Ditthe va Dhamme?

Why is Ditthe va Dhamme (or some variant) always translated as “in this very life” or something like that, is that really what it means, or is that just an interpretation of the literal translation?

Yes, that is what it means. Like sandiṭṭhika, akālika, and anantarika, it is term whose primary sense is to contrast this life with the next (samparāyika, etc.)


I understand it as the exact opposite of “kālika”, so, something whose effect is “not-fleeting, not-ephemeral”. How do you understand it, Venerable?

I only asked because in that book I’m reading he says he has a strong suspicion that the tradition is wrong and it should actually be translated as something like “when he has seen the truth.” He doesn’t explain it any further as he says it would take too long and so he just goes with the normal “in this very life.” I was just wondering if that actually made sense or it was just way out in left field.

Kālika means “take time”, so akālika is “without delay”, i.e. “you don’t have to wait for the next life to see the results”. Unlike most religious paths, where it’s not until you go to heaven that you see the result, in Buddhism you can get awakened in this life; what the Hindus call jīvanmukta.

Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti.
The teaching is well explained by the Buddha—realizable in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

No, this is a misunderstanding of the idiom.


Yeah it was in Richard Gombrich’s book I’m reading so I just thought I’d ask. He didn’t seem to be too attached to the suspicion, just that it was an idea he had.

Wow! I have always thought of the term as meaning timelessness, like what he taught is as valid as today as it was 2,500 years ago! :sweat_smile:


Thanks Venerable. I am aware of this understanding, as per PTS dict. and usual interpretations. Though i’m quite doubtful about it! Because, if that was its sole meaning, how then could it be applicable in the very frequent context where it appears as a feature of “kāma”, or sensual pleasure, mostly as one of its most significant disadvantages? In what sense can sensual pleasure be viewed as something that “takes time”, happening after delay, or bearing fruit in an afterlife?! That’s why it appears to me that what’s meant by kālika here is “fleeting”, “not lasting”.

And even in the same context of the quote you provided, Venerable, we find at SN 1.20 a certain devata directing the following question to ven. Samiddhi:

Kathañca bhikkhu kālikā kāmā vuttā bhagavatā bahudukkhā bahūpāyāsā ādīnavo ettha bhiyyo. Kathaṃ sandiṭṭhiko ayaṃ dhammo akāliko ehi passiko opanayiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti.

Here kālika is explicitly mentioned as an adjective corresponding to kāma, which is very often the case across the text.

Apologies to friend @jimisommer for this parallel discussion in the thread!

most appreciatively :anjal:


Haha totally fine.

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That’s a good translation! @sujato could I be bold enough to ask you for a little description (if not wiki) of each of these terms, which are so important? Not many know what they are and they would benefit a lot.

Venerable, I believe Dhamma here refers to ‘teachings’, rather than ‘phenomena’, kaama being an example of the latter. :anjal:

with metta

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Looks like Nanavira Thera took it somewhat in a similar manner too - and he based his whole structural interpretation of paticcasamuppada on this understanding, using it to put forward his theory that it was not temporal.

And from his Glossary:

Akàlika - timeless, intemporal.

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Okay, so here the operative phrase is:

sandiṭṭhikaṃ hitvā kālikaṃ anudhāvāmi

Which Ven Bodhi translates as:

do not abandon what is directly visible in order to pursue what takes time

And I translate as:

Don’t give up what you see in the present life to chase after what takes time

In this case, kālika is contrasted not with akālika, but with sandiṭṭhika; here, as usual, they are synonyms. Akālika is of course used in the text as a synonym in the standard Dhamma formula.

In reading the suttas, we always need to bear in mind a fundamental principle: never infer meaning from ambiguous contexts (unless it is unavoidable). Rather, start with clear and unambiguous contexts, and build from there.

The sense of sandiṭṭhika is unambiguously established in several places, notably AN 5.34 to General Sīha. There, the Buddha speaks of certain benefits of giving that are sandiṭṭhika, such as confidence, good reputation, and so on. He also gives a samparāyika benefit, which is rebirth in heaven. Sīha says that he can see for himself the sandiṭṭhika benefits, but as he has no psychic powers, he cannot see the samparāyika benefit, but must take it on trust. The Buddha agrees.

I could give many other similar cases, but since I’m not going to spend all morning on this, you’ll have to take it on trust. :smile: Sandiṭṭhika, akālika, diṭṭhevadhamme, etc. are regularly used in the sense “pertaining to the present life”, while samparāyika, kālika, etc. are used in the sense “pertaining to future lives”. I think this is probably the only sense these words have in important contexts; as usual, there may be a few exceptions, but it’s certainly the main sense.

So how then is kālika an adjective pertaining to kāma? After all, we experience sensual pleasures here and now, right? Isn’t that the point?

This is one of the places where the Buddha turned conventional thinking on its head. In one sutta—I forget where—he’s accused of neglecting the present life for the sake of what takes time; i.e., neglecting the pleasures of the flesh for the sake of a theoretical heaven or spiritual goal in the afterlife. But he responds that what he is doing is precisely the opposite: focusing on what can be experienced in the present life. i.e. the happiness of nibbana, to the neglect of what pertains to time, i.e. sensual pleasures.

The point is that sense pleasures bind you to the wheel of time. Their enjoyment creates kamma that keeps you going on in samsara, with results that are experienced in the future. So the whole point of these terms is to overturn the language of the hedonist, to point out that their pleasure is merely a temporary reprieve.

Yes, Ñāṇavīra got this wrong.


Thanks a lot for your ample response Venerable :anjal:

A very bold statement! :slight_smile: Let me say that there are ‘ditthi’ issues regarding Pali! So a principle like this corresponds well to such view which identifies Pali as a systemic or accurate kind of language, in terms of usage, where words more or less mean the same thing in various contexts and so forth. I on the other hand think Pali usage is a mess! I will keep the familiar or prevalent meaning in mind, but will envisage all unfamiliar or even unlikely possibilities of usage each time a certain word appears, and especially in the case of adjectives and doctrinal terms. What I would never do is to trust the dictionary all the way! And yes, all this will make me way slower … slow is not always bad though! In this case I am doubtful about the listed meaning of a/kālika in all Pali dictionaries, and this is no heroism, this is the duty of a translator! :face_with_monocle:

I vow that I did! :slight_smile:

So people accuse Buddha of neglecting the immediate pleasure of sensuality for the sake of a hypothetical pleasure in the afterlife; and he responds: “It is sensual pleasure that will bring an afterlife while the pleasure of my teaching is immediate in this life.” So this is how kāma came to be described as kālika? So what you are suggesting, Venerable, is that the Buddha employed a pun on “kālika” right?! Because kālika here is not used in the original sense anymore, instead of “takes time or happens in afterlife”, the meaning becomes “keeps time and causes rebirth”, something like that! (actually I wonder how could one even translate that pun!)

I’d say that’s very possible and very interesting to consider (and, let us agree, it’s all conjecture! Unless otherwise states clearly somewhere in the text). Nevertheless it does not so decisively answer the doubt about how kālika continues to be an illogical and inapplicable description of kāma (and by the way this is no exception, they occur together all over the text!). The problem for me is that, understanding akālika in this way makes it not a synonym of sanditthika, but identical to it! So i’m still inclined to believe that the difference between them is that a/kālika describes how things are experienced, what is the effect of things in relation to time. So where sanditthika refers to “immediacy” and “directness” (“happens immediately or directly in this very life”), akālika refers to “effect” ("substantial, accumulative, lasting, not ephemeral, not subject to time, not diminished by it, etc.). Only with this understanding does kālika becomes applicable to kāma.

The issue may or may not be resolved, for me, by examining whether yet a third context/meaning appears for the word “a/kālika” in the text, other than those which are discussed here. And non of this means that a/kālika should be understood in only one sense. As for

I would say:

Don’t turn your back to that which is before your eyes to run after phantoms.

Nailed it! :sunglasses:

Friends @Gabriel_L & @Sujith … This is not a wrong interpretation, though it differs from the way Venerable @sujato understands it. “Timeless” here doesn’t just mean applicable to all times, it means “not subject or affected by time”.
In my humble understanding, where sanditthika means “right here”, akālika means “always been here, staying here, and not going anywhere!”, precisely, “intemporal”.

Sanditthika conveys that Dhamma is directly and immediately experienceable, while akālika conveys that it is always present and accessible, immutable.

For a fuller analysis, check https://mahaviveka.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/meaning-of-akalika/


Beware of overloading mere words with meaning. Pali words groan with the burden of superfluous meaning. They complain to me about it all the time. The meaning of a text emerges from the relation and context, and can’t be reduced to elements.


There’s an Egyptian proverb which says: "To the eyes of its own mother, a beast is never beastly!"
Loading a word with meaning is like giving birth to meaning! We couldn’t avoid it (as interpreters) and we hardly have any options other than failing to see the beast we’ve created!
But, venerable, in this hazardous desert of meaning, we interpreters are all equally lost! :slight_smile:

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