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Examining the Mūlapariyāya Sutta

The Pali and how the translators see it:
Pali MO Horner Bhikkhu Thanissaro Bhikkhu Bodhi
Mūlapariyāya The Root of All Evil Synopsis of Fundamentals The Root Sequence The Root of All Things
Paṭhavī Earth Extension Earth Earth
Āpo Water Liquid Water Water
Tejo Fire Heat Fire Fire
Vāyo Wind Motion Wind Air
Bhūtā Beings Beings Beings Beings
Devas Gods Devas Gods Gods
Pajāpati The Creator Pajapati Pajapati Pajapati
Brahmā God Brahma Brahma Brahma
Ābhassara Radiant Beings The Radiant Ones The Luminous Gods The Gods of Streaming Radiance
Subhakiṇṇa Luminescent Beings The Lustrous Ones The Gods of Refulgent Glory The Gods of Refulgent Glory
Vehapphala Bountiful Beings The Vehapphala (devas) The Gods of Abundant Fruit The Gods of Great Fruit
Abhibhu Upabove The Overlord The Great Being The Overlord
Ākāsānañcāyatana The Realm of Space The Plane of infinite ether The Sphere of the Infinitude of Space The Base of infinite space
Viññāṇañcāyatana The Realm of Consciousness The Plane of infinite consciousness The Sphere of the Infinitude of Consciousness The Base of infinite consciousness
Ākiñcāññāyatana The Realm of No Things There The Plane of no-thing The Sphere of Nothingness The Base of nothingness
N'evasaññānāsaññāyatana The Realm of Neither Perception nor non-perception The Plane of neither-perception-nor non-perception The Sphere of Neither-Perception-Nor Non-Perception The Base of neither-perception-nor non-perception
Diṭṭha Seeing The seen The seen The seen
Suta Hearing The heard The heard The heard
Muta Sensing The sensed The sensed The sensed
Viññāta Intuiting The cognized The cognized The cognized
Ekatta Oneness Unity Singleness Unity
Nānata Multiplicity Diversity Multiplicity Diversity
Sabbaṅ The All Universality The All All
Nibbāna Nibbāna Nibbāna Nibbāna Unbound



I don't have too much to say about the other translations of this sutta. They are interesting from the point of view of their understanding of the categories, but it is my belief that the categories are of secondary importance to the 'refrain.' I find the translations of Bhikkhu Thanissaro interesting in that he seems to see a number of things the same way I do: I see Sabban[1] as a reference to The All (the sixfold sense sphere) and I have for a long time translated Nibbāna (which mostly I leave untranslated) as 'Downbound Never No More' an ... um ... slightly looser version of 'Unbound'.

A few of my translations of these terms are absurd. My first choice, and the way I see this sutta in my own mind, is in English with these concepts untranslated. Short of that I see the translation as attempting to indicate the multiplicity of meanings in the terms that the original listeners would have heard. For Example:

'He takes Pathavi for Earth. Taking earth as solid, he conceptualizes hardness . . . ' and so forth.

I have translated Pajāpati as 'The Creator' in that this is his function in the Cosmos of the period. This creates difficulties when we come across Brahma. I translate Brahma as God because that is the way this being is largely conceived of here. Abhibhu I translate as per the meaning of the position, although this is more than likely a personification of the deity in charge of the Asanna or non-percipient realm. All three are probably 'Brahmas,' as this title may be held by more than one being with different spheres of interest and degrees of power.

This is a very potent magic spell. If you allow this spell to carry you, you will be taken into the sphere of power of each of these categories of phenomena one at a time. In each you will be threatened with death (dying with your identification of yourself with the concept) and your only escape will be to let go of the concept. Each concept is 'higher' than the preceding [relative to the goals of the system, and understanding certain groups (e.g. the four basic elements) as being internally about equal] and there is great competition and one-upsmanship between the groups that involve beings. All would love to have you come and stay.

The trick is that if the refrain has had it's proper effect, you will let go of each category after a suitable exploration and move on to the next until you have reached Nibbāna Upassawitchya can go no further. The spell will have done as promised: brought you one up passed the Root of all Evil.

Or you could have listened to the refrain right from the start and saved yourself the trip.




The following is an edited version of a portion of the DhammaTalk: Direct Insight topic which deals with some terms used in the Mulapariyaya:

The Mulapariyaya is a progression from the knowledge of the common man through several variations on the gradations between the beginning seeker and the thoroughly accomplished Arahant to the knowledge of the SammasamBuddha. The progression works like this:

The common man "sanjana' ti.
then saññātvās and then maññātis — thinks about.

The seeker through the SammasamBuddha all "abhijanati"
and then "abhinnaya."

There then follow for this group, degrees of not maññāti-ing — not thinking about — from trying to not think about to not even not thinking about not thinking about. Both Horner and Bodhi have blended the first two steps together into one idea.

Sañjānāti: PED: [sañ + jñnñti] sañ = con, one's own, with; + jānāti > Jña, genē, gnē; Latin = nosco, notus, (i)gnarus (English ignorant); Gothic = kunnan; Old High German = kennan; Anglo Saxon cnaawan; English = to know > 1. to recognize, perceive, know, to be aware of. 2. to think, to suppose; 3. to call, name, nickname.
You could say "connotes, comprehends, conceives"
Bhikkhu Bodhi translates "conceives";
Horner translates "recognizes"
In my translation I will be using "takes" (He takes earth as earth.)

Saññātvā: usually perception, as of raw sensory data, but I am using this as conceptualization; meaning 6 in PED.

Abhijānati: PED: [abhiññnā + jānāti] to know by experience, to know fully or thoroughly, to recognize, know of, to be conscious or aware of.
Bhikkhu Bodhi translates "Direct Knowledge";
Horner Translates "Intuitively Knows"

Taking the breakdown of the word at it's face value this is a word which has meaning which neatly fits the variation from serious beginning student to master.

I take it to mean a mixture of what I would call direct knowledge, knowing without any intellectual work of recollecting and piecing together, and plain old intellectual work or recollecting and piecing together; what we call "knowing."

So I am going to say "understands", understanding the "under" part of this to be the abhi or "over" part of the word, and hearing the "stands" part of the word as "setting up" so as to be known.

Abhiññāya (abhi = Greek: around; Latin = ambi, amb round about; Oid Irish = imb; Gallish = ambi; Old High German = umbi; Anglo Saxon = ymb; > Pali: abhitḥ, on both sides; Indo-Germanic: obhi, as in Latin ob towards, against (obsess, obstruct); English = be (fore)(hind) meaning: 1. The primary meaning of abhi is that of taking possession and mastering, as contained in English "coming by" "and over-coming") ñña = knowing; meaning the higher knowledge of the Arahant and also ordinary super powers.)

This word is used as a noun in the term "The Abhinnayas" or Super Knowledges. These are various powers which seem pretty ordinary on the one level: etymology, the ability to write good catchy rhymes, but these skills are in fact only the common expressions of what are very deep magical powers (knowing the original intent placed into a word when it was first constructed and being able to "hear" it's meaning in those who use it thereafter in a power that one would have to describe as knowing the memory of words; and the ability to construct words in such patterns that they create vibrations that so resonate that they have forces of great magnitude to work both good and evil). All of these powers are "gifts" and do not involve any intellectual work at all. So this is no ordinary "comprehension."

I would go with "Direct Knowledge" here except that I want one word that means that, so please excuse me while I continue to wait for inspiration! I would say, however, that this term "Direct Knowledge" belongs in the category of the "knowing" of the accomplished Arahant or SamasamBuddha and not that of the beginning student or seeker.

Since Direct Knowledge is the term used by Bhikkhu Bhodi in his translation of the Majjhima (Wisdom Pubs), I would assume that this is where this term is being picked up.

The simple fact of the matter is that we who speak English have no tradition of using our minds up past just thinking about things (except in the drug culture) and so have not developed a great set of words for use in describing the various possibilities. I will just do my best to carve out some territory.

So, per the Mulapariyaya: the ordinary common man: takes earth for earth. Taking earth for earth, he conceptualizes earth. He thinks about earth.

If we take the case of the beginning student, who is being instructed to train himself not to think about, I think it is safe to say that he is not that far removed at the outset from the common man. Therefore these two words to describe how he first "takes" hold of the idea of a thing, and then how he treats that taking hold, must really be accessible from the ground floor, but have a very deep ultimate possible meaning.

So I go with "recognizes" for abhijaanati and "knows about" for abhinnaya.

So the student recognizes earth as earth, recognizing earth as earth he knows about earth, he says to himself "let me not think about earth, etc.

The SammasamBuddha recognizes earth as earth, recognizing earth as earth he knows about earth, he does not think about earth.

I think the initial recognition of the common man and the Arahant are different qualitatively. I think that is indicated by the use of different words by Gotama. The implication in the terms used for the common man (sanjanati and sannatva), at least as I hear them, are of an almost immediate personalization, taking possession. Using the previous analogy, I think it might not be far off to say that the common man's recognition is that of a friend seeing a friend, whereas that of the arahant is that of someone seeing an enemy, or, to avoid the fear emotion idea in the idea of an enemy, at least some old gossip that he would rather avoid. In the common man joy springs up instantaneously on seeing a friend, in the arahant wariness springs up automatically.

That's my "take".




I have seen some of these spells done the way they are really supposed to be done and they are absolutely . . . um . . . spellbinding. Hair Raising. Enchanting.

Now just as an aside, I do not expect anyone to believe me about this. I can see the way the Pali is being thought of today. It is dry, uninviting, and lifeless. But anyone out there who has a curious mind who thinks that there might be more to this stuff than what he has seen to this point is invited by me to 'cast' this spell. Take my version or anyone's version but you must do the entire spell (mine is at least completely written out). I doubt that there is a teacher out there today that can get further than half way through the first series before giving up. Or, if he persists past the point where he is thinking that 'this just isn't going over!' he will see his audience get up and walk out. How come?

It is because this matter is not thoroughly understood by him, so say I! He will say it is boring. But, then, how is it that it wasn't boring when it was cast by Gotama? What did he put into it that is being left out now? Just something to think about.


[1] In reference to Sabbaṅ, it is my opinion that this is not the word that is found in this position in the original Mulapariyaya Spell. I believe that word was Sassatta = Endlessness. It may be that this term was changed by Gotama for his version, "The Sabbhadhammamulapariyaya," or it may be that this term was changed by later editors. It is not unusual for a term to appear out of place. Bhante Punnaji has suggested in a personal communication that some of the illogical ordering of lists may be a deliberate attempt to keep the student awake. There is also a tradition in the Jatakas of the Bodhisattva correcting the manner in which a Vedic teaching is recollected.

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