Cittā’s gātā


A recent article about a Japanese scroll in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston mentiones how this scroll is considered to be the first in which an actual landscape is depicted, not a Japanese landscape, but an Indian one: Vulture Peak near the city of Rajgir in the state of Bihar. Vulture Peak is one of those places that frequently occur in Buddhist canonical texts, both the Southern and the Northern manuscripts.

One of Buddha’s contemporaries, the bhikkhuni (senior female monk) Cittā, daughter of a king or chieftain and over 80 years old climbed the slopes of Vulture Peak and had an enlightening experience. Her gātā (song, poem) occurs in the so-called Therīgātā, the “songs of the senior nuns (therī)”.
Following the absolute correct transliteration of Hermann Oldenberg and Richard Pischel (“Therī-gāthā”, PTS, London 1883, p. 126, 28-30) the second half of the gātā runs as follows:

Having laid down my upper robe (samghāti), having put down my almsbowl (patta),
leaning against a hard rock (amhi selamhi) the liberation of my heart overwhelmed me.

These two sentences are followed by a thanksgiving at the address of the Buddha’s Teaching (buddhassa sāsanam).

nikkhipitvāna samghātim pattakam ca nikkujjiya/

nissannā(1) c’amhi selamhi atha(2) cittam vimucci me(3)/

tisso vijjā anuppattā katam buddhassa sāsanam.

1: Skr.: nissah – overwhelming, powerful. We cannot overlook the fact that “pure Pali” does not exist. Cittā had learnt the Vedic lore written in Classical Sanskrit (either in Brahmi or in Devanagari script). She adopted the regional language Pali but couldn’t help inserting a Sanskritic word such as a declination of nissah: nissannā.

2: Atha is an indeclinable copulative and is used in enumerations: and, and, and: ánd I laid down my robe, ánd I put down my patta, ánd I leaned against a rock, ánd I was overwhelmed.
3. cittam vimucci me: my heart/mind/thinking (root: cit) became liberated (vimucci). Compare the “… akuppā me cetovimutti” in Buddha’s First Teaching (Dhammacakkappavattanasutta) : the liberation (vimutti) of my heart (ceto) is undeniable and final (akuppā). (“Me” is pronounced as in “case”.)

Two individuals published their translation of this verse of Cittā’s online.
In “First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening” (Berkeley, 1991) we find :

Robe thrown down,
bowl turned over,
leaned on a rock,
then great darkness opened.

One instance in the Therā-/Therīgātā (Th 1, 1034) has a passage containing ‘darkness’. It has andhakāra, being (mental and fysical) blindness, and also darkness, dullness, bewilderment.
Generally the root tam or tim, dark(ness), is used. Nor a declination of andhakāra or one of tam/tim occurs in the original transliteration.

Another online source, Sutta Central-site, allowed a translation into German language. It closely follows (if not copies) the above translation with one exception: the mention of ‘SELBST’ (written in capitals! — ‘self’):

Die Robe hab ich abgelegt,
die Bettelschale umgestülpt,—
im Fels ich stützte da das SELBST:
Die Dunkelmasse ich durchdrang.

As stated, the editors blindly followed the above-mentioned “great darkness”, and added the Self to the mix.
Speculating on what could have caused these editors to use ‘self’ (Pali: atta, Skr. atman) is useless and would amount to the category of wrong speech. Suffice it to say that the root cit (as in ceto…) cannot be translated as ‘self’. Nor committed Oldenberg and Pischel an orthographical error in writing atha instead of atta. Both the Brahmi and the devanagari alphabets give the sounds th(a) and tt(a) as two very distinct characters; no transliteration mistake is possible. Besides, a sentence with atta instead of atha would have become unintelligable.