Anamatagga

Renderings

anamatagga: long-lasting beyond conception

anamatagga: endless beyond conception

Introduction

Anamatagga: uncertain derivation

Anamatagga has long been a source of controversy. The difficulty of the word is acknowledged by PED when it says: ‘The meaning can best be seen, not from the derivation (which is uncertain), but from the examples quoted.’

Translators’ renderings

Translators render it in the following ways:

• ‘The journeying-on as being without beginning and end’
saṃsāraṃ anamataggato (Norman, Thī.v.496).

• ‘This saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning’
anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro (Bodhi, S.5.441).

Thus anamatagga potentially means:

1) endless

2) beginningless

3) without discoverable beginning

We will now show the problem of these terms, and we will show why we follow PED’s ‘whose beginning and end are alike unthinkable,’ and the commentary’s (ad S.2.178) aparicchinnapubbāparakoṭikoti attho (‘first and last point cannot be determined’).

Endlessness: the problem

1) The problem with calling the round of birth and death ‘endless’ is that arahants have ended it, and others will follow. The most one could say is ‘potentially endless’ or ‘perhaps endless for some.’

2) The second problem with calling the round of birth and death ‘endless’ is that the Buddha did not quite say that when he said:

• There comes a time when the great ocean dries up, evaporates, and exists no more, but not, I declare, an ending of suffering for beings roaming and wandering the round of birth and death, [obstructed by] uninsightfulness into reality, and [tethered to individual existence] by craving.
Hoti kho so bhikkhave samayo yaṃ mahāsamuddo ussussati visussati na bhavani na tvevāhaṃ bhikkhave avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ dukkhassa antakiriyaṃ vadāmi (S.3.149).

To say that beings will continue to suffer as long as they wander the round of birth and death, is not to say that the round of birth and death is endless.

Beginningless: the problem

The problem with calling the round of birth and death ‘beginningless’ is that the Buddha again did not quite say that when he said ‘a first point is not to be discerned’ (pubbā koṭi na paññāyati, S.2.181).

Without discoverable beginning: the problem

The problem with saying anamataggoyaṃ means ‘saṃsāra is without discoverable beginning’ is that sometimes anamataggoyaṃ is used in reference to the future. For example, the Sattisata Sutta (S.5.441) says a man may be offered the opportunity to penetrate the four noble truths on the condition that he agrees to receive 300 spear wounds a day for a hundred years. Then the sutta says:

• It would be fitting for a noble young man intent on [the development of his own] spiritual well-being to accept the offer. For what reason? Because the round of birth and death is anamatagga. A first point is not to be discerned of [a receiving of] blows by knives, swords, arrows, and axes.
Atthavasikena bhikkhave kulaputtena alaṃ upagantuṃ. Taṃ kissa hetu? Anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro pubbā koṭi na paññāyati sattippahārānaṃ asippahārānaṃ usuppahārānaṃ pharasuppahārānaṃ

The logic for accepting the offer would be that saṃsāra is ‘without discoverable end,’ not ‘without discoverable beginning.’

Anamatagga: etymology

Anamatagga is etymologically ana (= a neg.) + mata (fr. man) + aggā (pl.) (PED), which have the following meanings:

mata is the past participle of maññati, meaning ‘thought, understood, considered.’ From this we call anamata ‘beyond conception.’

Agga means ‘the very tip, the very end’ (DOP sv Agga1).

• PED takes agga as aggā (plural) and translates the term ‘whose beginning and end are alike unthinkable.’ DOP says ‘without beginning (or end).’

• That agga can mean ‘beginning’ is seen in the term aggena (‘in the beginning, beginning from, from,’ PED sv Agga1) and aggañña (‘recognized as primitive primeval’).

• That agga can mean ‘end’ is seen here: ‘While bhikkhus are investigating that legal matter endless brawls arise.
Tehi ce bhikkhave tasmiṃ adhikaraṇe vinicchiyamāne anaggāni ceva bhassāni jāyanti (Vin.2.95).

If ana-aggā means ‘without beginning or end,’ it means ‘long-lasting.’ This is supported by quotes where the adjective is ‘long’: Dīgho vo saṃsāro (Thī.v.474).

Anamatagga: endless beyond conception

Where the object is not the round of birth and death, we say ‘endless beyond conception’:

For the fool, the round of birth and death is [truly] long-lasting, weeping again and again over the deaths of his fathers, the killings of his brothers, and the punishments of himself, which are endless beyond conception.
Dīgho bālānaṃ saṃsāro punappunañca rodataṃ
Anamatagge pitumaraṇe bhātuvadhe attano ca vadhe
(Thī.v.495).

Illustrations

Illustration: anamatagga, long-lasting beyond conception

So long is the period of a universal cycle, bhikkhu. And of universal cycles of such length, we have wandered the round of birth and death for the periods of so many universal cycles, so many hundreds of universal cycles, so many thousands of universal cycles, so many hundreds of thousands of universal cycles. For what reason?
Evaṃ dīgho kho bhikkhu kappo. Evaṃ dīghānaṃ kho bhikkhu kappānaṃ neko kappo saṃsito nekaṃ kappasataṃ saṃsitaṃ nekaṃ kappasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ nekaṃ kappasatasahassaṃ saṃsitaṃ. Taṃ kissa hetu?

Because, bhikkhu, the round of birth and death is long-lasting beyond conception.
Anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhu saṃsāro

A first point is not to be discerned of beings [obstructed by] uninsightfulness into reality, and [tethered to individual existence] by craving, roaming and wandering the round of birth and death.
pubbā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ (S.2.181-2).

Illustration: anamatagga, long-lasting beyond conception

Suppose a man cut up whatever grass, sticks, branches, and foliage there are in this great subcontinent and collected them into a single heap of sticks four fingerbreadths long, and placed them down one by one, saying:
Seyyathā pi bhikkhave puriso yaṃ imasmiṃ jambudīpe tīṇakaṭṭhasākhāpalāsaṃ taṃ chetvā ekajjhaṃ saṃhareyya ekajjhaṃ saṃharitvā caturaṅgulaṃ caturaṅgulaṃ ghaṭikaṃ karitvā nikkhipeyya

‘This is my mother, this my mother’s mother.’
ayaṃ me mātā tassā me mātu ayaṃ mātā ti

The sequence of that man’s mothers, and mothers of mothers, would not be exhausted, yet the grass, wood, branches, and foliage in this great subcontinent would be finished and exhausted. For what reason?
Apariyādinnāva bhikkhave tassa purisassa mātu mātaro assu. Atha imasmiṃ jambudīpe tiṇakaṭṭhasākhāpalāsaṃ parikkhayaṃ pariyādānaṃ gaccheyya. Taṃ kissa hetu?

Because the round of birth and death is long-lasting beyond conception. A first point is not to be discerned of beings roaming and wandering the round of birth and death, [obstructed by] uninsightfulness into reality, and [tethered to individual existence] by craving.
Anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro pubbā koṭi na paññāyati avijjānīvaraṇānaṃ sattānaṃ taṇhāsaṃyojanānaṃ sandhāvataṃ saṃsarataṃ (S.2.178).

Illustration: anamatagga, long-lasting beyond conception

It would be fitting for a noble young man intent on [the development of his own] spiritual well-being to accept the offer. For what reason? Because the round of birth and death is long-lasting beyond conception. A first point is not to be discerned of [a receiving of] blows by knives, swords, arrows, and axes.
Atthavasikena bhikkhave kulaputtena alaṃ upagantuṃ. Taṃ kissa hetu? Anamataggoyaṃ bhikkhave saṃsāro pubbā koṭi na paññāyati sattippahārānaṃ asippahārānaṃ usuppahārānaṃ pharasuppahārānaṃ (S.5.441).