the word in due to a slip of my fingers, or something. To be honest the positioning of 真如 in the sentence was very bizarre, but I didn't think I needed to check an online copy. Foolishness on my part.

To repeat, 真如/zhēnrú/tathātā does not appear in SA 296.

The word that Bhikkhu Sujato chose to render as "suchness" is probably 如/rú, which I interpreted as meaning "self-evident", being used as a verb (ie "self-explaining").

That means that this phrase:
Coëmgenu wrote:若佛出世,若未出世,此法真如常住,法住法界,
ruò fó chū shì, ruò wèi chū shì, cǐ fǎ zhēn rú cháng zhù, fǎ zhù fǎ jiè,
If Buddha [is] born, if not yet born, these dharmas' inherent-likeness [is] permanence, [these] dharmas dwell [in the] Dharma-realm [ie dharmadhātu]
Whether or not a Buddha arises in the world, this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma, the element of dharma.
should actually say:
Coëmgenu wrote:若佛出世,若未出世,此法常住,法住法界,
ruò fó chū shì, ruò wèi chū shì, cǐ fǎ cháng zhù, fǎ zhù fǎ jiè,
If Buddha [is] born, if not yet born, these dharmas' [are] permanent in their dwelling[s], [these] dharmas dwell [in the] Dharma-realm [ie dharmadhātu]
Whether or not a Buddha arises in the world, this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma, the element of dharma.
But now there is another problem, which is that some of the conversation on the second page of this thread is discussion based on bad translations put forward, which I was rather shortsightedly insisting on based on the fact that I was "sure" I had copy/pasted the text into my files and nothing had changed.

Is there any way to either a) go back and fix the original post, or b), since a) would involve a lot of work by the moderators to try to fix the entire conversation, can a note be amended to the original post (which I cannot edit anymore) explaining that there is a serious translation error?
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Buddhist (& Sarvāstivāda?) Metaphysics

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:34 am

There is a very informative continuation of this thread at SuttaCentral, with input from Bhikkhu Sujato that I find very illuminating (not only because he agrees with my assessment of the tentative possibility of SA 296 being either a corrupted recension, or a recension that has been doctrinally influenced by Sarvāstivāda discourse surrounding the persistence of dharmāḥ).

I will summarize my participation in the exchange, as I don't know if I have permission to quote everyone who participated:
I was looking through SA 296 when I came across an interesting line in the translation posted at SuttaCentral by Choong Mun-keat & prepared by Bhikkhu Sujato, who I hope might have a personal insight into the subject matter of my questioning, as I don't know what "prepared by" entails.

The line in question is this:
“Whether a Buddha arises in the world, or not, this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma, the element of dharma.
Which in the Chinese is:
若佛出世,若未出世,此法常住,法住法界,
I am hardly one to accuse someone more qualified than I of misreading a text and producing a potentially misleading translation, as I am not of resolute persuasion that my speculations are of definite assuredness, however there are some things in Choong Mun-keat's translation that make me puzzled, and I was hoping to share those hopefully with people more qualified than myself to see if they agree with my assessment or can show me where I go wrong.

The Chinese has 4 blocks of characters separated by commas- the English translation has 5 of these. The first two blocks of texts correspond to the Chinese more or less perfectly, the Chinese is slightly more detailed than the English in the second block (若未出世 means "if not-yet born" rather than "or not" but that is a minor point). The two things that puzzle me are the splitting of the 3rd block of characters into two separate clauses in the English, as well as the rendering of the word 法界 (dharmadhātu).

The translator splits 此法常住 into two different clauses in the English: "this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma,". If you assign one English character per Chinese word, for a word-for-word rendering (this method does not produce "solidly readable" English translations, but does allow one to "get inside" the text to try to see it on its own ground rather than always in comparison), and if you have a knowledge of Classical Chinese grammar, one gets something like this:
若佛出世,若未出世,此法常住,法住法界,
ruò fó chū shì, ruò wèi chū shì, cǐ fǎ cháng zhù, fǎ zhù fǎ jiè,
If Buddha [is] born, if not-yet born, these dharmāḥ [are] permanent/constant [in their] dwelling[s], [these] dharmāḥ dwell [in] dharmadhātu
"Dwelling/Dwellings/Dwell" here can also be read in the sense of "[proper] place/standing/habitation, rather than literally "dwelling" somewhere.

I am wondering why dharmadhātu was not translated as dharmadhātu. In its modern Mahāyāna usage, its interpretation is principally coloured by the manner in which it is used in the Avataṃsakasūtra, to refer to a tathātā/yathābhūtaṃ state of "reality (viewed) as-it-is/without delusion", which also informs the function of tathātā-discourse in Tiāntāi, Zen, etc.

However, dharmadhātu appears in Pāli literature (and other EBTs?) as "dhammadhātu", where it has a variety of meanings that are, as a whole, not easily paired down to simply to referring to any one particularly definable "element of dharma/dharmāḥ".

In Theravāda orthodoxy, the term dhammadhātu generally refers via proxy to the (pseudo-?)omniscience of the Buddha. Is this an interpretation that studiers of EBTs disagree with? If so, has that informed the translation choice of "element of dharmāḥ" rather than "dharmadhātu"?

Similarly I am also wondering why the 3rd block of Chinese characters was split into two separate clauses for English-language rendering. Why is "此法常住" translated as "this is the unchangeable nature of dharma, the status of dharma," when the word "status of dharma" seems absent from the Chinese text.

Similarly, why have the plurals been render as singular? The Chinese appeares to read 此法, meaning "these [many] dharmāḥ", meaning that this particular sequence of characters refer to the dharmāḥ spoken of in the main body of the text before and after this sequence of characters, which are described as:
此等諸法, or directly "this/these plural-marker myriad dharma/dharmāḥ"
, not the Buddha's teaching on on dependant origination (which is what it refers to in the Nikāya parallel). This āgama actually never seems to use 法/dharma in the sense of "the Teaching of the Buddha" and goes out of its way to doubly insignify the plurality of the dharmāḥ it speaks about (等諸).

The Chinese and English rendering seem to gloss over a subtle difference in the characterization and classifications of the dharma-theory presented in the text, as the meaning of the āgama to an English speaker, probably in the interest of bringing it into line with its corresponding Nikāya recension, seems to be partially harmonized, when in actuality the two of them are arguing for a subtly different interpretation of dhamma-theory expounded by the Buddha as related to dependent origination. This might make sense given that this is a Sarvāstivāda text, and their resencion of Buddhavacana implies a subtly differently interpreted/presented dhamma-theory, as evidenced by their later divergent Abhidharmāḥ. So I am wondering what the decision may have been to render these plurals as singular, changing the usage of 法/dharma from its "phenomena" meaning to its "the Teaching" meaning.

Anyways that is a summation of some of my points of confusion regarding this āgama translation.

Some context as to why I think what is rendered in English as "the dharma" actually refers to a certain "these dharmāḥ (dharmas)", and refers to the separate constituent dharmāḥ of what is called "dependant origination" in the Páli (there appears to be no single word than can express paṭiccasamuppāda in the Chinese lexicon of this specific piece of SA literature, the ágama instead describes a series of "self-evident" "predestined" dharmāḥ instead of referring to the whole of dependent origination as a process in-the-abstract). Consider the beginning of the Buddhavacana:

云何為因緣法?謂此有故彼有,謂緣無明行,緣行識,乃至如是如是純大苦聚集。
To-say how [is] caused predestined dharma/dharmāḥ? To-speak-of this bhāva causing that bhāva, to-speak-of [the] predestination [of] ignorance [and] activities, predestination [of] activities [and] knowing, therefore concluding thus this pure great suffering aggregation origination.

To-say how because-of causality [is/are] predestined [the] dharm(a/āḥ)?

云何緣生法?謂無明、行。
To-say how because-of causality [are] predestined [the] dharmāḥ? That-is-to-say, ignorance [leading to] capabilities/activities.

The list is later filled in as to what other specific dharmāḥ the discourse concerns:

謂緣無明有行,乃至緣生有老死。
that-is-to-say [the] predestination [of] ignorance [to] becoming [ie bhāva] [of] capability, and-furthermore [the] predestination [of] becoming [to] age and death.

And then goes on to clarify:

彼如來自覺知,成等正覺,為人演說,開示顯發,謂緣生故,有老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦。
This Tathāgata on his own initiative is aware, accomplishes [the] rank [of] samyaksaṃbodhi, conducts his speech, expresses, shows, cultivates, that-is-to-say [the] predestined development of causes, becoming aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, becoming-angry, and suffering.

Then the Buddhavacana concludes, concerning what was just expounded:

此等諸法,法住、法空、法如、法爾,法不離如,法不異如,審諦真實、不顛倒。
These many dharmāḥ, [these] dharmāḥ['s] residence/dwellinng/abiding, [these] dharmāḥ['s] emptiness, [these] dharmāḥ self-explain/[are-]thus [i.e. They have quality of being self-evident?], [these] dharmāḥ [are] thus-so, [these] dharmāḥ [do] not depart [from their] thusness/self-evidency, [these] dharmāḥ [are] not different/other than [their] thusness/self-evidency, judged as truly real, not delusional (or "without delusion").

Then for good measure the ágama has the discourse repeated one final time:

如是隨順緣起,是名緣生法。
謂無明、行、識、名色、六入處、觸、受、愛、取、有、生、老、病、死、憂、悲、惱、苦,是名緣生法。
Thus following obeisance [to] causes [of] arisings, this [is] named [the] development [of the] predestination [of the] dharmāḥ. That-is-to-say ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses' touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering, this [is] named [the] development [of the] predestination [of the] dharmāḥ.

I think that the differences in the recensions can be brought into context by examining the doctrines and interpretations of the school that this āgama came from, the Sarvāstivāda. In the Nikāya recension, a number of qualities are given to paṭiccasamuppāda, namely, and forgive me for not being able to word-for-word it:
Uppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ anuppādā vā tathāgatānaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā.
Whether there is an arising of Tathagatas or no arising of Tathagatas, that element still persists, the stableness of the Dhamma, the fixed course of the Dhamma, specific conditionality.
The meaning of this is not exceptionally esoteric or complicated, I don't think. It merely says that the teaching of the Buddha, in as much as it is true and in as much as it relates to the subject matter of the sutta in question, is true regardless of whether or not a Buddha teaches it, i.e., dependant origination is not "created" or "made up" by the Buddha, or, the Dharma pre-exists the Buddha's teaching of it.

I agree that the difference is highly subtle, but highly subtle differences in interpretation, wording, phrasing, etc, of the Buddhavacana can have extremely profound doctrinal implications when orthodoxies are built and/or arise out of the Buddhavacana's interaction with practitioners and/or interpreters.

I think this is evidenced in the highly divergent Abhidharmāḥ generated by the Sarvāstivāda and Theravāda historically, particularly as related to the classifications of dharmāḥ presented in their respective divergent dhamma-theories. The Sarvāstivāda (or the "everything exists school" or the "all-existent school", for those unfamiliar with them) held a doctrine of the quasi-eternal persistence of all dharmāḥ in the past, present, and future, as well as conceiving of existent reality as predicated on existent "prime dharmāḥ". They were polemicized against by Nāgārjuna and Vasubandhu as holding heretical metaphysics, in some interpretations of those writers' works.

This āgama's characterization of the natures of certain dharmāḥ (namely ignorance, capability, knowing, naming [and] forming, the six senses' touching, touching, receiving, lusting, taking, becoming, developing, aging, sickening, dying, worrying, grieving, [becoming-]angry, suffering) is consistent with Sarvāstivāda orthodoxy, because the dharma themselves are described as "thus, thus-so, thusness", lending to them the quasi-eternal "persistence" spoken of in the Nikāya-parallel when it speaks of "this element" in its text. In the Sarvāstivāda āgama-recension, this quasi-eternal persistence is ascribed to the particular dharmāḥ specified therein. In the Nikāya-parallel it is the "principal" or, to phrase it more loosely, the "process" of paṭiccasamuppāda that is a "persistent" element. Now this āgama does not go so far as later Sarvāstivāda orthodoxy would go in its treating of dharmāḥ as quasi-eternally persistent, but it does take a step in that direction that is not present in the Nikāya-parallel, wherein no dharmāḥ at all are characterized as persistent.

I think that this recension might be an example of the latent seeds of "potential-readings" from which later Sarvāstivāda elaborations of doctrine, based in their traditions of interpreting their Buddhavacana-recensions, would manifest concerning dhamma-theory, and ultimately metaphysics and ontology.

There is another possibility that is alternative to my own amateur pet hypothesis, which asserts that the ambiguity between "this dharma" and "these dharmāḥ" is merely a byproduct of the ambiguities of Chinese grammar, and a side-effect of the transmission of the Buddhavacana across highly unlike languages, that side effect being that the Chinese is rendered, perhaps, insufficiently clear.

In the Pāli text, there is a mention of "dhamma" and a mention of "dhammā" (dhammas):
ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā
[... followed by...]
paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā?
[...after which follows a list of dhammā, specifically an outlining of the 12-links-discourse, more-or-less congruent to the list of dharmāḥ given in the āgama-parallel.]
The first usage of "dhamma" is speaking about the principal or law of paṭiccasamuppāda. The second usage, dhammā, might refer to what is systematized as the twelve nidāni (nidanas).

If we look at the Chinese, there are also two usages of 法 that correspond with loosely where dhamma and dhammā correspondingly appear in the Nikāya-text. The first is given in

云何為因緣法?謂此有故彼有,謂緣無明行,緣行識,乃至如是如是純大苦聚集。
To-say how [is] caused predestined dharma/dharmāḥ? To-speak-of this bhāva causing that bhāva, to-speak-of [the] predestination [of] ignorance [and] activities, predestination [of] activities [and] knowing, therefore concluding thus this pure great suffering aggregation origination (origination=集=samudaya, not 緣 as in 緣起)
Later in the text, 法 appears again, just like in the Pāli, and is marked as a plurality (此等諸法), just as in the Pāli (dhammā).

It is possible that the two usages of 法 in the Chinese text correspond to the two different meanings of "dhamma" in its initial appearance (dhamma) in the Pali and its second appearance (dhammā).

There is only one other problem. In the Pāli, it is still the first, singular, instance of "dhamma" that is marked as ṭhitāva (persistent, I think?), not the dhammā. In the Chinese, the plural 法, 此等諸法, is marked as "法如、法爾", not the potentially singular instance of 法, in the opening: 「我今當說因緣法[...].

To simplify, the conundrum is not quite gone with the above concessions, as:

Dhamma(s) mentioning #1: Pāli, dhamma. Ch, 此法. In the Pāli, the first is "persistent" and the second isn't.
Dhamma(s) mentioning #2: Pāli, dhammā. Ch, 此等諸法. In the Chinese, the second is "thus" or has "thusness" and the first does not.

[Tentatively concluding, during the discussion, that it is either the case that this is a compromised transmission,] or this is simply a divergent recension, while the Sanskrit SF āgama and the Pāli Nikāya are convergent. But convergence does not necessarily imply greater authenticity, said the epistemic agnostic regarding EBT convergence-theory.

The Sarvāstivāda, IMO, has an equally-valid possibility of being "original Buddhism" as other postulated "Early Buddhism" frameworks of orthodoxy. If that is the case though, it is a depressing one, as it would imply "original/early" Buddhist orthodoxy is all but lost (and let us hope that is not the case).

The issue, IMO, is one of practicality for reconstructing and/or educatedly speculating as to "Early Buddhism". Even if one line of Sarvāstivāda parallel-recension could be objectively determined as being "more correct" than any other, like the Pāli, for instance, and "objectively" proving that claim is at this point impossible, there is no continually-extant unbroken quasi-Sarvāstivāda tradition of āgama-interpretation that is not dramatically coloured by Mahāyāna discourse.

Of all the Mahāyāna greats that I can immediately recall, I believe it is Śramaṇa Zhìyǐ (538–597 CE) who gives the āgamāḥ the most attention, and even that attention is brief at best. He would have been working with the Chinese āgama preserved in the SA and/or SA-2, etc, recensions, as his knowledge of Indic languages was poor, and no one was around nearby at the time in China who could have taught him better. This would be a source of some interest, but unfortunately, from an EBT-informed perspective, his interpretations, as early in Chinese Buddhist discourse as they may be, are decidedly influenced by the nascent influence of Lotus Buddhism, which he is now considered the founder of, and are beholden to his operative Lotus-hermeneutic of interpretation, that is to say, beholden to the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra (decidedly not an EBT!).

Is there any "Great Commentary" equivalent preserved that originates exclusively from within the Sarvāstivāda tradition? As far as I know, the case is that there is not such a thing. With such a vital body of outlined interpretational orthodoxy missing, the precise nuanced Sarvāstivāda tradition of how they interpreted their Buddhavacana becomes highly more speculative and inconclusive (with only their Abhidharma to guide us), as evidenced by the inconclusive speculation I offered.

IMO, the issue is one of practicality. If the Sarvāstivāda recension that is divergent is, in fact, authentic, than it becomes slightly less likely that we are able to produce a Buddhism from EBTs alone that is consistent in its dhamma-theory. If the convergent parallel recensions are correct, than the feasibility of producing a Buddhist orthodoxy from EBTs is unchanged. So while the divergent recension is "likely a faulty transmission," it could also not be. However, for practicality's sake, it is prudent to consider it potentially as a faulty transmission more evidence to the contrary withstanding. Like you [Ven Sujato] said earlier, I agree.
神足示現者,
世尊隨其所應,而示現入禪定正受,陵虛至東方,作四威儀,
行、住、坐、臥,入火三昧,出種種火光,青、黃、赤、白、
紅、頗梨色,水火俱現, 或身下出火,身上出水,身上出火,
身下出水,周圓四方亦復如是。

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