Sanskrit Lesson

Gavampatina ca                "and Gavampati"

(continued from issue #50) 

                                        by Bhiksuni Heng Hsien

      Yet another Great Arhat in the Assembly when the Buddha spoke the Amitabha Sutra was the Venerable Gavampati.1  His name translates as "Lord of the Cows."2

pati meaning "lord" or "husband," and  gavam  meaning "of cows." It is unusual to have an inflected form-- gavam is genitive plural-- as the first part of a compound, but such compounds are found, especially, as here, with pati as the final member. Note that  gavam is written gavam, that is with m (anusvara, indicating a sound change that takes place , m whenever m comes directly before another consonant. The singular of gavam is in the stem (non-inflected) form. If masculine it means, "bull," and if feminine it means "cow."  Gavampati sometimes means simply "a bull."3

      The Elder Gavampati received his name because for many lives he had been reborn as a cow as retribution for having mocked a toothless Pratyekabuddha's eating habits, comparing the sage to a cow chewing its cud. When finally reborn as a man, he still retained some characteristics from his lives as a cow, and when he ate he still chewed his cud. The Chinese therefore variously translated his name as "Cow-Cud,"4 "Cow-like,"5 "Traces of a Cow."6 Or even "Cow-King Traces."7

      The noun pati meaning "Lord" or "husband" belongs to a class of nouns that end in short -i, and so the ending called for by the preposition Sardham "together with," which occurred previously in the text, is different from the ending -ena which marked the end of the names of the other Arhats so far mentioned. That accounts for the form Gavampatina, which is instrumental singular.8 Note the final long -a which was also found in the instrumental singular forms maya "by me," andmahata "great" earlier in the text.

      Inflection means the addition of endings, varying according to gender and indicating number and case (function), to nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Sanskrit has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter; three numbers: singular, dual, and plural; and eight cases: 1) Nominative/subject, 2) Accusative/direct object, 3) Instrumental/means or accompaniment, 4) Dative/indirect object, 5) Ablative/cause or origin, 6) Genitive/ possession, 7) Locative/location in time or space, and 8) Vocative/direct address. The system of inflection will be described at greater length in future Sanskrit lessons.

      The Buddha had the Venerable Gavampati reside in the heavens where the gods were not dismayed by his cow-like habits, since they could see the past causes. If he had continued to reside among men as an Arhat, anyone who mocked him would have suffered a fate similar to his!  The Elder Gavampati was therefore foremost among the Buddha’s disciples in receiving the offering of the gods.9