A short note on the Kevaḍḍhasutta

I have been annotating the Kevaḍḍhasutta, and I find I am adopting most of the interpretation proposed by @Sunyo.

It’s not without problems, but gives a clean interpretive lens.

Just adding a couple of details here. To justify separating the first two lines as a distinct question, there is the verb gādhati at the end, but equally important is that this merely rephrases the original question.

The next lines, with the derived material properties of long, short, coarse, fine, beautiful and ugly, are used in two contexts elsewhere:

  • snp3.9:45.1: a list of things that ought not be stolen
  • snp1.8:4.3: a list of sentient beings (texts omits beautiful and ugly, but they obviously apply)

Thus I think the dhammic sense is that these are aspects of the material world that are desirable (or undesirable), i.e. not just “raw” materiality (the four elements) but the aspects of “form” that we actually get attached to.

I agree with including anantaṁ in the first line of the question, but it then means we conjoin “invisible” and “radiant all round”. So either:

  • we choose one of the other meanings of pabhaṁ (“giving up” or “ford”)
  • or the line expresses a paradox: it is invisible since those of lesser attainment cannot grasp it, yet it is all-radiant since it lights the path to Nibbana.

The latter is a nice meaning, and is the sense I am currently accepting, but it’s just an unusual way for the suttas to express themselves.

By the way, when the commentary (which began the whole “consciousness is Nibbana” problem) interprets pabhaṁ as “ford”, it is evidently drawing on the meaning of gādha, which can indeed mean “ford”.

Now, there are a couple of other data points that need mentioning. The term anidarṣana appears in the Udānavarga where it has an interesting sense. These are Dhammapada style verses, but have no direct parallels in Pali. In the Cittavarga we find:

bhrūṇadheyam idaṁ cittaṁ niḥsāram anidarśanam
This mind is pregnant, coreless, invisible

Here it is clearly describing the ordinary mind and has nothing to do with either Nibbana or advanced meditation. It just means that the mind cannot be seen.

In the Brahmanavarga it appears twice in one six-line verse, which I split here for convenience. Here’s a quick and dirty translation.

arūpiṇaṁ sadā cittam asāram anidarśanam
The formless, coreless, invisible mind, always
damayitvā hy abhijñāya ye caranti sadā smṛtā
having trained, those who, having directly known [that mind], wander ever mindful,
kṣīṇasaṁyojanā buddhā lokeṣu brāhmaṇā hi te
the Buddhas who have ended fetters, they are the brahmins in the worlds.

Here again anidarśana clearly refers simply to the ordinary mind, which is understood.

arūpam anidarśanam anantam asudarśanam
Formless, invisible, infinite, not beautiful,
sūkṣmaṁ padam abhijñāya ye caranti sadā smṛtāḥ
the subtle state, having directly known, those who wander ever mindful,
kṣīṇasaṁyojanā buddhās te loke brāhmaṇā iha
the Buddhas who have ended fetters, they are the brahmins here in the world.

With the addition of the epithets “infinite” and “formless”, this sounds a lot more like the formless attainments. The “subtle state” would normally be a reference to Nibbana. I’m not really sure what asudarśanam is doing here.

I’m not entirely clear what is to be made of these lines. But clearly we do have a sense of nidarśana as simply the ordinary mind being “invisible”. The last lines are more reminiscent of the Kevaddha verses, but I don’t know what to make of that. The Udānavarga is probably a later expansion, and it’s possible these lines were adapted from the Kevaddha sutta, rather than being an independent source.


The Chinese parallel gives “not easy to see” 不易見for asudarśanam.

已知微妙跡 ,行常有正念,



That makes better sense.


Some interesting points, Venerab,e most of which I agree with. However:

I wouldn’t say so, because there would be no reason to change the verb if it was a mere rephrasing with the same meaning. It seems to me the Buddha changes the question (on where the four elements cease) because the quest of the monk was ill-founded. It wasn’t complete. The mind has to cease along with the four elements, is the point. When the Buddha says “that isn’t how the question should be asked” he’s not talking about the verb, of course, but I belief he’s saying effectively "that is not the question you should ask. So I wouldn’t say it is a mere rephrasing with “find no footing” and “cease” meaning the same. They mean different things.

But there is a place where the four elements temporarily cease (or better, “find no footing”), namely the state of boundless consciousness, so the Buddha decides to teach the monk that it is not the highest goal.

Neither am I, but of course a word like “invisible” can be used in different senses. It’s also used as an epithet for nibbana in the list of synonyms in SN. But that is clearly not the meaning for example in DN33 which speaks of “invisible form”. Then we’re left to decide what it refers to in the Kevaddhasutta. Since it clearly describes consciousness there (you’ll agree but just to clarify for others) it can not refer to nibbana there.


BTW, this is, AFAIK, the only missing word for the synoynms of nibbāna in the Chinese parallels. The Pāli commentary interpreted this passage on viññāna anidassana as referring to nibbāna, and it seems like they probably ended up adding it to MN 49 where it doesn’t originally belong. I’d argue that the reason it appears in the list of synonyms is because of this interpretation of DN 11 and therefore is a dubious use of the word anyway. I know this is more speculative though.



Interesting, I agree it was probably added from DN 11 ultimately. An interesting case where the DN context, and its interpretation, seems earlier than the SN.

Incidentally, I just came across another example of this: in DN 14, the Buddha says that Vipassi lived 91 eons ago. The curiously exact number of 91 eons is given in mn71 and sn42.9 as the period that the Buddha recollects.

Also, maybe this is obvious to everyone except me, but I just realized that sabbatopabhaṁ (“radiant on all sides”) is a synonym for pariyodāta (“white/bright all-around”), which is one of the stock terms describing the fourth jhana.


I would consider it more likely that the stories / lifetime of Vipassī Buddha were placed 91 eons back because of these references elsewhere, rather than the Buddha saying he recalls 91 eons back. Just seems more likely to me personally given the contexts.

I didn’t know this. Nice catch! :pray:

Could be, although then, why “91”? It’s an odd number! At least in DN 14 there is some context: it’s a quasi-logarithmic scale tending towards zero.

In eon 1 there are four Buddhas. Thirty eons ago the number is halved, two Buddhas. Sixty eons before that, the number is halved again, to one Buddha, thus ending the scale.

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Very interesting to know, thanks. On first glance it seems like quite a few other epithets are missing too, but I would have to look more carefully. (For those reading along, we’re talking about SN43.1 and following, specifically these, and the parallel at SA890.) It is of course exactly these kind of repetitive lists that were easy added to by tradition. It’s not unlike some of those lists at the end of some Samyuttas, clearly some of the later material in the SN. It’d not be surprising if the anidassana in that list came from DN11.

MN49’s parallel, as I said in the essay, is also quite different when it comes to this.


True, but you’ve just listed a reason why it could be 91, namely, the mathematic significance of the number. Maybe 91 is one of the significant numbers in the canon (like 500, etc.) and the Buddha was said to recollect this many to round it to a more even number that divides which seems to be preferred by the redactors. Then it would be easy to divide it into sections of past Buddhas in a later sutta. Hard to say though!