sentient beings

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sentient beings

Postby dakini_boi » Sat Feb 04, 2012 9:25 am

What is the word for "sentient beings" in Pali & Sanskrit? I am wondering why the English term was chosen - since sentient beings are distinguished from buddhas, yet both share the qualities of sentience. Does the term imply that sentient beings are beings who are dominated by their senses?
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Re: sentient beings

Postby Paul » Sat Feb 04, 2012 11:30 am

This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with fear of being sued.

-Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: sentient beings

Postby dakini_boi » Tue Feb 07, 2012 1:59 am

Thank you!
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Re: sentient beings

Postby tantular » Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:43 pm

Sattva is just the abstract suffix -tva attached to the word "sat", a noun/present participle meaning "existing, being". It's used in dozens of different senses, including "consciousness", "mind", but I've never seen a Buddhist nirukti (traditional etymology) where this association is made. On the contrary, there's a passage in the 25,000 PP sutra where Subhuti and Devandra play with its literal meaning "existence, the state of being in existence", and stress that this is a conventional, worldly usage:

devendra āha: nedaṃ bhadanta subhūte dharmādhivacanam āgantukam etan nāmadheyaṃ prakṣiptaṃ, avastukam etan nāmadheyaṃ prakṣiptam, anārambaṇam etan nāmadheyaṃ prakṣiptaṃ yad uta sattvaḥ sattva iti.

Devendra said: "This is not dharma-terminology, Venerable Subhuti; the name 'sattva' for 'sentient being' is given randomly, it is given untruthfully, it is given without basis."

The English translation "sentient being" is influenced by the Tibetan sems can, "having a mind". The Tibetan word sems "mind" is never used for buddhas, so there's no danger of confusion. For buddhas the honorific thugs is used instead, but this can also be used of kings and other respected people without implying they are fully enlightened.
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Re: sentient beings

Postby dakini_boi » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:26 pm

Tantular,

Thank you for that. Could you provide the more correct Sanskrit word used for sentient being?

tantular wrote:The English translation "sentient being" is influenced by the Tibetan sems can, "having a mind". The Tibetan word sems "mind" is never used for buddhas, so there's no danger of confusion. For buddhas the honorific thugs is used instead, but this can also be used of kings and other respected people without implying they are fully enlightened.


Why in English do we use the word "sentient?" That implies feeling, which is not exactly the same thing as the mind. And even Buddhas have mind-phenomena and feeling-phenomena, but they are not conditioned by them. So I wonder if the Tibetan word sems has a somewhat different meaning than our English use of "mind."
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Re: sentient beings

Postby Paul » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:30 pm

dakini_boi wrote:Tantular,

Thank you for that. Could you provide the more correct Sanskrit word used for sentient being?

tantular wrote:The English translation "sentient being" is influenced by the Tibetan sems can, "having a mind". The Tibetan word sems "mind" is never used for buddhas, so there's no danger of confusion. For buddhas the honorific thugs is used instead, but this can also be used of kings and other respected people without implying they are fully enlightened.


Why in English do we use the word "sentient?" That implies feeling, which is not exactly the same thing as the mind. And even Buddhas have mind-phenomena and feeling-phenomena, but they are not conditioned by them. So I wonder if the Tibetan word sems has a somewhat different meaning than our English use of "mind."


Sem is always refers to the confused, dualistic mind. So it would never be used for the mind of a buddha, for example.

http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/Sem
This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with fear of being sued.

-Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: sentient beings

Postby tantular » Fri Feb 10, 2012 10:02 am

dakini_boi wrote:
Thank you for that. Could you provide the more correct Sanskrit word used for sentient being?


Sattva is the standard word for "sentient being" in Sanskrit, there is nothing more correct. The point of the quote is that although the word sattva can be analysed in terms of a verbal root and a secondary suffix, the meaning "sentient being" can't be derived directly from the meaning of its grammatical parts; it's a purely linguistic convention.

In technical terms, Devendra is saying that the word sattva for "sentient being" is yaugikarūḍha, not yaugika. This gets into the Sanskrit grammatical theory of word meaning, which would take some time to explain.

Why in English do we use the word "sentient?" That implies feeling, which is not exactly the same thing as the mind. And even Buddhas have mind-phenomena and feeling-phenomena, but they are not conditioned by them. So I wonder if the Tibetan word sems has a somewhat different meaning than our English use of "mind."


The Merriam-Webster definition of "sentient" is "responsive to or conscious of sense impressions", which in both the basic 12-fold links & more complex abhidharma analysis is a central feature of what it means to "have a mind". Feeling (vedanā, tshor ba) is always a pleasurable, painful, or neutral response to contact (sparśa, reg pa) with a sense object. In Buddhism mind is nothing other than a stream of self-perpetuating responses to sense impressions.

Whether Buddhas have sense impressions was a controversial issue in some circles in India, but in Tibet the mainstream position is that Buddha activity unfolds effortlessly through the power of past aspirations.
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Re: sentient beings

Postby dakini_boi » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:53 pm

Thank you Paul and Tantular!
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