An instruction from MN139 Aranavibhanga sutta

Rahovādaṃ na bhāseyya, sammukhā na khīṇaṃ bhaṇe.


He should not utter covert speech, and he should not utter overt sharp speech. (Nanamoli/Bodhi MN 139)


You should not utter secret speech; you should not utter strong words before another. (Piya Tan MN 139)

my doubts may indeed be superficial and unfounded, yet i’m perplexed about the meaning of the words rahovādaṃ and khīṇaṃ

although by Ven Nanamoli they are translated as if they were antonyms covert/overt speech, after looking them up in the dictionary this doesn’t seem to be the case

so what may covert speech mean? disingenuous, cunning speech to one’s face or any reference to a person behind his/her back, i.e. unbeknownst to him/her?

same for overt speech. is this addressing someone personally to his/her face or just a speech in public?

please dispell my doubts :hocho:


Hi, just to let you know I’ve made a couple of changes to your post, i hope you don’t mind! I’m trying to set a standard for posts so that they will be discoverable in the long term.

Here are some general guidelines, not just for you.

When making a post on any specific sutta, try to include the ID of that sutta in the heading, in this case MN 139. You can also include the title or whatever, but titles are much harder to make discoverable. They vary from edition to edition, they are translated in different ways, and so on. But the ID is unique and is used all through SuttaCentral.

In addition, and this is more experimental, add the ID as a tag for the sutta. When making a post, the add tags dialogue is below the text-editing area. I am not even sure if ordinary users can add tags yet, but we will be rolling this out.

Finally, I’ve recategorized this under Q&A.

If I get time this morning, I might even have a go at answering the question!


So raho means “private, secret”, so this is pretty straightfowrd: don’t use speech in secret, don’t talk behind people’s backs.

As for na khīṇaṃ bhaṇe, this is more curious. Khina normally means “wasted, ended”, which hardly seems apt. There is a variant reading nātikhīṇaṃ, where atikhina means “blunt” or maybe “from a broken bow”, perhaps “shot from a bow”.ṇa

I’m guessing this is what the translators have drawn from. So the meaning would be “sharp, hurtful, aggressive”.

So translate something like:

Not talk behind someone’s back, nor use hurtful speech to their face.


thank you, bhante


i of course don’t mind the edits and the point on formatting the titles is taken

BTW i did try to add tags after posting the topic, but they wouldn’t hold

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Yes, they seem a little flaky. They’ve just been introduced to Discourse, so hopefully this will improve.

Hi Bhante

I took a look at the Comy, which gives this -

Sammukhā na khīṇanti sammukhāpi khīṇaṃ ākiṇṇaṃ saṃkiliṭṭhaṃ vācaṃ na bhaṇeyya

2 synonyms are offered, being ākiṇṇa = an idiom of disapproval about speech (CPD) and saṃkiliṭṭha = impure.

I took a look at MA 169, and where it appears, the Chinese had 面前稱譽 (literally “face-to-face praise” in modern Chinese). Might you have an idea if the MA Chinese might have had a different idiomatic meaning in the past?

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Analayo notes the variation but doesn’t offer any explanation. The Comm seems unhelpful. I suspect this is a case where what seems obscure to us was equally obscure to the ancients.

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yes, obscure that is, so we’re left with interpretations rather than translation

I think all translation is interpretation, but here room for interpretation is probably looser than you’d like.

Having said which, I can’t think of a plausible alternative interpretation, so in this case we have relatively weak supporting contexts for the meaning of this term, yet reasonably strong confidence that the interpretation is on the right track.

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@sujato :anjal:

What would you make of these two interpretations

Rahovādaṃ na bhāseyya : when teaching the dhamma don’t be overly profound so it goes above most peoples heads.

sammukhā na khīṇaṃ bhaṇe : Dont teach the dhamma in way that some people might feel guilty and hurt. So turn away from the dhamma.

No, raho means “private, secret”, it has nothing to do with profundity.

The sense of khīṇa is, as discussed above, a little obscure, but the best authorities—Ven Nyanamoli and Bodhi in their translations of MN; KR Norman in his translation of khīṇabyappatho in Snp 1.9, and Margaret Cone in her Dictionary—concur that the meaning is “sharp, rough, harsh” and there seems no reason to doubt them.


2 posts were split to a new topic: Help with sutta IDs needed