I think while it is legitimate to acknowledge that the Sarvas and Sautrantikas understood their Indic languages well enough, it should be apparent from one of our previous posts that doctrinal evolution plays a very significant role in interpretation, eg the vitakka
definitions taken up by the Yogacarins. When meanings change, older material are lensed through the new doctrine and definitions. I'm going to give one example of how an Abhidhar
ma has radically altered the theory of Aggregates, a reading that persists even today, even if that school is now dead.
Most of the modernist insistence on the jhanalabhi being percipient of the 5 sense data stems from how rūpakkhandha
(Form Aggregate) is interpreted and translated. This is typically understood to be include only the 5 sense data and the 5 senses. I'm sure you're familiar with the Abhidhammic bifurcation of reality into the rūpa
categories. The latter is constituted by nāma
. In the Abhidhamma, consciousness is included in nāma
, which departs from the suttas. All things falling under rūpa
would be for the 5 senses and their corresponding data.
However, as Sue Hamilton points out, nowhere in the suttas is this equation made of rūpa
and the 5 senses. Why does the Abhidhamma classify consciousness under nāma
? What then is the source of these equations? Apparently, the Abhidhamma owes these 2 innovations to the Sarvastivadins, or a common ancestor, who made the explicit and closed linkage between rūpa, pratigha
and the 5 senses. Why did this happen? Was it because the Sarvas -
1. were trying to give a totally Buddhist spin to nāmarūpa
as 2 predicative categories, instead of the inseparable unity of nāmarūpa
borrowed from the Upanishads, and made use of by the Buddha to provide as the pivot of phassa
in the early texts was only discussed in the context of consciousness and contact, but nāma
in the Abhidharma/Abhidhamma became 2 organisational principles for EVERYTHING.
2. relied on a textually corrupt sutra?
The 2nd possibility is quite real, as I've seen a few Chinese sutra parallels (from the (Mula)-S canon) where consciousness was lumped into nāma
(although these sutras are in the minority in the Agamas). This Sarva method of organisation marks a clear departure from the suttas, and allowed the Sarvas to modify rūpa
as pertaining solely to the domain of the 5 senses, and nāma
everything else. It is unlikely that the Pali abhidhammikas could have innovated this model, given the absence of such an error in the Pali suttas; most likely, the Pali abhidhammikas simply borrowed this model from the Sarvastivadins.
It appears that in the most unwitting of circumstances, translators are actually imposing an Abhidharmic structure on the 5 Aggregates, a Sarvastivadin structure that has no such basis in the suttas. You see this in Ven T's insertion of "physical" in parenthesis against "form" (rūpa
). Not only do we find such a model ahistorical from the sutta perspective, it directly contradicts MN 28 which allows the Form Aggregate to arise from purely mind-contact. (Sadly, the Agama parallel to MN 28, despite allowing for mind-based rūpa
did not deter the Sarvas from departing from it.)
This is my concern in appealing to medieval Buddhism to interpret Early Buddhism. Small and unnoticeable changes in doctrine can change the colour and complexion of the suttas/sutras.