Best translation: purisa = person and manussa = man?

It would be very appealing to use that as the translation, since purisa sounds and looks like “person”, and “man” is the first 3 letters of “manussa”.

But according to PED:

manussa: a human being. (m.)

Manussa [fr. manus, cp. Vedic manuṣya. Connected etym. with Goth. manna=man] a human being, man The popular etym. connects m. with Manu(s), the ancestor of men, e. g. KhA 123: “Manuno apaccā ti manussā, porāṇā pana bhaṇanti ʻ mana – ussannatāya manussa ʼ; te Jambudīpakā, Aparagoyānikā, Uttarakurukā Pubbavidehakā ti catubbidhā.” Similarly with the other view of connecting it with "mind VvA 18: “manassa ussannatāya manussā” etc. Cp also VvA 23,

and purisa is male, as opposed to itthi (female)

purisa: a male; a man. (m.)

Purisa [according to Geiger, Gr. § 303 the base is *pūrṣa, from which the Vedic form puruṣa, and the Prk. – P. form purisa. The further contraction *pussa *possa yielded posa (q. v.). From the Prk. form puliśa (Māgadhī) we get pulla] man (as representative of the male sex, contrasted to itthi woman, e. g. at A iii.209; iv.197 J i.90; v.72; PvA 51). Definitions of the C. are “puriso nāma manussa – puriso na yakkho na peto etc.” (i. e. man kat) e)coxh/n) Vin iv.269 (the same expln for purisa – puggala at Vin iv.214); “seṭṭh’ aṭṭhena puri setī ti puriso ti satto vuccati” VvA 42

In Thanissaro’s AN 8.30, he translates purisa = person. Is there support for that in the EBT, or is he just taking the liberty of imposing our modern values of gender equality?

Assuming the PED definitions are correct, I’ll stick with these as my translations:

purisa = man/male
itthi = woman/female
manussa = mankind/human

1 Like
  • Purisa is commonly used in both a gender-neutral sense (“person”) and a gendered sense (“man”). In the latter context, it is contrasted with itthī, “woman”.
  • Manussa is more of a term for the species; it tends to identify “humans” as opposed to non-humans (amanussa, i.e. yakkhas and the like).

Note that there are many other terms for “man”, “person”, etc.: nara, jana, puma


The translator has only the context to guide his/her choices, in EBT as in any kind of text. For example if the original text says: “I saw a purisa passing by”; it would be problematic to translate that as “I saw a person”; since the context here is quite specific. So both “Purisa” and even “Itthi” may be translated as “person” should the context allow, examples:

moghapurisa (foolish/useless person), sappurisa (good/worthy/true person) etc.

So it depends on the context and you can’t pin it down so regidly, not only in Pali, but in any effort of translation whatsoever. Even google-translate won’t do it!! The more one tries to hammer it home with a systematic logic, the more the wall gives way!

1 Like

I’ll take your word for it Bhante, since you’ve looked carefully at much more pali than I have, but I have to ask, how confident are you in purisa = person (as opposed to male being the default understanding)?

Since the discourses are delivered to monk 99.9% of the time, could that just give the illusion that purisa is “person” rather than male-man? For example, in AN 2.5


‘kāmaṃ taco ca nhāru ca aṭṭhi ca avasissatu,
Gladly, [let only the] skin and tendons and bones remain,
sarīre upassussatu maṃsa-lohitaṃ,
(the) body (having) dried-up (the) flesh-&-blood,
yaṃ taṃ purisa-thāmena purisa-vīriyena
what ever manly-strength, manly-virility,
purisa-parakkamena pattabbaṃ
manly-courage can-attain,
na taṃ a-pāpuṇitvā
** (with) that not-(yet)-attained,
vīriyassa saṇṭhānaṃ bhavissatī’ti.
(my) vigor relaxing {won’t}-happen.

I went with “manly”, but I have seen the same formula translated with purisa as “humanly”. I figured Buddha being khattiya (warrior caste), all the war and fighting similes in the EBT, and it probably was a patriarchal society with no women warriors right?

Seriously? “Humanly”? In this context purisa does indeed have a connotation of masculinity, and I too have translated it as “manly” energy. If you wanted to avoid this you could use something like “vigorous” or “tough”. But I think this is an important passage to notice the way that masculinity is seen, so the gender is best retained. A gender-neutral translation should not erase gender when it is important in the source text; it should simply avoid over-determining it when it is not needed.

In most cases, however, purisa has no specific gender connotation. It’s not inaccurate to translate it as “man”, as that too has both gendered and ungendered usages. However, the ungendered uses of “man” are problematic and rapidly being replaced in modern English. So I avoid using it in almost every context except where a specifically gendered nuance is required.


Correct. Flashback to a Dhamma talk by Ven Dhammajiva who were telling women in his audience that they ‘need to be men’ about facing up to seeing impermanence! I’m sure more than a few were very much up to the task!

True. It is not re genitals - but rather mental characteristics- and these need to appropriately captured.

The eight persons (atta purisa puggala) refers to bhikkhu, bhikkhuni, upasaka and upasika as in that context is gender neutral.

with metta

1 Like

In modern day Bengali, which seems to have been derived from Prakrit and Sanskrit, “manush” (similar to Pali “manussa”) is definitely used in the sense of “human being” - and usually in contrast to say “animals” in everyday spoken language, though in religious language it might be used to contrast with “devas” or “gods.”
In everyday spoken Bengali at least, “manush” does not have the connotation of meaning “male being” at all.

So this is in agreement with:

I am not aware of a Bengali word similar to purisa though :thinking:

পুরুষ is from the Sanskrit cognate of purisa.


I agree too.

But this seems to be a bit of an overshoot by Venerable Dhammajiva.
Even in the example of “manly effort,” the emphasis was on “masculinity,” not being a male or man.
Any being, female or male, can possess and develop the masculine faculty - so to tell the female beings in the audience “to be men” seems at best provocative, at worse sexist, perhaps due to the sexism in Sri Lankan/South Asian culture.

Thank you :pray: