28 May 2010

Hierarchies of Values

I wrote last week about Philology and the idea that a text has one true reading over and above the multitude readings that individuals with varying hermeneutics find. [see: Truth and Philology] A few days later I listened to a BBC radio documentary about science and god, and in one segment evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson commented that religious beliefs can have "truth value" and "survival value". The latter determine how we will behave and are therefore of much greater importance to evolution than the former. In fact he suggested that the truth value of beliefs counted "for zip" in evolutionary terms. I started to think about the various kinds of values that affect what we believe, for instance: survival, utility, power, aesthetic, truth. I was aiming for a broad overview and I don't claim this is a complete list.

What occurred to me was that the list had some similarities with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you don't know about Maslow it would be a good idea to glance at a summary. Maslow was a psychologist who was interested in what contributed to a happy healthy human being. He saw that in order for someone to fulfil their potential certain things had to be in place. His hierarchy then placed broad categories of needs in the order that they need to be fulfilled - often visually represented as a pyramid. The needs are
  1. physiological: food, water, shelter
  2. safety: dealing with immediate threats to life
  3. social: belonging, love, affection
  4. esteem: status within a social group and self-esteem
  5. self-actualization: fulfilling our individual potential.
The point is that if needs lower down the pyramid are not met, then it is difficult to try to meet those above, for example we're not so worried about self-esteem if we are starving. I think the idea works best at the lower levels. Exceptions become apparent such as the lonely and alienated artist creating their best work, or the hermit who does not need or want company. Perhaps it is best to think of Maslow's hierarchy as a very broad generalisation that is true most of the time despite obvious exceptions.

If Sloan Wilson is right and the survival value of religious belief is more significant than the truth value, then this opens up an interesting discussion. Survival is all to do with the lower two levels of the pyramid. Factual truth, while sometimes also having a survival value, is a more abstract value and belongs higher up the hierarchy and so will only become important when lower values have fulfilled their function. I want to look at belief in karma as an example and see how this scheme might apply.

Karma is not simple homogeneous belief structure. There are wide variations in how it is understood and applied. But let us say for argument's sake that karma concerns the way behaviour in this life determines the circumstances in which 'we' will be reborn. This is not too far from what most Buddhist traditions say is true about karma.

In terms of factual truth we are not in a position to say one way or the other whether karma is true - and this is true of any and every variation of karma belief. To demonstrate any theory of karma we would need to have reliable access to memories of former lives, or we would need to have the ability of the Buddha to predict the destination of the deceased, and confirm our predictions. What we have are a series of oft-repeated generic anecdotes, and references to exceptional individuals who display precocious talent. They are pretty poor evidence, though sufficient for some. We do have a further dilemma here because doctrinally the individual reborn is not the same as the one who acts, nor different, but arises in dependence on causes. So in fact the link between one being and another is quite difficult to understand. Personality clearly does not survive death, so how can memories? Are memories somehow distinct from personality? Are memories stored in some way external to the being, and in this case why are they specific to the individual? The problem of continuity is profound - in order to literally recall past lives there must be continuity, which is tantamount to proposing an ātman. If we are not simply credulous, we quickly end up in a metaphysical tangle.

However, the belief in karma has other values. One of Sloan Wilson's suggestions is that beliefs are important because they help communities establish what is acceptable conduct and how the community should be organised. Clearly religious beliefs are powerful in this sphere. Karma is part of a moral system which emphasises personal responsibility. In small societies every one knows what everyone else is doing. In a group of up to 150 (the higher Dunbar number) it is difficult to keep breaches of moral codes secret - everyone knows everyone else's business. But in larger groups it becomes progressively more difficult to know the business of others, and secrecy is more possible, and perhaps more likely. One of the functions of the belief in karma is to 'police' unobserved actions. The fact that we are not caught, not observed acting, does not exempt us from the consequences. This kind of proxy observation, then, is a useful tool for social cohesion because it encourages everyone to follow societal norms even when unobserved or when there is no chance of being caught doing something wrong. Values of fairness and safety will be served if everyone 'knows' that the consequences of actions follow even when done in secret.

On the individual level karma offers a general principle, alongside the ethical guidelines that inevitably accompany it, for helping an individual determine how to behave. As I have often repeated, the Buddha equated karma and intention. So not only are one's secret actions covered by karma, but even one's private thoughts! Karma represents a pan-opticon more pervasive than anything dreamed up by 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who coined the term. This potentially sinister view of karma need not result in a Catholic Church style set-up with 'priests' overseeing the process and moderating 'forgiveness'. In early Buddhism, indeed, there is no forgiveness just consequences, though interestingly later Buddhists changed this and allowed for even the unforgivable actions to be ameliorated, and for god-like beings to intercede and save the sinner from themselves. Karma is a system that needs no human intervention and this is part of the beauty of it. There is no role for a persecuting authority figure disguised as a forgiving intercessor, who gains an advantage over us by knowing our dirty secrets. The individual is empowered.

Despite the doubtful truth value of the belief, it seems clear that individuals and societies would be better off if they believed in some form of karma. The karma doctrine has clear survival, safety, social, and self-esteem value by helping people to behave in ways that naturally maximise these. Because the goals of the belief system are expressed in broad general principles they are not specific to one time, place, or culture. Ultimately having these more basic needs met supports the search for liberation. The belief in karma has advantages over beliefs in overseeing gods, or a surveillance society, because it is impersonal. Yes, it dictates that suffering is caused by unwholesome actions, but karma is not subject to the foibles of gods or people: karma is not vindictive, it is not vengeful, it does not demand worship or sacrifice.

There is a minor problem in deciding which form of the karma doctrine to believe in. Do we accept that everything is due to our previous actions, or are there other less personal causes operating in the world? I've explored the early Buddhist view on this in my essay Is Karma Responsible for Everything? To quote from my conclusion in that essay:
The idea that everything that happens is a result of kamma is a common enough wrong view to have a name: Pubbekata-hetu-ditthi (literally 'the with-past-actions-as-cause view'). For a canonical discussion of this you could try the Devadaha Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 101). Bhikkhu Thanissaro's version on Access to Insight comes with a useful introduction.
However people in different traditions will probably find it more conducive to follow the karma belief of their own tradition. We do need to be clear that we cannot assert the karma belief as factually true, but we can point to it's pragmatic usefulness. In this I think I may differ from Stephen Bachelor who acknowledges that such beliefs can only be provisional (hence the phrase 'agnostic Buddhism'), but does not assert the value of them.

image: Jacob's Ladder by William Blake.

21 May 2010

Truth and Philology

I recently attended a colloquium with Professor Sheldon 'Shelly' Pollock (left) at Cambridge University which was ostensibly about philology and culture. Actually the first half was about attacks on philology as a discipline and the second half a mix of talks mostly by historians which touched on the subject of the role of Sanskrit in Indian culture. A major theme of the afternoon consisted of rhetorical questions for Prof Pollock in light of his 2001 article "The Death of Sanskrit". [1] This article appeared as part of a series of articles under the rubric of Sanskrit Knowledge-Systems on the Eve of Colonialism.

I hadn't realised just how poorly philology is viewed by other humanities scholars. It seems that the philological enterprise is closely allied to colonialism in the minds of many scholars. As such it has been seen as a tool of Orientalism (per Edward Said's polemic against European scholars of Islamic literature and culture). If those scholars present were correct then the attempts to curtail academic philology, to divert their funding, and dismantle their departments are coming not from the sciences but from fellow humanities scholars. It was evidently quite a painful topic. Maybe calling myself an amateur philologist is a bad idea? I am a colonial though not, I think, a colonialist, let alone an imperialist. Another thing to come out of the discussions is the poor state of Classical language study in India which is not only not producing world class scholars as it used to, but losing the knowledge of languages and scripts altogether in some cases. See Prof Pollock's article in The Hindu [2]

Several people pointed out that all scholars who deal with texts, especially texts not in their mother tongue and even more so ancient texts in languages which are no one's mother tongue, must of necessity employ philological methods - just as economists and sociologist employ mathematical tools. Though I did not agree that everyone should learn philology just like everyone learns mathematics - Prof Pollock likes to make bold statements in order to stimulate discussion.

One thing which stood out was Prof Pollock's vehement rejection of the post-modern approach to truth. I'm no post modernist, nor well versed in that idiom, but as I understand it the argument is that the 'meaning' of a text is a negotiation between the reader, the text and the author. As such it meaning is entirely relative to who is reading it. Pollock on the other hand was insistent that though each reader does tend to find there own message in a text, that there is a 'true meaning' to any given text and that we can discover what that is by employing the methods of philology.

One of the speakers got a laugh by quoting a Victorian scholar who felt that Sanskrit was not a useful language because it was too rich in synonyms. I didn't catch the name but the theme is an important one in European intellectual history and explored quite entertainingly in Umberto Eco's book The Search for the Perfect Language. The idea is that everything ought to have one unique name in order that the imperfection of ambiguity be removed language. In this view the ideal of communication is the elimination of ambiguity. It has resonances with the idea that before the Tower of Babel incident in the Book of Genesis everyone spoke one language and that synonymy is a product of the sundering of languages. More broadly concern for original truths, the notion that a fundamental truth can be expressed in a text is something specific to the intellectual milieu growing out of religions of the book, especially Christianity, and specifically Protestantism. [3] (The Higher criticism not-withstanding). One powerful symbol deriving from this ideology is the evolution of languages and species described as trees with branches spreading out from an origin. In fact neither species nor languages are related to each other in this way. There is always hybridisation for instance. There are crossed branches (look at English for instance). Regional factors in language - such as retroflex consonants in Sanskrit - cannot be explained by the tree structure since they come from another tree altogether!

My sense is that Pollock subscribes to a variety of this idea, that the role of the philologist is to remove ambiguity from reading texts in order to establish an absolute truth - he certainly emphasised his point dramatically when stating it. I foresee some problems with this. It is quite striking that one of Prof Pollock's repeated statements during the day was that his articles, especially his article on the death of Sanskrit had been misunderstood by his contemporaries and that what people were really arguing with was ideas they imputed to him (having presumably misread his text). Setting down an idea on paper (or in a blog) is far from easy - great writing is a rare gift. The thought is seldom entirely captured by the text. What's more we always bring our own preconceived ideas to reading a text - our conditioning, our education, etc. Pollock seemed to argue that it is possible for us to read a text without somehow triggering any of these factors. Is this really possible? If one's living contemporaries don't get it, then what hope for the rest? I can think of examples of scholars who are not Buddhists who have shed important light on Buddhist texts (Jan Nattier, Sue Hamilton, Richard Gombrich, Paul Harrison, etc); but I can think of larger number of scholars who have simply missed the point of the texts - I can't bear reading comparative religion texts for this reason.

The problem is magnified by an order of magnitude when we consider that the discussion we were having was on texts written centuries ago in a language which may never have been anyone's mother tongue. We seldom gain the same mastery of a second language, that we do of our mother tongue. So that adds a layer of potential confusion to the text. There is always the possibility that having understood the words, we fail to understand the argument. Much early scholarship of Buddhism is like this.

At best a manuscript might be a 5th or 6th generation copy in passable handwriting, and my observation is that handwriting is often appalling in these manuscripts. It will be in a script we have learned only for the purpose. It may or may not accurately record long and short vowels; anusvāra and anunāsika; similar pairs such as b/v, m/s etc. Take into account also the effects of dialects. Although Classical Sanskrit is reasonably well defined there are ambiguities - times when only the context can supply the preferred reading. Other times when the reading remains obscure. Within Classical Sanskrit were still minor dialectical variations, and when it comes to Pāli or other Prakrits and Buddhist Sanskrit then ambiguity radically expands. We translate to the best of our ability, perhaps we consult previous translations and commentaries, but even a complete novice can see the extent of variation that occurs in two expert translations of even a simple text. [4]

We also need to understand the time and place of the author. As I pointed out in my simple example The Stream of Life (April 2010) basic metaphors might be lost on us if we have no first hand experience of the geography which gave rise to the metaphor. Professor Richard Gombrich has reconstructed metaphors and even jokes that were lost for centuries - many more remain so opaque to us that we don't even know to look for them. Political and social events also shape the way an author puts their thoughts into words in ways that we need to comprehend in order to fully understand their idiom. When we are talking about Indian some tens of centuries ago how can we hope to do this accurately. It may be that Prof Pollock had in mind his project on (just) pre-colonial India which is reasonably well documented and represented in thousands of texts, but the situation with pre-sectarian Buddhism is completely different. The context is almost entirely supplied by the texts themselves - there is no neutral view point from which to view the text. We have reason to doubt that taking such a neutral position would ever have occurred to an ancient author.

So can we ever say that we know the 'truth' encapsulated by a text? With ancient Indian texts? Not hardly! It may be that all we can hope to do is approach the 'truth' of a text asymptotically without ever getting to an absolute, but continuing to go deeper approaching the limit, but never reaching it. Does this leave us with post-modern relativism? Well that would be to collapse into pessimism. As Buddhists we have a particular take on texts because so many of them are actually recipes. We have the option, open to everyone but rejected by the objectifying scholar, of baking the cake. While academics argue about the truth of the recipe for meditation, we can sit down and pay attention in the way the texts describe and see what happens. Anyone who has done this knows that something interesting happens, even if we do not feel very adept at it or able to fully commit to that exploration. This unwillingness to commit to practical action based on what the texts say will always relegate the academic to secondary importance in dealing with Buddhist texts. The history of the time, the intellectual arguments are quite interesting, and I for one eagerly read any new insights into these questions, but they are merely interesting and not vital. In putting the recipe to work we can then evaluate the results and adjust it if necessary - our authority is not the recipe, but the cake itself!

In the long-run many of the questions which engage secular objectifying academics are not very important to me. I value their work but only to the point where it helps me to practice more effectively. And I need to be clear that my faith owes a great debt to some scholars and to their intellectual endeavour. Claims to discover truth in texts are always going to be suspect, and if Sheldon Pollock, Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, has shot himself in the foot by proclaiming the death of Sanskrit, then he shoots higher up in claiming to be able to determine absolutely what a text means. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

  1. Pollock, Sheldon. 'The death of Sanskrit.' Comparative Studies in History and Society, 43.2, 2001, 392-426. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pollock/sks/papers/death_of_sanskrit.pdf
  2. Pollock, Sheldon. "The Real Classical Languages Debate" (The Hindu, 27 November 2008) http://www.columbia.edu/cu/mesaas/faculty/directory/pollock_pub/real_classical_languages.pdf
  3. I have an untested theory that only the Roman Catholic European philosophers who, historically, do not rely so heavily on the authority of the Bible could come up with the post-modern reading of texts which dispenses entirely with the authority of the text; whereas the Protestant Anglo-Americans who, partly in reaction to Catholicism, take the Bible as their main authority are much less tolerant of the idea that no absolute truth resides in texts. It's something that would require a lot more thought before trying to articulate it more fully.
  4. Paul Harrison is about to bring out a new translation of the Diamond Sūtra which should put all previous translations in the shade. Watch this excellent YouTube video of Prof. Harrison talking about his work. Personally I'm excited by this.
The colloquium was organised by The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH). Image from their website.

14 May 2010

Progress is Natural

SangharakshitaOne of Sangharakshita's great contributions to the Dharma has been his exegesis on what he called 'the spiral path'. This is a teaching that was lost to the Buddhist world, despite being preserved in the texts, until it was brought to light by Mrs Rhys Davids in the introduction of her translation to the Saṃyutta Nikāya. It is a vital counterpart to the application of paṭicca-samuppāda found in the twelve-fold nidāna chain. In this long lost twin we find an answer to the question of how enlightenment is possible for unenlightened people. Having lost what seems like the Buddha's original answer to this question, the Buddhist tradition came up with many and varied answers of its own, some more successful than others. But for me none has the simplicity or the raw intensity of this Pāli text. When Sangharakshita wrote about this teaching [1] he was only aware of the Upanisā Sutta (SN 12.23, PTS S ii.29) however myself and other scholars in the Triratna Buddhist Order have subsequently discovered a number of other texts which explore the second form of paṭicca-samuppāda. [2] This one from the chapter of tens from the Aṅguttara Nikāya is my personal favourite.

The Discourse on Forming an intention [3]

The virtuous one, endowed with virtue [sīlavant sīlasampanna] need not form an intention 'may my conscience be clear'. It is natural for the virtuous one endowed with virtue to have a clear conscience. Having a clear conscience [avippaṭisāra] there is no need to will 'may I feel joy'. Joy naturally arises in those who have a clear conscience. The joyful [pāmojja] need not decide 'may I be filled with rapture'. Joyfulness naturally produces rapture. There is no need for the enraptured [pītimana] to resolve 'may my body calm down'. It is natural in the enraptured for the body to calm down. With a body at rest [passaddhakāya] there is no need to form the intention 'may I experience bliss'. With the body at rest they naturally experience bliss. The blissful [sukhina] don't need to will 'may my mind become composed'. The mind of the blissful is naturally composed. When the mind is composed [samādhiyatu] there is no need to think 'may I have knowledge and vision of experience as it is'. With the mind composed one naturally sees and knows experience as it is. Knowing and seeing experience as it is there is no need to form an intention 'May I become weary [of experience], may I become dispassionate [towards it]. It is natural when seeing experience as it is [yathābhuta jāna passa] that one becomes fed up and turns away from experience. Weary of experience and disinterested in it [ nibiddāvirāga] there is no need to wish 'may I experience for myself the knowledge and vision of liberation'. For, weary of experience and disinterested in it one naturally experiences knowledge and vision of liberation [vimuttiñāṇadassana].

Thus knowledge & vision of liberation is the benefit [attha] and blessing [ānisaṃsa] of being fed up and turning away. Being fed up and turning away is the benefit and blessing of knowledge & vision of experience as it is. Knowledge & vision of experience as it is, is the benefit and blessing of absorption. Absorption is the benefit and blessing of bliss. Bliss is the benefit and blessing of serenity. Serenity is the benefit and blessing of rapture. Rapture is the benefit and blessing of joy. Joy is the benefit and blessing of a clear conscience. A clear conscience is the benefit and blessing of moral competence..

Thus each one fills up the next, each one is fulfilled by the next, and goes from the near bank to the far bank.
This sutta seems to require very little in the way of commentary. however I do need to say a little about the word I have translated as 'naturally' or 'it is natural'. The word in Pāli is dhammatā. this is an abstract noun formed by adding be abstract suffix - to the familiar word dhamma. Bhikkhu Bodhi renders this as 'natural law'. The meaning relies on that sense of the word dhamma corresponding to the English 'nature', and is more literally 'nature-ness' i.e. natural.

The sequence of states (dhammā) mentioned in Pāli is:
sīlavant sīlasampanna > avippaṭisāra > pāmojja > pīti(mana) > passaddhakāya > samāhita/samādhi > yathābhūta jānata passata > nibbinna riratta > vimuttiñāṇadassa sacchikaroti.
The message of the text is very simple. Enlightenment is a natural process. One thing leads to another, each one 'filling up' (abhisandeti) the next, and becoming its fulfilment (paripūreti). I think it's a very interesting reflection for us moderns who are wont to say "I just want to be happy". In this way of looking at things there is no need to form an intention to be happy. If one wants to be happy than one needs to look at the conditions that bring about happiness, especially by being virtuous.

The text is saying that if only we practice virtue in the Buddhist sense of that word, then all else follows quite naturally. There is a compelling logic to this. But it is also pragmatic, and very much in the spirit of 'come and see' (ehi passiko). It is not that no effort is required, far from it. But if we pay attention to the fundamentals, then the rest will take care of itself. Accepting this scheme as a possibility is the beginning of the spiritual life. Finding it to be true in one's own experience is the beginning of faith. Giving oneself up to it is the beginning of insight.

  1. See: A Survey of Buddhism. 7th Ed. 1993, p.135ff [Chp 1, sect. 14 'Saṃsāra and Nirvāṇa']; and The Three Jewels. 3rd Ed. 1991, p.108ff [chp 13 'The stages of the path'].
  2. I discuss the examples that I have located at the end of my essay: A Footnote To Sangharakshita's 'A Survey of Buddhism'. This is in need of a rewrite, but my friend Dhīvan is the expert and his book on the subject, This Being, That Becomes: The Buddha's Teaching on Conditionality, is due out soon.
  3. Cetanākaraṅīya Sutta AN 10.2, PTS A v.2. My translation based on the Pāli text as tripitaka.org. Also translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi in his AN anthology 'The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha', p.238-9 as 'The Lawfulness of Progress'.
image: Sangharakshita, from Manchester Triratna Buddhist Centre.

The main sources are for the Spiral Path:
  • Upanisā Sutta - SN 23.15
  • Pamādavihārī Sutta - SN 35.97
  • AN 10 1-5 and 11 1-5
  • AN 8.81; which recurs with fewer steps as AN 7.65, 6.50, 5.24, 5.168.
  • Samaññāphala Sutta - D2, repeated in D 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.
  • Dasuttara Sutta - DN 34
  • Vatthūpama Sutta MN 7
  • Kandaraka Sutta - MN 51
  • Visuddhimagga: I.32 (p.13 in Ñāṇamoli's translation).

07 May 2010

Philological odds and ends III

philologyMany words have interesting stories associated with them. This is a third set of terms which have caught my eye as having some interest, but which did not rate a whole essay on their own.

In this post: Bodhisattva, anagārikā, samyak/mithyā (Pāli sammā/micchā)

The typical explanation of this word tells us that sattva is the Sanskrit word for 'being', an abstract noun from sat 'true, real', ultimately from the verbal root √as 'to be' (cognate with English 'is'). Sanskrit used the notion of 'being' in much the same way we do in English: being 'a state of existence (or realness) and; a being 'a living entity'. Sat (and its derivative satya) was a very important term in Vedic metaphysics, and is still important in contemporary Hindu metaphysics. Adding the -tva suffix gives 'truth' or 'reality'.

It's plausible enough, however the Pāli commentaries take the Pāli equivalent satta as related to either sakta 'intent on' (the past-participle of the verb √sañj 'clinging'); or from śakta meaning 'capable of' (pp from √śak 'strong, capable, able'). The suggestion then is that sattva is a hyper-sanskritisation similar to sūkta > sutta > sūtra as discussed in Philological Odds and Ends I. In this case Sanskrit satka, śakta and sattva all become satta in Pāli and other Prakrits. The option of 'intent on' (satka) would fit the way 'bodhisattva' practitioners are described in very early Mahāyāna Sūtras (e.g. the Ugraparipṛccha - see Jan Nattier. A Few Good Men).

A bodhisattva, then, is 'intent on bodhi' and perhaps should be spelt bodhisakta (though centuries of tradition weigh against such a correction). The word is an adjective used in the sense of someone aspiring to, or about to, attain bodhi and become a Buddha. Both buddha and bodhi deriving from the same root √budh 'to understand, to wake up to' - buddha is the past-participle meaning 'awoken', while bodhi is verbal noun meaning 'knowledge' (c.f. buddhi 'intelligence').

Note the spelling 'satva' (with a single 't') seems to have begun as a scribal error - inadvertently leaving off the extra 't'. There is a word satvan which is literally 'one who possesses sat', and which is used to mean 'living, breathing' and 'powerful, strong, a warrior'. The nominative singular is satvā, and it is purposefully used in some cases to describe the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas - they are described as mahāsatvā 'great heros' in the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha Tantra for instance. Cf the use of mahāsattva which is commonly used in Mahāyāna sūtras.

Someone asked me about this word. The Sanskrit is anāgarikā (fem) meaning 'homeless'. The word is not in PED, but it does occur 3x in the Cullanidesa (a commentarial text included in the Canon): once as anagārikassa (the dative - to/for the homeless), and twice in the compound anagārikamitto (friend of the homeless). This seems to be the only use in Pāli and I deduce that the word is masculine or neuter in Pāli 'anāgarika' (short final 'a'). Given that is doesn't occur in the Canon per se it seems unlikely to have been used in the same sense as we think of it, i.e. it's not a technical term. The Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Dictionary suggests that the Pāli equivalent is anāgariya. PED points to the entry for agāra/agāriya. Agāra (same in Sanskrit) just means 'house'. Under agāriya it notes that it is usually used in the (feminine) negative: 'anagāriyā'. It is used in the context of going forth (pabbajita) into the 'homeless' life - so is the same technical term (PED notes agāriya = agārika). An agārika is a layperson - i.e. someone who dwells in a house (as opposed to a paribbājaka or vagrant).

samyak/mithyā (Pāli sammā/micchā)
This pair of adjectives find frequent use in Buddhist terminology. For instance there is samyagdṛṣṭi (P. sammādiṭṭhi) and mithyādṛṣṭi (P. micchādiṭṭhi), that is right-view and wrong-view. Samyak/samyag are forms demanded by sandhi, and the base form of the word is samyañc. The root here is √añc 'to bend'. The prefix saṃ- here makes it mean 'to bend with', and the 'y' being a euphonic insertion. In common parlance we might even say that it means 'to go with the flow or grain'. There is an applied meaning which is to pay respects to - i.e. to bow to or with. I often think that Indian metaphors owe a lot to the early Indo-Europeans having lived in places where rivers where very important. Samyañc 'to bend with' comes to mean, via bending the right way, or going with the natural order, 'correct, right' and perhaps even 'perfect' (i.e. getting everything right). Mithyā on the other hand is a contracted form of mithūyā and means 'inverted', or 'contrary'. The root here is √mith meaning both to 'alternate' and to 'altercate' (a nice summing up by William Dwight Whitney!) From this root we get the indeclinable particle mithu which indicates 'an alternate', or some kind of conflict; as well as similar sounding word, mithuna, meaning 'a pair'. So samyakdṛṣṭi means 'to have a world-view which is in accordance with the natural order; to be seeing things as they are'; while mithyādṛṣṭi means ' to have a world-view which is contrary to how things are, which goes against the grain'.

See also
Related Posts with Thumbnails