Sunday, June 27, 2010

Textual origins of the Ten Good Deeds

In the course of my investigations for the M.St. dissertation, I read from Richard Gombrich’s Precept and Practice, which provides much illumination into traditional Buddhist practices in Sri Lanka. He discusses in some detail Ten Good Deeds (Dasa kusala karma), which are still highly valued (see, for instance, the post on Contentment in the recluse life by Ven. Wellawatte Seelagawesi Thero and Rituals in the Theravada Tradition by Ven. Bhikkhu Praghyalok).

A list of the deeds is as follows (Pāli followed by English translation taken from Gombrich):

  • dāna — giving (material)
  • sīla — keeping morality (i.e. the precepts)
  • bhāvanā — meditating
  • patti[dāna] — giving (transferring) merit
  • pattānumodanā — rejoicing in (another's) merit
  • veyyāvacca — giving service
  • apacāya — showing respect
  • desanā — preaching
  • suta — listening to preaching
  • diṭṭhiju — right beliefs

[Note that these are distinct from the dasa kusala karma patha, Ten Good Paths of Action].

You may have noticed that there seems to be some variation and interchange: one sometimes sees dasa kusala karma and elsewhere dasa puñña karma - the former usually translated as ‘wholesome’ or ‘skilful’, whereas the latter are usually translated as ‘meritorious’. The use of ‘good’ seems to cover both cases reasonably well and one could argue that skilful implies meritorious and conversely. :-) However, whichever term you settle on, Prof. Gombrich indicated that the source of these good deeds had not been established in the academic literature.

It’s in such situations that the present crop of electronic tools is a real boon and since I’ve spent a lot of time composing phrases for search boxes, I thought I’d take a look. For searching the Pāli canon I used the Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyana (Sixth Council) Tipitaka CD (version 4), a digitised presentation of the Burmese canon. One thing I find particularly interesting and useful about this edition is that it has some underlying TEI text encoding, which should help in determining meanings.

And, sure enough, I found a listing in commentary to Abhidhamma, namely the Abhidhammasaṅgaho of Anuruddhacariya: Abhidhammatthavibhāvinīṭīkā: Section 5. Vīthimuttaparicchedavaṇṇanā: Kammacatukkavaṇṇanā: Verse 65.

65. Dīyati etenāti dānaṃ, pariccāgacetanā. Evaṃ sesesupi. Sīlatīti sīlaṃ, kāyavacīkammāni samādahati, sammā ṭhapetītyattho, sīlayati vā upadhāretīti sīlaṃ, upadhāraṇaṃ panettha kusalānaṃ adhiṭṭhānabhāvo. Tathā hi vuttaṃ ‘‘sīle patiṭṭhāyā’’tyādi (saṃ. ni. 1.23, 192). Bhāveti kusale dhamme āsevati vaḍḍheti etāyāti bhāvanā. Apacāyati pūjāvasena sāmīciṃ karoti etenāti apacāyanaṃ. Taṃtaṃkiccakaraṇe byāvaṭassa bhāvo veyyāvaccaṃ. Attano santāne nibbattā patti dīyati etenāti pattidānaṃ. Pattiṃ anumodati etāyāti pattānumodanā. Dhammaṃ suṇanti etenāti dhammassavanaṃ. Dhammaṃ desenti etāyāti dhammadesanā. Diṭṭhiyā ujukaraṇaṃ diṭṭhijukammaṃ.

I have very little idea about dating, but I understand this is only Medieval commentary.

However, on searching phrases taken from that text, I subsequently came across a verse in the Itivuttaka Atthakatha, specifically the commentary on the Puññakiriyavatthu sutta (Tikanipāto. Dutiyavaggo Puññakiriyavatthu suttavaṇṇanā), which includes a list of ten good deeds, though the term used here is puññakiriyavatthu. Kiriya is a special word, being the actions of an Ariyan being, that is of one who is assured of nibbāna. Such actions have no karmic fruit.

Anyway, there are certainly ten good deeds here – listed as three and then seven more:

Ekamekañcettha yathārahaṃ pubbabhāgato paṭṭhāya kāyena karontassa kāyakammaṃ hoti, tadatthaṃ vācaṃ nicchārentassa vacīkammaṃ, kāyaṅgaṃ vācaṅgañca acopetvā manasā cintentassa manokammaṃ. Annādīni dentassa cāpi ‘‘annadānādīni demī’’ti vā dānapāramiṃ āvajjetvā vā dānakāle dānamayaṃ puññakiriyavatthu hoti. Vattasīse ṭhatvā dadato sīlamayaṃ, khayato vayato kammato sammasanaṃ paṭṭhapetvā dadato bhāvanāmayaṃ puññakiriyavatthu hoti. Aparānipi satta puññakiriyavatthūni – apacitisahagataṃ puññakiriyavatthu veyyāvaccasahagataṃ pattianuppadānaabbhanumodanadesanāmayaṃ savanamayaṃ diṭṭhijugataṃ puññakiriyavatthūti. Saraṇagamanampi hi diṭṭhijugateneva saṅgayhati. Yaṃ panettha vattabbaṃ, taṃ parato āvi bhavissati.

Again, I don’t know about the date, but according to a Pali Text Society page (section on the Itivuttaka Commentary), this commentary is considered to have been authored by Dharma around the 6th century CE.

Note that a few of the words are slightly different, but the construct seems congruent with each pair having essentially the same meaning.

  • dāna : dāna — giving (material)
  • sīla : sīla — keeping morality (i.e. the precepts)
  • bhāvanā : bhāvanā — meditating
  • patti[dāna] : pattianuppadāna — giving (transferring) merit
  • pattānumodanā : abbhanumodana — rejoicing in (another's) merit
  • veyyāvacca : veyyāvacca — giving service
  • apacāya : apaciti — showing respect
  • desanā : desanā — preaching
  • suta : savana — listening to preaching
  • diṭṭhiju : diṭṭhiju — right beliefs

With an eye on electronic tools and exegesis, perhaps this is where semantic encoding would help – specifically marking up texts to show equivalence of meaning…? The assistance that could be provided is only at the very early stages!