Conventions and the Buddha

I’m looking for all sutta in the Pali canon which describes the Buddha using conventions in a way that is arguably parallel to the Vajirāsutta.

When the parts are assembled
Yathā hi aṅgasambhārā,
we use the word ‘chariot’.
hoti saddo ratho iti;
So too, when the aggregates are present
Evaṁ khandhesu santesu,
‘sentient being’ is the convention we use.
hoti sattoti sammuti. Variant: sammuti → sammati (sya-all, km)
SN 5.10

I’ve found this:

These are the world’s usages, terms, expressions, and descriptions, which the Realized One uses without misapprehending them.
Imā kho, citta, lokasamaññā lokaniruttiyo lokavohārā lokapaññattiyo, yāhi tathāgato voharati aparāmasan”ti.
DN 9

I’m aware of a para-canonical text (Kv 1.1) in the Pali canon which asserts the two-truths of ‘convention’ and ‘ultimate’, but it isn’t found anywhere else earlier in the canon. I’m not looking for that per se, but rather any other suttas like in DN 9 where the Buddha is said to use the world’s conventions without adhering to them or misapprehending them.

Thank you :pray:

Namo Buddhaya!

As far as i know there is nothing else explicit like the two you quote but there are some related texts

“Sentient beings who perceive the communicable,
become established in the communicable.
Not understanding the communicable,
they fall under the yoke of Death.

But having fully understood the communicable,
they don’t conceive a communicator,
as they’ve touched liberation with their mind,
the supreme state of peace.

Accomplished in the communicable,
peaceful, in love with the state of peace;
making use after reflection, firm in principle,
a knowledge master cannot be reckoned.” SuttaCentral

“What leads the world on? “
What drags it around?
What is the one thing
that has everything under its sway?”

“The mind leads the world on.
The mind drags it around.
Mind is the one thing
that has everything under its sway.” SuttaCentral

“What oppresses everything?
What is nothing bigger than?
What is the one thing
that has everything under its sway?”

“Name oppresses everything.
Nothing’s bigger than name.
Name is the one thing
that has everything under its sway.” SuttaCentral

“What leads the world on?
What drags it around?
What is the one thing
that has everything under its sway?”

“Craving leads the world on.
Craving drags it around.
Craving is the one thing
that has everything under its sway.” SuttaCentral

Venerable Yeshe. I remember reading about this in Araha.m Sutta and Vasettha Sutta.

Venerable. ‘Convention’ does not read as though it is a type of ‘truth’. I tried to read Kv 1.1 but started getting a headache. Can you show me where Kv 1.1 asserts the two-truths of ‘convention’ and ‘ultimate’. Thank you. :pray:


The Kathāvatthu is a para-canonical text of the Theravada Abhidhamma Pitaka attributed to Moggaliputtatissa which is traditionally said to originate at or around the time of King Ashoka, but this date is highly contested. There is speculation that this text was itself composed over a lengthy amount of time and not all at once, but generally the first chapter/controversy over a person (puggala) is considered the earliest. There is an auto-commentary to this text - also traditionally attributed to Moggaliputtatissa - and it is thought given the structure of the text and the commentary that they were created at the same time. To find out more about the history of this text (what is known versus what is speculated) I would recommend Venerable Sujato’s excellent article.

In chapter 1.1 of the Kv we find this at the end:

Theravādin: … again, it was said by the Exalted One:

“There are these three teachers, Seniya, to be found in the world—who are the three? There is first, Seniya, that kind of teacher who declares that there is a real, persistent soul in the life that now is, and in that which is to come; then there is the kind of teacher, Seniya, who declares that there is a real, persistent soul in the life that now is, but not a soul in a future life; lastly, there is a certain teacher who does not declare that there is a soul either in the life that now is, nor in that which is to come. The first, Seniya, of these three is called an Eternalist, the second is called an Annihilationist; the third of these, he, Seniya, is called the teacher, who is Buddha supreme. These are the three teachers to be found in the world”.

Is the Suttanta thus?

Puggalavādin: Yes.

Theravādin: … again, did the Exalted One speak of “a butter-jar”?

Puggalavādin: Yes.

Theravādin: Is there anyone who can make a jar out of butter?

Puggalavādin: Nay, that cannot truly be said … .

Theravādin: … finally, did the Exalted One speak of an oil-jar, a honey-jar, a molasses-jar, a milk-pail, a water-pot, a cup, flask, bowl of water, a “meal provided in perpetuity”, a “constant supply of congey”?

Puggalavādin: Yes.

Theravādin: Is there any supply of congey that is permanent, stable, eternal, not liable to change?

Puggalavādin: Nay, that cannot truly be said … .

Theravādin: Hence it is surely wrong to say “the soul is known in the sense of a real and ultimate fact”.

Kv 1.1

The bold is mine. I emphasize this because the explanation for this obscure passage is found in the auto-commentary. The auto-commentary to the Kathāvatthu was published in 1940 by the Pali Text society and translated into english by BIMALA CHURN LAW, Ph.D., M.A., B.L. Here is a library reference to the text.

Here is that section of text which I’m typing out as I only have hard copy pictures of the 1940 text in question on pages 41 through 43:

“ Did the Exalted One speak of a butter-jar ?” and the
following are adduced to show that meaning is not always
according to the form of what is said. A jar made of gold is
called a golden jar, but one made of butter is not in the
same way called a butter-jar. What is meant here is this: a
butter-jar is only that wherein butter is put. In regard to an
oil-jar, and so on, this is the sense. A (‘ permanent ’) meal or
a congey is not eternal and permanent as is nirvana. ‘ A meal
provided in perpetuity, a constant supply of congey ’ implies
the sense that we are to give in charity every day without
any limit of time.
Even in such expressions as ‘ there is the person who works
for his own good and so on, there is no such person as
bodily and mental aggregates, known in their specific and
general senses. Given bodily and mental aggregates, it is
customary to say such and such a name, a family. Thus, by
this popular turn of speech, convention, expression, is meant:
“ there is the person.” This is the sense here. Hereon it was
also said [34] by the Exalted One: “ These, Cilla, are merely
names, expressions, terms of speech, designations in common
use in the world.’’’^ What is meant here is: even without
reference to bodily and mental aggregates the term ‘ person ’
is used to denote a popular convention in both its specific
and its general sense.
The Buddhas have two kinds of
discourse, the popular and the philosophical. Those relating
to a being, a person, a deva, a ‘ brahma and so forth, are
popular discourses, while those relating to impermanence,
ill, soul-less, the aggregates, the elements, the senses, the
application of mindfulness, the intent contemplation, and so
forth, are discourses on highest meaning. Therein, in the
popular discourse, when there is speech of a being, a person,
a deva or brahma, he who is able to understand, comprehend
its meaning, or get out (of this world), or attain the victory
of an arahan, him the Exalted One teaches, at the very
outset, about a being, a person, a man, a deva or a brahma.
He who, on hearing differently in discourse on highest meaning
about impermanence, or ill, or the like, is able to understand,
comprehend its meaning, or get out (of this world), or attain
the victory of an arahan, him (the Exalted One) teaches
differently about impermanence, and so forth. Thus, he
does not teach at first the highest-meaning discourse to any-
one, even to one who understands him in popular discourse.
Taking his stand on popular discourse he, on the other hand,
teaches the highest-meaning discourse afterwards. He does
not teach at first popular discourse to one who can understand
him in highest-meaning discourse. On the other hand,
having enlightened him in highest-meaning discourse, he
teaches popular discourse afterwards. Highest-aim dis-
course is, as a rule, too severe to begin with; therefore
the buddhas teach at first by popular discourse, and then
highest-meaning discourse. But popular discourse they teach
consistently and in conformity with truth according to the
method selected. And highest-meaning discourse, too, ‘they
teach consistently and in conformmity with truth according to
the method selected.’

Thus it is said:

The Enlightened One, best of speakers, spoke two kinds of
truth, namely, the popular and that of highest meaning, a
third is not got at.

Therein, discourse meeting with agreement is true and is
by way of world convention. Highest-meaning discourse
expression is also true and, as such, characteristic of things
(as they are).

There is another way of putting it. The teaching of the
Exalted One is of two kinds, the highest-meaning teaching
consisting of the aggregates, and so forth, and the popular
teaching consisting of ‘butter-jar,’ and so forth. The Exalted
One does not, indeed, overrun consistency. Hence, on
the mere expression “there is the person who,” must not
command adherence. The highest meaning has been declared
by the Teacher, without transgressing the concept. So,
another wise man also should not, in explaining the highest
meaning, overrun a concept.

The remaining meanings are clear everywhere.

The controversy on ‘person’ is ended.

The translation in english is very old and unfortunately I have not been able to find a pali version of this auto-commentary. However, the second part I marked in bold above I have been able to find the pali and here it is:

The Enlightened One, the best of teachers, spoke of two truths, conventional and ultimate; no third is described. Conventional truth is known through agreement and ultimate truth discloses phenomena as they actually are.

Duve saccäni akkhäsi Sambuddho vadatam varo
sammutim paramatthan ca tatlyam nüpalabbhati
sanketavacanam saccam lokasammutikäranam
paramatthavacanam saccam—dhammänam tathalakkhanam

The english above is my rudimentary translation informed by ChatGPT and my own understanding. The pali text comes from “Early Buddhist Theory Of Knowledge” by K. N. JAYATILLEKE B.A.(Ceylon), M.A.(Cantab), Ph.D.(London) 1960 page 363. Here is a reference to the text. I would welcome other experts in pali to give a better translation.

So the earliest description of the two-truths doctrine that I’m aware of in any Buddhist text is from this para-canonical Theravada text and its auto-commentary although the date is very uncertain. I’d also note that the text in question above is immediately preceded by a quote from the Vajira sutta marking it as evoking an early EBT teaching.

Although this was not the point of this thread, I hope this is helpful in answering questions that were raised.


Venerable Yeshe. It is confusing for me. This is a debate about “persons” which then resorts to a debate about “soul”. The debaters are refuting “person” using concept of “soul”. I read in sutta about “persons” who are reborn on account of good and bad actions (Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta). The Theravādin side of the debate in Kv 1.1 sound erroneous. There are many suttas about persons.

I found the two-truth quote at a website translated by a monk: Manorathapūraṇī Mn. i. 95. This is a commentary by Buddhaghosa a 5th-century Indian monk.

I believe that Buddhaghosa is quoting this auto-commentary to Kv 1.1 which is traditionally attributed to Moggaliputtatissa, a founding “Elder” of what would become the Theravada, traditionally said to have been written around the time of King Ashoka.

I was just trying to help by answering your question, but I don’t want this to be the focus of this discussion. Please feel free to open a new discussion if you wish to discuss more and please let’s leave this thread for the sutta search requested in the OP.

I found another sutta:

“Someone who has given up conceit has no ties,
the ties of conceit are all dissipated.
Though that intelligent person has transcended substantial reality,
they’d still say, ‘I speak’,
and also ‘they speak to me’.
Skillful, understanding the world’s conventions,
they’d use these terms as no more than expressions.”

SN 1.25

Its inclusion in the Abhidhamma Pitaka means that the Theravada holds the Kathāvatthu to be canonical. “Paracanonical” is normally applied to texts like the Peṭakopadesa, Nettippakaraṇa and Milindapañha.

The Kathāvatthu commentary is part of the Pañcappakaraṇa-atthakathā, a fifth century CE commentary on five of the seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. Tradition ascribes its authorship to Buddhaghosa. As far as I know, no scholar, traditional or modern, has ever suggested that Moggaliputtatissa had anything to do with it.

Whereas the Kathāvatthu itself merely describes the controverted views and the debates about them, without assigning them to any particular person or school, its commentary does assign each view to a particular school or schools. About six of the schools mentioned are post-Ashokan and so would have been unknown to Moggaliputtatissa.


Oh! Thank you for the corrections Venerable. I have read scholarly article attributing the work as an auto-commentary, but now I will have to dig that up as I erroneously assumed the article was representing a mainstream view. I also remember reading the Pali text society listing the Kv itself as “para-canonical” I will try and dig that up as well, but perhaps my memory is at fault. :pray:

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Namo Buddhaya!

I assume that the word translated as ‘soul’ is atta which is rather ‘self’ than ‘soul’.

It took some time I found the word translated as soul is jivam.

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Good, that makes sense too but it’s also not like christian ‘soul’. Jiva is that that which lives, makes alive, make lively, something like that