Buddhist Texts · Cārvāka/Lokāyata

♦ Avalokitavrata and a Cārvāka stanza: some textual consideration

In Avalokitavrata’s (fl. 700 CE ca.) Ṭīkā we find a quote of a well-known Cārvāka stanza (see D, dBu-ma, Źa, 334b7-335a1):

ma śi’i bar du bde bar ’tsho | | śi zin phan chad spyod yul med | |
lus ni thal bar gyur pa la | | phyir yaṅ ’oṅ ba ga la yod | |

The original Sanskrit that may have inspired this Tibetan translation is fortunately extant:

yāvaj jīvaṃ sukhaṃ jīven nāsti mṛtyor agocaraḥ |
bhasmībhūtasya dehasya punar āgamanaṃ kutaḥ ||

In pāda c some variants read śāntasya in place of dehasya. We note parenthetically that there are at least other two Tibetan texts, of which the original Sanskrit is to be considered lost, that contain this stanza. The first is a work attributed to Āryadeva, the Skhalitapramathanayuktāhetusiddhi (henceforth SPYHS), with all probability compiled in some epoch between the fourth-fifth and the eighth centuries CE. The second is the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa (henceforth MRP), written not before the eleventh century CE, which quotes verbatim two stanzas from the SPYHS, among which this one (see D, dBu-ma, TSHa, 274b6). Although I had already dealt with this particular verse in its SPYHS Tibetan rendering, it will be nonetheless useful here to cite it again, since this will facilitate our reflections on some textual comparisons (in evidence), not considered in my previous post:

ma śi bar du bde bar ’tsho | | śi nas de yi spyod yul med | |
lus kyaṅ thal ba bźin soṅ nas | | slar ’tsho bar lta ga la ’gyur | |

Let us analyze the main differences among the two Tibetan versions, pāda by pāda. In pāda a no relevant discrepancies are present. In pāda b the SPHYS has śi nas, “from the death” (corresponding to mṛtyoḥ), whereas Avalokitavrata has śi zin, which is better translated with “when dead”. Moreover, Avalokitavrata has phan chad, which generally stands for the Sanskrit para/param (“beyond”, “next”, “following”, etc.) and has no correspondence in the Sanskrit version of the stanza, whereas de yi spyod yul med, in the SPYHS is after all a good rendering of nāsti… agocaraḥ. In pāda c, the presence of lus reveals that in both cases the abovementioned alternative reading śāntasya was not the one our authors had in mind or at hand. Moreover, Avalokitavrata’s thal bar gyur pa la (“when… has become ash”) seems to be, in some respect, a better translation of bhasmībhūtasya, than the SPHYS thal ba bźin soṅ nas, since gyur pa has more semantic affinity with bhūta than soṅ (i.e., ’gro ba, “to go”, “to move”, etc.) has. Also in pāda d, Avalokitavrata’s ’oṅ ba (“to come”, “to arrive”, etc.) is more consistent with the Sanskrit āgamanaṃ than the SPYHS ’tsho ba, which conveys better the meaning of those Sanskrit words that are derived from the root √jīv (“to live”, “to be alive”, etc.).

One thought on “♦ Avalokitavrata and a Cārvāka stanza: some textual consideration

  1. Any idea about the purpose of the different translations? Did adaptations/differences better harmonize with their target-context?

    P.S.: The topic brings me back to the volume on quotations… Any news for me? 🙂


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