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The pali phrase "Kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā" is found in many suttas.

Bhikkhu Sujato translates this as "when their body broke up, after death"

Bhikkhu Bodhi translates this as "with the breakup of the body, after death"

Bhikkhu Suddhāso translates this as "When there is separation from the body after death, following the completion of this life"

In another translation of Bhikkhu Sujato we see "Kāyassa bhedā" specifically translated again as "body breaks up"

We also see this phrase "Kāyassa bhedā" alongside "jīvitapariyādānā" which I believe means termination of life.

Are these correct translations referencing the breakup of the body? Does the body refer to the aggregates? Is this referring to the biological death of the body? If not, what is the proper translation?

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  • 1/2 The only way to prove "Unawesome Karma give only unpleasant resultant [duggatiṃ vinipātaṃ Nirayaṃ upapajjanti]" is the practicing Vijjācaraṇasampanno, 3 Vijjās, follow the Buddha in DN2 Sāmaññaphalasutta. The practitioner will always automatically see, no effort no imagination, the appearance of Unawesome Karma at the almost death moment [Kāyassa bhedā] in each past life. The practitioner will always automatically see, no effort no imagination, whether That-Past-Life-Appeared-Unawesome-Karma always give unpleasant resultant for entire each next life [Paraṃ maraṇā].
    – Bonn
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 19:17
  • 2/2 That's the easiest way to prove Karma Process in Sutta, Meditating forth Jhana for Pactice 3 Vijjas, because Karma and Resultant in between birth and death is very complicated to prove. Yes, it could prove but it's very in detail, Abhidhamma. Abhidhamma is very in detail which is harder to understand it all right as it really is, arising and vanishing trillion times per second by uncountable causes and uncountable effects. However, it's possible to prove after meditate the forth Mastering Jhana.
    – Bonn
    Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 19:17

5 Answers 5

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Let's use the translations from the dictionary by Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera.

For "jāti":

jāti:'birth',comprises the entire embryonic process beginning with conception and ending with parturition.

"The birth of beings belonging to this or that order of beings,their being born,their conception (okkanti) and springing into existence,the manifestation of the groups (corporeality,feeling,perception,mental formations,consciousness; s.khandha),the acquiring of their sensitive organs:this is called birth"

For "maraṇa":

maraṇa:'death',in ordinary usage,means the disappearance of the vital faculty confined to a single life-time,and therewith of the psycho-physical life-process conventionally called 'man,animal,personality,ego',etc.Strictly speaking,however,death is the continually repeated dissolution and vanishing of each momentary physical-mental combination,and thus it takes place every moment.

For "kāya":

kāya,(lit:accumulation):'group','body',may either refer to the physical body (rūpa-kāya) or to the mental body (nāma-kāya).In the latter case it is either a collective name for the mental groups (feeling,perception,mental formations,consciousness; s.khandha),or merely for feeling,perception and a few of the mental formations (s.nāma),e.g.in kāya-lahutā,etc.(cf.Tab.II)

For "sakkāya":

sakkāya:'existing group'.'this word is usually translated by 'personality',but according to the commentaries it corresponds to sat-kāya,'existing group',hence not to Sanskrit sva-kāya,'own group' or 'own body'.In the Suttas (e.g.M.44) it is said to be a name for the 5 groups of existence (khandha):Sakkāya,o Brother Visākha,is said by the Blessed One to be a name for the 5 'groups as objects of clinging' (upādāna-kkhandha),to wit:corporeality,feeling,perception,mental formations,and consciousness."

For "bheda": "bheda:[m.] breach; disunion; dissension"

For "paraṃ": "paraṃ:[adv.] after; beyond; further; on the other side of"

From the Concise Pali-English Dictionary by Ven. A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera:

kāya,(m.),a heap; a collection; the body.

sakkāya:[m.] the existing body.

So, it can be translated in both ways:

  1. The break-up of the physical body after physical death
  2. The dissolution of the aggregates after the momentary death of individuality

#1 or #2 can both be derived from:

“But when someone who is attached has laid down this body (kāyaṁ) and has not been reborn in one of the realms, what does Master Gotama say is their fuel then?” “When someone who is attached has laid down this body, Vaccha, and has not been reborn in one of the realms, I say they’re fueled by craving. For craving is their fuel then.”
SN 44.9 (translated by Ven. Sujato)

However, #2 can easily be seen from:

“Contact, reverends, is one end. The origin of contact is the second end. The cessation of contact is the middle. And craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to being reborn in one state of existence or another. That’s how a mendicant directly knows what should be directly known and completely understands what should be completely understood. Knowing and understanding thus they make an end of suffering in this very life.”

“The past, reverends, is one end. The future is the second end. The present is the middle. And craving is the seamstress … That’s how a mendicant directly knows … an end of suffering in this very life.”

“Identity (sakkāya), reverends, is one end. The origin of identity is the second end. The cessation of identity is the middle. And craving is the seamstress, for craving weaves one to being reborn in one state of existence or another. That’s how a mendicant directly knows what should be directly known and completely understands what should be completely understood. Knowing and understanding thus they make an end of suffering in this very life.”
AN 6.61 (translated by Ven. Sujato)

The last quoted paragraph from AN 6.61 can also have "identity" replaced with "existing body" or "existing group (of aggregates)".

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  • i marked this post down. The dictionary entries lack authoritativeness. Even worse, Sujato's translation of SN 44.9 using the term "realm" for "kaya" is completely wrong. Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 10:00
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when kāya is not qualified as nāma-kāya (mental body), by default kāya on it's own refers to a rūpa-kāya, the physical biological body made up of 4 elements.

Snp 5 is a great example in usage that proves kāya in meditation context is rūpa-kāya by default. https://notesonthedhamma.blogspot.com/2021/10/kn-snp-5-buddha-knew-about-ambiguities.html

That expression of OP is talking about physical death. For the arhant, after that break up of the physical body, they no longer are reborn.

For the ordinary person, the momentum of ignorance and craving at physical death leads to viññāa (consciousness) re-arise with another set of nāma (mental factors) and rūpa (physical form) in a new life form.

That's the context you find that expression from the OP. Arahant attains final nibbāna right there, and some beings who are not arahant at time of physical death attain nibbāna shortly after, most are reborn.

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  • Majjhima Nikaya means "rupa kaya"? Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 2:23
  • "kaya" always means "group" or "collection", such as in SN 12.19. For example, in SN 12.19, the "rupa' does not originate from ignorance & craving. SN 22.56 & SN 22.82 literally say the rupa is caused by the 4 elements. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 2:56
  • MN 72 “‘They’re not reborn’ doesn’t apply, Vaccha.” “Na upapajjatīti kho, vaccha, na upeti”. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 3:00
  • Arahant: MN 140 And the sage at peace is not born, does not age, does not die; he is not shaken and does not yearn. For there is nothing present in him by which he might be born. Not being born, how could he age? Not ageing, how could he die? Not dying, how could he be shaken? Not being shaken, why should he yearn? Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 3:02
  • Snp 5 is a great example in usage that proves kāya in meditation context is rūpa-kāya by default. notesonthedhamma.blogspot.com/2021/10/…
    – frankk
    Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 10:15
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The pali phrase "Kāyassa bhedā paraṁ maraṇā" is found in many suttas.

My impression is we will find the above phrase is only used in reference to "beings" ("satta") in mundane suttas about kamma for puthujjana. The only exception is MN 140 but this is regarded as a corruption, particularly given it is not found is all versions of MN 140 (i.e., Burmese vs Sri Lankan, etc).

We also see this phrase "Kāyassa bhedā" alongside "jīvitapariyādānā" which I believe means termination of life.

Apart from corruptions of MN 140, my impression is the term "marana" is not found with "jīvitapariyādānā" above. The word "marana" is defined in SN 12.2 as occurring to "beings" ("satta"). SN 5.10 says "beings" is the wrong view of Mara or Satan.

The term "kaya" does not mean "physical body". "Kaya" means "group" or "collection". For example, DN 15 refers to "nama-kaya" and "rupa-kaya". Or MN 44 uses the term "sakkaya" is relation to the five aggregates.

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  • From what I can tell you are correct that only MN 140 has 'marana' and 'jīvitapariyādānā' mentioned in the same verse. However, Kāyassa bhedā and jīvitapariyādānā are mentioned in several and they don't all refer to kamma for puthujjana. How then do you translate Kāyassa bhedā?
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:48
  • You are focusing on the wrong words. "Satta" is related to "marana". "Marana" only occurs to "satta". When The Enlightened refer to the ending of life, the word "kālaṅkata" rather than "marana". "Marana" means "Mara". "Mara" means "attachment". Refer to SN 23.1, SN 23.11 & 12. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:50
  • Understood. But focus on the suttas here that do not mention 'marana' at all: suttacentral.net/… how do you translate Kāyassa bhedā ?
    – user13375
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:53
  • The 1st sentence of your question includes 'marana'. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 22:55
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    Personally, I always translate it as the aggregates. Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 23:00
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In another translation of Bhikkhu Sujato we see "Kāyassa bhedā" specifically translated again as "body breaks up"

I have never read this before. It is a strange sutta (but the AN has lots of strange stuff in it). This sutta includes the following, which does not contain paraṁ maraṇā:

Because of the weakness of the five faculties, they become fully extinguished when the body breaks up without making extra effort.

So imesaṁ pañcannaṁ indriyānaṁ muduttā kāyassa bhedā asaṅkhāraparinibbāyī hoti.

That’s how a person becomes fully extinguished when the body breaks up without making extra effort.

Evaṁ kho, bhikkhave, puggalo kāyassa bhedā asaṅkhāraparinibbāyī hoti.

My comments:

  1. The translation of "extra effort" refers to when a mendicant meditates observing the ugliness of the body, perceives the repulsiveness of food, perceives dissatisfaction with the whole world, observes the impermanence of all conditions, and has well established the perception of their own death.

  2. The translation of "without making extra effort" refers to relying on the four jhanas.

  3. It is strange if the five faculties are weak that a person would be fully extinguished.

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kāyassa (the body's) bhedā (dissolution) paraṁ (after) maraṇā (death) uddhaṁ (????) jīvitapariyādānā (life span's termination) idheva (right here) sabbavedayitāni (all felt/all experienced) anabhinanditāni (not delighted in) sītībhavissantī (cold becomes) (Dhamma Dhatu)

Yeshe Tenley posted:

Bhikkhu Suddhāso translates this as "One knows, ‘When there is separation from the body after death, following the completion of this life, all that is felt here will become cool, as there is no delight in it.’"

Above, it appears Suddhāso has translated "uddhaṁ" as "separation". Suddhaso has also used a translation of "separated" for "nānābhāvā" in the following part of the same sutta (MN 140):

Monk, just as when two sticks are rubbed together warmth comes into being and heat is produced, and when those two sticks are separated (nānābhāvā) the warmth from that friction ceases and comes to an end;

The word "nānābhāvā" is commonly used for "separated", such as in:

‘I must be parted and separated from all I hold dear and beloved.’ …

‘Sabbehi me piyehi manāpehi nānābhāvo vinābhāvo’ti abhiṇhaṁ paccavekkhitabbaṁ itthiyā vā purisena vā gahaṭṭhena vā pabbajitena vā.

AN 5.57

It is notable this passage from MN 140 appears unique in the suttas. For example, this link shows the term "paraṁ maraṇā" in MN 140 is only found once (in MN 140) among eight uses of "uddhaṁ jīvitapariyādānā".

My impression is Suddhāso has also been influenced in his translation of "uddhaṁ" as "separation" by the often questionable translation & interpretation of "uddhagāmi" in SN 55.21. The word "uddha" means "upwards; in height; upstream; above; further; beyond".

Let us examine the other translations of MN 140 for the meaning of "uddhaṁ". Note: each of the translations below has excluded translating "paraṁ maraṇā":

Dhamma Dhatu: kāyassa (the body's) bhedā (dissolution) paraṁ (after) maraṇā (death) uddhaṁ (????) jīvitapariyādānā (life span's termination) idheva (right here) sabbavedayitāni (all felt/all experienced) anabhinanditāni (not delighted in) sītībhavissantī (cold becomes)

Sujato: They understand: ‘When my body breaks up and my life has come to an end, everything that’s felt, since I no longer take pleasure in it, will become cool right here.’

Bodhi: He understands: ‘On the dissolution (bhedā) of the body (kāyassa), with the ending (pariyantika) of life (jīvita), all that is felt (sabbavedayitāni), not being delighted in (anabhinanditāni), will become cool (sītībhavissantī) right here (idheva).’

Thanissaro: One discerns that 'With the break-up of the body, after the termination of life, all that is sensed, not being relished, will grow cold right here.' (Thanissaro)

The above can be compared to Iti 44, which says:

For them, everything that’s felt, being no longer relished, will become cool right here.

Tassa idheva, bhikkhave, sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sīti bhavissanti.

In conclusion, for MN 140, my impression is Bhikkhu Bodhi did not translate "uddhaṁ" but possibly Sujato translated "uddhaṁ" as "comes to" and Thanissaro translated "uddhaṁ" as "after the". It may be prudent to ask one of the translators, such as Sujato at Sutta Central, what the word "uddhaṁ" means here.

For me, it seems the translation should be:

kāyassa (the body's) bhedā (dissolution) uddhaṁ (beyond) jīvitapariyādānā (life span's termination)

Now, Thag 10.3, while again sounding very late & fake (because 'jati' & 'marana' are used for physical birth & death), says death occurs immediately after life. Therefore, the break-up of the body occurs after the termination of life rather than the termination of life occurs after the break up of the body.

For anyone who is born,

Anantaraṁ [immediately after] hi jātassa [one's birth],

death always follows after life.

jīvitā [life span] maraṇaṁ [death] dhuvaṁ [is certain];

Everyone who is born here dies here;

Jātā jātā marantīdha,

such is the nature of living creatures.

evaṁdhammā hi pāṇino.

Thag 10.3

In summary, whether 'kaya' refers 'aggregates' or 'physical body' remains indeterminate. For example, MN 43 says:

“When someone dies, their physical, verbal and mental conditions have ceased and stilled; their vitality is spent; their warmth is dissipated; and their [five sense] faculties have disintegrated.

“Yvāyaṁ, āvuso, mato kālaṅkato tassa kāyasaṅkhārā niruddhā paṭippassaddhā, vacīsaṅkhārā niruddhā paṭippassaddhā, cittasaṅkhārā niruddhā paṭippassaddhā, āyu parikkhīṇo, usmā vūpasantā, indriyāni paribhinnāni



Yeshe Tenley posted:

We also see this phrase "Kāyassa bhedā" alongside "jīvitapariyādānā" which I believe means termination of life.

SN 12.51, which contains the above, says:

They understand: ‘When my body breaks up and my life has come to an end, everything that’s felt, since I no longer take pleasure in it, will become cool right here. Only bodily remains will be left.’

Kāyassa bhedā uddhaṁ jīvitapariyādānā idheva sabbavedayitāni anabhinanditāni sītībhavissanti, sarīrāni avasissantīti pajānāti.

While SN 12.51 is a late & fake sutta, due to its illogical Abhidhammic discussion of 'sankhara', SN 12.51 clearly shows the word 'kaya' does not mean 'physical body' because SN 12.51 uses the tradition term for 'physical body', namely, 'sarīra'.

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