A few more terms …

I got some good tips from the last thread, so here’s a few more! Let me know what you think.


This is usually translated as “discipline”. But if you google this, the first definition is:

the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience.

Which, yuk. The use of the term “discipline” in Buddhism is directly derived from Christian monastic codes, where “obedience” and “punishment” are indeed hallmarks. But these are certainly not implied in the Pali term vinaya. This means, rather, “guidance”.

It is true that there are some (very mild, non-corporal) punishments in the Vinayapitaka, but that doesn’t justify the translation. There are some punishments in schools, but that doesn’t mean we say “education” is a process of enforcing obedience with punishment. And as for “obedience”, the concept simply doesn’t exist in the Vinaya.

I suggest we do away with “discipline” entirely and use “guidance”. Dhammavinaya becomes “teaching and guidance”, and so on.

sati sati āyatane

This is not a technical term as such, but an idiom that occurs at the end of some passages on the development of abhiññā. Examples include AN 5.23 and AN 5.28.

Grammatically the phrase is straightforward enough. It is in the locative. Sati here is not “mindfulness” but the verb “to be”. The repetition probably has a distributive sense. The problem is that the terms can have a wide range of meanings and it is not sure how they should be applied in this idiom.

Following the commentary, Ven Bodhi renders it in the AN as “there being a suitable basis”. But it is an obscure idiom, and I am not convinced this captures it. Firstly, I am not convinced by translating āyatana as “basis”. Perhaps it can mean this sometimes, but I feel BB relies too heavily on this meaning. I suspect it means here something more like “scope”, “opportunity”, or “case”.

But the real problem is that I think this interpretation takes the phrase to be setting limiting conditions on the attainment. This just doesn’t feel right with me. It typically appears not in places where the limits of development appear, but where their power and success is emphasized. Also, the phrase sometimes appears in the context of the Buddha, where such a limiting interpretation seems odd. See too AN 6.71, with BB’s translation:

Chahi, bhikkhave, dhammehi samannāgato bhikkhu abhabbo tatra tatreva sak­khi­bhabba­taṃ pāpuṇituṃ sati sati āyatane

Bhikkhus, possessing six qualities, a bhikkhu is incapable of realizing a particular state, [though] there is a suitable basis.

The passage is a somewhat obscure one, but I don’t think this translation makes sense at all. What can it possibly mean to have a suitable basis, if not that one can attain the relevant state?

I suspect that we should rather take sati sati as an emphatic distributive, while āyatana means something like a “case” (compare, for example, AN 5.26 Vimuttayatana Sutta). The phrase would then be emphatic, not limiting: “in each and every case”, or perhaps “whenever the opportunity arises”. The above passage could then be rendered:

A mendicant who has six qualities is incapable of realizing this or that attainment in each and every case.

Or perhaps this would be less ambiguous:

A mendicant who has six qualities is incapable of realizing each and every case of this or that attainment.

Leaving this obscure passage aside, the more standard trope could be rendered:

yassa yassa abhiñ­ñā­sacchi­karaṇī­yassa dhammassa cittaṃ abhininnāmeti abhiñ­ñā­sacchi­kiriyāya, tatra tatreva sak­khi­bhabba­taṃ pāpuṇāti sati sati āyatane

they become capable of realizing anything that can be realized by turning their mind towards insight, in each and every case.

Notice that in both this standard passage and the previous one, sati sati āyatane answers to another repeated and distributive clause, here: yassa yassa … tatra tatreva … sati sati. To me this is a strong hint that the point is to emphasize the universality of the attainment, not to restrict it.


guidance doesn’t as much as discipline connote action and behavior , which is something Vinaya regulates

@LYNDR @sujato

guidance doesn’t as much as discipline connote action and behavior , which is something Vinaya regulates

That was my thought as well. The teaching is meant for guidance too so to me guidance seems more like something describing the teaching, rather than denoting something more specific. What about guidelines? I also thought of training or principles, but these have the same problem to me as guidance.

Fair point; except vinaya in and of itself also doesn’t connote behaviour. In fact it’s frequently used in contexts where behavior is not the issue at all, eg rāgavinaya, dosavinaya, mohavinaya. I guess it depends whether it works in context. I’ll see if I can hunt down a few examples.

Yes, I though of that, too. Maybe!

these three compounds feature quite prominently in the Rāga­vinaya­ sutta (AN 4.96) meaning the removal of raga, dosa, moha

so removal, givin up appear to be just another meaning of the word unrelated to rules of behavior and conduct

Yes, that was my point. The word vinaya as such has nothing to do with behavior. That meaning arises from context. So too, the word guidance is not specifically to do with behavior, but the meaning should arise from context.

i was referring to Vinaya Pitaka’s Vinaya, supposing it’s this Vinaya which is implied in dhammavinaya compound, and this Vinaya has a lot to do with conduct

association of discipline with punishment reveals only one limited facet of the word’s meaning

at least with me there’s no association between the two

The word ‘discipline’ does have as one of its definitions “the practice… using punishment to correct disobedience”, but that is somewhat mostly in Christian and military circles. Sadly, due to Christian-run education from the past few generations, the definition has in modern times become very common.

The word ‘discipline’ comes directly from the Latin word disciplina, which means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge” and also from discipulus, which means “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline”. Although there is “military discipline”, there is no mention at all of punishment or any form of brutality. It is only from the Old French word descepline, meaning “discipline, physical punishment; teaching; suffering; martyrdom”, that this comes into play. However, the Latin precedes the Old French, since French was born from Latin much later.

Furthermore, ‘discipline’ in (modern) French is ‘discipline’ (same spelling), which might suggest that its Latin roots are more important. Even more so and ironically, in both French dictionaries I use (the Larousse and the Multidictionnaire de la langue française), apart from a type of whip called a “discipline”, there is no mention whatsoever of punishment. The definitions include “a code of conduct to ensure harmony in a group or collectivity”, “determination to reach an objective”, “branch of knowledge”, “self-restraint, discipline of self, sense of devoir”.

Also and interestingly, Wikipedia has no mention of punishment in its article on discipline (although it would be important to also mention it). Its explanation of discipline, however, is quite good.

With the alternatives, “guidance” just sounds so light and simply suggestive. “Guidelines” sounds very technical.

Let’s face it, even if the word ‘discipline’ would take on its harsher meaning as a translation of the word ‘vinaya’ (mostly for the Vinaya Piṭaka, here), the vinaya, is in fact:

  1. A set of clear and distinct rules.
  2. There are punishments. Although there aren’t any physical punishments, the non-physical punishments range from “defeat” by automatically being disrobed and revoked of affiliation (pārājika), “entailing initial and subsequent meeting of the community” (saṇghādisesa) with both penance and probation, “entailing forfeiture” (nissaggiya pācittiya) with objects that are to be forfeited, and so on with lesser offenses and punishments.
  3. These rules are mandatory to be part of the order of bhikkhus.
  4. Hardship is ensured.

To me, ‘discipline’, although not necessarily negatively portrayed, describes the training rather well.

The word ‘discipline’, I think, is a word that has profound and unique meaning. Anyone who studies philosophy, eastern religions (such as Taoism and Confucianism), psychology, or is interested in more modern personal development literature, will agree. I don’t believe abandoning such an important word simply because of disdainful Christians from old times and militaries borrowing the word is a good idea.



Dear Bhante @Sujato,

Thank you for allowing us to provide feedback once again.

One of the toughest things about translating Pali to English is that English is a language that evolved with much effect from Christianity (not to mention the difference in thinking in Indian culture and Western culture alone).


Just for myself, this would be a great move. Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by watching too many Dhamma talks LOL :smiley: and from reading the Tipitaka and Vinaya (I’m on my second reading). One of the reasons why I read the Vinaya was because I want to understand how mendicants live and how as a lay supporter I can help them out because the Buddha often said that mendicants and lay supporters are mutually intertwined within the practice.

My feeling from my practice as a whole is that the Lord Buddha’s whole intention was for people to learn the Dhamma from their own deduction and wisdom. Through my limited practice, I’ve found the truths in what the Buddha have said. The genius and compassion of the Lord Buddha was he empowered people to realize truths for themselves. He was the great guide pointing the direction. Yes, for the meantime we have borrowed wisdom from him, but in due time we will have our own wisdom. He knew nothing is more powerful than realizing something out of your own developed wisdom that’s why he encouraged it.

The Vinaya on the outset is not to tell someone what not to do but what to watch out for. I didn’t see this at first but it came later to me. The stories related to each rule tells you what to be mindful of and what to do in that situation. As far as punishments, I really don’t see any punishments. Remedies perhaps but no punishments. More like conditioning or steering. The rules are safeguards so that one can live the life of a mendicant and to preserve harmony within the community. Even the expulsions are not punishments to me but safety measures to preserve the practice within the community. I maybe disagreed with but that’s just the way I see it. By using wisdom to keep the Vinaya, everybody is happy and content. When everyone is generally happy and content, there will less problems keeping the Vinaya. No obedience needed. One of the really awesome things I saw in the Vinaya and how cool the Buddha was that he stopped the practice of not giving food as remedy for an arisen problem. I mean how compassionate was that? I was in the military for 13 years (I stopped when I started to practice Buddhism). I remember folks getting only bread and water in the brig. Surprisingly, we had a method called EMI (extra military instruction). It was not a punishment but a method for the individual to reflect why s/he is being corrected (an example is cleaning the toilets for missing a muster and for not being on time). By the way, the military is strict because it involves the safety of individuals and carelessness do cause the loss of lives.

sati sati āyatane

Thank you for sharing the other use for “sati”. I prefer this rendering, Bhante. Like you said it is less ambiguous.

It’s very fortunate to have guides like you who always give the opportunity for us lay folks to learn, help out, and more importantly, develop our own understanding and wisdom.

with respect, reverence, and gratitude,


Actually, you’re right. Punishment involves the ideas of hurting and retribution, which are entirely absent from the Vinaya. Vinaya procedures are done for the benefit of those who do them, and are undertaken voluntarily, so remedies or perhaps countermeasures would be better.

In reflecting on this further, I have to say I’m rather lukewarm on guidelines. To me it misses something…seems to put the emphasis a bit too much on something coming from the outside. Maybe it’s a bit softer than say discipline in terms of rules and doesn’t invoke the idea of punishment, but when I think of discipline in a broader context, my first association isn’t behavior enforced with punishment or anything along those lines but rather the self-discipline it take to learn any skill, craft or artistic pursuit or anything taking training. So it points to an inner quality as much as the actual rules or guidelines or outer discipline so to speak. In a Dhamma context that is also key.

I guess one of the questions is–what’s specific about Dhamma and about Vinaya, since they obviously are intimately connected, and many words we could come up with could apply in both contexts, so how to differentiate the essence of each in the translations.

Thanks for all the great responses on vinaya. I’ll respond to individual comments when I get a moment, but first I’d like to share a few general thoughts.

First to meanings of the word. It’s derived from vi-naya , literally to lead out or away, and is thus etymologically identical with education (from e-duce = draw out).

As mentioned above, the suttas sometimes use it in a purely psychological sense, removal of greed, hate, and delusion.

But the most important use in the Suttas is in such terms as ariyassa vinaya, sugatavinaya, or dhammavinaya. These are all idioms that basically mean “the Buddha’s teaching and practice as a whole”. Some examples (paraphrased):

  • SN 35.229: The ordinary folk speak of the “ocean”, but this is not the ocean in the ariyavinaya.
  • AN 6.45: Whoever has faith in the ariyavinaya
  • SN 35.84: Whatever disintegrates is what is called the world in the ariyavinaya
  • SN 45.15: The development of these eight things is only found in the sugatavinaya.
  • SN 38.16: Going forth is hard to do in this dhammavinaya.
  • AN 1.320: Whoever encourages someone in a poorly taught dhammavinaya makes much bad karma.
  • AN 3.22: They don’t get to hear the dhammavinaya as taught by the Realized One.
  • SN 56.9: You don’t understand this dhammavinaya!
  • AN 6.16: Nakulamata is one of the white-clad lay disciples who has gained a footing in this dhammavinaya.

As you can see, there is no need to interpret any of these as referring specifically to the Vinayapitaka, or indeed to any code of monastic discipline. There are a few cases where this more narrow sense is intended, but they are a minority.

Of course, the Vinayapitaka as we have it today didn’t exist in the time of the Buddha. The monastics would have had some general guidelines (as in the Gradual training, see DN2 etc.), the patimokkhas, some procedures such as ordination and uposatha, and a less well defined set of rules or principles about proper monastic conduct. This subject increasingly became known as vinaya, and over time was identified with a specific body of texts.

It is only in later years that the meaning as “monastic discipline” came to the fore. One of the problems we have is that if we leave the word untranslated, modern readers will almost always assume that it refers to monastic discipline. So we have to deconstruct this somehow.

Perhaps we should simply translate it differently in the different contexts. However, this is not without its problems.

I have mentioned above my reservations about the use of the term “discipline” in the context of Buddhist monasticism. These reservations are not merely linguistic, but are about how the term is received and perceived within the Buddhist community.

It has been my experience that many modern monastics, and even some laypeople, strongly identify Vinaya with a system of control and obedience. Punishment, not so much, it is true, at least in overt forms (although punishment is found in some monasteries).

In part this attitude stems from cultural conditioning, as Buddhism has been passed down in lands that have become strongly hierarchical and patriarchal. In nationalist Buddhism, it seems to be impossible to recognize that these cultural structures are the opposite of what we find in the Vinaya. Vinaya, for traditional Buddhists, is not what is taught in ancient texts, but what they see around them. And what they see is a culture of obedience, of face-saving, of compliance, and of unquestioning obedience to authority.

It should go without saying that these things are not what actually goes on in these cultures: that’s a rookie mistake. Traditional Buddhist cultures have just as many rebels, counternarratives, questioning and rejecting authority and all the rest as you find anywhere. The point is that these things are felt to be outside the mainstream, they are not endorsed, and in monastic circles “Vinaya” is used as a tool to suppress them.

In addition to this, there is another problem, which is probably more of an issue in non-traditional Buddhist cultures. “Vinaya” is co-opted as a tool for establishing circles of control and order to compensate for personal anxieties and lack of self-confidence. This is common, in fact I would say normal, in Western monasteries. It’s found not only among the monastics, but, curiously enough, among some lay people as well. It’s surprisingly common to find laypeople who are of the opinion that they know how monasteries should be run. They manage to maintain this opinion despite knowing nothing of Vinaya, having never read it, nor having spent any time in monastic communities. Even more curious, it turns out that the “right” way to run a monastery turns out to be some variation of “everyone has to do what I say”.

No matter how many hours we spend—and we have spent many—teaching the Vinaya and explaining what it actually says, this is blithely ignored, or dismissed with the usual racist guff: that’s just “western” ideas.

And don’t think that this is just an issue for me. To be honest, I can afford to ignore most of this stuff these days. But it creates a lot of stress and anguish among junior monastics. In fact one of the problems is that junior monastics often know more and care more about the Vinaya than their seniors, who feel they have to clamp down even more to keep control.

So this is the background. Like the word “concentration” for samādhi, “discipline” is a word whose interpretation involves much more than linguistic concerns. The way it is received in Buddhist culture can actively create serious harm.

These are some of the considerations that I have had. By suggesting “guidance”, or perhaps another alternative, I was hoping to use something that was more literal, sticking closer to the basic meaning of the word, and avoiding the various sets of connotations, whether Christianity, obedience, punishment, control, and the like.

This is, I know, too heavy a burden for one little word to bear. I can’t hope to change things just by translation choices. But at least I can avoid making it worse, and perhaps stimulate some discussions.


the word training would be a suitable alternative in my opinion, but this is what sikkhā is traditionally translated as

Yes, that’s right. It’s not always necessary to keep terms separate, but it certainly make it easier.

Good points Bhante. I think the idea of education describes what I was getting at as well, though I wasn’t taking into account how disicpline is often (mis)used in terms of control in monastic communities.

You’ve probably considered just using ‘practice’ but of course there’s overlap with other terms… BTW, how are you planning to translate dhamma in this context? I like the simplicity of.

the Buddha’s teaching and practice

Wonder if that would work in enough contexts to keep the terms relatively consistent.

Maybe practice would do, but sometimes it seems its even broader than that. “Practice” is, surprisingly enough, not usually an overloaded word in sutta translations. We use it for paṭipadā, and that’s about it.

I’ll think about this some more.

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Hi Bhante

For the “sati sati āyatane” idiom, have you considered that (discounting the repetition) sati āyatane might be a locative absolute? Not just any ordinary locative absolute, but one whose participle is formed from atthi. Wijesekara at p.238 suggests that in this scenario, the grammatical function is to point towards the necessity of a condition (in this case in a subordinate clause) for the case in the main clause to hold true. This seems to be the sense that Ven Thanissaro translates the idiom (= whenever there is an opening). I have to admit though, the syntax does not fit easily into the explanation offered by Wijesekara, since it is not apparent that this idiom is functioning as a subordinate clause.

Yes, what can I say, it seems to me like a highly idiomatic phrase, and I suspect grammar will be of limited use. But yes, this seems as good an explanation as any, except of course it still creates the practical problem that I mentioned above.

Hee hee. In a past life, Bhante must have been on the Chinese translation team of the SA. They opted for 於彼彼入處 (in whatever āyatana) in SA 1246, thereby agreeing with your hypothesis about the idiom.