Happiness is slippery

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There is a line in Dhp 341 that seems to have befuddled the translators. As so often in poetry, the language itself is not difficult, but the exact sense is obscure.

  • Saritāni sinehitāni ca, Somanassāni bhavanti jantuno
  • Anandajoti: There are flowing streams of affection and mental happinesses for a person,
  • Buddharakkhita: Flowing in (from all objects) and watered by craving, feelings of pleasure arise in beings.
  • Norman: To a creature wide-flowing and lovely delights occur.
  • Thanissaro: Loosened & oiled are the joys of a person.

Buddharakkhita’s is the most coherent, but to achieve this it is quite interpretive. Norman’s is barely comprehensible. Thanissaro’s relies on reading the first terms as referring to loose bowel movements; a reading he says is “common”, but for which I cannot, alas, find support anywhere.

Let’s look a bit closer!

The difficult terms are the first two. Sarita refers to something flowing, a stream. Sinehita either means something moist or oily, or in psychological metaphor, affection or love. Note that Anandajoti reads the psychological sense, Buddhaakkhita has both, Norman very loosely has it as “lovely”, while only Thanissaro has the basic sense.

Given, however, the close pairing of the two terms, and the fact that they occur among a series of verses using the metaphor of stream, it seems likely that the physical sense is intended here.

An examination of the syntax will show that the translators quoted above render the grammar differently, but I think Norman is correct to treat the first terms as adjectives for somanassa.

After struggling with this line for some time, it occurred to me that the root metaphor is probably the transience of worldly joys: they slip through your fingers like a stream of water or something oily. I’m thinking of rendering it something like:

Fleeting and slippery are a person’s joys.

Aṅguttara Nikāya Tatiyavagga 328

A lovely translation that!
The “ca” after saritani sinehitani seems to imply both those preceeding words are indeed describing somanssa; This is just my impression from my limited reading of Sanskrit/Pali texts; It seems a more natural reading that way.


Could it also imply this, Bhante?

The joys(somanassani) become(bhavanti) the coveted rivers (sinehitani saritani) for beings (jantuno);

Next lines could then imply this: They are bound by the agreeableness(sātasitā) and seek after the pleasure (sukhesino) > in other words become caught in those rivers > which lead them to rebirth/old age > the ocean of samsara.

(Pali dictionary notes the phrase sātodakā under sāta which occurs in the tipitaka referring to rivers or pools)

Or is this reading too much into the verse :slight_smile:


That really clicks for me and works for many many different readings.

I can even use it in the context of a turbojet running at full throttle. We often chase joy and hone its pursuit to perfection, crafting ourselves highly precise and powerful conditions for happiness (witness the endless remodeling shows on TV). Yet even a turbojet suffers. Lubrication fails. Metal wears. Birds collide. Blades crack. And then that “perfect” dragon’s roar of joy goes mute like any other joy.

Thank you, Bhante. :pray:


Taking verses together to understand more precise meaning.

Bhante, should’nt it be considered that verses from 338 to 343 are connected.
Two verses right before explain the reason behind being Saritā and sinehitā. I am taking the translation by Ven. Buddharakkhita since it seems the most appropriate translation to me.

339.“Yassa chattiṃsati sotā, manāpasavanā bhusā;
Mahāvahanti duddiṭṭhiṃ, saṅkappā rāganissitā.

The misguided man in whom the thirty-six currents of craving strongly rush toward pleasurable objects, is swept away by the flood of his passionate thoughts.

340.“Savanti sabbadhi sotā, latā uppajja tiṭṭhati;
Tañca disvā lataṃ jātaṃ, mūlaṃ paññāya chindatha.

Everywhere these currents flow, and the creeper (of craving) sprouts and grows. Seeing that the creeper has sprung up, cut off its root with wisdom.

Understanding is subjective

To reflect the meaning more precisely verses should be taken together. When it is not it would give an open meaning which sometimes makes no sense.


Yes it seems intepret most in line with Buddha teaching : Ven. Buddharakkhita

Enjoying bhava/existence means end up caught in the river of samsara


It’s a bit hard to say; maybe!

Yes, I was also thinking that bhavanti felt like it might have the sense of “becomes” here. Your reading is intriguing!

I’m not convinced. Yes, there is a general similarity of imagery, but that’s common in the Dhammapada. The verse under consideration is a different metre (vaitalya) than the preceding, and as you can see, the Prakrit version is identical, yet the preceding verses are different. So I think it’s more likely that these are separate verses gathered because of similar imagery.

Which, of course, doesn’t mean that the interpretation is wrong: it could easily be the case that Buddharakkhita’s version is better. Hmm. It certainly links nicely with the Bhavasutta: kammaṁ khettaṁ, viññāṇaṁ bījaṁ, taṇhā sneho.


The stream of senses, watered by craving,
become a person’s joys.


Commentary says there is one,


Still not convinced, I’m afraid. :man_shrugging:


This sounds much better than earlier one.
:pray: :pray: :pray:

savanti sabbadhi sotā ti ime taṇhāsotā cakkhudvārādīnaṃ vasena sabbesu rūpādīsu ārammaṇesu savanato, sabbāpi rūpataṇhā…pe…

saritānī ti anusaṭāni payātāni. sinehitānī ti cīvarādīsu pavattasinehavasena sinehitāni ca, taṇhāsinehamakkhitānīti attho. somanassānī ti taṇhāvasikassa jantuno evarūpāni somanassāni bhavanti. te sātasitā ti te taṇhāvasikā puggalā sātanissitā sukhanissitā ca hutvā sukhesino sukhapariyesino bhavanti


We lost the ephemeral of “slippery” which underscored the futility of grasping.
The new translation suggests we could simply hang a net across the stream to relish whatever comes by. That’s actually how I spent much of my life, passively relishing delights, so this translation would not have jarred me loose from that delusion.


Joys in not the right word, existence is

Bhava is the thing keeps us in infinite cycle of paticca sammupada

Many translate as becoming but a sri lanka monk insist the right translation is exist


“Joys” renders somannassāni.

Bhavati/hoti is commonly used in both senses. Here I am not sure which is preferable.


I see, the word somanassani refers to enjoyment, delight in pleasures as such.

While the word ‘joy’ more into independent happiness from inside

Jantuno to be more specify is translated into ‘livings’ than a person

bhavanti is meant to be existings, existence

To put it in english ,perhaps it should be:
In the ungraspable streams of senses, the livings enjoys their existence

Thats why Buddharakkhita translation more closer to the meaning


(341) Saritāni sinehitāni ca,
Somanassāni bhavanti jantuno;
Te sātasitā sukhesino,
Te ve jātijarūpagā narā

(341) A creature’s pleasures are extravagant and
luxurious; given tip to pleasure and deriving happiness, men undergo (again and again) birth and decay.

By F. Max Muller. (1895-1910) THE SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST, Vol 10, 82.( latest 2013).

Bhante @sujato,
This paper has a good analysis on dhammapada commentary. However, it also suggests that commentary is not necessary for the understanding of the content of the Dhammapada.
Appleton, N. (2012). Dhammapada and Dhammapada Commentary: The Story of the Verses. Religions of South Asia , 6 (2), 245-256. DOI: 10.1558/rosa.v6i2.245


Umm, “livings” is not a word. Jantu is simply a (somewhat poetic) word for a person, here appearing in the genitive singular form: “of a person”.


Dear Bhante I agree. Fluid and slippery are a person’s happy mental states.

Literally (if I’ve got it correct?) I get: fluid-they-are greased-they-are and, happy-mind-they-are becoming-they-do person-for.