DN32 How does Atanatiya protect monks?

Atanatiya is a very strange Sutta. Many Sri Lankans know the name of Atanatiya even though they do not have any clue about what it is. Monks recite Atanatiya after midnight and people do not move from their seats with the fear of demons. Atanatiya is not even Buddh’s own teaching. There a just a list of names.

“Mendicants, learn the Āṭānāṭiya protection! Memorize the Āṭānāṭiya protection! Remember the Āṭānāṭiya protection! The Āṭānāṭiya protection is beneficial, and is for the guarding, protection, safety, and comfort of the monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen.”

My question to Ven @Dhammanando , @sujato and @Brahmali is how Atanatiya protects people ?

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I would say that the protection is here:

Homage to you, supreme among men!
You’ve seen us with clarity and kindness.
The non-humans bow to you.

When beset by intimidation and fear from non-humans, these three lines assert that non-humans bow to the Buddha as well. In this way it acts much like MN21: The Simile of the Saw

I believe that the preceding list enumerates the non-humans who bow to the Buddha.

Nowadays, MN21 might apply more given how nasty humans are to humans.


So what Atanatiya is all about loving kindness? Loving kindness protect you.


Even if low-down bandits were to sever you limb from limb, anyone who had a malevolent thought on that account would not be following my instructions. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart full of love to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

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Placebo effect?


Isn’t there something more than placebo here?

The point seems to be that you call upon spirits or gods to protect you. Is this really possible? I think in some circumstances it may. But it is not something we should rely on. Too many Buddhists already seek for this sort of protection, but it is not something to be encouraged. It is just too unreliable.



But as Karl pointed out that Aranatiya is about spreding loving kindness.
Perhaps extending loving kindness has the protection qualities.

I remember seeing somewhere that devas like to be around people who are developing wholesome qualities. This chant, proclaiming one’s status as a Dhamma follower, could be meant to announce that.

I know that if I’m around someone who’s calm and doing good things, it makes me happy, makes me less fearful, and less angry. I would be much less likely to want to harm that person for any reason. It would be like seeing a cute puppy just having fun. If I were to mistreat that puppy and someone called me on it, I’d be ashamed and embarrassed and stop.

Maybe it works the same with the gods?


According to AN 11.15, one of the 11 benefits of developing, cultivating and practicing mettā to a high degree is devatā rakkhanti ‘the gods protect [you]’.

I agree wholeheartedly! Often it’s those who like ‘transactional spirituality’ vs a transformational one who would be inclined. I give something to the gods and ‘buy’ their products including ‘protection’. Buddhist teachings are about personal transformation and development of personal/spiritual qualities. Such qualities (metta, wholesome action) do the protection automatically but is not a guarantee against negative things happening in life ie suffering cannot be stopped this way. That takes realising the Four Noble truths.


Loving kindness doesn’t protect you from the saw.
It protects you from resentment of the saw.
Then you die in peace from the saw.

In this way it is a placebo that cures suffering.
This is also a way to verify attainment.
Unfortunately it requires death by torture.

If a non-human (e.g., tiger) wishes to take our life and eat us, and if we cannot escape, then we would see its hunger and accept our death. This is quite difficult. Such a gift would be difficult to give. Yet the giving of such a gift might touch and change the non-human to re-consider its need to kill others like us in the future. Because that fierce non-human is also mortal and will die its own death.

Does placebo means fake?
Does this mean loving kindness is fake?



Dictionary result for placebo



  1. a medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect.
  • a substance that has no therapeutic effect, used as a control in testing new drugs.

  • a measure designed merely to humour or placate someone.

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If you ask a drug company, a placebo is fake.
If you ask a scientist, a placebo is fake.

The difficulty is that science cannot deal with faith. Faith is not measurable with a meter. Yet faith and placebos do affect experiences and sometimes even outcomes. For example:

Having no faith, we cringe in terror from non-humans.
Having no faith, all we see is terror.

Having faith, we don’t cling to the terror.
Having faith, we see more than terror–perhaps we might even see a friend beckoning us to safety.

DN33 touches on this aspect of attitude affecting outcome. Here are two mendicants. One mendicant has no faith and nothing happens. Another mendicant has faith and makes things happen.

Furthermore, a mendicant has wandered for alms, but they didn’t get to fill up on as much food as they like, coarse or fine. They think: ‘I’ve wandered for alms, but I didn’t get to fill up on as much food as I like, coarse or fine. My body is tired and unfit for work. I’d better have a lie down.’ They lie down, and don’t rouse energy … This is the fifth ground for laziness.

Furthermore, a mendicant has wandered for alms, but they didn’t get to fill up on as much food as they like, coarse or fine. They think: ‘I’ve wandered for alms, but I didn’t get to fill up on as much food as I like, coarse or fine. My body is light and fit for work. I’d better preemptively rouse up energy.’ They rouse up energy … This is the fifth ground for arousing energy.

It is very odd to me that I hear the above words towards the end of my long meditation walk. Feeling tired, these words cheer me up and I plod on. My body is light and fit for work. Where did that energy come from?

DN32 would work in the same way. But it would require faith.