Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Monday, 14 March 2016

śūnyatā-pratisaṁyukta - Inextricably Linked with Emptiness

Description of the Buddha's teaching as "connected with emptiness" jumped out at me when I noticed it in a Facebook post. A search led me to this page on the Sutta Central website. It is an English translation of  雜阿含經 (293) a Chinese sutra known in Japanese as Zo-agon-kyo, the Miscellaneous Āgama Sutra. The Chinese sutra is a translation of the Sanskrit Samyuktāgama, nearly all of which is no longer extant. The corresponding Pali sutta is Samyutta-nikāya, Connected Discourses. 

The Chinese records the Buddha as saying: 

= for, for the benefit of
= that, those
比丘= bhikṣu, monk, monks
= preached, expounded
賢聖 = wise & sacred, noble 
出世= world-transcending, out of this world, transcendent
空相 = emptiness-form, being the manifestation of emptiness 
應...隨順= being conformable to, in accordance with
緣起 = dependent arising, conditional origination 
法 = law, teaching, dharma 

The English translation as it appears on Sutta Central is:
"I teach monks the noble, the supramundane, connected with emptiness, conformable to the dharma of conditioned genesis."

The Chinese characters translated here as "connected with emptiness" are 
空相, which I know well from reciting the Heart Sutra. 

空 means empty or bare, and  means form, aspect, appearance, manifestation. So 空相 describes the Dharma not so much as "connected with emptiness" as "having the form/aspect/characteristic of emptiness," or "being the manifestation of emptiness."

When I translated the Heart Sutra for Shobogenzo Book One, I translated the sentence 
"these real dharmas are bare manifestations." 

My understanding at that time was that, for example, a white crescent moon in a blue winter sky is, when the observer has been practising Zazen, conspicuously hanging there as it is, empty of any obstruction between it and the eye of the observer. Hence a 空相 = a bare manifestation. 

When an attempt was made to reconstruct the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit, working back from the Chinese, 空相 was rendered as śūnyatā-lakṣaṇa, "having the characteristic of emptiness." Hence:

these real dharmas are bare manifestations.
sarva-dharmāḥ śūnyatā-lakṣaṇā, 

all things have the characteristic of emptiness,

So I wondered how the translator of  
雜阿含經 (293) had managed to come up with the translation "connected with emptiness" for 空相. 

The question was answered by a contribtor to Sutta Central who knew that Dr Mun-Keat Choong was the author of a book titled, "Translation of Sutras from the Chinese Samyuktagama relevant to the Early Buddhist Teachings on Emptiness and the Middle Way." 

In a footnote to that work  空相 is traced back to the Sanskrit śūnyatā-pratisaṁyukta (Pali suñña­tā­paṭi­saṃ­yutta). 

Saṁyukta, as in Samyuktāgama (Connected Āgamas), means conjoined, joined together, combined, united;  conjunct (as consonants); connected, related. 
With the addition of the prefix prati-, the meaning is strengthened so that MW defines pratisaṁyukta  as bound or attached to. 

In the Pali Suttas the phrase suñña­tā­paṭi­saṃ­yutta can be found for example in the Parisa Sutta (AN2.46):

Idha, bhikkhave, yassaṃ parisāyaṃ bhikkhū ye te suttantā tathā­gata­bhāsitā gambhīrā gambhīratthā lokuttarā suñña­tā­paṭi­saṃ­yuttā tesu bhaññamānesu na sussūsanti...
“There is the case, monks, where in any assembly when the discourses of the Tathagata—deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, inextricably linked with emptiness—are recited, the monks don’t listen,..."

For another example, the Buddha uses the same formula in the Dhammadinna Sutta (SN55.53): 
Tasmātiha vo, dhammadinna, evaṃ sikkhitabbaṃ: ‘ye te suttantā tathā­gata­bhāsitā gambhīrā gambhīratthā lokuttarā suñña­ta­paṭi­saṃ­yuttā te kālena kālaṃ upasampajja viharissāmā’ti
"Therefore, Dhammadinna, here you should train yourselves like this: 'From time to time we will enter and dwell in those discourses spoken by the Tathāgata that are deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, inextricably linked with emptiness.' "

In conclusion, then, that the Buddha's teachings have been, from the very beginning, "connected with emptiness," is not in doubt.

And maybe we are justified in stating the case even more strongly than that, saying that every teaching the buddhas have taught, from beginning to end, has been śūnyatā-pratisaṁyukta, inextricably linked with emptiness.

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