Is this the key to Nibbana?

According to Buddhist teaching, in the ultimate sense, Buddhist has to give up even wholesome thoughts and deeds. We have not seen any discussion about how to do this. Thanks to Bhante @sujato translation I found a Sutta to support this teaching.

And where do these skillful thoughts cease without anything left over? Their cessation has also been stated. It’s when, as the placing of the mind and keeping it connected are stilled, a mendicant enters and remains in the second absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of immersion, with internal clarity and confidence, and unified mind, without placing the mind and keeping it connected. This is where these skillful thoughts cease without anything left over.

And where do these skillful behaviors cease without anything left over? Their cessation has also been stated. It’s when a mendicant behaves ethically, but they don’t identify with their ethical behavior. And they truly understand the freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom where these skillful behaviors cease without anything left over.


Yes and no.

If you’re at the very end of the anāgāmī stage, that’s when you finally let go of the path: once the path itself is your only remaining attachment.

But wholesome thoughts, words and deeds are the foundation of the path up to that point and your guard against falling into … a bad place. So, since it’s far better to hang out at anāgāmī longer than necessary than to prematurely abandon shame, I would recommend holding on tight to your sense of morality. :wink:


Just saw one part of this sutta:

It’s when they do no bad deeds with their body; speak no bad words; think no bad thoughts; and don’t earn a living by bad livelihood.

Idha, thapati, na kāyena pāpakammaṃ karoti, na pāpakaṃ vācaṃ bhāsati, na pāpakaṃ saṅkappaṃ saṅkappeti, na pāpakaṃ ājīvaṃ ājīvati—

  • The Suttacentral lookup tool gives saṅkappa as : ‘intention, purpose’.
  • The PED gives saṅkappa as: thought, intention, purpose, plan

Even for the PED, 3 out of the 4 words are with the meaning of ‘purpose’, not ‘thought’, so it would seem they might mean ‘thought’ in the aspect of that word which denotes a plan/intention, not necesarily other kinds of thought.

So is this Pāli surely about not thinking bad thoughts? Or is it about not having bad intentions?

There’s a huge difference in those English expressions. For example some people get very worries if they have any thoughts of killing or injuring someone. And they often have absolutely no intention of having those thoughts. But it has been my understanding that the Buddha would not regard having a violent though as bad kamma, if there were no bad intention associated with it.

Similarly the idea of negative kamma being about negative intention, would seem to fit with the idea the dictionaries suggest for this word, ‘have no bad intentions’.


Not sure if I should have answered that here, or made a new thread? Came across my query from reading this sutta from the link but, I guess it’s a different topic…?

I feel it’s somewhere in the middle. The sutta that you quote has “stuff that you do with your body”, “stuff you say” and accordingly “stuff that you do with your mind”. And here you have into account some unconscious actions and intentions as well.

Sometimes we do bad things and somehow we know, but not very consciously. This doesn’t prevent us from trouble, and we realize it later on. Hence, the strong version of sankappa as ‘thought-out plan’ is too conscious.

The pre-Buddhist sanskrit supports both, with a leaning toward determination.

So you’re right, a flimsy memory of my cat is most probably not a sankappa.


Well there’s plenty more that one does with ones mind than mere thinking! ‘Thought’ is specifically narrow in what it excludes from mental action, in that it exluces non-thought; and also specifically wide in what it includes, since it includes thoughts with no associated intention.

‘Intention’ or the whole cluster of plan/intention meaning, is much narrower than ‘thought’, in that it exludes thoughts with no associated intention; and broader than ‘thought’ in that it covers non-thought aspects of mental functioning - you could have an emotion-based intention that’s not even made conceptual, for example.

  1. What do you mean by determination? Do you mean like ‘intention’? If so, this does support my argument.
  2. If the pre-Buddhist definition contradicts my argument, I don’t think it’s enough to refute it, since the Buddha was known to have made his own definition for common words. So I think we should establish the meaning from the Pāli or other EBT’s.

If it doesn’t mean ‘intention’-type meaning, or, does but categorically only includes thoughts, then I think ‘thought’ could be correct. However, if it is ‘in the middle’ in the sense of being able to include thoughs, but actually does mean ‘intention’-type meaning, then I think it cannot be rightly translated as ‘thought’, but rather something like ‘intention’.

However, my aim is not to argue for only one right way to translate it as one English word, but rather to firmly establish the meaning of this term in the Pāli.


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I couldn’t separate the two that clearly and think it still holds true, like Wittgenstein wrote, that categorizing mental phenomena is like categorizing clouds: we have a prototypical formation in mind, but nature doesn’t care much about our neat categories.

So while a rather clear non-thought intention exists, they will be often mixed in daily life. The thought of my friend for example includes the budding intention to call him. Thinking about vacation is part of setting it into motion. “I think I’m going home early today” - am I here the recipient of intention or an agent?

Distinctions are there but clear-cut only in simplified philosophical investigations.

Sankalpa in the Kausitaki Brahmana is a stronger intention while in the Chandogya Upanisad it’s the sense object of the mind (like ‘form’ for seeing).

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I think this is where psychology and neuroscience come in handy.
I do not have neat categories for the taste of wine. I have two main categories:

  • I like it
  • I don’t like it

I have some more loose categories, such as

  • Seems to have a lot of tannin - nice
  • Too sweet for me

I could say it’s like “categorising clouds”.
And yet, I am aware that it is possible to have a far more refined understanding. I went to a wine tasting dinner once, which was very interesting. I like to hear about things from people who are really into that thing. And the guy was, talking abuot various aspects of each wine. And I could get a lot of it! It opened up my palette and more specifically my awareness, to a far more refined perception of the different qualities I could experience in the wines.

And I remain with the sense that there are people who genuinely are able to differentiate many qualities in wine which I am unable to do. That is to say, I do not take my own inability to discriminate, to mean that it is categorically impossible to have discrimination of these qualities beyond my own current ability.

Similarly, I discern a lot in music which some others do not.

As for the Buddha - I feel that we should be careful about imposing our own lack of clarity, onto the Buddha. And this is where translatoin becomes so interesting, in my opinion. In this case, I am curious if the Buddha may have been more particular and specific than we often translate him as being. And I think the way to investigate that lies partly in a close analysis of exactly how he used certain terms, in the descrpitions he gave of mental processes and mental practices.

I will also say that I tend to think of words, as referring to ‘clouds’. This is an analogy, but one which I have come to like. I consider meaning to be like a cloud, and a word refers to a cloud of meaning. That is to say, a domain of meaning, metaphorically defined by the boundaies of the cloud.

Now, this metaphor is useful for translation, because we can consider that different languages have different clouds. Occasionally a word in one language refers to exactly the same cloud as another word in another language. This I think is rare, especially when crossing language families or going further away in the lanuage tree. Some example are numbers, which are quite simple concepts and so often overlap precisely in meaning. However even there it’s not simple - the number 8 apparently had particular significance in the Buddha’s time and place. In Japan and China, the number 4 has specific connotations (of death), and so the cloud their number 4 refers to is actually considerably different from the English cloud 4 refers to. However, there is still a section of those clouds which perfectly overlap.

There are so many examples. Citta is a good Buddhist example, as is attā. We have no English words that have the same cluster of meaning, i.e. that refer to the same ‘cloud’, as these Pāli terms. But just because the meaning of words is ‘cloud-like’, that does not mean that the parameters of their meaning cannot be defined! It should be quite possible to define those parameters. Indeed that is the purpose of dictionaries.

Since I have become more aware of the differentiation of cognitive and affective aspects of my own mind and the mind of those around me (including my psychotherapy clients and music students), largely thanks to being opened to seeing these phenomena through learning by reading up on modern evidence in psychology and affective neuroscience, I have become more aware of the significance of this differentiation in the Buddha’s teachings. And this is why I bring such questions to this forum.

Going back to what you said regarding :

Let me give you an example. Suppose the thought occurs to you, ‘2+2=4’. Can you in this case not separate thought from intention? That is a thought. Do you class it as an intention? I, do not.

Let me give you now an example of something which many would consider to be a ‘bad’ thought - supposing someone has a thought about someone dying. They may consider that as being bad. But supposing they had no intention of killing that person, no intention of causing that person to die. Can you agree that this is a case of someone having a thought, but not an intention?

That is an example of thought associated with intention.

If you examine closely, I believe you will find that there were several different things arising in your mind in that case, and there would have been some sequence to it. For example, if I say I went to the shop, and then went to the pub and killed someone, we cannot say that going to the shop was an act of killing. There is a sequence of different events. Similarly, one can have a thought of a friend that arises simultaneously with a wish to call them. And, we can have a thought of a friend, devoid of intention, which then leads to the generation of intention to call them. In this latter case, it is improper to attribute the intention to the first event.

Basically, if we can establish that thought, and intention, are not synonymous, which I believe is firmly established, then we can consider which the Buddha was really talking about here.


Interesting. Again as I said before, if this disagrees with my proposed interpretation, this does not weaken the position, so lnog as my proposed position is in conformity with the early Pāli texts, our source material. But, out of interest, can you specify what kind of sense objects? What is the domain of meaning here - all sense objects, or if a specific category, what is the extend and the boundaries of that category?


Apologies, my memory failed me and it was the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad. BU 2.4.11 says:

It is like this. As the ocean is the point of convergence (ekāyana = meeting place, only way) of all the waters, so the skin is the point of convergence of all sensations of touch; the nostrils, of all odors; the tongue, of all tastes; sight, of all visible appearances; hearing, of all sounds; the mind (mana), of all the saṃkalpas; the heart, of all sciences; the hands, of all activities; the sexual organ, of all pleasures; the anus, of all excretions; the feet, of all travels; and speech, of all the Vedas.

Does this clarify things?
I think the context refers to very general mind-phenomena. Madhavananda translates samkalpa here as ‘deliberations’, which I find too specific compared with the other nouns.

I am btw generally in agreement of what you mean, I’m just more hesitant with specific words. For example takka is more clearly a thought a not an intention. So I guess we would have to check all appearances of sankappa in the suttas and see if they are all compatible with intention. While many would be compatible with thought as well it would be interesting if some were incompatible as well and must necessarily from the context be translated as intention.

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