AN 5.159: anupubba vs pariyāya: Thanissaro vs Sujato?

Dear @Sujato and forum

AN 5.159 says:

‘Anupubbiṁ kathaṁ kathessāmī’ti paresaṁ dhammo desetabbo;

‘pariyāyadassāvī kathaṁ kathessāmī’ti paresaṁ dhammo desetabbo;

The dictionary says:

following in one’s turn, successive, gradual, by and by, regular



  1. order; course; quality; method; figurative language; a synonym; a turn


Bhikkhu Thanissaro has translated, which sounds tautological:

"[1] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak step-by-step.’

"[2] The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequence [of cause & effect].’

Bhikkhu Sujato has translated as:

‘I will teach step by step (anupubbiṁ)’…

‘I will teach explaining my methods (pariyāyadassāvī)’ …

Could @Sujato or other Pali fluent offer explanations for the translations. Thank you :saluting_face:

In Ven. Bodhi’s translation, he supplies the commentarial gloss for ‘pariyāyadassāvi’,
“Showing the reason for this or that point. “

He translates the sentence, “I will give a talk that shows reasons”.
(Very similar to Ven. Sujato’s translation. )

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This is not directly relevant but I find it interesting how the usage of the word parīyāya differs from Sanskrit to Pali and back then to current times. The old Sanskrit texts I have read (from Upanishads to probably a thousand years after the Buddha) use the word in the sense of “method”. Later on, for some reason, the word was used to mean “alternatives” or “options”, and that usage continues till today in Hindi as well. It is generally used in expressions like “I have no options left…” As I said, I find it interesting and the choice “method” seems the closest to its intended original meaning and purpose.


Traditionally, in Pali, the word is explained by pari + the verb i (eti), literally ‘going around’.

So the applied sense can be ‘method’, discourse, etc.


I think Ven. Sujato’s translation is better. pariyāyadassāvī is literally “(as one who’s) seeing (dassāvī) the method (pariyāya)”. But I don’t see how Ven. Thanissaro’s is tautological.

Teaching step by step means for example teaching virtue before meditation, meditation before insight, and such—just as in the gradual (anupubba) training. It means teaching what people are ready for, basically.


Could this refer to ‘teaching the method according to the needs of the audience’? As in, seeing the method necessary?

Or, alternatively, could it mean “I will teach from direct experience,” as in, teaching via one’s experience with the methods taught (as ‘one who sees’)?

Mettā :pray:

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What I meant was Ven. Thanissaro translated both Pali similar, i.e, “step-by-step” and “the sequence”.

MN 1 is called Mūlapariyāya Sutta. How would you explain the use of “pariyāya” here as it relates to MN 1? Thank you :saluting_face:

This is how the commentary and sub-commentary to MN1 explain it:

The word pariyāya occurs in the texts in the sense of teaching (desanā), cause (kāraṇa), and turn (vāra).

Here it has the meaning of teaching and cause. Thus the phrase “the exposition of the root of all things” signifies the cause designated the particular root-cause of all things, or the teaching of the cause of all things. But this sutta has to be carefully interpreted. It is not all specific natured dhammas of the four planes that is indicated by the words “all things,” but only all dhammas pertaining to the three planes included in personality (sakkāyapariyāpannā pana tebhūmakā dhammā va). This here is the purport.

The purport is: all the dhammas beginning with earth which function as the bases for conceiving (maññanāvatthu).
(Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi)

But the translator has omitted the examples given by Buddhaghosa. Here they are:

Pariyāya In the sense of desanā:

‘Madhupiṇḍikapariyāyoti naṃ dhārehī tii.
“You may remember this discourse on the Dhamma as ‘The Honeyball Discourse’.”

In the sense of kāraṇa:

Atthi khvesa brāhmaṇa, pariyāyo, yena maṃ pariyāyena sammā vadamāno vadeyya akiriyavādo samaṇo gotamo ti.
“There is, brahmin, a reason by which one could rightly say of me: ‘The ascetic Gotama is a proponent of non-action.’”

In the sense of vāra:

Kassa nu kho, ānanda, ajja pariyāyo bhikkhuniyo ovaditun ti.
“Ānanda, whose turn is it today to advise the bhikkhunīs?”


While pariyāya can certainly have the sense of “teaching” or “discourse”, in the compound from the originally quoted passage the sense is ‘one who sees the method’, ie one who shows the reasons or method in their teaching.

‘Step by step’ would have the sense of teaching appropriate for the audience. (First heaven, precepts, etc. ). The ‘sequence’ would be the sense of displaying the reasons. I agree that ‘sequence’ is not the best rendering.

(See quoted commentarial gloss on this compound above, which is very clear. )

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Perhaps it wouldn’t lean towards tautological if Bhikkhu Thanissaro would have worded it something like "The Dhamma should be taught with the thought, ‘I will speak explaining the sequential method [of cause & effect].

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Perhaps “showing the method” would be better, I’ll change it to that. I feel like using “reasons” is translating the commentary. No doubt the explanation is a reasonable one, but it feels like pariyāya is a bit broader.

It’s interesting, I think it’s basically equivalent to “show your work” like we learned in maths class. Not just to give the answer, but to also show the way to get there.