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Saɱyutta Nikāya
II. Nidāna Vagga

Editorial Notes

Mrs. Rhys Davids
Assisted by F. L. Woodward

Originally Published by
The Pali Text Society
Public Domain



We have in the first place a few notes to offer on the translation, in these pages, of the famous schema of the twelve Nidanas, or causal bases.

As to the English renderings here used for the causal formula, it is not pretended that they coincide always with the terms in the original. They have rather been chosen as the least misleading. There is some discussion of them in our translation of the 'Great Suttanta on Causation '(Dialogues of the Buddha ii, No. XV), and in our article 'Paticca - samuppada '(Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics). There may be more discussion in this society's forthcoming translation of the Visuddhi - Magga. Here then we will be brief.

The title 'Paticca - samuppada,' which is almost certainly a name given by the compilers of the Sutta - Piṭaka, at a later date, to what Gotama is made here to call his 'doctrine bv the middle,'[1] means 'causally continuous (or collective) uprising.' Sankhara - that crux of translators - is in this connection perhaps well rendered by karma, and is often so rendered. But it seemed a pity to introduce it, when the original did not give it. For karma might so well have been used, had it been just the needed word. 'Consciousness' is just mind, the mental continuum. 'Name - and - shape' is the old Vedic convenient term for our dual organism, 'name' being resolved in other Suttas into mental factors.[2] 'Sense' (lit. sixfold sphere) is the whole apparatus of sentience, including the recipient and co-ordinating mind. 'Contact,' lit. touch, might here be rendered 'stimulus,' or 'reaction.' My learned friend Professor Stcherbatzky prefers 'sensation,' that is, in this connection. 'Sensation' some translators reserve for vedana, here rendered feeling. It would be perhaps as correct a rendering, in this connection, [vi] as to use sensation for phassa. Elsewhere, in the Suttas, vedana is described in terms of what we must call feeling - 'pleasure, pain and neutral vedana.' But it is always 'feeling-on-occasion-of-sense.' It is never emotion, sentiment. 'Craving,' lit. thirst, is natural or unregenerate desire. 'Grasping 'might almost he rendered 'will,' 'impulse to action.' 'Becoming '(bhava) is another crux. Described always in terms of the where or how of rebirth, it seems to stand rather for that tendency to, or resultant force for, new birth, which is the outcome of desire and will for life. But that is not the old way.

No two translators would agree all the way. Our only general caveat is against reading profound metaphysical concepts into this old series. It was not in each word that the depth of the meaning lay. The reader should imagine himself telling a child how in life this brings about that.[3]

Then the difficulties may vanish.

Empedoklean. Not in OED. "of, relating to, or befitting the philosopher Empedocles or his philosophy according to which change takes place through the uniting and dividing forces of love and hate upon the elements earth, air, fire, and water." - Marriam-Webster

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

The sequence of the terms is only intelligible if they are held, as they are universally held in the modern East, to involve a reference to man's whole life-continuum, not this one little span of it that we in the West miscall 'our life.' Gotama accepted that belief. He lifted it, out of the vague Empedoklean utterances we find in the earlier books, to a fairly clear doctrine of the 'five gati's,' or goings (or destinies). Of such is man's life in the Suttas. And in the causal formula, 'ignorance' and 'activities' refer to the whole of the previous lives: the one is the prior incalculable limit (with implication of want of knowledge as the chief feature of those lives),[4] the other is the collective term for all past action. Next, [vii] from 'consciousness' to 'becoming' is said to comprise this actual life-span, though personally we should carry 'becoming' forward.[5] Lastly, 'birth' (which should always be read as 're-birth') and 'old-age-and-dying' comprise the yet unknown future lives.

We add a few reflections on some features of these Kindred Sayings.

In this volume we have come to some of those doctrines we were wishing five years ago and more to make accessible, in English garb, to interested readers.[6] The present volume contains not more of them than may be counted on the fingers of one hand. Only two of them give titles to groups (saɱyutta) of sayings, viz., 'Cause' and 'Incalculable Beginning.' The remainder are inserted incidentally. Of considerable importance, it may be, in our eyes, here they feature as adjuncts. And there are not a few interesting sidelights. The rest is largely repetition. Either the Suttas are identical, or they vary in some detail. The Buddha may have, in his long mission, repeated himself often, with varied touches. Or his church may have recorded some one remembered saying, and many teachers may each have added an application. Such may have been, for instance, the case in 'Dire, brethren, are gains, favours, flattery,' and its concluding exordium (Chap. XVII.), or in the saying beginning 'Incalculable is the beginning, brethren, of this faring on!' (Chap. XV.). Naturally all such recorded variants wrere fathered on the founder, just as he is made to take upon himself sayings by his disciples of which he approved.[7]

But it must be the work of the historian of the Canon, and not of a mere translator, to sift the accretions from any probably original matter in these swept-up heaps of little Suttas. At this stage the reader must be left to his own sagacity. But it is no easy task to find the live teacher in records that have been handed down as these have been. To a great extent they consist of a stiff framework of words, of formulas, in which no semblance of the living words remains. Great teachers have no need to use formulas. These come into [viii] being later. Yet even the first recorded sermons of the Buddha have not escaped such treatment.[8] Nay, even his self-questioning under the quite legendary 'Bodhi-tree,'[9] - thoughts which he must himself have told if they are in any way an authentic tale - is stiffened up into a formal scheme. And when we find him described as calling this formal scheme his 'doctrine-by-the-middle,'[10] his own words in setting it forth have been utterly lost. Nothing but the formula is remembered!

When pundits approach him, probably to test his dialectic, he is shown rejecting their extremes and their alternatives, and substituting a middle doctrine. But he is not shown as giving the general statement of his causal doctrine. That finds its way in elsewhere, as an adjunct! He is made to give only a more or less irrelevant application of that causal doctrine. And we are left to the conclusion that, at the centres, Savatthī for chief, where a few genuine sayings of the Founder and many formulas were handed down, the repeaters were intellectually incapable first of retaining, then of compiling, plausible, let alone faithful, reproductions of his teaching. Let the reader try to imagine any live man, especially such a live man as Gotama, expounding a better doctrine in a way so wooden and inept as the talk to Timbaruka. Let him try to imagine the listener responding convinced and enthusiastic. For that matter even the pundit's reply is a formula.

But thick as is the crust of the set word-scheme over these records, some signs of that variety of utterance which is life peep through. The order of the twelve bases is once or twice altered and new terms are introduced (p. 71 ).[11]

Yet more refreshing is it to find that oasis on p. 26 (XII., § 27), where a causal sequence of joy and happiness is, for this once only, harnessed to the scheme! How might it not have altered the whole face of Buddhism to the West if that sequence had been made the illustration of the causal law! -

[ix] 'Conditioned bv suffering [comes to pass] faith:
conditioned bv faith [comes to pass] joy; conditioned by joy [comes to pass] rapture; conditioned by rapture [comes to pass] serenity; conditioned by serenity [comes to pass] happiness; conditioned by happiness[12] [comes to pass] concentration; conditioned by concentration [comes to pass] knowledge and insight into things as they really are.'

And how true! Yet how it is hidden away in this book! How many students of Buddhism have ever seen it ? It is true that India, like the rest of the world, was in need of a guide to lead her through the dark valley of the fact that man's wrongdoing brings misery.[13] But a creed for all time and space needs to give equal emphasis to the jov of the good life, and the insight that comes of moral growth to richer life.

But if the doctrine of becoming by way of causal succession could only be retained, after the great teacher's departure, by a formula, then at least the only really general statement of it in the records should have headed formal allusions to it. As Alice in Wonderland would have said: 'Then it ought to be Rule I. . . . not XLII.!' How, when this does occur, is not the exposition made more rational! We need only compare pp. 22, 23, and especially 66 with p. 1. Or that Sutta in the Majjhinia Nikaya where Gotama waves aside the speculations of the Jain pundit with the words 'Let be, let be the beginning and the end! I will teach you dhamma: - if this comes to be, that comes to be. If this ceases, that ceases.' There the application (in terms of dukkka) does not even occur. But the result of this want of grasp in the early editors is that students have long puzzled over the formula as usually presented, and very few have even known of the existence of the really universal statement, of which the familiar formula is but a particular, striking instance. The discovery of that statement[14] was to the writer, some twenty years ago, like a flash of sunshine in a dark room.

But the way of the editor is strange. For it is no less curious that the complementary universal statement to that [x] quoted above is omitted from this collection altogether! We refer of course to 'whatever arises through a cause is capable of being suppressed (by suppression of the cause).' This is the practical pendant of the theoretic statement. Yet, though we have to seek through the whole Canon for an instance of it,[15] and though it is put into the mouth of a disciple only, no text is better known throughout Buddhist literature.

We fare no better in the editorial hands over the way in which the Founder is shown teaching another important application of the causal law. We mean the statement of continuous identity. The Graeco-European law of identity: A = A, banishes all relativity and leaves - nonentity. The Buddhist statement is that of life: A = A - becoming[16]-A1, A1 = A1-becoming-A2 and so on to An. There is individuality, personality. But individuality is not something immutably, absolutely identical. We change, we grow, with whatever 'name-and-shape' happens to be the presentation of us. Crudely and stiffly, in the Sutta,[17] identity and difference, as absolute, are rejected, and then the familiar formula is switched on. Yet what a lovely lesson must it have been in the way it was actually given, showing surely that we may suffer as man, or enjoy as man, for what we did as boy: - same yet different. That we may feel in this life the effects of what we did last life: - same yet different. Could we but have before us the real lesson, we should understand Timbaruka's response.

Another doctrine of importance, occurring here only - that entitled 'Cause, or Causal Relation' (p. 20 f.; XII., § 20)[18] - is made a mere supplement to the Sustenance Suttas with which it has nothing to do. Here again we catch a great word of cosmic law, a law persisting unshaken while 'Buddhas' come and go. So he is made to say elsewhere: 'I am but a way-shower.'[19] The fervour of his cry, 'Look you!' seems to pene- [xi] trate the muffling formula closing it in. And in the 'City' Sutta, his way-showing and the ancient Path of the good life (p. 74) reverberate as if he were himself yet talking to us.

Other important sayings with a genuine ring, but treated as incidental, are that about past 'karma' and the present body and mind of us (p. 44), that giving three equivalent terms for mind (p. 65), where the famous monkey - simile occurs, and that giving the refrain of assurance of ultimate salvation, the triumph-song of him who is leading the good life (p. 47 f.). The two former passages do not occur elsewhere.

To turn very briefly to other chapters: - in XV., which is peculiar to this Nikaya,[20] with its rare term anamatagqo, and its forcible warning, here we have what is probably a real saying, reiterated by teachers with possibly their own very monastic complements. The Commentary gives no episode as having drawn forth this utterance, viz., that when we began to be is past man's finding out. But there is a later echo, in a Commentary on the ancient aphorisms called Yoga Sūtras, of what may have been a fallacy of Gotama's day. Namely, that in the wise is 'some understanding of the prior and final limit of Saŋsara.'[21] And the emphatic rejection of quasi-omniscience, in this chapter, may refer to such a fallacy.

Yet he, who made no exception of himself in that repudiation, came to be called sabb'aññu, all knowing! And the ultimate beginning, which he did not reject, came to be considered as never having been![22] Further, in spite of the simply expressed admission that beings (sattā) did 'run on, fare on,' the Milinda came to say 'Is there any being (koci satto) who goes on from this body to another body? No indeed, sire.'[23] Man is very cruel to his helpers, even when he is setting up golden images of them.

vis a tergo: A force acting from behind; a pushing or accelerating force

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

In the little collection on 'Element' (chap. XIV.), the [xii] emphasis on heterogeneity in elements is discussed in a way suggestive of an Ābhidhammika compiler. The word dhātu is much to the fore in the Third Piṭaka; and the subject occupied considerably the early academic culture revealed in such works as the Abhidhammakośa and its commentaries. The ring of the older Suttas is rather to be found in the little dialogue on the subject in Majjhima i, 295 = Vol. V. (XLVIII., § 42) of this work.[24] The matter cannot here be discussed. The interest here lies in the general reflections on life as existence under a certain 'set of conditions' or dhātu (p. 101, n. 1). The reaction of this upon feeling is mixed. Hence man's efforts to better his conditions. Pain is the vis a tergo by which he seeks betterment.

But the conclusion is monastic. The drawing power of happiness is omitted. We are reminded of a gardener who is placed in a garden that is weedy but has possibilities, and who downs tools and disposes himself to leave. We should not think highly of the gardener. We do not seem to catch the living sayings of the founder.

The remaining chapters are of no small interest. Not doctrinally, but because they afford us sidelights on some of those early followers of whom we know little. It is true that the Lakkhana, 'Mark,' who gives the name to the nineteenth chapter, is met with here only. And we may be sure, without even consulting them, that critics will have judged that 'Mark' referred originally to that rather irritating smile[25] which is made to recur at one heartrending scene after another, and that the questioning brother is a fiction to fit the word.

The smile, for all Buddhaghosa's apology, does not commend Moggallana to us. He is a little akin to the mighty medicineman Kassapa of Uruvela, whom Gotama competed with on his own level, to win a safe position as a teacher. Ānanda might have shed a recurring tear, Sariputta might have 'uttered moan.' The Master's rejoinder is a saying that recalls his hesitation when beginning to teach gospel. But here it is: 'If they believed me not, it would hurt' - not me, but - 'them.' What was this saying really intended to convey?

[xiii] In Kaesapa called Great (chap. XVI.) we come upon a finer character. He appears a most unlikely man to come forward and take up the heavy task of succeeding such a leader. A confirmed recluse, he even keeps away from his Master when both are aged. There is no sign that the latter saw in him a successor. He only associates Kassapa with himself as a sound teacher. How strange it seems to a modern world, that no word passes between them as to any system of memorizing the records, the first task that the orphaned order actually set about! Aud in a way of almost incredible naivete.

But Kassapa had the sterling virtue of utter unworldliness. And how sorely that was needed in the Order, not only subsequently, but in the lifetime of the founder, the books show but too well.[26] We can well believe that the formula running through chap. XVII.: - 'Dire, brethren, are gains, favours, flattery. . . . Thus and thus must ye train yourselves' was often uttered by Gotama himself, in unwearied admonishing of his followers against being still of the world though not in the world. Was it indeed always unwearied? It was a long life of service; and when we read of the many quarrelsome, greedy, impure, stupid, 'futile' bhikkhus, in Vinaya and Sutta, we venture to believe, that there were hours when he longed to pack them off to what they called the 'low things,'[27] to which they, so many of them, really belonged, and go home with Rāhula. But he was faithful.

Much more might be said if we were presuming to offer this translation to the scholar of Pah literature. The general reader is mostly in our thoughts. And for him there is no problem so near as this: - Where in these pages is Gotama? How much of them, how little, is a blend of (it may be) original sayings clearly or confusedly reproduced, of fillings by ages of successive narrators, of memory-schemes drawn up by teachers, not teachers of the multitude but of orally learning pupils, of efforts, often clumsy, by editors to set down in writing much that had so long been more fluently told? And all [xiv] of them, narrators, teachers, editors, were men whose choice of ideals of life differed from that of the rest of the world, differed the more in proportion as they were sincerely not of the world as well as not in it. Through this distorting medium he has to read, and ask himself which sayings, put into the mouth of a certain accredited teacher and 'way-shower' of truth, are likely to have come from such a man as he is recorded to have been? Not a brahmin, not a pundit, not a 'Wanderer'; a nobleman born and bred in the purple, albeit of a petty court, a man of singularly independent mind, but single-minded in his long work of helping men to think and to live, a man who left himself, planted by himself, on no pedestal, who left no successor commissioned to see he was so planted - is there anything in these pages that this wise and loving, but very human friend of man would be likely to have said, and to have so said as to win over men of all sorts and conditions?

In the dark days succeeding the completion of Part I, and when other labours were blocking the way, Mr. F. L. Woodward wrote from his new Tasmanian home offering service. With purely disinterested kindness of heart he consented to write for us a draft translation of Part II. 'Joyous and swift is his wisdom' like Sariputta's. In a few months the typescript was done, completed even to footnotes. This we have used throughout for reference, for suggestion, and to check our translation, for which we alone are responsible. We cannot sufficiently thank him for the brotherly hand that has helped us to keep walking. Not many would have spent well-earned leisure hours in rendering service from across the world like this. Nor is his good will confined to Part II. May life in our next rebirth not find us so far apart!

March, 1922.


[1] Dhammo majjhenu. Pp. 13 ff. In the Abhidhamma - Piṭaka's second book it is called 'Paccayākāra,' 'causal mode.'

[2] Majjhima i, 53.

[3] We have likened the form of the series to that of such hoary jingles as 'fire, fire burn stick. Stick, stick beat dog,' etc. (Buddhism, Home University Library, p. 96.) So we would say to the child: '. . . Then, when we leave this body, we wake up with a new one, and find we've a mind working it much like the old mind. Now the old mind and the new body we call "name-and-shape. ..." And if we go on liking what we do and get and have, and wanting it all still, we shall, when the body again dies, wake up with a new body and much the same mind in one of three sorts of worlds. There we shall have been reborn. . . .'

[4] P. 4. Probably a later exegesis. So we might refer to the days of primitive race-ancestors as 'the bad old times.'

[5] Cf. p. 3.

[6] Vol. i, p. v.

[7] E.g., p. 37, where the Master repeats Sariputta's sayings.

[8] See Vinaya Texts i, 95 f., 100 f., 134 f..

[9] P. 6.

[10] P. 16 ff. Not of course the ethical middle way of the first sermon (Vinaya Texts i, 94 f.).

[11] With this cf. the alternative-formula. Dialogues ii. 55. and 45. n. 1; also the shorter formula. Dialogues i. 53.

[12] 'Happiness' (sukha) is felt well-being, not diffusive gladness.

[13] See Buddhism (Home University Library), p. 102 f. and preceding.

[14] On the publication of Majjhima, vol. ii.

[15] Vinaya Texts i, 146. The Teacher conveys the truth in Dialogues ii, 126; cf. 153, 177, but the formula is quite different. We only wonder that no Sutta in our book contains the formula.

[16] The German wird; the Pali hoti, not atthi.

[17] P. 18.

[18] Paccaya. I fear this title has been omitted in the translation.

[19] Majjhima iii, 6; cf. 15.

[20] Again, briefly, in vols. iii and v.

Anamatagga. PED: Anamatagga (adjective) [ana ( = a negative) + mata (from man) + aggā (plural). So Dhammapāla (avidit-agga ThA 289); Nāṇakitti in tīkā on DhsA 11; Trenckner, Notes 64; Oldenberg, Vin. Texts II.114. Childers takes it as an + amata + agga, and Jacobi (Erzahl. 33 and 89) and Pischel (Gram. * 251) as a + namat (from nam) + agga. It is Sanskritized at Divy 197 by anavarāgra, doubtless by some mistake. Weber, Index Str. III.150 suggests an + āmrta, which does not suit the context at all]. Ep. of Saɱsāra "whose beginning and end are alike unthinkable", i.e., without beginning or end. Found in two passages of the Canon: S II.178, 187 sq. = III.149, 151 = verse 226, 441 (quoted Kvu 29, called Anamatagga-pariyāya at DhA II.268) and Th 2, 495, 6. Later references are Nd2 664; PvA 166; DhA I.11; II.13, 32; Sdhp 505. [Cp. anāmata and amatagga, and cp. the English idiom "world without end". The meaning can best be seen, not from the derivation (which is uncertain), but from the examples quoted above from the Saɱyutta. According to the Yoga, on the contrary (see e.g., Woods, Yoga-system of Patañjali, 119), it is a possible, and indeed a necessary quality of the Yogī, to understand the beginning and end of Saɱsāra].

p.p. explains it all — p.p.

[21] Yoga-bhāshya. See Dr. J. H. Woods' Yoga System of Patanjali, Harvard Or. Series, 1914, p. 118. Cf. Pali-English Dictionary, Part 1, s.v. 'Anamatagga.'

[22] Visuddhi-Magga, P.T.S. ed. 768.

[23] The Abhidhamma Piṭaka, as a half-way house in point of date, is more careful. It is not so satto, not an identical being, who fares on. (Points of Controversy, p. 26 f.)

[24] Discussed in the writer's Buddhist Psychology, p. 68 (4).

[25] Lakkhana means also feature, sign, anything salient.

[26] P. 140 f. Cf. Pss. of the Brethren, poems of Phussa and Pārāpariya.

[27] E.g., p. 147.

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