'Skill' in Pali

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'Skill' in Pali

Post by Frank23 » Wed Sep 06, 2017 6:46 am

Recently I've noticed that the word "skilled" appears in English translations of numerous suttas. For example, Kindle tells me that "skill" or "skilled" or "skillful," etc, appears 103 times in the Nanamoli/Bodhi translation of the Majjhima Nikaya.

In MN 44, I notice that the word rendered by Nanamoli and Bodhi as "skilled" is translated by Thanissaro as "well-versed." These seem to imply significantly different ideas, as "well-versed" suggests exposure whereas "skilled" seems to connote a more active idea of making use of knowledge.

So I'm curious -- what is the word in Pali involved here? Are there other ways it is frequently translated? Is there anything about it that would suggest a root that it comes from, etc?

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Re: 'Skill' in Pali

Post by Dhammanando » Wed Sep 06, 2017 8:04 am

The word is kovida. In the commentaries it's nearly always glossed as cheka, which also happens to be one of the (less common) glosses of kusala.

When the word kusala gets glossed as cheka, it is generally in contexts that have to do with a person's mastery of some skill or other (e.g., "a clever acrobat or a clever acrobat's apprentice") and so I would suppose that something like clever, skilled or dexterous would be apt for kovida too.

From the PED:
Kovida [Kovida] (adj.) [ku+vid.] one who is in the possession of right wisdom, with ref. either to dhamma, magga, or ariyasaccāni, closely related to medhāvin and paṇḍita. S i.146, 194, 196 (ceto-pariyāya°); A ii.46; M i.1, 7, 135, 300, 310, 433; Dh 403=Sn 627; Sn 484 (jātimaraṇa°), 653 (kammavipāka°); Pv i.1112; Vv 159 (=VvA 73), 6330 (=VvA 269); Miln 344; Sdhp 350. —akovida ignorant of true wisdom (dhammassa) S i.162; Sn 763; S iv.287=Nd2 on attānudiṭṭhi.
From Childers:
Kovido: Knowing, acquainted with, skilled, wise. With locative pucchāsu kovido, skilled in putting questions (Mah. 19). With genitive maggāmaggassa kovido, who knows the right way and the wrong way (Dh. 72). Fem. kovidā.
From Monier-Williams' Sanskrit Dictionary:
ko-vida mf(ā)n. (√vid) experienced, skilled, learned in (loc., gen., or ifc., e.g. aśveṣu, or aśvānām or aśva-kovida, 'skilled in horses') Mn. vii, 26 MBh. R. &c
• (ās), m. pl., N. of the Kshatriyas in Kuśa-dviipa BhP. v, 20, 16
⋙ kovidatva
○tva n. skilfulness (ifc.) Daś
“Keep to your own pastures, bhikkhus, walk in the haunts where your fathers roamed.
If ye thus walk in them, Māra will find no lodgement, Māra will find no foothold.”
— Cakkavattisīhanāda Sutta

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Re: 'Skill' in Pali

Post by Frank23 » Thu Sep 07, 2017 6:37 am

Thanks very much, that's a great help. It sounds as though it is associated with both the ideas of ability and knowledge.

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