The Book of Fours
An analysis of § 3
By Michael Olds
I wanted to take a look at the Pali of this sutta because I wanted to see what was being translated by Woodward as "the breaking down of the bridge which is in sexual intercourse," by Bhk. Thanissaro as: "the cutting off of the bridge," and by Bhk. Bodhi as: "the demolition of the bridge". Was this, as it is apparently understood by Woodward the Bardo-like phenomena wherein after death, in the subsequent intermediate state, one comes across a copulating couple and enters the womb? Or is this to be understood as per Bhks. Thanissaro and Bodhi as simply an admonition to stop indulging in intercourse. If the latter the use of the term 'bridge' seemed to me to be somewhat unnecessary.
With the translation and explanation in detail I have managed below, I have tried to show that the idea was that while there are certain things that serve equally well for the origination of life and the achieving of freedom from individualized existence and therefore can be called 'bridges', one of them is not sexual indulgence.
While I think that the bulk of the sutta points to the meaning as 'tool', as per Bhks. Thanissaro and Bodhi, the use of the term 'bridge' still allows for a secondary meaning pointing to an actual danger, Bardo-style, of rebirth in intercourse.
At one time Ananda was residing in Kosambi, in Ghosita Park and a certain beggar lady apparently having conceived an impropper affection for him had a man approach and request that Ananda pay her a visit. Ananda did visit, but having correctly perceived the situation for what it was, gave her this lesson:
This body, sister, lives because of thirst:
depending on thirst, let go of thirst;
This body, sister, lives because of insanity:
depending on insanity, let go of insanity;
This body, sister, lives because of copulation,
but of copulation it is of terminating the bridge
which is spoken of by The Lucky Man.
Ananda goes on to show the meaning in each case. I understand the explanation as follows:
Food is necessary for the maintenance of the body. Since the body is necessary in order to go from point a to point b, using food to maintain the body, eliminate all extraneous factors [eating for indulgence in sense experience, beautification, etc.,] from the act of eating. By that practice the consequences of old intentions with regard to food are used up and further intentions with regard to food are not generated. Food is used as a bridge to the eliminateion of intensions with regard to food with the final result that food connected to the identification with the body is eliminated.
Bodies come into existence as a consequence of desires. Since the desire is necessary in order to go from point a to point b, using thirst to motivate one's self to achieve the goals of the Dhamma, one achieves the goals of the Dhamma. Thirst is used as a bridge to the elimination of intentions with regard to thirsts connected to identification with the body with the final result that thirst connected to the identification with the body is eliminaged.
Identification with the body is a form of insanity. Since the insanity 'I am' is necessary in order to go from point a to point b, using the insanity of identification with the body as self to achieve the goals of the Dhamma through the mental (and insane) construction "Let me achieve the goal...", one achieves the goals of the Dhamma. Insanity is used as a bridge to the elimination of insane intentions with regard to identification with body with the final result that insanity connected to the identification with the body is eliminated.
The body came into being because of copulation. But although the body came into being because of copulation, in the case of copulation, what The Lucky Man teaches is the burning of bridges!
The sutta ends happily with the Sister confessing her error and Ananda acknowledging it for her.
3. Āhārasambhuto ayaɱ bhagini kāyo||
āhāraɱ nissāya āhāro pahātabbo;|| ||
taṇhā-sambhuto ayaɱ bhagini kāyo||
taṇhaɱ nissāya taṇhā pahātabbā;|| ||
māna-sambhuto ayaɱ bhagini kāyo||
mānaɱ nissāya māno pahātabbo;|| ||
methuna sambhuto ayaɱ bhagini kāyo||
methune ca setughāto [Thai: methune pahātabbo, methune setu-ghāto,]||
vutto Bhagavatā.|| ||
Āhāra = food; taṇhā = hunger/thirst; māna = out of mind, insane, 'gone mental' pride, conceit; methuna = pairing, coupling, copulation, sexual intercourse.
PED: Sambhūta [pp. of sambhavati] [con/with-being/living] arisen from, produced
Woodward/Bhk. Thanissaro: come into being;
Bhk. Bodhi: originated from.
PED: Bhagini Sister.
PED: Nissāya (prep. c, acc.) [ger. of nissayati] [down/down-out finished/done/evening] leaning on (in all fig. meanings) 1. near, near by, on. 2. by means of, through, by one's support, by way of. 3. because of, on account of, by reason of, for the sake of.
Woodward: is dependent on; Bhk. Thanissaro: by relying on; Bhk. Bodhi: in dependence on.
PED: Pahātabbo ger.: Pahāna (nt.) [from pa+hā, see pajahati] [pass-hand, void] giving up, leaving, abandoning, rejection.
PED: Setu-ghāto. Setu [Vedic setu, to si or sā (see sinoti); cp. Av. haetu dam; Latin saeta; Ags. sāda rope; etc.] a causeway, bridge. -ghāta [strike, kill, terminate] pulling down of the bridge (leading to something).
As Literal and unbiased as possible:
3. Food-co/con/with-living/being this, sister, body;
food-leaning on, food letting-go;
Thirst-co/con/with-living/being this, sister, body;
thirst-leaning on, thirst letting-go;
Insanity-co/con/with-living/being this, sister, body;
insantity-leaning on, insanity letting-go;
Copulation-co/con/with-living/being this, sister, body;
copulation and bridge-termination.
or, using the Thai:
[copulation letting-go, copulation bridge-termination]
'Sister, this body has come into being through food, is dependent on food.
The food must be abandoned.
Sister, this body has come into being through craving, is dependent on craving.
Craving must be abandoned.
Sister, this body has come into being through pride, is dependent on pride.
Pride must be abandoned.
Sister, this body has come into being through sexual intercourse.
Sexual intercourse must be abandoned.
The breaking down of the bridge which is in sexual intercourse has been spoken of by the Exalted One.
"This body, sister,
comes into being through food.
And yet it is by relying on food
that food is to be abandoned.
"This body comes into being through craving.
And yet it is by relying on craving
that craving is to be abandoned.
"This body comes into being through conceit.
And yet it is by relying on conceit
that conceit is to be abandoned.
"This body comes into being through sexual intercourse.
Sexual intercourse is to be abandoned.
With regard to sexual intercourse,
the Buddha declares
the cutting off of the bridge.
Sister, this body has originated from nutriment
in dependence on nutriment, nutriment is to be abandoned.
This body has originated from craving;
in dependence on craving, craving is to be abandoned.
This body has originated from conceit;
in dependence on conceit, conceit is to be abandoned.
This body has originated from sexual intercourse,
but in regard to sexual intercourse the Blessed One has declared the demolition of the bridge.