Week 10 Update: EĀ Chapters 2-3, 8-9 Released

It’s been two months since I posted an update! Time flies sometimes. I will be making an effort to set aside time to blog more frequently in the future. I’m going to shoot for a post once a week, perhaps more. (Which means once a week or biweekly, probably.)

The heavenly messengers of birth, illness, old age, and death have been paying us visits of late. We recently lost an elderly cat to a long and lingering illness. She suffered from a difficult to treat infection as well as arthritis, fragile bones, and difficulty eating. She continued to live as best as she could up to the very end, and she is missed more than I expected. We humans have such deep capacity to care and wish against reality. I sometimes think it’s what makes us both the most noble and most pathetic among the living things on this planet. So, we’ve been in mourning the past week now she has been gone. It’s amazing what an emotional hole a loved one (human or otherwise) can leave for those that live on. It serves as a yet another reminder to me that my own life is entering the final stretch, the length of which is hard to know. Twenty years? Ten years? Five? One? It’s hard to know.

But mortality hasn’t been the only lesson we’ve received this winter. The rainy season this year in California has been more like a monsoon. Which means everything green, furry, and feathered is growing, blooming, and breeding. Even in the middle of a major urban landscape like Los Angeles, we can see life responding to the influx of water. Milkweed has been growing around our neighborhood, monarch butterflies have been laying eggs, and caterpillars have been feasting on the milkweed. We rescued a half dozen caterpillars that happened to be on some milkweed clippings thrown into a dumpster by our place. We fished them out and kept them fed. Three entered their chrysalis stage in between the rains, and they eventually emerged as butterflies. We put them on a couple potted plants outside where they sat overnight until the morning sun shined on them. Then, they flapped their wings slowly, gathering up the sun’s energy, and flew off into the world. Again, there was a twinge of loss after looking after them for nearly a month.

There is really no understanding of life without comprehending its entirety, from beginning to end. In the individual moments, when context isn’t fully grasped, a person loses themselves when the moment is lost. Such experiences serve to bring me back to what’s important, and to lose interest in what isn’t. As the Confucianists like to say:

Things have their roots and branches, affairs have their end and beginning. When you know what comes first and what comes last, then you are near the Way.

The Great Learning, trans. Muller

The Āgama translation project continues to chug along. I’ve been working my way through Ekottarika Āgama (EĀ) Chapters 8-10 the past month, which are part of the Book of Ones. So, these are short and sweet sutras that don’t get into any heavy philosophical arguments or dramatic storytelling. For the most part, they simply identify important concepts central to Buddhist practice. There are a couple exceptions, but they appear to be insertions that don’t really belong in the original collection.

These chapters serve as an interesting study of what an early Aṅguttara Nikāya (AN) may have looked like prior to the intense subdividing and abbreviation of texts into pithy paragraphs and lines. This was done, apparently, to increase the overall number of suttas that could be counted in the Book of Ones. It may have also been an adoption of the concept of a sutra in the larger Indian tradition, which was usually a short aphoristic sentence or series of keywords used as the outline for expansive commentary.

In EĀ, there is only one section of the Book of Ones that shows this same tendency, which is the list of disciples found in Chapter 4-7 (~AN 1.188-267), where each “sutra” is really ten sutras, each abbreviated to a single line. This intent is made quite clear by the uddana verses that follow each numbered “sutra” in the Taisho edition: They are actually vaggas of ten abbreviated sutras. But beyond this example, EĀ’s Book of Ones contains full-blown sutras that include traditional introductions and conclusions. Many appear to follow a format that’s found in the Itivuttaka, in which the Buddha identifies a single thing as being significant, and a prose section is concluded with verses that serve to reiterate it.

Let’s a take closer look at the chapters that have been released since my last update.

Chapter 2: The Ten Recollections

This chapter devotes a standardized sutra to each of the ten recollections that we find paralleled in AN 1.296-305. The refrain used to extoll each of these ten practices is very similar to what we find in Pali, but AN abbreviates these sutras to only a paragraph, and then that paragraph is further abbreviated to only the names of each recollection. This doesn’t happen in EĀ, which keeps each sutra fully intact.

The order of the ten recollections is also a bit different in EĀ than in AN. When we look at the uddana at the end of the Chapter 2, we see four groups of the ten with discernible themes:

  1. The three jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha),
  2. Good conduct and its reward (precepts, generosity, and the gods),
  3. Meditation (mindfulness of breathing and peace)
  4. Mortality (the body and death).

In AN, the first two groups are clearly intact, but then the order changes after the gods: Mindfulness of breathing, death, the body, and peace. It’s probably no accident that the order in AN and EĀ diverges after the initial six recollections. It’s likely that this list of ten was an expansion of an older list of six.

Finally, the statement that leads into each of these list items in AN and EĀ are quite similar, if not verbatim:

AN 1.296 EĀ 2.1
Ekadhammo, bhikkhave, bhāvito bahulīkato ekantanibbidāya virāgāya nirodhāya upasamāya abhiññāya sambodhāya nibbānāya saṁvattati. 當修行一法,當廣布一法;便成神通,去眾亂想,逮沙門果,自致涅槃。
One thing, mendicants, when developed and cultivated, leads solely to disillusionment, dispassion, cessation, peace, insight, awakening, and extinguishment. (Sujato) One should cultivate one thing and disseminate one thing. Then, they will achieve spiritual knowledge, dispel their confused ideas, win the fruits of the ascetic, and bring about nirvāṇa themselves. (Patton)

The last two items in Pali (awakening and extinguishment), are synonymous with those in the Chinese (fruits of the ascetic and Nirvāṇa). We can see that these must be quite old sutras that have been perhaps expanded a bit in later times with different but roughly equivalent statements about the process of liberation.

Chapter 3: Broader Explanations

This chapter repeats the ten recollections found in Chapter 2, but it expands the introduction to each sutra and includes a brief description of each. While this chapter has no direct parallel in AN, we do find a similar type of commentary on the six of the recollections at AN 6.10. These two sets of commentaries do not appear to reflect a common tradition, however. Let’s set them side by side:

AN 6.10 (Sujato) EĀ 3.1 (Patton)
‘That Blessed One is perfected, a fully awakened Buddha, accomplished in knowledge and conduct, holy, knower of the world, supreme guide for those who wish to train, teacher of gods and humans, awakened, blessed.’ Suppose a monk … visualizes the Tathāgata’s form until it never leaves his eyes. Once it doesn’t leave his eyes, then he recollects the Tathāgata’s virtues: ‘The Tathāgata’s body is made of diamond. Having perfected the ten powers, he’s courageous amidst his assembly with four kinds of fearlessness. The Tathāgata’s appearance is handsome, unmatched, and not tiresome to watch. His discipline and virtue are accomplished, unbreakable like diamond, and pure and flawless like beryl.’
The Tathāgata’s samādhi never lacked anything. Once calmed, he was forever tranquil, without another thought. Arrogance, violence, and the passions were pacified. He had completely eliminated the entangling bonds of wishes, angry notions, confused thoughts, and doubts.
The Tathāgata’s body of wisdom was a knowledge without limit or impediment. The Tathāgata’s body had accomplished liberation, had reached the end of destinations, and no longer would decide: ‘I will fall into birth and death again.’ The Tathāgata’s body had reached knowing and seeing the city [of nirvāṇa]. He knew whether other people had the capacity to be liberated or not. ‘Here they die, and there they’re born. Round they turn, reborn until the end of birth and death.’ He fully knew who was liberated and who wasn’t.
AN 6.10 EĀ 3.2
‘The teaching is well explained by the Buddha—apparent in the present life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.’ Suppose a monk … focuses on recollecting the Dharma. He rids himself of the craving for desires, doesn’t have any afflictions, and thoughts of thirsty craving don’t arise anymore. With the correct Dharma, he arrives at being desireless amidst desires and parts with the illness of the bonds and hindrances. This Dharma is like a breeze of many fragrances. His thinking doesn’t have any flaws or confused ideas.
AN 6.10 EĀ 3.3
‘The Saṅgha of the Buddha’s disciples is practicing the way that’s good, direct, methodical, and proper. It consists of the four pairs, the eight individuals. This is the Saṅgha of the Buddha’s disciples that is worthy of offerings dedicated to the gods, worthy of hospitality, worthy of a religious donation, worthy of greeting with joined palms, and is the supreme field of merit for the world.’ The Tathāgata’s noble assembly achieves good deeds. They are honest, follow doctrine, and don’t do any wrong deeds. Seniors and juniors are in harmony, and they accomplish the teachings. The Tathāgata’s noble assembly is accomplished in precepts, accomplished in samādhi, and accomplished in wisdom. They’re accomplished in liberation and accomplished in knowing and seeing liberation.
‘Noble assembly’ means the four pairs and eight ranks of people. They are called the Tathāgata’s noble assembly who ought to be respected, served, and paid homage. For what reason? Because they are the world’s field of merit. Those among these assemblies are one and the same vessel, and they liberate other people by liberating themselves with the path of three vehicles. Those who do this work are called the ‘noble assembly.’
AN 6.10 EĀ 3.4
… a noble disciple recollects their own ethical conduct, which is unbroken, impeccable, spotless, and unmarred, liberating, praised by sensible people, not mistaken, and leading to immersion. ‘The precepts’ refers to the precepts that make it possible to achieve the path by stopping evil deeds and that cause people to rejoice. The precepts are a jeweled body because they make many beautiful things appear. The rules and precepts are like a fortune vase that provides what one wishes, for the factors of the path derive from accomplishing the precepts.
AN 6.10 EĀ 3.5
‘I’m so fortunate, so very fortunate! Among people full of the stain of stinginess I live at home rid of stinginess, freely generous, open-handed, loving to let go, committed to charity, loving to give and to share.’ ‘Now, my gift is the highest of gifts. I’ll always get its good benefits gladly without regret or ideas of compensation. If someone criticizes me, I’ll never respond in kind. Suppose someone were to hurt me by punching me, hitting me with a stick, or throwing rocks or bricks at me. I will think kindly of them and not become angry. My gift will be a generous attitude that doesn’t stop.’
AN 6.10 EĀ 3.6
‘There are the Gods of the Four Great Kings, the Gods of the Thirty-Three, the Gods of Yama, the Joyful Gods, the Gods Who Love to Create, the Gods Who Control the Creations of Others, the Gods of Brahmā’s Host, and gods even higher than these. Their bodies are made by purity in body, speech, and mind, not performing polluted practices, and practicing the precepts. When they achieve those divine bodies, they shine with a light that nothing else can outshine. Those divine bodies are the rewards for good deeds. One achieves a divine body by perfecting many such practices.

As can be seen, a couple of the descriptions share some common ideas, but the two traditions are quite different. While AN 6.10 provides sometimes pat lists to describe the recollections, EĀ gives colorful descriptions that are much less formulaic in nature. It would, of course, be of interest to investigate what is contained in the Pali commentaries to AN, but this is beyond my own language skills.

Chapter 8: Asura

Chapter 8 brings us to a new section of EĀ’s Book of Ones. This chapter is generally parallel to AN’s One Person chapter (AN 1.170-187); however, a sutra has been added to the beginning that relates a parable about the asura king causing an eclipse. It has no relation to the remaining nine sutras, but the chapter has been named after it. A tenth One Person sutra is appended to the end of Chapter 10, suggesting that it was perhaps displaced when the asura sutra was added. Though they have the same format, EĀ Chapter 8 and AN 1.170-187 share only four direct parallels with each other.

Chapter 9: The Only Son

Chapter 9 opens a new group of sutras which continues to Chapter 10. In this section, we find pairs of sutras which were possibly single sutras divided in half at some point. This impression is reinforced by the observation that AN’s parallels have sometimes been divided further into five suttas and by the existence in one case (EĀ 9.7-8, AN 1.1-10) of one large sutra that parallels both EĀ and AN (T792). However, these extreme cases are only found at the end of the chapter. The other parallels to this chapter’s sutras are scattered between SN, AN, and the Itivuttaka.

1-2 SN 27.23-24
3-4 n/a
5-6 AN 1.43-44, Iti 20-21
7-8 AN 1.1-10, T792
9-10 AN 1.11-20

The chapter opens with parallels to SN 27.23-24, in which the Buddha gives advice on how a laywoman should encourage her only son (EĀ 9.1) or daughter (EĀ 9.2) with role models among the laity while they are at home and renunciates if they should leave home. The first sutra is addressed to sons, and so the chapter is named accordingly. The next two sutras observe how difficult the mind is to follow for ordinary people, and the second of the pair uses the famous metaphor of a monkey picking up and dropping things to illustrate this point.

The third pair of sutras predicts that people of good and bad mentalities are fated to be born in Heaven or Hell as a result. The format of these sutras is much closer to the Itivuttaka parallels than to the stripped down suttas in AN.

The last two pairs of sutras in Chapter 9 are parallel to AN 1.1-10 and AN 1.11-20, respectively. In both cases, AN’s redactors have created two sets of five suttas. In the first case, AN has created suttas for each of the five senses in a male and female context. In the second case, AN has devoted a sutta to each of the five hindrances in terms of their arising and ceasing. In EĀ, the redactors have satisfied themselves with pairs of sutras, and they may have preserved more of the original context.

That sums up the releases thus far since January. For those who are curious to learn more about the patterns of redaction that are apparent in AN and EĀ, I recommend the paper “The Structure and Formation of the Aṅguttara Nikāya and Ekottarika Āgama” by Dr. Kuan and Bucknell.

That’s it until next week. Once again, thanks to everyone supporting this project!

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