Calculation, hand gestures or something else…?

While translating Sippa sutta (Udana 9:3) today, I had a problem with the word muddāsippa in the list of crafts. After the search, I was even more confused by the various translations. So after half a day search, I came up with the following findings:

Sippa sutta (Udāna 3:9)
Ekacce evamāhaṃsu — “muddāsippaṃ sippānaṃ aggan”ti.

Muddā (f.) [cp. (late?) Sk. mudrā] 1. a seal, stamp, impression; — rāja˚; the royal seal DhA i.21. Also with ref. to the State Seal at Miln 280, 281 in cpds. muddakāma (amacca) & mudda — paṭilābha.

2. the art of calculation mentioned as a noble craft (ukkaṭṭhaŋ sippaŋ) at Vin ;iv.7 (with gaṇanā & lekhā), as the first of the sippāni (with gaṇanā) at M ;i.85=Nd2 199 Further at Miln 3, 59, 78 sq., 178. Cp. BSk. mudrā in same sense (e. g. at Divy 3, 26, 58 in set lipyā, sankhyā gaṇanā, m.). Bdhgh’s expln of muddā D i.11 m.+gaṇanā (see DA i.95) as “hattha — muddā — gaṇanā is doubtful; since at Miln 78 sq. muddā & gaṇanā are two quite diff. things. See also Franke, ;Dīgha trsl. p. 18, with note (he marks muddā “Finger — Rechnen with?); and cp. Kern, Toev. i.166 s. v. muddā. The Dial. i.21 trsl. “counting on the fingers” (see Dial. i.21 22 with literature & more refs.). — ;hattha˚; is signlanguage gesture (lit. hand — arithmetic), a means of communicating (question & answer) by signs, as clearly evident fr. J ;vi.364 (hattha — muddāya naŋ pucchissāmi . . . muṭṭhiŋ akāsi, sā “ayaŋ me . . . pucchatiti ñatvā hatthaŋ vikāsesi, so ñatvā . . .; he then asks by word of mouth). — hattha — muddaŋ karoti to make a sign, to beckon J iii.528; cp. Vin v.163: na hatthavikāro kātabbo, na hattha — muddā dassetabbā.
— âdhikaraṇa the office of the keeper of the Privy Seal Chancellorship Miln 281.

Varous translations:
1. “In 3.9 occurs a list of crafts. The fifth is muddāsippa: communicating by gestures. The Commentary is of little help, merely adding ‘band gestures’. Woodward’s explanation of it as bargaining by signs or hand-touching employed by merchants is far-fetched and quite wrong according to the late l.B. Homer in a personal communication. Possibly it may have had a military significance as do the previous crafts, i.e. directing the course of the battle by signalling commands.” (John D. Ireland: “Notes on the Udāna”, Buddhist Studies Review, Vol. 9:2 [1992], p. 146).

2. “Finger-calculation-craft“. Also in the note 120: “The Commentary explains this as: hatthamuddāya gaṇanasippaṃ. See the article by Edgerton in BHSD, s.v. mudrā; and cf. also Divyāvadāna pp. 3, 26, etc.” (Anandajoti Bhikkhu: Udāna – Exalted Utterances, 2008 – online)

mudrā (In these mgs. not In Skt.), (1) (=Pall muddā., acc. to PTSD art of calculation; assoc. with ; acc. to DN comm. 1.95.19 hattha-muddā-gaṇanā., cf. Tib. below, while gaṇanā. Is acchiddaka-(q.v. CPD)-gaṇanā), some method of calculation, acc. to Tib. on LV (cf. DN comm. above) lag rtsls, hand-calculation, that is, presumably, figuring by using the fingers In some conventional way (Das renders this Tlb. lines or marks in the hands, palmistry, and so Burnouf on Divy 26.12 chiromancie, Introd. 237, but the regular context seems to disprove this); always in a list of arts learned by a young man, and associated with mathematical terms: between saṃkhyā and gaṇanā., LV 4.21; after saṃkhyā and gaṇanā, before dhāraṇā, Mv ii.423.15…” (Edgerton: Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit, Vol II, Dictionary, 1993.

3. “Signaling”. Also in the note: Reading muddā-sippaṃ with the Commentary. The Thai edition has muddha-sippam, which could mean phrenology, but that doesn’t fit in with the previous members of the list, all of which deal with military skills. (Bhikkhu Thanisaro: Sippa Sutta: Crafts – at Access to Insight site)

4. „The craft of gestures“ (Peter Masefeld: The Udāna, PTS 1997).

5. „Skill in conveyancing“* (D. M. Strong: The Udāna or the Solemn Utterances of the Buddha, Luzac, London 1902).

*conveyancing = the process of moving the legal ownership of property or land from one person to another. (Cambridge Dictionary – online)

6. “The craft of signs manual”** (F. L. Woodward: Verses of Uplift, PTS (1935).
Also in the note: “Muddā (secret gestures or grips). Comy. hatlha-muddāya gaṇasīsena sippaṃ. Cf MP. 3 n. 59, 78, where Rhys Davids trans. ‘conveyancing(!).’ I have heard palmistry suggested, but undoubtedly the ancient Indian practice of bargaining by signs is referred to. It is still done in Ceylon. I quote from the Times of Ceylon (August, 1930): ‘A gem transaction is never done by word of mouth. The dealer and the merchant, when negotiating for the purchase of a jewel, clasp each the other’s right hand under a handkerchief so that no one else in the room can discover what is being done. Offers for the gem are made by the merchant holding the joints of the dealer’s finger, a certain number of fingers, or tapping on his palm. Each action means a different sum, and when the transaction is over no one else is any the wiser as to the value of that gem. The merchant can then turn to another customer and possibly sell it for twice or trice the amount he paid the dealer for it.’ Cf also note p. 289 of Nānatiloka’s German trans. of Mil. Pañh.

As for the explanation in the commentary to Ud 3:9, hatthamuddāya gaṇanasippaṃ, I couldn’t figure out what that would exactly mean. Counting with the hand gestures!? What would be some real life situation? What has been counted by those gestures and for what purpose? And isn’t that the same as 7 and 8 in the list below, some kind of caltulation. So, it means there are three items which practically overlap. To much mathematics to me in such a short list.

This reminds me of translating gaddhabādhipubbo in MN 22, just for the sake of ahving some translation, as “formerly a vulture-trainer”!? Has anyone heard of training vultures? Therefore, it seems to me something doesn’t fit quite here.

So, let’s look again at the list:
1. hatthisippaṃ = the knowledge of elephant training
2. assasippaṃ = the knowledge of horse training
3. rathasippaṃ = the knowledge of driving (or making) chariot
4. dhanusippaṃ = the knowledge of archery
5. tharusippaṃ = the knowledge of swordsmanship
6. muddāsippaṃ = (Comm. “hatthamuddāya gaṇanasippaṃ”)
7. gaṇanāsippaṃ = the knowledge of counting
8. saṅkhānasippaṃ = the knowledge of calculation
9. lekhāsippaṃ = the knowledge of writing
10. kāveyyasippaṃ = the knowledge of poetry
11. lokāyatasippaṃ = the knowledge of natural philosophy
12. khattavijjāsippaṃ = the knowledge of governance.

It looks to me like twelve crafts which can be split into two groups: 1-6 about military and the 7-12 let’s say humanities.

Could it be that at the time of writing Commentaries some of the meanings of the word muddā were forgotten?

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