AN 6.46 : atthapadaṃ = merely intellectual?

@sujato gives the following translation:

Because it’s incredibly rare to find individuals in the world who see a deep matter with penetrating wisdom.”

Acchariyā hete, āvuso, puggalā dullabhā lokasmiṃ ye gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ paññāya ativijjha passantī”ti. (6)

Bodhi gives:

see a deep and pithy matter after piercing it through with wisdom.

However, looking into atthapadaṃ, I wonder about this. The PED under ‘attha’ states:

–pada a profitable saying, a word of good sense, text, motto

And under pada states:

  1. a word, verse (or a quarter of a verse), stanza, line, sentence

@sujato’s ‘deep matter’ and Bodhi’s ‘pithy matter’ do not necessarily imply an intellectual matter. However, is that not the implication of the Pāli? For example, is this term ever used to refer to anything non-intellectual, or perhaps I might say non-conceptual?

Could this be closer to the Pāli?

Because it’s incredibly rare to find individuals in the world who see a deep doctrine with penetrating wisdom.”

Perhaps doctrine, or teaching, or even oral teaching?

I ask this because I feel it is quite significant. Seeing into reality, and seeing into verbal/conceptual teachings, are quite different. So I am eager to confirm which is being referred to here in this Pāli.

Anyone? :slight_smile:

Doctrine / teachings / oral teachings are just a raft. Has nothing to do with the actual realisation of Not-self.

penetrating wisdom…piercing it through with wisdom.

“Bhikkhus, there are these three characteristics that define the unconditioned❗️

What three? No arising is seen, no vanishing is seen, and no alteration while it persists is seen. These are the three characteristics that define the unconditioned.” [AN 3.47]


Former translations and discussions of this important passage have been misled by the commentary. The sutta does not contrast meditators with scholars—a distinction uncharacteristic of the suttas—but points to the well-known and well-established distinction between those who emphasize stillness/serenity and those who emphasize wisdom/discernment/insight.

I have discussed this point in detail here:


Thank you for addressing this issue @sujato! So far, I disagree on this matter. I would like to explain why.

Your main criticism is that translations have been misled by the commentaries. Well, I would like you to know that I was unaware of what the commentaries had to say about this sutta. I was asking my question merely from examining the Pāli of this sutta.

I would like to take up what you said about this word in your post which you have referred us to:

You say “However, this is a mistake.” And yet the only reasoning you seem to give is the above. My question was asked on the basis of the PED definitions. For ease of reference:

Are you saying these are wrong?

Now, regarding other occurences, using the PED I have noticed that there are only 3 suttas with ‘gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ’:

  • AN 4.192
  • AN 6.46
  • AN 9.4

Searching only ‘atthapadaṃ’, reveals only these in addition:

  • KN 2.8
  • KN 5.73
  • KN 15.522
  • KN 15.553

So let’s tackle the ones with the full ‘gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ’:

  • AN 4.192
    You did quote from this sutta, but I believe a longer quote is important for understanding the context. This is the relevant section:

‘You can get to know a person’s wisdom by discussion. But only after a long time, not casually; only when paying attention, not when inattentive; and only by the wise, not the witless.’
‘Sākacchāya, bhikkhave, paññā veditabbā, sā ca kho dīghena addhunā, na ittaraṃ; manasikarotā,no amanasikarotā; paññavatā, no duppaññenā’ti, []Justin note: that refers to the enquirer, not the one being investigated]

That’s what I said, but why did I say it?
iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ. Kiñcetaṃ paṭicca vuttaṃ?

Take a person who is discussing with someone else. They come to know:
Idha, bhikkhave, puggalo puggalena saddhiṃ sākacchāyamāno evaṃ jānāti:

‘Judging by this venerable’s approach, by what they’re getting at, and by how they articulate a question, they’re witless, not wise.
‘yathā kho imassa āyasmato ummaggo yathā ca abhinīhāro yathā capañhāsamudāhāro, duppañño ayamāyasmā, nāyamāyasmā paññavā.

Why is that?
Taṃ kissa hetu?

This venerable does not articulate matters that are deep, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of reason, subtle, comprehensible to the astute.
Tathā hi ayamāyasmā na ceva gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ udāharati santaṃ paṇītaṃ atakkāvacaraṃ nipuṇaṃ paṇḍitavedanīyaṃ.

When this venerable speaks on Dhamma they’re not able to explain the meaning, either briefly or in detail. They can’t teach it, assert it, establish it, open it, analyze it, or make it clear.
Yañca ayamāyasmā dhammaṃ bhāsati tassa ca nappaṭibalo saṅkhittena vā vitthārena vā atthaṃā cikkhituṃ desetuṃ paññāpetuṃ paṭṭhapetuṃ vivarituṃ vibhajituṃ uttānīkātuṃ.

This venerable is witless, not wise.’
Duppañño ayamāyasmā, nāyamāyasmā paññavā’ti.

I have highlighted gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ, and also the parts which I feel make it clear that the wisdom that is being spoken of is at least partly if not entirely an intellectual wisdom. And that this context is specifically about teaching the dhamma, explaining the dhamma, analyzing it and so on.

  • AN 6.46
    The subject of this discussion, so no need to go further with this one.

  • AN 9.4
    In this sutta, Nandaka was giving a dhamma teaching. It was too lengthy. The Buddha then advised Nandaka on giving dhamma teachings. Here is some of it:

[The Buddha discusses how to give a dhamma talk:]
It’s appropriate for people from good families like you, who have gone forth in faith from the lay life to homelessness, to sit together for a Dhamma talk.

Etaṃ kho, nandaka, tumhākaṃ patirūpaṃ kulaputtānaṃ saddhāya agārasmāanagāriyaṃ pabbajitānaṃ, yaṃ tumhe dhammiyā kathāya sannisīdeyyātha.

[later he lists the benefits of dhamma teaching:]
Reverends, there are these five benefits of listening to the teachings at the right time and discussing the teachings at the right time.
Pañcime, āvuso, ānisaṃsā kālena dhammassavane kālena dhammasākacchāya.

Furthermore, a mendicant teaches the mendicants the Dhamma …
Puna caparaṃ, āvuso, bhikkhu bhikkhūnaṃ dhammaṃ deseti ādikalyāṇaṃmajjhekalyāṇaṃ pariyosānakalyāṇaṃ sātthaṃ sabyañjanaṃ, kevalaparipuṇṇaṃparisuddhaṃ brahmacariyaṃ pakāseti.

Whenever they do this, they see a deep matter in that Dhamma with penetrating wisdom.
Yathā yathā, āvuso, bhikkhu bhikkhūnaṃ dhammaṃ deseti ādikalyāṇaṃ … pe …brahmacariyaṃ pakāseti tathā tathā so tasmiṃ dhamme gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ paññāya ativijjha passati.

This is the third benefit …
Ayaṃ, āvuso, tatiyo ānisaṃso kālena dhammassavane kālena dhammasākacchāya.

So we see that this sutta is also specifically in the context of teaching the dhamma.

If both the dictionary is telling us that atthapadaṃ is “a profitable saying, a word of good sense, text, motto”, and the contexts of every other occurrence of this phrase gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ is specifically about teaching and explaining the teachings, then, does this not indicate that it quite likely does carry the meaning as indicated in the PED? I.e. that gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ may be more specifically intellectual, such as ‘deep doctrine’, ‘deep teaching’ or something along those lines?

Now, in your post you also take up the meaning of dhamma:

Note also the use of dhamma in the context of wisdom for the dhammanusari. This usage echoes the similar contrast between ajjhattaṃ cetosamatha and adhipaññādhammavipassanā (“inner serenity” and “higher wisdom of discernment into principles”). We also have dhammavicaya and dhammānupassanā in the same sense; and I think dhammayoga fits here too. In all these cases dhamma means “principles”, in the sense of understanding the “principles” of cause and effect that underlie the four noble truths and so on.

It would be highly unusual, if not unique, for the suttas to use terminology like “sees after penetrating with wisdom” for someone who had merely studied the teachings. The two means of dhamma as “teaching” and “principle, phenomena” are often conflated in wisdom contexts, and in some cases the suttas themselves invoke both meanings in the same context; I’m thinking of the canonical explanations of dhammavicaya. However there is no reason why we should read such a conflation in this case.

What I had not realised until doing this analysis of occurences of gambhīraṃ atthapadaṃ in response to your comments, is that in the only other two suttas (there are none in the vinaya) containing that phrase, this phrase is located specifically in the context of people verbally teaching dhamma, discussing the dhamma, explaining the dhamma. So this would seem to greatly strengthen the case against your position that this is not about dhamma in the sense of dhamma talks in this sutta, would it not?

I also want to express that I have huge respect for you, and learn a great deal from you, especially from this type of interaction. Apparently I can sometimes come across strangely online and would not want to seem ungrateful or overly critical - this is just my mode of learning. Basically, I have very few Pāli skills, but lots of interest in buddhadhamma, and deeply appreciate being able to discuss these issue with you. Many, many thanks :pray:


@sujato to address another point in your post:

I am currently reading MN 70. We have all 4 characters here in this sutta.

And what person is a follower of the teachings?
Katamo ca, bhikkhave, puggalo dhammānusārī?

It’s a person who doesn’t have direct meditative experience of the peaceful liberations that are formless, transcending form. Nevertheless, having seen with wisdom, some of their defilements have come to an end.

Idha, bhikkhave, ekacco puggalo ye te santā vimokkhā atikkamma rūpe āruppā te na kāyena phusitvā viharati, paññāya cassa disvā ekacce āsavā parikkhīṇā honti,

Up to hear this is common also to the:

What follows is that which is the special characteristic of the dhammānusāri:

And they accept the teachings proclaimed by the Realized One after considering them with a degree of wisdom. And they have the following qualities:

tathāgatappaveditā cassa dhammā paññāya mattaso nijjhānaṃ khamanti, api cassa ime dhammā honti, seyyathidaṃ—

the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom.
saddhindriyaṃ, vīriyindriyaṃ, satindriyaṃ, samādhindriyaṃ, paññindriyaṃ.

This person is called a follower of the teachings.
Ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, puggalo dhammānusārī.

I say that this mendicant also still has work to do with diligence.
Imassapi kho ahaṃ, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno ‘appamādena karaṇīyan’ti vadāmi.

So their foremost characteristic is not them ‘having seen with wisdom’, but rather that “they accept the teachings proclaimed by the Realized One after considering them with a degree of wisdom”. And the only specific mention of meditation practice here is to say that they don’t do it.

Of course I am not saying that in reality, some people do more than one of the other - although of course also in reality some don’t meditate at all, let alone acheive jhāna.

But my point is that this sutta seems to specifically and deliberately link - nay, define, the dhammānusāri as being one who accepts the teachings (dhamma) which have been taught by the Buddha (tathāgatappaveditā cassa dhammā paññāya mattaso nijjhānaṃ khamanti). And have considered them.

If I was following you correctly, you were saying that dhamma dhammānusāri doesn’t mean teachings, and that strenghtens the case for dhamma in dhammayoga also not meaning teachings. But does not the above demonstrate that it is likely, or in fact perhaps does seem to be, refering to teachings in dhammānusāri, and therefore strenghtening the case also for dhammayoga?
And that not only strengthens the case for dhamma meaning teachings in the context of dhammayoga

Also, are there variations in the Pāli? Because your text has:

paññāya cassa disvā ekacce āsavā parikkhīṇā honti.
having seen with wisdom, some of their defilements have come to an end.

for the following people:

  • kāyasakkhi
  • diṭṭhippatto
  • saddhāvimutto
  • dhammānusārī
  • saddhānusārī

Whereas Bodhi has “some of his taints are destroyed by his seeing with wisdom.” for only:

  • body-witness
  • one attained-to-view
  • one liberated-by-faith

Whereas he has “his taints are not yet destroyed by his seeing with wisdom” for:

  • Dhamma-follower
  • faith-follower

Similarly, Horner has for those first three:

having seen by means of wisdom some of his cankers are utterly destroyed

And for the Dhamma-follower:

but (although) he has seen by means of wisdom, his cankers are not (yet) utterly destroyed

And then for the faith-follower:

having seen by means of wisdom his cankers are not utterly destroyed

So he and Bodhi seem to be in agreement. Are they working from a different Pāli text? The only good reason I can think of for making that distinction is that the Pāli made it - it seems these two are specifically ranked lower in terms of the progress in destroying the taints. Or if there are two varients of this, is there research about which is older, such as from āgama studies?

Thanks so much, there are many good points here. I’m a little short on D&D time at the moment, so I’ll study this more carefully and get back to you in the (hopefully) not distant future.


@Senryu I’ve finally had the chance to review your comments, and I think you’re right. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

As so often, the term dhamma is hovering between the senses of “teaching that points to the truth” and “truths to which the teaching points”. I agree that atthapada must mean specifically something to do with the text, and indeed, with gambhīra it has a specific sense of “deep meaning of a passage”. In fact, it seems to specifically refer to that kind of understanding that shifts from the merely theoretical to the experiential.

I don’t think this affects the main thrust of my little essay. The mere mention of people understanding a teaching doesn’t mean they were specifically scholars. But it does require some rewording of both the essay and the translation, which I will do when I get the chance.

The use of dhamma in dhammayogi is surely the same as in dhammanusari. In both cases it indicates an approach to practice that emphasizes understanding the teachings with wisdom, which is not the same thing as being a scholar or teacher as opposed to a meditator.

Well spotted, there are indeed variant readings here. I have been following the Mahasangiti text, but the PTS edition has aparikkhīṇā (not ended). Analayo (Comparative Study, p 381) says:

Some Pāli editions of the Kīṭāgiri-sutta apply this specification to each of the remaining types of noble disciple. From the perspective of the three influxes listed regularly in other discourses this presentation is puzzling, since the lowest two of the remaining five types of noble disciple, the Dharma-follower (dhammānusārī) and the faith-follower (saddhānusārī), have not yet become stream-enterers. As the influx of sensuality is only eradicated with non-return, and the influxes of existence and ignorance are overcome only with full awakening, it would not be possible to attribute the eradication of any of the three influxes to these two noble disciples. The Madhyamāgama parallel to the Kīṭāgiri-sutta, another discourse in the Saṁyukta-āgama, and the Puggalapaññatti in fact agree in not mentioning influxes at all when describing these
two noble disciples.

Thus it seems the bulk of sources, as well as doctrinal considerations, support reading aparikkhīṇa. I’ll change my translation accordingly.

However, note that most sources in fact omit the mention of āsavas here entirely. Personally, I find the wording of the sequence to be unnatural. Having seen with wisdom, one either ends defilements or ends some defilements, or doesn’t end defilements. I suspect the phrase was originally absent, but was duplicated by mistake from the earlier passages, then later modified when it was realized it didn’t make sense. Still, I will keep it.