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27 days ago

Pāḷi: these two misrepresent the Buddha

by Denis Wallez (@DenisWallez)
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Dveme, bhikkhave, tathāgataṃ abbhācikkhanti. Katame dve? Yo ca neyyatthaṃ suttantaṃ nītattho suttantoti dīpeti, yo ca nītatthaṃ suttantaṃ neyyattho suttantoti dīpeti. Ime kho, bhikkhave, dve tathāgataṃ abbhācikkhantī.

neyyatha sutta (AN 2.24)


Dve(nom.1 dvi: 2)-ime(m.2 nom. pl.3 ayaṃ: these), bhikkhave(voc. pl. bhikkhu: renunciants), tathāgataṃ(acc. sg. tathāgata4: the Buddha) abbhācikkhanti(3rdpl. abbhācikkhati: calumniate).

Renunciants, these two calumniate the Buddha.

Katame(? pl. katama: which) dve(2)?

Which 2?

Yo(m. nom. sg. ya: he who) ca(and) neyyatthaṃ(neyya-attha: to-be-inferred + meaning = [which has5] a meaning to be inferred) suttantaṃ(acc. sg. sutta: discourse) nītattho(nīta-attha: [which has] already-inferred meaning) suttanto(nom. sg. sutta)-ti (end quote) dīpeti(3rdsg. dīpeti: explains),

He who explains a discourse to be interpreted as “the discourse [is] conclusive”, and

yo ca nītatthaṃ suttantaṃ neyyattho suttantoti dīpeti.

he who explains an explicit discourse as “the discourse is to be interpreted”.

Ime(nom. pl. ayaṃ: they) kho(emphase), bhikkhave, dve tathāgataṃ abbhācikkhantī.

Renunciants, these two misrepresent the Buddha.



Renunciants, these two tarnish the Buddha: he who explains intermediary steps as conclusions, and he who explains final words as mere points to elucidate further. Renunciants, these two misrepresent the Buddha.

neyyatha sutta (AN 2.24)


The joke, of course, is that the Buddha didn't preface his various speeches with warnings (“this is neyyatha” / “this is nītattha”)… so we're sort of left to guess.

Some schools ended up interpreting this in relation to truths in conventional terms (e.g. ‘persons’) vs. truths in atomic phenomenological terms (e.g. ‘lust’) —samuti / vohāra vs. paramattha respectively,— while other schools took different angles, e.g. distinguishing essence / existence vs. function.

What the Pāḷi points to, are thinking processes with some steps left to unfold, vs. thinking processes which have reached their end… hence this says nothing about the topics such enquiries were about!!!

Which is to say: the usual interpretations of this sutta (all pretending that there's clarity vis-à-vis which topics are to-be-interpreted and which aren't) are misrepresentations!!!

Oh the irony!


This is similar to the Buddha's statement, just before he died, that the ‘minor’ rules of the monastic code could be abolished, if the community so wished… The problem was: no one knew which ones he considered ‘minor’! The Theravāda school chose not to change anything, as a result of doubt, but some other schools elected to indeed adapt their monastic code.