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Idiom in AN5.157:1.1

This is the passage with Bhante Sujato’s translation:

AN5.157:1.1: “Pañcannaṁ, bhikkhave, puggalānaṁ kathā dukkathā puggale puggalaṁ upanidhāya.
AN5.157:1.1: “Mendicants, there are certain topics that are inappropriate to talk about, taking into consideration which specific one of five people you are talking to.

Bhante has still added this comment:

This is a difficult idiom to get right. I follow the Comm. reading of “puggalam puggalam”. BB has “weigh one type of person against the other”. Upanidhaya normally has the meaning of “compare”, but I am not sure how that makes sense here. You’re not comparing people, you’re assessing what is approppriate for this specific person. Comm. says “taṁ taṁ puggalaṁ upanikkhipitvā, sakkhiṁ katvā”, which (I think!) implies specificity rather than distribution, i.e. “examining that specific person”. As for the rest, I have translated according to the sense as best I can. The meaning is clear enough from what follows.

Looking in Nyanatiloka, he has:

Verkehrt ist es, ihr Mönche, zu fünf Menschen zu sprechen mit Anspielung auf ihre Person.

In English this is about:

It is wrong, monks, to talk to five people insinuating to their person.

There are probably ways to put this in a better English, but to me this seems to make good sense; it also catches the original meaning of upanidhāya as “compare”.

What does Bhante @sujato think?

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Hmm, not sure to be honest. @brahmali @Dhammanando any thoughts?

For the record, Hare has:

to five persons talk is ill talk when the appropriate person is confronted.

Bodhi:

A talk is wrongly addressed when, having weighed one type of person against another, it is addressed to these five [inappropriate] types of persons.

A literal translation:

Pañcannaṁ, bhikkhave, puggalānaṁ kathā dukkathā puggale puggalaṁ upanidhāya
To five persons talk is bad talk when person is compared with person.

I don’t find Nyanatiloka’s rendering persuasive; I am not really sure either what he means or how he is construing the Pali. The text is not about making insinuations about a person, but about understanding that various topics of conversation are inappropriate when speaking with certain people.


A note on the text: MS edition reads puggale puggalaṁ upanidhāya with the variant puggalaṁ puggalaṁ upanidhāya. Elsewhere I can’t find any cases where upanidhāya takes the locative, but it does sometimes compare one accusative to the other. This agrees with the commentatry’s taṃ taṃ puggalaṃ, so we should accept the reading puggalaṁ puggalaṁ upanidhāya.


Perhaps a better translation might be:

Comparing one person with another, there are five persons to whom it’s inappropriate to speak about certain topics.

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The grammatical analysis is fairly straightforward. I don’t have much to add in that respect. As for the translation, I do think reading it as a comparison of people actually makes sense. I understand the point to be that you are speaking in such a way that the other person feels judged when you compare them to someone you regard as superior. In other words, if you wish to encourage someone to live well, you have to do so in a sensitive manner. This does not fit perfectly with the ensuing discussion, but it is not unreasonable, I think, to see a comparison as implied here too.

Here is my contribution:

Speaking to five kinds of people is inappropriate, if you contrast them with someone else.

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Thank you, Bhantes, for your comments.

Ven. Nyanatiloka doesn’t have a comment on this passage.

What he means seems to me that in his translation the person to whom a talk is addressed is compared, not to another person, but to the good quality they are lacking.

I talk about faith hinting at the fact that the person I talk to has no faith, meaning they should develop it. What they understand is that I am saying they are not okay the way they are, which makes them angry; and this is not a constructive basis for discussion.

What considerations about the Pali bring him to this translation we don’t know.

I think what Nyanatiloka is trying to do is harmonizing the introductory phrase with what follows—which is of course tempting, but not precisely a translation. Unless there is evidence that the Pali phrase in question is an idiom that means just this.

It felt tempting to me, I have to admit. But so far we don’t seem to have such evidence. :woman_shrugging:

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Okay yes, good point. I think you’re right and I’ll revise my translation accordingly.

it is inappropriate to speak to five kinds of person by comparing that person with someone else.

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It’s straightforward:

“Mendicants, there are certain topics that are inappropriate to talk about, taking into consideration which specific one of five people you are talking to. What five?

It’s inappropriate to talk to an unfaithful person about faith. It’s inappropriate to talk to an unethical person about ethics. It’s inappropriate to talk to an unlearned person about learning. It’s inappropriate to talk to a stingy person about generosity. It’s inappropriate to talk to a witless person about wisdom.

And why is it inappropriate to talk to an unfaithful person about faith? When an unfaithful person is spoken to about faith they lose their temper, becoming annoyed, hostile, and hard-hearted, and displaying annoyance, hate, and bitterness. Why is that? Not seeing that faith in themselves, they don’t get the rapture and joy that faith brings. That’s why it’s inappropriate to talk to an unfaithful person about faith.

[…]

And why is it appropriate to talk to a faithful person about faith? When a faithful person is spoken to about faith they don’t lose their temper, they don’t get annoyed, hostile, and hard-hearted, or display annoyance, hate, and bitterness. Why is that? Seeing that faith in themselves, they get the rapture and joy that faith brings. That’s why it’s appropriate to talk to a faithful person about faith.”—-AN 5.157 (Subharo)

Bhante Sujato

I’ve been quietly following this discussion and have taken a closer look at this sutta and even attempted a full English translation found at this link AN 5.16.157 dukkathāsutta. I could be wrong, please put me right if so? But looking at this sutta in context with the previous sutta AN 5.156, could the first five individuals, be individuals of non-trust etc. positing and narrating the practice of trust etc. Then the second half of the sutta could be referring to individuals who have accomplished or fulfilled the practice of trust etc. and then positing and narrating that respective practice etc?

Respectfully Orgyen

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Hi! In your translation, it seems you have accepted the locative case, and translate the phrase as if the first and second puggala are separate grammatically. But this is not the case. Upanidhāya (an absolutive) functions to relate two items, which typically precede it in a sentence, by why of comparison.

For example, in AN 8.45:

kapaṇaṁ mānusakaṁ rajjaṁ dibbaṁ sukhaṁ upanidhāyā’ti
‘Human kingship is a poor thing compared to the happiness of the gods.’

Here the two items compared are both in accusative: mānusakaṁ rajjaṁ and dibbaṁ sukhaṁ. This seems quite a common pattern, which is why I preferred the accusative reading here. But this is not hugely relevant, as upanidhāya occurs in a variety of grammatical constructs, always, however, with the same function.

Thus it must mean “having compared one person with another”.

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Thank you Bhante, I have corrected my translation accordingly and hope it reads a bit better.

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