Ariyo vs. ariya


thanks, that’s another possibility: ‘noble results’, without necessarily becoming ‘a noble’.

What I’m really looking for btw are sutta references that define what ‘ariya’ is, or who ‘ariyá’ are. Can for example someone who practices earnestly to become a sotapanna already be an ariya? maybe my understanding (sotapanna / once-returner etc) is based on commentarial sources, I don’t know. But I’d love to have some diverse sutta sources please.


the noble persons ariyapuggala are specifically sotapanna through to arahant, others are called men of integrity, superior persons

stock formula in SN 22.81

Here, bhikkhus, the uninstructed worldling, who is not a seer of the noble ones and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma, who is not a seer of superior persons and is unskilled and undisciplined in their Dhamma

Ven Bodhi

There is the case where an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma

Ven Thanissaro


Thanks, I didn’t know this ‘category’ of sapurissa. So we have ‘uninstructed wordling’ - ‘sapurissa / a good man’ - ariya - arahant - buddha… anything in between?

I’m still looking for passages that say “This bhikkhus, is a ariya puggala” as I’m sure they must exist somewhere.

Looking at MN 27 we don’t get that clear picture of ariya. Here the Buddha describes the gradual path. The bhikkhu - before even meditating - possesses ariya silakhandha, then the noble restraint of the faculties, then possessing noble sati­sam­pajañ­ña.

How is that even possible if he hasn’t had his first jhana yet? But it goes on. The bhikkhu gets the first jhana, “but a noble disciple does not yet come to the conclusion: ‘The Blessed One is fully enlightened’”

Well, THIS noble disciple is not a sotapanna yet I would say - being a noble disciple + just the first jhana + no absolute faith in a fully enlightened Buddha


MN 27 appears to be in contradiction to SN 55.2 and numerous other suttas of Sotapattisamyutta with the same description of sotapanna qualities

in MN 27 it’s stated

“When he knows and sees thus, his mind is liberated from the taint of sensual desire, from the taint of being, and from the taint of ignorance. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It is liberated.’ He understands: ‘Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being.’

It is at this point that a noble disciple has come to the conclusion: ‘The Blessed One is fully enlightened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed One, the Sangha is practising the good way. And it is at this point, brahmin, that the simile of the elephant’s footprint has been completed in detail.”

that is complete conviction is only attained with attainment of arahantship

whereas according to SN 55.2 confirmed confidence in veracity of these statements is already possessed by a sotapanna

“Bhikkhus, a noble disciple who possesses four things is a stream-enterer, no longer bound to the nether world, fixed in destiny, with enlightenment as his destination.

“What four? Here, bhikkhus, a noble disciple possesses confirmed confidence in the Buddha thus: ‘The Blessed One is … teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.’ He possesses confirmed confidence in the Dhamma … in the Saṅgha.… He possesses the virtues dear to the noble ones, unbroken … leading to concentration.


Please correct me if I’m wrong but shouldn’t it say "a disciple who possesses… is a noble one, a stream enterer"
Whereas it says that someone who is a noble disciple becomes a stream enterer with four things. It sounds like a noble disciple is someone who is a dedicated practitioner or so


it invites a research into the question of synonymity between ariyasavako and aryapuggala

the dictionary equates them


I would at least say that the texts are not clear. Take SN 24.5: “When, bhikkhus, a noble disciple has abandoned perplexity in these six cases … he is then called a noble disciple who is a stream-enterer” which clearly says that the bhikkhu who already was a noble disciple / ariyasavaka became a stream enterer on top of that.


that is provided these two words are indeed synonymical


I collected passages from the Anguttara where an ariyasavaka doesn’t seem to fit the conception of at least a sotapanna. While in most passages the ariyasavaka could be at least a stream enterer, isn’t it possible that the ariyasavaka is an umbrella term for any serious instructed practitioner, on whatever level?

AN 4.60:
“Householder, a noble disciple (ariyasavako) who possesses four qualities is practicing the way proper to the layperson, a way that brings the attainment of fame and leads to heaven. What four? “Here, householder, a noble disciple serves the Saṅgha of bhikkhus with robes; he serves the Saṅgha of bhikkhus with almsfood; he serves the Saṅgha of bhikkhus with lodgings; he serves the Saṅgha of bhikkhus with medicines and provisions for the sick.

AN 5.41:
“Here, householder, with wealth acquired by energetic striving, amassed by the strength of his arms, earned by the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained, the noble disciple makes himself happy and pleased and properly maintains himself in happiness; he makes his parents happy and pleased and properly maintains them in happiness; he makes his wife and children, his slaves, workers, and servants happy and pleased and properly maintains them in happiness.

AN 5.43:
“Householder, the noble disciple who desires beauty . . . (3) . . . who desires happiness . . . (4) . . . who desires fame ought not to pray for fame or delight in it or [passively] yearn for it. A noble disciple who desires fame should practice the way conducive to fame.

AN 10.74:
“Bhikkhus, growing in ten ways, a noble disciple grows by a noble growth, and he absorbs the essence and the best of this life. What ten? (1) He grows in fields and land; (2) in wealth and grain; (3) in wives and children; (4) in slaves, workers, and servants; (5) in livestock; (6)–(10) in faith, virtuous behavior, learning, generosity, and wisdom.


at least such understanding would resolve the ostensible contradiction between MN 27 and SN 55.2 on the one hand and internal incoherence of SN 55.2 on the other

in this case MN 27 simply disregards the division into 4 noble levels and assumes attainment of arahantship past the lower ones


Bhikkhu Bodhi’s note on SN 55.24 says:


I agree, I think the usage is somewhat flexible. While in most cases ariya means one of the "eight individuals"on the path, such cases as you quote show that this is not always so. In such cases, i would take the language to be “aspirational”; it’s showing the highest example of what to aspire to.


Bhante, would you mind commenting on the first question of why it is grammatically ariyo-maggo but ariya-sacca? and if the grammar helps us to determine If it’s ‘the path of the noble’, ‘the path to nobility’ or ‘a noble path’?

Additionally this small excursion helped me to understand a bit better how the adjective ariya does not mean ‘a buddhist holy’, that’s it’s rather something in the character of, inspired by or developing in the Buddha’s teaching.
To be fair, the examples above are rare exceptions, mostly the disciples are ‘well-instructed’ and display right view. And ariya or ariyá as a noun seems to be stronger even - maybe arahants only?


In future, can you please provide links and references if you want an answer? Also, when the site is somewhat busy, I don’t necessarily read every post, so use @sujato if you want to catch me!

I’m not aware of the phrase ariyo maggo, certainly it is not common. The normal phrase is ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo. In this case, it’s a little too long to compound the words together nicely, so they are separated, and declined in agreement. It doesn’t affect the meaning; it’s just stylistic. Ariyaṭṭhaṅgikamaggo would be equivalent, if it occurred.

No. Wikipedia articles on Buddhism are unreliable, and Williams is not a good scholar, best ignore him.

The Pali makes a clear distinction between contexts where ariya is used. It is used as both a substantive (“noble one(s)”) and an adjective (“noble”).

In cases like ariyasacca or ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo it is declined in agreement with the term it qualifies, and thus should be translated as “noble truth”, etc.

In other contexts, such as the very common ariyassa vinaye (misquoted in Wikipedia), ariya is declined in the genitive; the phrase should be translated “in the training of the noble”. Here, the singular can be read as referring to the noble (ones) as a group. But more likely, since it is the Buddha’s training, it refers to the Buddha specifically, thus “in the training of the noble one”. However, either interpretation is grammatically sound.

This is a very common idiom. We can confidently conclude that if the Buddha wanted to say ariyassa aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo (the eightfold path of the noble), he would have.

In the jhana formula, ariyā is a nominative plural, i.e. the subjects of the verb, and is translated “the noble ones declare …”.

Remember, the lifeblood of academics is publication. And you don’t get published by saying, “previous scholars were right”. You have to make some new contribution, or at least make it sound as if you do. So, unfortunately, most cases where Buddhist scholars make claims about new or corrected interpretations are just a waste of time.

In its typical style, Wikipedia says:

An alternate rendering of ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo is “eightfold path of the noble ones”,[5][14][15]

It sounds nice and neutral, and it has three solid references to back it up, so it seems authoritative. Unfortunately, one of these is a text on Japanese Buddhism, one is on Tibetan Buddhism, the other is an encyclopedia article. Although I don’t have access to the sources, it seems safe to assume that none of them are actually based on a knowledge of the Pali, which is, of course, the language of the term under consideration.

In any case, the grammar of the phrase does not support this translation. It certainly is an “alternate” rendering. It’s also an incorrect one.


I will use references and @s bhante…

There is an indirect confirmation of the normal reading as ‘noble truths’ in this paper by Norman:

While he apparently left no stone unturned in the formula(s), he didn’t see any problem in reading “noble truths”


@sujato for the sake of completeness, in his article “Why Are the Four Noble Truths Called “Noble”?” (which was a follow-up to the the before mentioned article) K.R. Norman elaborates a bit on the matter. He quotes Buddhahosa on ariyasaccani

  • digha commentary: the truths which cause nobleness
  • anguttara commentary: 1.the truths which cause nobleness 2. the truths which are penetrated by the nobles
  • vissuddhimagga (Viss XVI. 20-22): 1. nobles penetrate them 2. truths of the noble Buddha 3. the ennobling truths

He agrees with these possibilities if one interprets the tatpurusa in a genitive or dative way.

Norman concludes that we can’t know the original meaning of ariyasaccani, and that maybe all of them should resonate. In choosing ‘noble truths’ we are “probably choosing the least important of the possible meanings”…


Hey Gabriel, thanks for checking. A couple of points, just to clarify.

First up, the different commentarial readings need not be taken literally, they play around with this kind of thing all the time.

And secondly, while ariyasacca might be construed in a few different ways, in ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo, since the terms are declined, we don’t have such ambiguity. This is also the case in many other terms, such as ariyo samādhi, ariyo tuṇhibhāvo, ariyena sīlena, ariyena ñāṇena, ariyāya vimuttiyā, ariye ñāye, and so on. Clearly in doctrinal terms the standard use is for ariya to function as adjective.

So while not disagreeing with Norman, I think his conclusion is a bit weak; it seems to me very likely that “noble truth” is the correct reading, and should be accepted unless a new textual witness proves otherwise.


Thanks Bhante,

of course Buddhagosa is a creative spirit when it comes to etymologies and such, but it makes him fun to read, plus he is mostly ready to present them as possibilities which is very decent…

But okay, I take it as given now that ariya means just ‘noble’ as an adjective. When it comes to the meaning of ‘noble’ I guess we’re getting closer again to Norman & Buddhagosa? It’s not that the truth is ‘noble’ as in having good eating manners or owning land - it either means that it comes from a noble source (the Buddha), or that its value is supreme, or that it ennobles, or all three of them. In your intuition from the texts, how do you take the meaning of ariya sacca or ariyo maggo?

'Ariya' and its application in the suttas

Well, we really just have the contextual meaning. Almost always, of course, it’s associated with awakening in some way, so it is clearly a term of highest praise. Any racial or class-based connotation is entirely absent (so far as I can recall). So sure, “noble” works fine, I guess.


Slightly off topic, but also not worth to have an extra topic…
An article from 2011 explores the genetic diversity in India based on a very large sample, and coming to the conclusion that there was not a major genetic diversification 3.500 years ago as proposed by the ‘Aryan-Invasion-Theory’. Rather a new large genetic influence would have occurred more than 12.500 years ago.

It’s still possible though that ‘the invasion’ was not by a large number of people, but rather a small number with highly developed power-tools, that allowed them to establish themselves as the elite leading high caste.

Or it was not a genetic invasion, but a cultural one, e.g. locals who ventured into the north-west and came back with knowledge about farming, who brought back animals, technology and language. I don’t know how that can make sense for that time, but English for example has also gained prominence in parts of the world disconnected from a genetic spread.