Dec 18, 2011

svabhāva and parabhāva

na hi svabhāvo bhāvānāṃ pratyayādiṣu vidyate |
avidyamāne svabhāve parabhāvo na vidyate || 3 ||

This is the third verse of Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. In Jay L. Garfield translation it sais:

The essence of entities
Is not present in the conditions, etc . . . .
If there is no essence,
There can be no otherness-essence.

Here the words svabhāva and parabhāva are translated by essence respectively otherness-essence. On Dharma Dictionary website we find the translation as follows:

3. The essence of things does not exist in conditions and so on. If an own thing does not exist, an other thing does not exist. 

I am very aware of the difficulty in translating these two terms, so I will have a short discussion in these. 

The word sva-bhāva is a compound that means own-being while para-bhāva in this context is some sort of  opposing term meaning other-being. I know the results -- own-being & other-being -- do not deserve the title of "meaning" but is a start. While the term svabhāva received a lot of attention during the time, we've been not so lucky with parabhāva. The reason might be the antonymic look of it. So if we take svabhāva, like Edgerton, as nature, then parabhāva become non-nature or other-than-nature either of which do not seem right. My approach in solving this tends to be an instrumental one. So by svabhāva I understand "being-by-self" while parabhāva becomes "being-by-other". In short, own-nature as opposed to other-nature. Then, my literary translation would be:

There is, indeed, no own-nature of entities among conditions etc;
[Then] in the absence of own-nature, there is no other-nature.

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