The Refuge Passage from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

There has been much concern about the use of the term “attan” in the
Pali Nikayas and the implication that a correct reading of these texts
implies that Siddhattha Gotama taught a doctrine of the soul similar
to that of the Brahmanical literature. It has been suggested that a
way to evaluate this might be to present passages in Pali from the
canonical literature and corresponding translations into English of
those passages. In what follows the writer has taken a passage that
has been much quoted, the refuge passage in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta,
Number 16 in the Pali Text Society translation of the Digha Nikaya, as
an example of the use of “attan” in Pali compared with several
different English translations of the same text.

Below the writer has provided:

1) The Pali text of an extended passage from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta
from the Chatta Sangayana Tripitaka 4.0, an on-line Pali text and
translation program available for free on the Internet
2) A word-by-word translation of the text by the writer using the
Chatta Sangayana translation program, with assistance from the Pali-
English Dictionary in A.K. Warders’s Introduction to Pali and T.W. Rys
Davids’ Pali-English Dictionary.
3) An English translation of the text by Sister Vajira & Francis Story
(1998), available from several Internet sources, and
4) The translation of T. W. Rhys Davids from his book, The Dialogues
of the Buddha (1881) published by the Pali Text Society and also
available on the Internet.

I have omitted the original notes in the Vajira and Story and Rhys Davids translations.

A key sentence in the text in Pali is the following:

“Tasmātihānanda, attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā,
dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā.”

A word-by-word translation of this sentence might go as follows:

Tasmātih (tasma – hence, from there, therefore) ānanda (reference to
Ananda, Gotama’s cousin and with whom Gotama spent the last twenty
years of his life), attadīpā (atta – self, body, person,
individuality; life, mind soul; in a non-Buddhist sense the paramātman
or Universal Soul; dīpā – a lamp and (dīpaṃ) an island; one of the
four continents; a resting-place, shelter, refuge; nirvāṇa) viharatha
(vihar – to dwell, sojourn, live, viharatha – you dwell) attasaranā
(saranam – refuge, protection, salvation; nirvāṇa; a protector; a
house, home) anaññasaraṇā (anañña – without another, alone),
dhammadīpā (dhamma – and (dhammaṃ) nature, condition, quality,
property, characteristic; function, practice, duty; object, thing,
idea, phenomenon; doctrine; law; virtue, piety; justice; the law or
Truth of the Buddha; the Buddhist scriptures; religion) dhammasaranā
anaññasaranā.

Vajira and Story’s English translation of this sentence is:

“Therefore, ânanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto
yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your
island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.”

Rhys David’s English translation runs as follows:

‘Therefore, O Ânanda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge to
yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to the
truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. Look not for
refuge to any one besides yourselves.”

The first part of this sentence has been referenced translated by soul
theorists as follows:

“Ananda, dwell with the Soul (attan) as your Light, with the Soul as
your refuge, with none other as refuge.”” [DN 2.100]

The author of the last reference has implied that “light” and “refuge”
refers to the “Self (atman)” of the Brahmanical literature, which is
metaphysically identical to the “Soul” of the Neo-Platonists.

Which of these translations is correct? A.K.Warder, in the
introduction to his textbook, says that in Pali, “The meanings of the
key terms cannot be guessed at; . . . they must be elucidated by a
delicate juggling of the contexts in which they occur . .” What is the
context here? This conversation between Gotama and Ananda takes place
on the road from Rajagaha to the site of Gotama’s eventual death at
Kusiniara. Ananda, who has been with Gotama for twenty years (and to
whom we owe many of the stories told in the Nikayas), is distressed at
Gotama’s illnesses and apparent immanent demise. He calls out to
Gotama asking what he and the other followers of Gotama will do when
he is gone. Gotama replies that he has taught them the dhamma, they
need only to follow it.

The Pali term “attan” (according to Warder) “has two main uses. As a
reflexive (or, in the genitive, possessive) pronoun it means
“himself”, “oneself”, “myself”, “yourself”, (also “his own”, “her
own”, “my own”, etc., as “possessive adjective”), etc., in various
contexts (it may refer to the body or the mind). As a noun it means
the “soul” as usually conceived in the Brahmanical religion (i.e. the
essential self, supposed to underlie the individual consciousness
which the Buddhists rejected as not corresponding to any
reality.” (Introduction to Pali, p. 185.)

How is “attan” used in this passage? We can try a more compact word by
word translation as follows:

Therefore, Ananda, you dwell self/soul = island/lamp, self/
soul=refuge, only refuge; dhamma=island/lamp, dhamma=refuge, only
refuge.

First off, there is the question of which is the correct translation
of “dīpā.” The more recent conventional translation translates this as
“island.” The older translation translates it as “lamp.” Since the
verb in this sentence, vihar, means “to dwell” the writer prefers the
translation “island” to “lamp.” One does not dwell in or on a lamp. On
the other hand, the equation of dhamma with dīpā seems more correct
with “lamp.” The dhamma gives light, like a lamp. But it could also
give refuge, like an island. This writer, along with the more recent
translator, prefers island here. A more full elucidation of this would
require comparison with other passages. But that would take us too far
afield and this is not the crucial question in this sentence.

The crucial question is the meaning of “attadīpā” in this context.
Does it mean “your self = island” or “your soul = island.” Here the
context of the whole passage is helpful. In the paragraph immediately
before the sentence we have been discussing, Gotama asks Ananda what
the community expects of him. Gotama says that he has taught the
dhamma and is now eighty years old. He has not held back anything. He
says that the community doesn’t depend on him, but on the dhamma that
he has taught. Ananda’s concern is with what he and the others will do
without Gotama. Gotama is scolding him to stand up for himself here,
to take responsibility for his own future actions. At least that is
how this writer sees it. And this reading implies that the meaning of
“atta” here is as a nominative singular reflexive pronoun “yourself”
and not the Great Soul of the Vedic literature.

There is no question that Gotama’s teaching includes renunciation of
the life of bodily pleasures. The Nikayas are clear that he did not
leave home in Kapilavastu to indulge in these. He left seeking the
true nature of existence, which he seems to have thought to be found
in a form of inner realization. In the sentences following the
sentence upon which we have focused, he talks of the bhikku who
“dwells contemplating the body in the body, . . . feelings in
feelings, the mind in the mind” (in the contemporary translation),
having overcome desire in the world. But he doesn’t talk here of union
with Brahma, which would be the attitude one might expect from a
believer in the Great Soul. If this inner realization were identical
to the Atman of the Brahmanical literature, this writer at least,
fails to see why Gotama went to such trouble to deny (in the
Brahmajala Sutta, for example) the doctrines of the eternalists who
preached this view.

The writer does not imagine that the above discussion will put to rest
the question. Much more would have to be said about the use of the
term “attan” in the Pali Canon and the Brahmanical literature. This
analysis has been provided by several scholars, however. One, whose
presentation seems most convincing to the present writer, is A.K.
Warder, late professor of Pali and Sanskrit at the University of
Toronto and the author of Outline of Indian Philosophy and Indian
Buddhism, in addition to the Pali grammar referenced above. In his
book, Indian Buddhism, in Chapter 5, Causation, he addresses this
question directly. He there quotes his own translations from the
Canon, notably from the Brahmajala, Protthapada, and Mahaniddana
Suttas in the Digha Nikaya. There he shows to this writer’s
satisfaction, by analysis similar to that described above, that in
numerous instances what Gotama teaches is not the Great Soul, but
rather the middle way between eternalism and annihilationism, both
extremes being rejected. This is also the middle way between
asceticism and sense-indulgence, the middle way between the soul and
the body. Warder concludes a long analysis titled “Is there a Soul?”
with the words “It seems clear enough that the Buddha rejects any
conception of a soul or essential self.” Until a more convincing
analysis is presented, this writer takes this conclusion as the best
that we have.

Pali Text of the Refuge Passage

From the Mahaparinibbannasuttam (The Mahaparinibbana Sutta)

From the Veluvagāmavassūpagamanam (veluvanam – a bamboo-grove; the
name of a monastery presented by the King Bimbisara to Gautama Buddha;
vassupanayika – entrance upon Lent, commencement of the vassa
residence)

165. ‘‘Kiṃ panānanda, bhikkhusaṅgho mayi paccāsīsati [paccāsiṃsati
(sī. syā.)]? Desito, ānanda, mayā dhammo anantaraṃ abāhiraṃ karitvā.
Natthānanda, tathāgatassa dhammesu ācariyamuṭṭhi. Yassa nūna, ānanda,
evamassa – ‘ahaṃ bhikkhusaṅghaṃ pariharissāmī’ti vā ‘mamuddesiko
bhikkhusaṅgho’ti vā, so nūna, ānanda, bhikkhusaṅghaṃ ārabbha kiñcideva
udāhareyya. Tathāgatassa kho, ānanda, na evaṃ hoti – ‘ahaṃ
bhikkhusaṅghaṃ pariharissāmī’ti vā ‘mamuddesiko bhikkhusaṅgho’ti vā.
Sakiṃ [kiṃ (sī. pī.)], ānanda, tathāgato bhikkhusaṅghaṃ ārabbha
kiñcideva udāharissati. Ahaṃ kho panānanda, etarahi jiṇṇo vuddho
mahallako addhagato vayoanuppatto. Āsītiko me vayo vattati.
Seyyathāpi, ānanda, jajjarasakaṭaṃ veṭhamissakena [veḷumissakena
(syā.), veghamissakena (pī.), vedhamissakena, vekhamissakena (ka.)]
yāpeti, evameva kho, ānanda, veṭhamissakena maññe tathāgatassa kāyo
yāpeti. Yasmiṃ, ānanda, samaye tathāgato sabbanimittānaṃ amanasikārā
ekaccānaṃ vedanānaṃ nirodhā animittaṃ cetosamādhiṃ upasampajja
viharati, phāsutaro, ānanda, tasmiṃ samaye tathāgatassa kāyo hoti.
Tasmātihānanda, attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā
dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā. Kathañcānanda, bhikkhu attadīpo viharati
attasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo, dhammadīpo dhammasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo?
Idhānanda, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati atāpī sampajāno satimā,
vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassaṃ. Vedanāsu…pe… citte…pe… dhammesu
dhammānupassī viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke
abhijjhādomanassaṃ. Evaṃ kho, ānanda, bhikkhu attadīpo viharati
attasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo, dhammadīpo dhammasaraṇo anaññasaraṇo. Ye hi
keci, ānanda, etarahi vā mama vā accayena attadīpā viharissanti
attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā,
tamatagge me te, ānanda, bhikkhū bhavissanti ye keci sikkhākāmā’’ti.

Word-by-Word Translation of the Refuge Passage

165. ‘‘Kim (Why? Pray! What!) pan (pana – now, further; but, on the
other hand, on the contrary, however) ānanda, bhikkhusaṅgho (a company
of monks) mayi (mayo- made of, consisting of) paccāsīsati
[paccāsimsati (to desire, long for, look for, expect)]? Desito (shown,
pointed out, taught, preached), ānanda, mayā (mayo- made of,
consisting of) dhammo anantaram (immediately after, next) abāhiram
karitvā (tvam-thou) natth (natthi-there is not, see atthi and na)
ānanda, tathāgatassa (tathāgato- a Buddha; tatha – so, thus; gato –
gone to, reached; walking, going; having come to, having attained;
directed to, devoted to, occupied with; having entered, being in,
being upon; departed, gone, disappeared) dhammesu (dhammena – justly,
righteously) ācariyamuṭṭhi (acariyo – a teacher or master; a scholar
professor) (muṭṭhi – the fist; a handful; a smith’s hammer). yassa
(yaso – fame, renown, reputation, honour) nūna (surely; perhaps, I
suppose), ānanda, evamassa (evam – thus; assa – opt. atthi, of him,
his; to him, to it, etc.)‘aham (a day, I, myself) bhikkhusaṅgho (a
company of monks) pariharissāmī’(pariharati -to move, advance, move
round; to keep up, keep going; to keep, practise, use; to attend,
tend, take care of, preserve, honour; to embrace, surround) ti vā
‘mamuddesiko (desiko – one who shows or teaches) bhikkhusaṅgho’ti vā
(or. never at the beginning of a sentence; itthiyā purisassa vā, by a
woman or by a man. repeated: bhāsati vā karoti vā, speaks or acts), so
nūna, ānanda, bhikkhusaṅghaṃ ārabbha (beginning with, from;
concerning, with reference to; with a view to, for) kiñcideva (kiñci –
a little, rather) (devo – a deva, a god, a celestial being, an angel;
a cloud; a king; the sky, the air; death) udāhareyya (udaharati – to
utter, recite; to command). tathāgatassa kho (indeed), ānanda, na evam
hoti (hoti-see bhavati, to be; to exist; to become; to take place; to
befall; to behave) – ‘Ahaṃ (a day I, myself) bhikkhusaṅghaṃ
pariharissāmī (pariharanam – keeping up, keeping in existence)’ti vā
‘mamuddesiko (desiko – one who shows or teaches) bhikkhusangho’ti vā.
sakim (once; at once, simultaneously) [kiṃ (sī. pī.)], ānanda,
tathāgato bhikkhusangham ārabbha kiñcideva udāharissati (udāharti – to
utter, recite; to command). Aham (a day, I, myself) kho (Indeed)
panānanda, etarahi (now) jiṇṇo (old, aged; worn out, decayed,
dilapidated) vuddho (vaḍḍhati – to grow, increase, multiply; to
prosper) mahallako (old, aged; spacious, large, broad, big) addhagato
(One who has made a long journey, advanced in years, aged)
vayoanuppatto (see vyayo, loss, perishing, decay; expenditure)
(anuppatto – having arrived at, having attained) Āsītiko me vayo
vattati (to begin; to proceed, to go on, to be carried on, to take
place; to stay, remain; to exist, be; to occupy oneself with,
practise; to conduce, tend; to prevail, be customary; while vaṭṭati
means to behove, to be right. The following are examples of the use of
these words: kharā vedanā vattanti, severe pains set in; saṅgāme
vattamāne, when the battle began) Seyyathāpi (as, just as), ānanda,
jajjarasakaṭaṃ (jajjarito –weakened) veṭhamissakena (vethako –
surrounding, enveloping) [veḷumissakena (syā.), veghamissakena (pī.),
vedhamissakena, vekhamissakena (ka.)] yāpeti (yati – yo go; to go
away; to undergo), evameva (In this very way, even thus) kho (indeed),
ānanda, veghamissakena maññe (mannati = to think, to suppose, to
imagine, to consider, to esteem, to know, to believe, to understand)
tathāgatassa kāyo (the body; a collection, multitude) yāpeti (yati –
to go; to go away; to undergo). Yasmiṃ (yaso – fame, renown,
reputation, honour), ānanda, samaye (samayo – agreement, combination;
multitude; season, time; custom, rule,religious obligation; order,
precept; religious belief, doctrine) tathāgato sabbanimittānaṃ
(sabbani – all, every, mitto – A friend) amanasikārā (a – not;
manasikaro – attention) ekaccānaṃ (ekacco – One, a certain) vedanānaṃ
(vedana – Feeling, sensation, perception; pain, suffering) nirodhā
(nirodho – cessation, annihilation; nirvāṇa; obstruction, impeding)
animittaṃ (a – not; nimittam – a sign mark, token omen; cause reason;
pudendum; sex organ) cetosamādhiṃ (ceto – and (cetaṃ) the mind, the
heart, the thoughts, Samadhi – agreement, peace, reconciliation;
tranquillity, self-concentration, calm) upasampajja (upasampajjati –
to attain, enter on, take upon oneself; to reach, approach) viharati,
phāsutaro (phasu – enviable, agreeable, pleasant, easy, comfortable,
taro – a raft), ānanda, tasmiṃ (tasma – hence, from there, therefore)
samaye tathāgatassa kāyo hoti. Tasmātih (hence, from there, therefore)
ānanda, atta (self, body, person, individuality; life, mind soul; in a
non-buddhist sense the paramātman or Universal Soul) dīpā (a lamp and
(dīpaṃ) an island; one of the four continents; a resting-place,
shelter, refuge; nirvāṇa) viharatha (vihar -To dwell, sojourn, live,
viharatha – you dwell) attasaranā (saranam – refuge, protection,
salvation; nirvāṇa; a protector; a house, home) anañña (without
another, alone) saranā, dhamma (and (dhammaṃ) nature, condition,
quality, property, characteristic; function, practice, duty; object,
thing, idea, phenomenon; doctrine; law; virtue, piety; justice; the
law or Truth of the Buddha; the Buddhist scriptures; religion) dīpā
dhammasaranā anaññasaranā. Kathañc (scarcely, with difficulty) ānanda,
bhikkhu (a beggar; a mendicant friar; a Buddhist monk) attadīpo
viharati attasarano anaññasarano, dhammadīpo dhammasarano
anaññasarano? Idh (here; hither; in this world) ānanda, bhikkhu kāye
(the body; a collection, multitude) kāyānupassī (fixing the attention,
earnest meditation) viharati atāpī (attapo – inaccessible to
suffering) sampajāno (knowing, understanding, conscious) satimā (of
retentive memory or active mind, thoughtful, reflecting), vineyya
(vineti – to remove, put away; to subdue, conquer, restrain; to
instruct, educate, train) loke (lokeso – Brahman) abhijjhā
(covetousness) domanassam (dejection, gloom, melancholy). Vedanāsu
(vedena – feeling, sensation, perception; pain, suffering)…pe… citte…
pe… dhammesu (dhammena – justly, righteously) dhammānupassī (anupadiko
– following in the footsteps of, immediately following) viharati ātāpī
sampajāno satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhādomanassam.Evam kho, ānanda,
bhikkhu attadīpo viharati attasarano anaññasarano, dhammadīpo
dhammasarano anaññasarano. Ye (yeva(1) and heva(2)Just, quit, even,
only) hi (For, because; certainly, indeed; alas!) keci (ko – Who?
which? what? of what sort?), ānanda, etarahi (now) vā  mama (mamako –
mine) vā accayena (accayo – passing away, lapse, of time; death;
transgression, offence) attadīpā viharissanti (viharati – to dwell,
sojourn, live) attasaranā anaññasaranā, dhammadīpā dhammasaranā
anaññasaranā, tamatagge (tamo- and (tamaṃ) darkness, gloom; in the
sāṅkhya  philosophy one of the three guṇas, tagha – certainly, verily,
truly) me (a substitute for the instr. dat. and gen. cases of ahaṃ) te
(“these”), ānanda, bhikkhū bhavissanti (the future tense, vibhatti is
understood)ye keci sikkhākāmā’’(sikkha – learning, study, training)ti
(tayo – three)

Sister Vajira and Story’s Translation of the Refuge Passage

32. Thus spoke the Venerable ânanda, but the Blessed One answered him,
saying: “What more does the community of bhikkhus expect from me,
ânanda? I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of
esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, ânanda, with regard
to the teachings that the Tathagata holds to the last with the closed
fist of a teacher who keeps some things back. Whosoever may think that
it is he who should lead the community of bhikkhus, or that the
community depends upon him, it is such a one that would have to give
last instructions respecting them. But, ânanda, the Tathagata has no
such idea as that it is he who should lead the community of bhikkhus,
or that the community depends upon him. So what instructions should he
have to give respecting the community of bhikkhus?

“Now I am frail, ânanda, old, aged, far gone in years. This is my
eightieth year, and my life is spent. Even as an old cart, ânanda, is
held together with much difficulty, so the body of the Tathagata is
kept going only with supports. It is, ânanda, only when the Tathagata,
disregarding external objects, with the cessation of certain feelings,
attains to and abides in the signless concentration of mind,
that his body is more comfortable.

33. “Therefore, ânanda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto
yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your
island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge.

“And how, ânanda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto
himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island,
the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?

34. “When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly,
clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and
sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings
in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental
objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having
overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is
an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external
refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge,
seeking no other refuge.

35. “Those bhikkhus of mine, ânanda, who now or after I am gone, abide
as an island unto themselves, as a refuge unto themselves, seeking no
other refuge; having the Dhamma as their island and refuge, seeking no
other refuge: it is they who will become the highest, if they
have the desire to learn.”

Rhys Davids’ Translation of the Refuge Passage

32. ‘What, then, Ânanda, does the order expect that of me? I have
preached the truth without making any distinction between exoteric and
esoteric doctrine: for in respect of the truths, Ânanda, the Tathâgata
has no such thing as the closed fist of a teacher, who keeps some
things back. Surely, Ânanda, should there be any one who harbours
the thought, “It is I who will lead the brotherhood,” or, “The order
is dependent upon me,” it is he who should lay down instructions in
any matter concerning the order. Now the Tathâgata, Ânanda, thinks not
that it is he who should lead the brotherhood, or that the order is
dependent upon him. Why then should he leave instructions in any
matter concerning the order? I too, O Ânanda, am now grown old, and
full of years, my journey is drawing to its close, I have reached my
sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out
cart, Ânanda, can only with much additional care be made to move
along, so, methinks, the body of the Tathâgata can only be kept going
with much additional care. It is only, Ânanda, when the Tathâgata,
ceasing to attend to any outward thing, or to experience any
sensation, becomes plunged in that devout meditation of heart which is
concerned with no material object–it is only then that the body of
the Tathâgata is at ease.

33. ‘Therefore, O Ânanda, be ye lamps unto yourselves. Be ye a refuge
to yourselves. Betake yourselves to no external refuge. Hold fast to
the truth as a lamp. Hold fast as a refuge to the truth. Look not for
refuge to any one besides yourselves. And how, Ânanda, is a brother to
be a lamp unto himself, a refuge to himself, betaking himself to no
external refuge, holding fast to the truth as a lamp, holding fast as
a refuge to the truth, looking not for refuge to any one besides
himself?

34. ‘Herein, O Ânanda, let a brother, as he dwells in the body, so
regard the body that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful,
may, whilst in the world, overcome the grief which arises from bodily
craving–while subject to sensations let him continue so to regard the
sensations that he, being strenuous, thoughtful, and mindful, may,
whilst in the world, overcome the grief which arises from the
sensations–and so, also, as he thinks, or reasons, or feels, let him
overcome the grief which arises from the craving due to ideas, or to
reasoning, or to feeling.

35. ‘And whosoever, Ânanda, either now or after I am dead, shall be a
lamp unto themselves, and a refuge unto themselves, shall betake
themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the truth as
their lamp, and holding fast as their refuge to the truth, shall look
not for refuge to any one besides themselves–it is they, Ânanda,
among my bhikkhus, who shall reach the very topmost Height!-but they
must be anxious to learn.’

About Randal Samstag

Randal has an undergraduate degree in political philosophy, but has a graduate degree in engineering and has earned his bread for 30 years working on municipal and community water supply and wastewater collection and treatment systems in the US, Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia.
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7 Responses to The Refuge Passage from the Mahaparinibbana Sutta

  1. gruff says:

    Given the context and subsequent lines it seems clear as a bell to me that “attadīpā viharatha attasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā, dhammadīpā dhammasaraṇā anaññasaraṇā” means “practice the four foundations of mindfulness” and nothing else.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yours seems a pretty free translation. It would be a refreshing dissolution of the soul / self knot, if true. Could you provide some background? There is a sutta which is often translated as “The four foundations of Mindfulness” – the Satipatthana Sutta. I can’t put my hands on the Pali for this right now. Could you provide a comparison of your translation with a similar passage in this sutta? Best regards.

  2. gruff says:

    I didn’t mean that that phrase literally translates as “four foundations” – I think your translation is accurate. I meant that the Buddha’s intention in saying “dwell as a self-island” was to re-emphasize the four foundations. My source for this is the lines immediately following the “self-island” line:

    “And how, ânanda, is a bhikkhu an island unto himself, a refuge unto
    himself, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as his island,
    the Dhamma as his refuge, seeking no other refuge?

    “When he dwells contemplating the body in the body, earnestly,
    clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having overcome desire and
    sorrow in regard to the world; when he dwells contemplating feelings
    in feelings, the mind in the mind, and mental objects in mental
    objects, earnestly, clearly comprehending, and mindfully, after having
    overcome desire and sorrow in regard to the world, then, truly, he is
    an island unto himself, a refuge unto himself, seeking no external
    refuge; having the Dhamma as his island, the Dhamma as his refuge,
    seeking no other refuge.”

    This is the stock formula for the four foundations. The Buddha couldn’t be any clearer about his intended meaning here.

    A Pali text of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta is here:
    http://www.tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/s0102m.mul8.xml

    The whole “attan=soul” business is a red herring, for many reasons. For example, Nibbana is never called “attan”. I applaud your efforts to clear up misconceptions in this area.

    • Of course! The reference in the immediately following text is to the four foundations: contemplating the body as body, and in the same way as to feelings, thoughts, and ideas. As you say, very clear. I actually do have the Pali for the Mahasatipatthana suttanta in the PTS edition, as well as Rhys Davids’ translation and Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Majjhima Nikaya version. Just didn’t have access to the PTS version of the Majjhima Nikaya version. Thanks for the reference to the on-line text.

  3. Andy says:

    This verse also appears in SN in the Khandavagga, book V (attadīpā) 1. Bhikkhu Bodhi translates the verse quite clearly:

    Dwell with yourselves as an island, with yourselves as a refuge, with no other refuge; with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as a refuge, with no other refuge.

    There, the following passages do not refer to the four satipaṭṭhāna, but to reflection on impermanence. This makes little difference as the satipaṭṭhāna are really means of developing insight into things like impermanence, dependent origination, suffering, etc. We could simply read the divergent practical admonitions related to the verse in different places as having to do with what suited the proclivities of the hearers particular to each situation.

    • Andy,

      Thanks for your comment. I am encouraged to see Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of “atta” here as a reflexive pronoun, rather than as “soul”. As for the four satipaṭṭhāna, I have no opinion about that at the moment.

      Regards,

      Randal

    • gruffles says:

      Nice find Andy. I think your take on the differing instructions is a good one.

      Funny, really, how people pull attadīpā out of context and squabble about it to no end while ignoring the Buddha’s main point: a strong exhortation to practice

      (this is the same gruff who commented above.)

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