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Here is the passage with a rough translation of what I believe it is supposed to be saying, it is from 3-400AD, Buddhist scripture:

  • 少欲者,少欲俱相類相聚相應相可;
  • few are the chaste, the few chaste are altogether mutually ranked mutually congregated mutually responding mutually functioning;

If there are other issues with this rendering please feel free to address them, although my chief concern is the usage of 相. Should it be read as "marked by [類/聚/應/可]"?

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The core meaning of the character 相 is not ' mutual' but ' from one to the other'.

For example:

  • 相授 (one person give to or teach another person)

  • 相送 (one person see another person off)

  • 相傳 (story retold from people to people)

'相' is used to describe 'mutually' because it can be the shortened form of '互相' (mutually from one to the other)

  • 兩人相聚( the two meet) is 相聚

  • 眾人相聚 (everybody meet) is also 相聚

  • 人相食 means 'people eating people' (two people cannot mutually eat each other)

The examples above prove 相 does not mean 'mutually' ( but 互 does)

From the context of the sentence in the question:

  • 相類 (identify each others) means every similar things could identify each others

  • 相聚 (stay together) means every similar things would stay together

  • 相應 (react to each others) means every similar things would react to each others

  • 相可 (agree with each others) means every similar things would agree with each others

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  • I trust your answer, however, if you will permit me to ask another question, as a novice and a learner, 相類 (identify each others) <--this is the same meaning as "[are] mutually ranked", or "are ranked the same", isn't it? I just ask this question because I do not know. 相聚 (stay together) --> this seems also the same as "are mutually congregating" 相應 (react to each others) --> this seem also really close to "are mutually responding" Is this because 相 basically means "the same" in this specific isolated context? – Caoimhghin Apr 27 '17 at 5:57
  • I mean to ask, does "mutually" seem to sometimes work as an English rendering here because 相, in this specific context, could have been replaced with either 互 or 互相, in this specific context (but not in other contexts necessarily)? – Caoimhghin Apr 27 '17 at 6:00
  • if it is between two individuals, then 相 could be the short hand for 互相 'mutually' ( you classify me, I classify you), But in this context, it seems there's more than two individuals. therefore, I interpret 相 in 相類, in it's basic meaning: 'from one to the other' . If it was 互類, 互聚,互應 and 互可 then the meanings of 'mutually classify each other'. 'mutually congregating', 'mutually responding' and mutually agree with each other' would be quite clear – Tang Ho Apr 27 '17 at 6:19
  • " But in this context, it seems there's more than two individuals." <-- Yes, I think that we are dealing with "universal" groupings of myriad people in the context of this text. Because I am a learner, if you have time, what would you render 類, 聚, 應, & 可 as if 相 was systematically rendered, in English, as "from one to the other"? – Caoimhghin Apr 27 '17 at 6:23
  • '相' is used to describe 'mutually' because it can be the shortened form of '互相' -- Not necessarily. The two meanings coexisted in classical Chinese long enough, and there is a bigger chance that the 'mutual' meaning came first. 互相 is a relatively recent word. – Wang Dingwei Apr 27 '17 at 6:28
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少欲俱相類,相聚,相應,相可 《雜阿含經》

少欲俱相類,相聚,相應,相可 《佛說相應相可經》

少欲者: 貪欲少的人、欲望較少的人 People with less desire

俱: all

相類: 互相類似 They think and behave similarly.

相聚: 互相聚集 They often get together.

相應: 互相契合 They tally or correspond mutually.
相應 means to tally or to correspond (契合) in Buddhism, not to react or to interact.

相可: 互相許可 They agree with one another. They agree mutually.

相 may mean "mutually" or "each other". However, one is an adverb, and the other is a pronoun. I think the 相 in 相類, 相聚, 相應 and 相可 are more likely to be the adverbs, not the pronouns. So, 相 means "mutually" here.

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    "Each other" is used only as the object of a verb or preposition. It usually follows the verb or preposition. Those 相 are in front of verbs, 類,聚,應 and 可, therefore they should be the adverbs. 相類 Their thought and behavior are mutually alike. 相聚 They mutually visit or meet. – young99 May 27 '17 at 4:01
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少欲者﹒少欲俱﹒相類﹒相聚﹒相應﹒相可

少欲 is alpeccha, so 少欲者 is someone who has little or moderate wishes.

俱 is 俱全 (completely). 少欲俱, is completely full of alpeccha.

a math equation metaphor:a1+a2+a3+a4 = a (1+2+3+4)

so, 相類﹒相聚﹒相應﹒相可 is 相 (類﹒聚﹒應﹒可)

"類聚" is group together, e.g. 物以類聚

應 - 應對, interact

可 - 認可, affirm

so, it's 少欲者(people full of alpeccha) would group together, affirm each other, interact "in-group".

the usage of 相 in english, depend on the written style, mutually is a good choice. cause that the text describes a situation of "group", clearly, not a one - one scenario.

last, the original text of this excerpt from 雜阿含經:

聞如是:

一時佛在舍衛國祇樹給孤獨 園。佛告諸比丘:「比丘!諸不聞者,不聞俱相類 相聚相應相可,多聞者,多聞俱相類相聚相 應相可;慳者,慳俱相類相聚相應相可,布施 者,布施俱相類相聚相應相可;黠者,黠俱相 類相聚相應相可,癡者,癡俱相類相聚相應 相可;多欲者,多欲俱相類相聚相應相可,少 欲者,少欲俱相類相聚相應相可;難持者,難 持俱相類相聚相應相可,易持者,易持俱相 類相聚相應相可;難給者,難給俱相類相聚 相應相可,易給者,易給俱相類相聚相應相 可;不足者,不足俱相類相聚相應相可,足者, 足俱相類相聚相應相可;不守者,不守俱相 類相聚相應相可,守者,守俱相類相聚相應 相可。」佛說:「比丘!如是,黠人當分別是因緣,可 行者當為行,不可行者當為莫行。」

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  • This scripture contains a series of "opposites" presented, alongside a stock descriptive phrase (相類﹒相聚﹒相應﹒相可). "少欲 is alpeccha, so 少欲者 is someone who has little or moderate wishes." <--if 少欲者 does not mean "few are the chaste", there is probably a similar problem with my rendering of the previous phrase: 多欲者,多欲俱相類相聚相應相可,--> many are the lustful, many are the lustful altogether mutually ranked mutually congregated mutually responding mutually functioning, <-- what is the proper rendering of 多欲者? – Caoimhghin Apr 27 '17 at 17:26
  • buddhism terms are very specialised, i would not translate it by my self, consult dictionary of this field. 多欲 might be "rāga-carita"; so 多欲者 might interpret as "someone who is greedy-natured". – 水巷孑蠻 Apr 27 '17 at 17:59
  • just curious :) since you're reading 雜阿含經, for what purpose? learning literary chinese? buddhism? comparing differences between early translations & later one? anyway, have fun :) – 水巷孑蠻 Apr 27 '17 at 18:03
  • I am trying to learn Chinese, while also learning about Buddhist scripture, and I am also very interested in the relationship of this material with other very early textual traditions of Buddhism, like the Gandhari tradition, for instance. – Caoimhghin Apr 27 '17 at 18:41
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Maybe the etymology of 相 could help: 木 plus 目: 'mu plus mu' to give a meaning of 'same, sameness, like'.
'chaste' has only sexual connotations. A buddhist does not just try to contain his or her sexuality, but the roving roaming relentless mind.

相類 same kind

少欲者,
Those of few desires,

少欲俱相類相聚相應相可;
have little desire to be with their kind, meet, interact or seek their peers.

From the Diamond Sutra:

Subhuti finds happiness abiding in peace, in seclusion in the midst of the forest. This is because Subhuti abides nowhere: therefore he is called, "Subhuti, Joyful Abider-in-Peace, Dweller-in-Seclusion-in-the-Forest."

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