Ārammaṇa in context

In a discussion about Kāyagatāsati @chansik_park brought up the interesting term ārammaṇa that I thought is worth a separate exposition.

##Translations of ārammaṇa


The PED suggests “foundation” as a primary meaning. Derived from this the nominal meanings

  1. support, help, footing…
  2. condition, ground, cause…
  3. a basis for the working of the mind & intellect; i.e. sense-object, object of thought or consciousness… closely connected with āyatana
  • (in compounds, adjective meaning) being supported by, depending on
    Finally the derivation: Sk. ālambana, lamb, but in meaning confounded with rambh

Vedic / Sanskrit

Monier Williams has for ālamb / ālambate: to lay hold of, seize, cling to; to rest or lean upon, to support, hold; to take up, to appropriate, to bring near, to get. ālambana: foundation, base

I doubt that this is the correct derivation for the Pāli ārammaṇa though, for it is not to be found in the Vedas, Brahmanas, or early Upanishads. Much more probable is ārambhaṇa / ārambaṇa

  • ārambha: beginning, origin, commencement
  • ārambhaṇa: the act of taking hold of; the place of seizing, a handle
  • ārambaṇa: support

ārambhaṇa / ārambaṇa in pre-Buddhist texts

  • Rigveda RV 1.116.5: Then you two acted as heroes upon the unsupporting (anārambhaṇe) sea, which has no place to stand (anāsthāna) and nothing to grasp (agrabhaṇa)
  • RV 182.6: The son of Tugra, thrust down within the waters, thrust forth into darkness that offered nothing to grab onto (anārambhaṇe)
  • RV 7.104.3: Indra and Soma, spear the evil-doers within their hole out into darkness that offers nothing to hold onto (anārambhaṇe)
  • RV 10.81.2: What was the resting place (adhiṣṭhānam)? Which one was providing support (ārambhaṇaṃ)?
  • Atharvaveda 8.4.3 (same as RV 7.104.3)
  • Satapatha Brahmana Where they draw that cup then that is like having a hold (tadārambhaṇavat)
  • Brhadaranyaka-Upanisad 3.1.6: …when this intermediate region provides no support (anārambaṇam) of any kind, how does the patron of a sacrifice climb up to heaven?
  • Chandogya-Upanisad CU 2.9.4: Birds, therefore, fly about in the intermediate region holding themselves up without any support (nārambhaṇāny) …
  • CU 6.1.4: By means of just one lump of clay one would perceive everything made of clay - the transformation is a verbal handle (vācārambhaṇaṃ), a name - while the reality is just this: ‘It’s clay.’ (same 6.1.5, 6.1.6, 6.4.1, 6.4.2, 6.4.3, 6.4.4)
    [transl. RV Brereton, Brahmana Eggeling, Upanishads Olivelle]

Luckily the images are clear and concrete enough: ārambhaṇa / ārambaṇa is a support, a handle, a grip - but not quite a fixed or established place to stand, rather a stepping stone, a rung

ārammaṇa in the suttas

As the PED suggests ārammaṇa is translated as 1.support 2.condition 3.object
All three have very different connotations. While a ‘support’ is helpful, a ‘condition’ is essential. A translation as ‘object’ is not justified by the pre-Buddhist texts - and as I’ll try to show - creates an unnecessary confusion.
[transl. DN Walshe, MN SN AN B.Bodhi, Snp Norman]

… in a concrete meaning

  • MN 119: Bhikkhus, when anyone has not developed and cultivated mindfulness of the body, Māra finds an opportunity and a support (ārammaṇaṃ) in him. [same context with Māra in DN 26, SN 20.8, SN 35.243, SN 47.6, SN 47.7]
  • SN 20.8: King Ajatasattu of Magadha, the Videhan son, does not gain access to them; he does not get a hold (ārammaṇaṃ) on them.

meaning as ‘base’, ‘based on’, ‘founded on’

  • AN 1.345: those beings are few who gain concentration, one-pointedness of mind, based on release (vavassaggārammaṇaṃ, lit. ‘determined letting-go’)…
  • AN 2.74: happiness based on the absence of rapture (nippītikārammaṇaṃ sukha)
  • AN 2.75: The happiness based on pleasure (sātārammaṇañca) and the happiness based on equanimity (upekkhārammaṇaṃ sukha)
  • AN 2.76: happiness based on the formless (arūpārammaṇaṃ sukha)
  • AN 6.25; ‘Greed,’ bhikkhus, is a designation for the five objects of sensual pleasure. Having made this [understanding] a basis (ārammaṇa), some beings here are purified in such a way.
  • SN 12.38, SN 12.39, SN 12.40: what one intends (ceteti), and what one plans (pakappeti), and whatever one has a tendency towards (anuseti): this becomes a basis (ārammaṇametaṃ)for the maintenance of consciousness (viññāṇassa).
  • SN 47.10: While he is contemplating the body in the body, there arises in him, based on the body (kāyārammaṇo)…
  • Snp 3.4, v.474: … the Tathagata of whom there are no bases (ārammaṇā) [for rebirth] (Mills v.479 translates “… in whom are no conditions found at all”)
  • Snp 3.5, v.506: For one sacrificing, sacrifice is the basis (ārammaṇā).

… in the clear meaning of ‘condition’

  • SN 22.53: if a bhikkhu has abandoned lust for the form element, with the abandoning of lust the-basis-is-cut-off (vocchijjatārammaṇaṃ)
  • AN 2.86: Bad unwholesome qualities arise based on the conditioned (saṅkhatārammaṇā), not without a basis in the conditioned (no asaṅkhatārammaṇā).
  • AN 9.14: On what basis (kimārammaṇā), Samiddhi, do intentions and thoughts (saṅkappavitakkā) arise (uppajjantī) in a person?” “On the basis of name-and-form (nāmarūpārammaṇā), Bhante.”

ārammaṇa (as base, condition), contrasted with patiṭṭhā (as solid foundation)

  • SN 12.38: When there is a basis (ārammaṇe) there is a support (patiṭṭhā) for the establishing of consciousness.
  • SN 22.53: Consciousness, bhikkhus, while standing, might stand engaged with form; based upon form (rūpārammaṇaṃ), established upon form (rūpappatiṭṭhaṃ)…
  • DN 33: Consciousness gains a footing either in relation to materiality, with materiality as object (rūpārammaṇaṃ, better would be ‘base’, ‘condition’) and basis (rūpappatiṭṭhaṃ, better would be ‘foundation’)…

(unnecessary) translation as ‘object’ - solvable as ‘base’, ‘based on’

  • MN 20: We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, and starting with him (tadārammaṇañca, B.Bodhi comments “with him as the object”), we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with lovingkindness…
  • MN 28: And his mind, having made an element its objective support (dhātārammaṇameva), enters into [that new objective support] and acquires confidence, steadiness, and resolution.
  • SN 48.9: And what, bhikkhus, is the faculty of concentration? Here, bhikkhus, the noble disciple gains concentration, gains onepointedness of mind, having made release the object (vossaggārammaṇaṃ).
  • Snp 4.15, v.945: I call greed “the great flood”. I call desire “the current”. The objects of sense (ārammaṇaṃ) are the movement. Sensual pleasure is the mud which is hard to cross over.
    This is a difficult passage with which Norman was obviously struggling as well. It brings to mind the metaphor of RV 1.116.5, and I think we can resolve it without the contrived ‘objects of sense’, rather like ‘trembling (of the water) is the support (of the current)’
  • Snp 5.7, v.1069: …tell me an object (of meditation), supported by which I may cross over this flood.
    Can also be resolved more elegantly with ‘tell me a support, practicing which I may cross…’


ārammaṇa has a limited range of meanings, yet there are subtle differences. In a few cases it is the vedic ‘hold’, ‘grasp’, but mostly it’s the functional (immaterial) ‘base’, ‘foundation’ and finally ‘condition’.

With ārammaṇa we have a nice example for a term that had a concrete meaning in the Rigveda, became more abstract and metaphorical in the Upanishads, and was finally incorporated in the EBT under the probably single overarching theme of early Buddhism, conditionality.


Arammana might mean ‘stimulus’ from a sense base, the object of meditation etc, ie the cause (base?) for another factor like consciousness to to arise down the line. ‘Stimulus’ I think is suitable in some instances like those below. I feel it gives more of an impression of a fleeting experience than a ‘conceptual’ entity.

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In Thai language the word for temper, mood is อารมณ์ (a-rom).
I believe it is derived from the Pali term this topic addresses.
Ajahn Sumedho said something about aramana once:

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Margaret Cone in her new Dictionary of Pali worded the definition in such a way:

ārammaṇa, n. (and mfn.) [cf S. ārambhaṇa, BHS ārambaṇa; cf also S., BHS ālambana] (pl. nom. ~āni, ~ā; acc. ~āni and perhaps ~e),

  1. (n.) basis, starting-point (for producing or initiating activity), footing; basis of meditation; object, object of concentration, sense-object; …
  2. (mfn.) being a basis or object; ? …


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Very nice and useful essay, thanks. Having the Vedic contexts gathered in one place is a really good support for studying this word.