Vacchagotta parallels

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Coëmgenu
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Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Coëmgenu » Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:50 pm

Since selfhood debates are very popular on this forum, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a few parallel recensions of suttāni that address the questions of Vacchagotta, since interpretation of the Buddha's responses to Vacchagotta generally feature heavily in soul-theory discussions. That being said I would like this to not become a soul-theory discussion, and to just focus on the subject matter at hand.

Since Vacchagotta appears multiple times in the literature I will limit my own meagre analyses to Vacchagotta's most infamous question to the Buddha:

“kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, atthattā”ti?
“How is it now, Master Gotama, is there a self?” (Translation Ven Bodhi)

I am hoping that this can be a discussion that centres specifically on the linguistics of the literature, as well as the parallels between recensions, rather than doctrinal interpretation of what Buddhists "should" believe. Obviously some interpretation is required for a suitable analysis, and interpreting Buddhavacana always involves a certain amount of intersection with Buddhist doctrine, but I would like us to try to avoid this becoming a fruitless "self vs no self" debate.

The Vacchagotta Parallels in question are SN 44.10, SA 961, & SA-2 195.

We all know these suttāni (presumably), but for those that don't, all of the recensions follow this general structure.

1. Vacchagotta asks "Is there a self?"
2. Buddha is silent.
3. Vacchagotta asks "Is there no self" (or something like that)
4. Buddha is silent again.
5. Vacchagotta leaves and Ānanda asks Buddha why he was silent.
6. Buddha gives a justification for his silence to Ānanda.

Some of the recensions also have the Buddha trying to explain dependant origination to Vacchagotta at one point.

SN 44.10

My Pāli is very poor. Worse than my Chinese. Any help correcting mistakes I make here would be awesome. Similarly, if anyone can offer an in-depth linguistic analysis of this sutta that would be very much welcome, as I am ill-equipped to provide one.

This is the best known sutta here, for obvious reasons, and because of that there isn't much to add that has not been said already. I will include the question and the justification the Buddha gives Ānanda as to his silence to Vacchagotta:

Question:“kiṃ nu kho, bho gotama, atthattā”ti?
“How is it now, Master Gotama, is there a self?”

Silence Justification:“Ahañcānanda, vacchagottassa paribbājakassa ‘atthattā’ti puṭṭho samāno ‘atthattā’ti byākareyyaṃ, ye te, ānanda, samaṇabrāhmaṇā sassatavādā tesametaṃ saddhiṃ abhavissa.
“If, Ānanda, when I was asked by the wanderer Vacchagotta, ‘Is there a self?’ I had answered, ‘There is a self,’ this would have been siding with those ascetics and brahmins who are eternalists.

SA 291


Question:「云何?瞿曇!為有我耶?」
Say[-you] what? Qú Tán [Gotama]! Lack [of] bhava "I"[,] definitely?


Silence Justification:「我若答言有我,則增彼先來邪見;
I for-example reply saying[,] bhava "I", Zé Zēng Bǐ[Vacchagotta] goes-forth progressing [in] demonic view;

SA-2 195

This āgama I put last because it is the most tricky of the two āgama to try to make sense of. The style of Chinese that it is written in, in my meagre opinion, is clearly different than the previous āgama. I don't know much about the SA-2 literature, but it seems markedly different in vocabulary and grammar than SA-1 literature, but that could be me projecting.

Question:「瞿曇!一 切 眾 生為有我不?」
Qú Tán! One to myriad jāti lack bhava "I" no?

Silence Justification:於先昔,彼問一切諸法,若有我者,
In early past, those [who] ask [of] one to myriad dharmas, if bhava "I" definitely,

吾可答彼犢子所問。吾於昔時,寧可不於一切經說無我耶?
I can reply that Dú Zǐ [Vacchagotta?] it [will] ask [i.e. that Du Zi will ask that], I in [the] past age, prefer not [that] in one [to] all suttāni [suttas] to-say ["]lack [of] I["] definitely?

以無我故,答彼所問,則違道理。
Because [of the] lack [of] I therefore,[ I] reply [to] those asking, otherwise[ I] violate [the] dào/path [of] logic.

The language in this last āgama is particularly strange and interesting, and as you can do doubt tell from my poor presentation of it in the English language, I am actually out of my depth in trying to tackle this passage. I do not know if it is common about SA-2 literature in general, which I am almost completely unexposed to, but the language here seems much more sophisticated and "wordy" than the rather straightforward and simple language of the SA material that I have been working through lately. I can't really tell if the complication of the language is because this recension is more technically detailed, or more prosaically refined, because I lack the skills to evaluate it properly.

That being said I justify its inclusion here because there are some strange and very interesting features it has that I think are legitimately there, some are objectively there, and some things I may be projecting into the text on account of my poor grasp of it. The conclusions I draw are just my own based on my limited knowledge, and I may be projecting due to a poor grasp on the finer details of exactly what is going on here grammatically.

The most interesting feature of this āgama is that is seems to self-consciously reference written suttāni, or a library/collection of written suttāni/Buddhavacana, that people are familiar with, or at least that, perhaps, Vacchagotta may be familiar with. I say this based on this line: "寧可不於一切經說無我耶?"/"I in [the] past age, prefer not [that, i.e. to say "lack of I definitely"] in one [to] all suttāni to-say ["]lack [of] I["] definitely?".

The word 經/jīng is employed, which means "to wind, wrap, thread", and also means "sūtra/sutta", by virtue of shared etymological root (sūtra means "string/thread"). I don't know if Pāli literature self-references itself as "suttāni" very frequently or not, my quick search for the word "suttāni" came up with many hits for "suttāni" and "suttaṃ", but a common phrase in the SA literature is:

佛說此經已
Buddha's word[,] this sūtra [was] thereafter,

This phrase always appears toward the end of an āgama, and is followed by commentary or summation of the teaching presented at the beginning. It is always in reference (此經, "this sutta") to the particular sutta that is being read, not to another, meaning that the sections after "佛說此經已" might be commentarial, by a scribal monk or other translator. A search for "佛說此經已" on SuttaCentral shows that it only occurs in SA literature, not SA-2 literature, and always follows words that are written to be coming directly from the Buddha's mouth. There is never more Buddhavacana after 佛說此經已 is encountered in an āgama. It would be interesting to see if anyone with a better grasp of Pāli can attest to how the word "sutta" is used in Pāli literature for comparative purposes. What this formula does not do is self-comment on the existence of many sutta being available.

This is where we enter the realm of more tentative speculations that are not conclusive without me (or someone else) consulting with someone more learned in Classical Chinese. So take what I say here with more grains of salt than you usually do.

Concerning this allegedly "self-referential" phrase, I think how the phrase is supposed to be parsed is thus: 於先昔,彼問一切諸法,若有我者,吾可答彼犢子所問。吾於昔時,寧可不於一切經說無我耶?

"In early past [i.e. from earlier in time], those [who] ask [of] one to myriad dharmas [meaning those who inquire about dharmas? like Vacchagotta?], if bhava "I" definitely [if I say there is a self], I can reply that Dú Zǐ it [will] ask [i.e. that Du Zi will ask this question], "I in [the] past age, prefer not [that] in one [to] all suttāni to-say [that there is] lack [of an] "I" definitely?"

Which I could alter to this for better readability: "Since past times, those who inquire about myriad dharmas, if answered "there is a self", I can reply [to that answer] that Du Zi will inquire further asking 'Did I in the past not prefer in all the suttas to say there is lack of a self definitely'?"

Treat this reading as the linguistic curiosity of an inquiring amatuer, not an official translation of any sort. But that is the sense I can make of what the end says.

It seems that the Buddha's justification for his silence, in the SA-2 recension, is that if the Buddha has given any answer, yes or no, Vacchagotta would have cross-referenced his answer with other extant Buddhavacana, or just teachings of the Buddha, to be contrarian, because it seems to imply that either a) the Buddha said, on occasion, that he prefers not to say "there is no self", and Vacchagotta will take him out-of-context to refute him either way, or b) there exists circulating Buddhavacana (either authentic or inauthentic) wherein the Buddha does or seems to say "no self" is something he does not "prefer" to say/teach.

One major point of contention I see here is if 犢子/Du Zi is indeed a reference to Vacchagotta. It would be a very strange reference indeed if it was, but I can't think of what else it could refer to. 子/Zi is used to refer to sages and masters. The word is used in names like Laozi or Gongzi (Confucius). One can even encounter Fozi (Buddha) occasionally.

Either way this is a very different responce when compared to the SA and Pāli recensions.

I have more uninformed amateur suspicions that argue that the SA-2 recension might be "a product of its time (a later time)", but at this rate I am never going to finish this thread.

At the end of the SA-2 recension, the Buddha appears to make an appeal to logic:
以無我故,答彼所問,則違道理。
Because [of the] lack [of] I therefore,[ I] reply [to] those asking, otherwise[ I] violate [the] dào/path [of] logic.

This is very interesting to me, as I hope it is for you. Although the Buddha speaks of his teaching as "logical" (and I am actually not sure of that as I type it) it is rare to see a direct appeal-to-logic from him in the texts. He usually appeals to transcendental wisdom or "direct-knowing" in various texts attributed to him. "Direct knowing" and transendental wisdom are de facto only available to the Buddha and practitioners of supremely high attainment. Logic, on the other hand, is available to everyone (theoretically).

I gave the user atipattoh my highly troubled attempt to make sense of SA-2 195, and he suggested this rendering of this line to me:
atipattoh wrote:以無我故,答彼所問,則違道理。
As there is no self, if I answer him that there is a self, that is not the truth.
This is a far more straightforward rendering than mine, although I think 理 is better rendered as "logic" than "truth", given that its principal meaning in the dictionaries that I tend to look up characters in is "principle; inner essence; reason; logic; truth; science". Atipattoh is far better at deciphering Classical Chinese than I though, so I would recommend his suggestions over mine.

I hope these speculations are the seeds for fruitful learning and conversation.
:anjali:
-Caoimhghín
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。

atipattoh
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Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by atipattoh » Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:58 am

Coëmgenu wrote:Atipattoh is far better at deciphering Classical Chinese than I though, so I would recommend his suggestions over mine.
Don’t trust too much on my translation, seems that you forget i mention i did not pass most of the Chinese language test paper in school... ! :embarassed:

Back to that sentence:
“以無我故,答彼所問,則違道理。”
Nowadays, combining these 2 characters 道理 is commonly refer to logic. In sutra text, if it wants to say logic, it would write ‘常理’ , things that can be reasoning. 道 is normally refer to path, truth. Unless this sutta is written much later, then it could mean logic.

The beauty of the sentence is the 3 parts is written in pack of 4 characters, which is nice to read. But that create a rather tricky part of 答彼所問, to figure out what is the contend of it! That we have to look at the later part of the passage and before that sentence.

‘則違’ ,would means the 2 parts has to be contradicting. If one is ‘無我’ then the other has to be ‘有我’. I decided to omit ‘otherwise’ as i don’t see its significant, and translate by capturing 3rd part meaning.

But if you choose to keep the ‘otherwise contradicting’, then the translation 答彼所問 become:
“As there is no self, i have to answer him that there is no self, otherwise it would be contradicting the truth.” This was my originally take, you could try to put it this way; but it feels like the Buddha is mumbling.

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Coëmgenu » Tue Feb 28, 2017 2:24 am

atipattoh wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:Atipattoh is far better at deciphering Classical Chinese than I though, so I would recommend his suggestions over mine.
Don’t trust too much on my translation, seems that you forget i mention i did not pass most of the Chinese language test paper in school... ! :embarassed:
I think you are less "ideological" with you translations than me, so I say you are better, because your translations resemble English more. I try to be as close to the original as possible, which hinders readability for English speakers, and, Chinese and English can't always correspond word-for-word like I want them to. So I think your translations are better. Enough flattery though. :woohoo:
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: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Coëmgenu » Thu Mar 02, 2017 1:31 pm

atipattoh wrote:But if you choose to keep the ‘otherwise contradicting’, then the translation 答彼所問 become:
“As there is no self, i have to answer him that there is no self, otherwise it would be contradicting the truth.” This was my originally take, you could try to put it this way; but it feels like the Buddha is mumbling.
Well, people often seem to talk strangely and sometimes even seem to talk redundantly (!) in ancient texts, its just a consequence of the passage of time I think, as well as scribes and/or the teacher himself wanting to *really* make sure what is to be taught will be understood.
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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Way~Farer
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Location: Sydney

Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Way~Farer » Fri Mar 03, 2017 11:32 pm

@Coëmgenu - It has been pointed out that the passage you quote at the head of this thread is one of the only passages, if not the only passage, in the Pali Nikayas, where 'the self' is given in noun form i.e. "atthattā" in the question 'does/does not self exist'.

Invariably elsewhere, the term is given as 'anatta', which is adjectival, that is, it is one of the laksanas or marks of all phenomena (the other two being anicca and dukkha). So it is generally used to designate the character of all phenomenal experience - that they are all anatta, dukkha, anicca. (If you are trained in insight meditation one of the principles is learning to observe how all experience exhibits these three characteristics.)

But when asked the question 'is there self?', the response is silence - the answer is neither yes nor no (nor both yes and no, nor neither yes nor no, etc, according to the rules of Buddhist logic.) The answer 'yes' is the 'eternalist' answer, the answer 'no' is the 'nihilist' answer, but at this point, Vachagotta is not able to understand the logic behind that - so not answering is the better option. (I think there is a scholarly opinion that the 'silence of the Buddha' on this question is the origin of what went on to become Madhyamika.)

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Coëmgenu » Tue Mar 07, 2017 11:21 pm

Way~Farer wrote:But when asked the question 'is there self?', the response is silence - the answer is neither yes nor no (nor both yes and no, nor neither yes nor no, etc, according to the rules of Buddhist logic.) The answer 'yes' is the 'eternalist' answer, the answer 'no' is the 'nihilist' answer, but at this point, Vachagotta is not able to understand the logic behind that - so not answering is the better option. (I think there is a scholarly opinion that the 'silence of the Buddha' on this question is the origin of what went on to become Madhyamika.)
This is the responce of the Buddha of the Nikāya recension (i.e. wanting to avoid the named extremes of sassatavāda & ucchedavāda). While the other two recensions do not contradict it, they have the Buddha offer noticeably different justifications as to why he chose to remain silent in the face of Vacchagotta's questioning.
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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Way~Farer
Posts: 120
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Location: Sydney

Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Way~Farer » Wed Mar 08, 2017 5:41 am

@Coëmgenu - Is what is said significantly different? Does it have any bearing on the interpretation I have offered above? I would be interested to know the details.

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Coëmgenu
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Re: Vacchagotta parallels

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:13 am

Way~Farer wrote:@Coëmgenu - Is what is said significantly different? Does it have any bearing on the interpretation I have offered above? I would be interested to know the details.
The different justifications the Buddha gives in the various parallel recensions are actually quite striking, none of them completely overlap, the SA is the "simplest" of them, the SN being perhaps the most "complicated" responce, involving signalling out and point out various heterodox ideologies (sassatavāda, ucchedavāda), and the SA-2 has a completely different answer given by the Buddha that is unlike either other recension, yet is claimed by scholars of textual criticism to be a translation of one of the oldest proposed sources for historical Buddhavacana, although "oldest" does not necessarily have bearing on "rightness".

I will link you to the thread on this I started at SuttaCentral, because I don't know if I have all the the participants consent to post the conversation here on this forum.
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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