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  • Bittar Gabriel & Jacqueline, Buddhayatana
    Dear Robert, I congratulate you for the precision and intelligence of your answer, it is a very enlightening and useful clarification of the Buddhistic notion
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 11, 2002
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      Dear Robert,

      I congratulate you for the precision and intelligence of your answer, it is
      a very enlightening and useful clarification of the Buddhistic notion of
      "no soul, no self".

      Merci beaucoup, muchas gracias, thank you very much.

      Gabriel Jivasattha Bittar

      Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 18:24:02 +0000
      From: Robert Eddison <robedd@...>
      Subject: Re: Hello, i'm new to this group and would like to ask a few

      Samatha Savaka wrote:

      > Hello everyone, i'm new to this mailing list, i don't know Pali or
      >Sanskrit or Chinese, even though i have a few friends who do.
      >i was inclined to join this e-group because of some inquiries i have
      >regarding translations from the Nikayas.
      >Also, english is not native languange, spanish is, so excuse me if my
      >grammar is not proper.
      >Here are the questions i'd like to ask:

      Welcome to the list.

      >1. if a Jain can use Attan to mean Soul, how come a Buddhist can only
      >use Attan as himself, herself, oneself, etc... ?

      In fact both usages are found in Buddhist texts. The only difference is
      that when it is used in Buddhist texts to mean soul it will generally be
      part of some passage in which soul theories are rejected, whereas in a Jain
      text the soul's existence will be asserted. (By the way, although a few of
      the older Jain texts use aya -- a Prakrit cognate of attaa -- for the soul,
      the vast majority always use jiiva).

      As for the use of attaa for the reflexive pronoun, this is not limited to
      Pali Buddhist texts. You will find exactly the same usage in texts written
      in other Indian Sanskritic and Prakritic dialects, no matter whether their
      authors are Buddhist, Hindu or Jain.

      Even in a Hindu text that does propound a soul theory, if the text in
      question has a lot of narrative content (e.g. the Bhagavad Gita,
      Ramayana, Avadhut Gita and suchlike), you will find that the Sanskrit
      "aatman" more often functions as a reflexive pronoun than as a word for the


      Siitaa-devii praaptaprasavavedanam AATMAANAM atidu.hkhasa.mvegaad
      Gan.gaa-pravaahe nik.siptavatii

      "Queen Sita, when the pangs of childbirth were upon her, in the extremity
      of her suffering, threw *herself* into the Ganges."

      >2. When the nikayas were recorded using Pali, was there an agreement
      >on the cognitive level of the times which dictated that if you were
      >Buddhist and said the word Attan that that meant something else
      >besides Soul and that if you were a Jain Attan was indeed Soul?

      I wouldn't put it like that. The word attaa/aatman must have had some
      generally accepted denotations, else it would have been impossible for
      Buddhists, brahmins and Jains to talk to each other on the subject. On the
      other hand each sectarian group had its own take on what precisely the soul
      was, or on whether such a thing existed.

      >3. In spanish, when i say Espiritu (Spiritus, Spirit), the word's
      >meaning remains the same regardless of wether or not i believe in a
      >Espiritu. How come in Pali is different?

      In English when I say 'spirit' I might well be referring to gin, whiskey,
      vodka and suchlike. Strangely, when Germans say 'Geist' (spirit) they never
      mean anything of the sort. How come German is different?

      What exactly are you asking here? How come Pali isn't the same as Spanish?

      And are you seriously suggesting that in Spanish each word has only one
      meaning? I find it hard to believe the language could be that impoverished.
      In the case of espiritu does it not also mean espectro, ánimo, alma,
      respiración.... ?

      The point to note is that Pali, Sanskrit and related languages didn't have
      any words that corresponded exactly to reflexives such as 'myself',
      'himself', 'oneself' etc. So in order to convey the idea of reflexivity (of
      an action falling back upon the agent) some other method had to be
      employed. One was to use the indeclinable particle saya.m ('by oneself').
      The other, much more common way, was to use attaa.

      >4. Is there any possibility that such strange characteristics of the
      >Pali languague regarding the word Attan arise due to sectarian
      >interpretations and that are not instrinstical problems of the
      >languague itself?

      As noted above, it is not a strange characteristic of Pali, but a shared
      feature of Aryan languages in the Indic group. It is very rare that
      sectarian concerns determine the everyday conventions of usage in any

      >5. How come many Pali translators, like Bodhi, or Nyanatiloka, use
      >Anatta as if to describe what the Attan is not?

      Firstly because this is linguistically correct. Secondly because both of
      the above translators subscribe to the mainstream Buddhist interpretation
      of anattaa, and not to any of the heterodox variants (e.g. those of the
      Puggalavadin schools in bygone days, or of Rhys Davids, George Grimm and
      Ven. Thanissaro in more recent times).

      >What use would there be to state what the Attan is not if all the word
      >Attan meant was: himelf, oneself, herself, etc... within the Buddhist

      But whoever made such a claim? Though "himelf, oneself, herself, etc" are
      probably the most common meanings of attaa in narrative passages, they
      don't by any means exhaust the range of applications this word has in Pali.

      >What use would there be to say that the 5 skandhas are Anatta if
      >there was no Attan at all?

      Because worldlings don't know that there's no attaa at all and this
      non-knowing leads them into suffering.

      Best wishes,


      Jacqueline "Gotamî Jîvarakkhî" Bittar
      Dr Gabriel "Ananda Jîvasattha" Bittar,
      PhD University of Geneva
      phone +61 8 8553 7442 , fax +61 8 8553 7444
      mob. ph. +61 4 2743 5148

      Institut Suisse de Bioinformatique
      Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics
      email: bittar@...

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