3

One word in Pali Canon seems to be especially challenging for translators to convey. This word is "papañca" (e.g. MN18, DN21, Sn 4.11, AN4.173). Some attempts at translating papañca include "exaggeration", "proliferation", "association", "conceptualization", "objectification", and "reification".

What is papañca and what is it's significance in Buddhism? How is it used in Pali Canon and what is it's referent in real life?

How is papañca (prapañca in Sanskrit) explained by Mahayana philosophers such as Nagarjuna, Asanga, and Tsongkhapa?

1

I am not a translator and do not know of the proper translation, but another closely related word that I'm particularly fond of is hypostatize. There is also the noun form hypostatization.

Mark Siderits and Shoryu Katsura translate the Sanskrit version of this term - prapañca - as hypostatization in Nagarjuna's Middle Way so it looks like I'm not too far off :)

enter image description here

The general definition is very close to reification. It means to attribute real ontological identity to a concept and Mirriam Webster gives the root as the Greek hypostatos which is "substantially existing."

Here is my favorite example of hypostatizing...

From Insight Into Emptiness page 258, “For example, a young woman may want to have a child. When she is asleep, she dreams she gives birth to a child and is elated. But later in the dream, the child dies and she is devastated. However, on waking, she sees that neither the exhilarating appearance of having a child that brought her joy nor the horrible appearance of the child’s death that caused her anguish is real.”

Before she woke up she hypostatized her child (attributed real concrete existence to it) and this led to both elation and anguish. After she woke she stopped the hypostatization and the elation and anguish faded. However, there is also something very subtle happening when she woke up: she considered the dream unreal in relation to something else! Unreal and real are a dichotomy and mutually dependent notions :)

Another great and famous example is that of how three different beings perceive a cup filled with a liquid substance.

Three beings each perceive a cup filled with a liquid substance in front of them. The first, a god, looks and takes a sip and perceives, “ambrosia!” The second, a human being, looks and takes a sip and perceives, “water.” The third, a hungry ghost, looks and takes a sip and perceives, “blood and pus.”

Which is real? Which is unreal? What is worthy of being hypostatized and what is not? This is sometimes referred to as the simile of the three cups of liquid in Mahayana texts.

Another famous example by Nagarjuna is the body of a woman being seen differently by an ascetic, a lustful man, or a wild dog:

With respect to the same female body,
Three different notions are entertained
By the ascetic, the lustful and a [wild] dog,
As a corpse, an object of lust, or food.

Each hypostatizes the body as very different things. Which is real? Which is unreal? Can the body be thought of as having any essence whatsoever? Or is each perception thoroughly and utterly relative and dependent? Is there anything whatsoever objectively real or worthy of being hypostatized in such a situation? Can any of it withstand analysis?

In fact, prapañca is a concept so important to Nagarjuna that he opens his famous Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way with this:

enter image description here

And here is how Siderits characterizes the commentaries on this opening Homage Verse:

enter image description here

Indeed, if you look through the rest of Nagarjuna's verses you will see that this is a major subject of the treatise as the commentaries attest.

Here is that very same Homage Verse as translated by Garfield and commented on by Je Tsongkhapa:

I prostrate to the perfect Buddha,
The best of all teachers, who taught that
That which is dependent origination is
Without cessation, without arising;
Without annihilation, without permanence;
Without coming; without going;
Without distinction, without identity
And peaceful—free from fabrication.

Je Tsongkhapa cites Chandrakirti saying in his Prasannapada that these Homage Verses, "reveal the content and ultimate purpose of the Treatise."

Further, this site gives prapanca in Tibetan as spros pa which is also how it is used in Je Tsongkhapa's Ocean of Reasoning:

free from conceptual and verbal elaboration : sgra rtog gi spros pa zhi ba
sgra rtog gi spros pa zhi ba : free from conceptual and verbal fabrication

  • 1
    Thank you for this new word, I have not seen this before. Though the question is more about usage and interpretation of papanca in Pali Canon and Mahayana texts, but I appreciate this information too. – Andrei Volkov Jun 12 '18 at 17:20
  • @YesheTenley, it seems your last two examples (while correct) emphasize the other aspect of reification. It is true that our perceptions largely depend on our perspective and interpretation (which is what your examples emphasize) - but the traditional emphasis in (Mahayana) Buddhism is, I think, on our tendency to grasp abstractions as if they were realities, regardless of perspective. To be sure, your emphasis on reality as interpretation is equally important. – Andrei Volkov Jun 12 '18 at 19:07
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov hmm, I see these examples as also providing evidence for what you call the traditional emphasis if I'm understanding you correctly. IOW, the fact that multiple perspectives exist - indeed infinitely different perspectives - undermines that anything real is being perceived at all. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 12 '18 at 19:28
  • @AndreiVolkov found quite a bit more including how the most recent translation of Nagarjuna's MMK from the Sanskrit is filled with this word. It is indeed very important to the teachings of the Middle Way school of Mahayana! – Yeshe Tenley Jun 12 '18 at 20:45
  • Yup, I'm watching the answers, so I see the changes. Already +1'd once so can't do again :) But yeah this is like the heart of the Teaching as per Madhyamika. – Andrei Volkov Jun 12 '18 at 21:26
1

A good reference on this topic is Bhikkhu Ñāṇananda's 155 pg. book, Concept and Reality in Early Buddhist Thought. It is available online as a free download.

Quoting from the blurb on the back cover:

This work deals primarily with two important, but controversial doctrinal terms, found in the Pali Canon - Papañca and Papañca- saññā-sankhā. The characteristically Buddhistic doctrine of 'not-self' (anattā) is shown in new dimensions of significance having far-reaching implications not only in the context of Buddhism but also for the student of philosophy, psychology and ethics, as well.

  • Thanks, would you like to summarize the main points of the book here in this answer? Link-only answers are helpful but tend to get broken when the target moves. Inline answers are easier for readers to consume, since they don't have to follow the link and study the other resource. – Andrei Volkov Jun 13 '18 at 15:35
1

"What is Papañca?" is precisely the name of the article by Andrew Olendzki, the editor of the Insight Journal, who tries to answer this question, and then relates the purpose of vipassana later in his article, beyond my quote below.

Basically, papañca is the layers of thoughts and concepts that obscures what is barely perceived.

Imagine you walk through a canteen line and the canteen staff places five pieces of potato on your plate, while placing six pieces of potato on another person's plate. If you get angry about this, thinking perhaps, that the canteen staff is discriminating against you perhaps due to your ethnicity - well, this is an example of papañca, where it gives rise to aversion. You imagined a lot of stuff, on top of what is insignificant.

Another good example is this answer, where the author wrote that she was terrified because she misinterpreted the nightly sounds of cats mating as an adult woman and her baby crying in pain.

I've recently spoken to a depressed friend who did not feel that he is good enough and suffers from a lack of self-confidence. He cites examples of where others are better than him. I quoted qualities and examples of him that are better than each of those other persons and he was shocked. He never saw it in that way before. He was too obscured in his mental commentaries of his deficiencies that he couldn't see his good qualities and personal strengths.

But papañca can be a lot milder than that. For e.g. your feeling of patriotism or pride towards your country or ethnicity or religion is in my opinion, papañca too, as it a built-up concept.

In the article, he continues to speak of Vipassana as a means of one seeing things as they truly are.

The opposite of "papañca" could be "yathābhūtaṃ pajānāti" which means "seeing things clearly as they truly are".

From Andrew Olendzki's article, "What is Papañca?":

papahcabkirata paja nippapanca tatbagata
“People delight in proliferation, the Tathagata in nonproliferation.”
—Dbammapada 254

Papañca is one of those delightful Pali words that rolls off the tongue (or bursts through the lips, in this case) and hits the nail on the head. It points to something so immediate, so pervasive, and so insidious that it deserves to join the English language and enter into common usage. The exact derivation of papañca is not entirely clear, but its sense hovers somewhere between the three nodes of 1) to spread out or proliferate; 2) an illusion or an obsession; and 3) an obstacle or impediment. The place where these three meanings converge in experience is not hard to locate. Sit down with your back straight and your legs folded around your ankles, close your eyes, and attend carefully to your experience. What do you see? Papañca.

This term is used to describe the tendency of the mind to 1) spread out from and elaborate upon any sense object that arises in experience, smothering it with wave after wave of mental elaboration, 2) most of which is illusory, repetitive, and even obsessive, 3) which effectively blocks any sort of mental calm or clarity of mind.

These are the narrative loops that play over and over in the mind, the trains of thought pulling out of the station one after another and taking us for a long ride down the track before we even know we’re aboard. Bhikkhu Bodhi, eloquent as always, calls papañca “the propensity of the worldling’s imagination to erupt in an effusion of mental commentary that obscures the bare data of cognition” (from note 229 in Majjkima Nikaya (MN)).

The Madhupindika Sutta, cited in the question, seems to state that objectification (papañca) leads to "obsessions of passion, the obsessions of resistance, the obsessions of views, the obsessions of uncertainty, the obsessions of conceit, the obsessions of passion for becoming, & the obsessions of ignorance" and also "taking up rods & bladed weapons, of arguments, quarrels, disputes, accusations, divisive tale-bearing, & false speech".

"If, monk, with regard to the cause whereby the perceptions & categories of objectification assail a person, there is nothing there to relish, welcome, or remain fastened to, then that is the end of the obsessions of passion, the obsessions of resistance, the obsessions of views, the obsessions of uncertainty, the obsessions of conceit, the obsessions of passion for becoming, & the obsessions of ignorance. That is the end of taking up rods & bladed weapons, of arguments, quarrels, disputes, accusations, divisive tale-bearing, & false speech. That is where these evil, unskillful things cease without remainder."

1

How to analysis this vocabulary?

Pac(a/i) + [ṃ of abbhāsa(root-repeating)] + pac(a/i) + a = papañca (saddanīti dhātumālā).

Pāka/vipāka, which use the same pac(a/i)-root, didn't abbhāsa by Buddha, because it is resultant. It is not the lead-cause dependent-origination-loop's repeating. So, Buddha didn't abbhāsa it.

What does pac(a/i) of papañca mean?

It refers to kilesa-vatta (unwholesome-causes) of the dependent origination which are the causes of the dependent-origination-loop's repeating. Because Kamma-vatta (formation/kamma-becomming) depending on kilesa-vatta (avijjā/taṅhā/upādāna) to cook(pacati) pāka/vipāka (resultants) of the dependent origination (vaṭṭa/paṭiccasamuppāda).

Why Buddha did abbhāsa(root-repeating) to pac(a/i) as papañca?

To refer papañca to kilesa-vatta (unwholesome-causes) of the dependent origination. I described above.

Where are kilesa-vaṭṭa (formation) in dependent origination?

The italic text below of Saṃ. Nidāna. Vibhaṅgasutta are kilesa-vaṭṭa (formation), the bold text are vipāka-vaṭṭa, the regular text are kamma-vaṭṭa:

– Katamo ca, bhikkhave, paṭiccasamuppādo?

– And what, bhikkhus, is paṭicca-samuppāda?

Avijjā·paccayā, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā;

Conditioned by avijjā, bhikkhus, there are saṅkhāras

saṅkhāra·paccayā viññāṇaṃ;

conditioned by saṅkhāras, there is viññāṇa

viññāṇa·paccayā nāmarūpaṃ;

conditioned by viññāṇa, there is nāmarūpa

nāmarūpa·paccayā saḷāyatanaṃ;

conditioned by nāmarūpa, there are saḷāyatanas

saḷāyatana·paccayā phasso;

conditioned by saḷāyatanas, there is phassa

phassa·paccayā vedanā;

conditioned by phassa, there is vedanā

vedanā·paccayā taṇhā;

conditioned by vedanā, there is taṇhā

taṇhā·paccayā upādānaṃ;

conditioned by taṇhā, there is upādāna

upādāna·paccayā bhavo;

conditioned by upādāna, there is bhava

bhava·paccayā jāti;

conditioned by bhava, there is jāti

jāti·paccayā jarā-maraṇaṃ soka parideva dukkha domanass·upāyāsā sambhavanti. Evam·etassa kevalassa dukkha'k'khandhassa samudayo hoti.

conditioned by jāti arise jarā-maraṇa, sorrow, lamentation, dukkha, domanassa and distress. Thus arises this whole mass of dukkha.

Which are the evidence sutta of this answer?

Every sutta which are contented papañca and papañceti are the evidences. They talking about dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda). So, I analysis papañca-word as dependent origination follow to those suttas' context.

Why atthakathā comments papañca as the Resistance?

Because the kilesa-vaṭṭa causes the repeating of dependent-origination-loop. So, atthakathā comments papañca as the resistance of the dependent-origination-loop cessation.

Why atthakathā comments papañca as only Taṇhā, Diṭṭhi, and Māna, but the sutta refer to 7 anusaya?

It is just a brief of those 7 anusaya to cover 10 fetters in brief 3 kilesa, some point of atthakathā comment more than 3 as well. So, the sutta and atthakathā similarly explained papañca.

0
  • The PTS dictionary says it means "obstacle or impediment", and that it maybe isn't related to the Sanskrit prapañca.

  • It's used in DN 21 e.g. like this:

    “But how does a mendicant appropriately practice for the cessation of concepts of identity that emerge from the proliferation of perceptions?”
    “Kathaṃ paṭipanno pana, mārisa, bhikkhu papañcasaññāsaṅkhānirodhasāruppagāminiṃ paṭipadaṃ paṭipanno hotī”ti?

    In papañcasaññāsaṅkhānirodhasāruppagāminiṃ perhaps the "proliferation" part of the meaning comes from saṅkhā rather than papañca, and "perception" is from saññā -- therefore papañca by itself only means "impediment" not "conceptual proliferation".

  • In MN 18 too it's mostly used in compound words like papañcasaññāsaṅkhā (as in DN 21 above).

  • The only other way it's used in MN 18 is in papañceti which Ven Sujato translated as ...

    What you think about, you proliferate.
    yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti

    ... but I don't know how to verify/justify that translation.

  • There are not many suttas in which it's used at all: it's not a commonly-used word.

    (That search also returns results like pāpañca i.e. with a long first vowel, but I think that's a different word, which means evil).

    (That search may be unreliable e.g. it didn't find it's being used in Snp 4.11, I don't know why, so maybe by relying on this search as I do in this answer I miss some places where it's used).

  • A few suttas use it in the formula "Papañca udapānañca", e.g. SN 1.47, where it's translated as "a drinking place and a well" (I don't know why, so I'll ignore this meaning), ditto in the phrase "Papañca vivane".

  • It's used in AN 4.174, in phrases like iti vadaṃ appapañcaṃ papañceti translated as "you’re proliferating the unproliferated". However a) I don't understand the overall meaning of this sutta b) for all I know this might just as well be translated as "you're hindering the unhindered".

  • It's used in Thag 17.2 translated as follows ...

    Whoever is devoted to proliferation,
    A wild animal delighting in proliferation,
    Is deprived of nibbāna,
    The unexcelled safety from the yoke.

    Whoever has given up proliferation,
    Delighting in the path free of proliferation,
    Is blessed with nibbāna,
    The unexcelled safety from the yoke.

    ... I dont know why that's translated as (specifically) "proliferation" instead of (more generally) "an unspecified kind of hindrance". The same formula is used in AN 6.14 and AN 6.15.

  • It's used in Snp 4.11 whose topic is "Arguments and Disputes". I guess this is a famous use of the word. Here it's used in the phrase Saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā -- note that here again it's used with Saññā and saṅkhā explicitly.


That's about all there is, the only places it's used.

In summary I think that:

  • It's rarely used
  • It just means "hindrance"
  • In the (only) places where it's (famously) used i.e. DN 21 and MN 18, it's used in the compound word papañcasaññāsaṅkhā -- which maybe explains why that's translated as "conceptual proliferation" ... I guess that compound word means literally "the hindrance of numerous perceptions".

  • Snp 4.11 uses the similar-but-not-identical phrase ...

    Na saññasaññī na visaññasaññī,
    Nopi asaññī na vibhūtasaññī;
    Evaṃ sametassa vibhoti rūpaṃ,
    Saññānidānā hi papañcasaṅkhā

    That's translated as ...

    Neither one of normal perception nor yet abnormal,
    neither unperceiving no cessation of perception,
    but form ceases for one who (has known) it thus:
    Conceptual proliferation has perception as its cause.

    ... i.e. translating papañca and/or papañcasaṅkhā as "conceptual proliferation" again, even though it's missing the word saññā.

    I guess that literally should be translated as "perceptions cause many troubles" -- except that papañcasaṅkhā should be understood as actually saying (or meaning) papañcasaññāsaṅkhā: IMO it's been abbreviated from papañcasaññāsaṅkhā to fit the meter (because Snp 4.11 is verse, and they do that when it comes to versifying).

  • All three (MN 18, DN 21, and Snp 4.11) are describing this as a cause of arguments and quarrels (MN 18 and Snp 4.11), and/or envy and hostility (DN 21).

    That explains this introduction to MN 18:

    This discourse plays a central role in the early Buddhist analysis of conflict. As might be expected, the blame for conflict lies within, in the unskillful habits of the mind, rather than without. The culprit in this case is a habit called papañca.

  • I'm not sure how it comes to be translated as "reification". Perhaps it's from e.g. this bit in MN 18: Yatonidānaṃ ... purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti, translated "a person is beset by concepts of identity that emerge from the proliferation of perceptions." Maybe that's saying that papanca is the "reification" of identity -- although not necessarily in the (modern?) "this is a logical fallacy" sense but more in the "this is the cause or foundation (or conditioned arising) of" sense (see also What does “hypostatize” mean?). – ChrisW Jun 13 '18 at 11:52
  • Thanks for looking at this @ChrisW but I think your conclusion is generally wrong. In addition to Thanissaro Bhikkhu's account of the importance of this concept have a look at the book that Larry Pitts just linked to below. It does not support your answer. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 13 '18 at 15:51
  • @ChrisW Your search of the sutta's above seems to be not wide enough. I found suttacentral.net/an6.14/en/sujato. Here is the english: "A creature who likes to proliferate, enjoying proliferation, fails to reach extinguishment, the supreme sanctuary. But one who gives up proliferation, enjoying the state of non-proliferation, reaches extinguishment, the supreme sanctuary.” Which both testifies to the importance of understanding what papañca is (in order to abandon it) and renders it hard to square with your definition of hindrance. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 13 '18 at 16:13
  • 1
    Ironically, arguing about the meaning of papanca is an example of papanca in action ;)) – Andrei Volkov Jun 13 '18 at 17:16
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov such is the lot of sentient beings... endlessly papancanating :) – Yeshe Tenley Jun 13 '18 at 17:30
0

Not going to post a comprehensive answer (because I don't have one), just offering my contribution to etymological analysis:

It is possible that Sanskrit prapañca is related to prāpanīya - an adjective that roughly means "an object of acquisition" -- "the acquirable", "the attainable", "the intended upon", "that to be obtained".

In Dharmottara commentary on Dharmakirti's work "Nyayabindu" focused on epistemology and phenomenology, prāpanīya is used to indicate the final object of cognition (in contrast with the object of raw sensory perception). It is used along with its synonyms adhyavaseya – "the ascertained", "the determined", "the resolved", "the apprehended" and pravrttivisaya – "object of action", "object of engagement", "object of endeavor". (source: Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, by William Edelglass (Editor), Jay Garfield (Editor))

If we assume prāpanīya and prapañca to be related, and take into account the two synonyms, the meaning of prapañca could be rendered as "to establish as an object of acquisition" or - as Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggests - to objectify.

  • 1
    When we sentient beings go on "papancanating" the world we are carving up this inseparable morass of completely relative and dependent phenomenal world into what appear to be self-sufficient and separate systems or objects. This carving up that we do is arbitrary and conventional yet we mistake it as non-arbitrary and objectively justified. We regard the things we carve up and imagine them to have objective and separate ontological reality. Yet they utterly do not. Thus, all the various synonyms I've heard in this OP and the answers are consistent with some facet of the above. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 14 '18 at 13:37
  • "exaggeration", "proliferation", "association", "conceptualization", "objectification", "reification", "hypostatization", "objectification", "the apprehended", "the resolved", "object of action", "object of engagement", "object of endeavor", "hindrance", "diffusion", "spreading out", "manifoldness" --> and all the others All these are just words and ultimately empty. We string them together in numerous ways and try to find the essence of them. We delve into the history of how various people used them hoping that there we will find the essence. And yet, no essence is to be found. – Yeshe Tenley Jun 14 '18 at 13:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.