Kāya­daḷhi­bahulā - ‘formers of cliques’ instead of "body-builders" in the Vinaya?

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I was looking at Ajahn Brahmali’s translation of some of the Vinaya, and came across this passage talking about Dabba the Malian assigning different dwelling places to different groups of monks. The Pali is:

Ye te bhikkhū tiracchā­na­ka­thikā kāya­daḷhi­bahulā viharanti tesampi ekajjhaṃ senāsanaṃ paññapeti—

and the English:

and for the gossips and the body-builders, thinking,

and kāya­daḷhi­bahulā is translated into English as ‘body-builders’. Initially, I thought maybe that this was a reference to some sort of yoga or martial arts practitioners, but looking at the dictionary, I noticed that kāya can also mean ‘group or assembly’. From the context, placing them together with the gossips/those given to frivolous talk, it seems more likely that kāya­daḷhi­bahulā is meant to mean something like ‘formers of cliques’ or ‘social butterflies’ or ‘those who gather in groups’, rather than ‘body-builders’ in the sense of those cultivating physical development.

Rhys-Davids’ PED has kāya­daḷhi­bahulā as ‘strong in body, athletic’ (entry for ‘dalhī’, pg 315 in my edition) and Horner seems to have followed that translation in the Culavagga. The only other reference I see to the compound in the PED is in a Jataka that doesn’t show up on the site- PTS Jataka Vol. III num. 310. Other than kāya, the other elements of the compound seem to come from dalhi/daddha - ‘making firm’, bahulā - ‘many, large, abundant’.

Rhys-Davids seems to be basing his reading on the commentary (?) from what I can tell, but unless the Jataka that I’m not seeing has something definitive, it seems odd that ‘body builders’- who aren’t mentioned anywhere else I can find in the text as a category of monks- would be grouped together with ‘gossips’, whereas putting them together with people who like to gather in groups makes much more sense.

I was actually kind of hoping for some sort of reference to yogis or kung fu practitioners in the early texts, but a mistranslation seems more likely!


To me these were either monks interested in keeping a body fit or monks just in the Sangha for the free food (and therefore building up their body mass!). :sweat_smile:

And the beauty of it all is that the Buddha and the early Sangha apparently tolerated the presence of those individuals.

I believe this was due to compassion and confidence that little by little the exposure to Dhamma-vinaya allows such characters to eventually change their ways and make progress in the spiritual path they originally chose to take.



Could we check how the term was translated to Chinese in the parallel vinaya texts of northern traditions?


I am pretty sure my translation is correct. The point is not so much that this is a particular category of monk, as you suggest, but that they are a worldly sort of monk, barely worthy of the name. This is why they are grouped with gossips. They were not into marital arts, but merely attached to their bodies. And it’s not just me: all the best dictionaries agree that this is what it means, including Margaret Cone’s Dictionary of Pali and the Critical Pali Dictionary.


Thanks for your reply Ajahn- the CPD information is very interesting! (see below)

I’m just curious why kāya would be read to as ‘body’ here when there is nothing in the rest of the text that suggests ‘athlete’ or ‘body-builder’, and reading it as ‘group’ to suggest ‘those who form/gather into groups’ or even ‘the ones who increase the number/abundance of groups’ makes so much more sense in context.

All of the rest of the groupings that Dabba forms have a clear logic- the meditators won’t disturb each other, the Vinaya experts will discuss the law, the reciters will chant together, etc… ‘Gossips’ and ‘people who like to gather in groups’ would naturally get along, and no one else would be disturbed by the din of conversation. Whether these monks ‘gather in groups’ or ‘increase the number of groups’, this suggests social and possibly politicking monks who would naturally get along with gossips.

There are a lot of terms that could describe mediocre, gluttonous, or materialistic monks in order to connect them to ‘gossips’ as generically ‘bad monks’, but calling them ‘[devoted to] the abundant strengthening of the body’ or ‘body-builder’ seems like a needlessly cryptic way of describing that situation. There are other words used for athletes or people devoted to strength- balavataṃ, malla (‘wrestler’) but nothing about the context suggests athleticism.

Looking at the Critical Pāli dictionary, the reference in the Vinaya seems like it might be the only canonical use of the term, and later texts took their interpretation from there and the commentaries, with variations between different recensions of the original. That suggests to me that maybe it had become corrupt, or the exact meaning wasn’t clear from an early stage- if someone isn’t clear on what a compound means, it’s more likely that its spelling is going to drift over time. I know in other cases (like the Mahaparinibbana Sutta), the precise meaning of rare compounds was lost, and spurious interpretations offered in the commentarial era might have been repeated on their authority.

I just wonder if that isn’t the case here- the precise meaning of a compound only used once or twice is forgotten, someone reads kāya as body rather than group (that being the more conventional translation), and then a chain of mental gymnastics is introduced in the commentary to try to make it make sense and other works repeat the spurious interpretation.


But pakkha (or some compound formed with it) would be the natural Vinaya term for that. I don’t think a group of bhikkhus is ever called a kāya.


But pakkha (or some compound formed with it) would be the natural Vinaya term for that. I don’t think a group of bhikkhus is ever called a kāya.

It’s given as a first definition in both the PED and the CPD:

kāya, m. [ts., cf. EWA-2 cay2, BHSD, SWTF, q.v.], accumulation (etymol. meaning, hence): 1.a. (inanimate) mass, multitude; 1.b. (animate) group, assembly;


  1. Kāya (p. 209) Kāya Kāya [der. probably fr. ci, cinoti to heap up, cp. nikāya heaping up, accumulation or collection; Sk. kāya] group, heap, collection, aggregate, body. mahājana-kāya a collection of people, a crowd

Pakkha seems to refer specifically to a party or faction (deriving from ‘side’, or ‘wing’, as in ‘left wing’, ‘conservative wing’, as of a political party), whereas this would literally just be referring to a clump of people, not any kind of organized faction.

As a parallel in English, one might (especially in, say, Victorian-era English) say that ‘the entire body retired to the drawing room’ or a speaker might call Parliament ‘this assembled body’. It isn’t particular to any type of people, just a collective noun for a formal or informal group. If the intended meaning was ‘those who gather a/in crowd(s)’, the term used might not be specific to monks at all.


It’s a cool idea. It’s just substantiating it that seems the problem.


It’s a cool idea. It’s just substantiating it that seems the problem.

I’ll see if I can find other uses of kāya for crowd/group of people- there must be a reason why the editors of the PED and CPD place the ‘group’ meaning ahead of the more well-known ‘body’ (as in physical form) meaning.

Beyond that, to a certain extent I think that in the context of a story about grouping like with like, there is some onus on the commentarians to explain why ‘gossips’ are like ‘body builders’. Even if the intended meaning is about shoddy monks, neither ‘athlete’ nor ‘body builder’ really conveys any of that meaning. The traditional translations seem either harder to substantiate or misleading.

Thinking about it more, the translation ‘those who gather/draw a crowd’ actually makes a lot of sense in terms of the specific components of the compound. There are always people- not necessarily teachers, but simply popular or charismatic individuals- that others gather around in an unstructured social setting.

Gossips and body-builders are not really a logical pairing, but gossips and ‘the popular kids’ has a solid anthropological pedigree :wink:


Probably because it is used in the sense of a “grouping” in many places. But it’s also used for “body”.

Harivarman, Sātyasiddhiśāstra at varga 62 (nācaitasikavarga), for example:

ya ādhyātmiko 'sti vijñānakāyāḥ

That is in it’s ‘grouping’ sense.


‘mahājanakāyo’ seems to be used pretty frequently to specifically refer to a ‘large crowd’, particularly to a gathering of the public. ‘mahājana’ means ‘the public’, so crowd that is not part of a public throng- a knot of people gathering around a popular monk- would fit with ‘kāya’ with other modifiers.


Yes, I’m aware that ‘kāya’ can mean a body of persons. But it would rather count against your proposal if the texts lacked even a single instance of groups of bhikkhus being referred to in this way, rather than as saṅghas, parisās, gaṇas, nikāyas, vaggas or pakkhas.


That’s a fair point. By the same logic though, if no term translatable as ‘body building’ or ‘physical development’ is used elsewhere in the texts to refer to lackluster monks, that also seems to suggest that this is a misunderstanding in the commentary, given the fundamental incongruity of the situation. Also, ‘gathering a crowd’ doesn’t necessarily need to refer to an assembly of monks- a monk who was regularly visited by family members or other lay people might also be a ‘kāyadalhibhulā’.

Most of the terms you mention seem to refer to formal assemblies or identifiable factions- groups that have an identity as such, rather than just a crowd. Some of them also suggest a group of large size, while the definition for kāya reserves the meaning ‘multitude’ only for groups of inanimates.

Searching, I can’t find anything like ‘crowd of monks’ that suggests an informal and unordered gathering, rather than an organized group/faction, a specific sub-set of monks being identified by some characteristic, or a formally assembled group. I can’t find another term that quite means ‘gathering a crowd’, either- it looks like it might occur in a couple of Jataka, but the complete Pali isn’t available for them. One I did find used ‘Samāgata’, ‘assembled’, but it’s talking about people traveling from the country to see something rather than a crowd forming.

Meanwhile, kāya is repeatedly used to mean this kind of group in the compound mahājanakāyo- a crowd that gathers in the streets, on the banks of a river, etc., where people would normally be coming and going.


In my experience one should be careful with throwing out commentarial explanations unless there are very good reasons for doing so. The commentaries are an accumulation of knowledge and wisdom by some of the most eminent monks in the Sangha, spanning the whole history of Buddhism. Over time, I have gained a heightened respect for the commentarial tradition.

You say body-builders and gossips are not a natural pairing. But I am not sure if I agree with this. Gossips are interested in worldly things, much of which revolves around sensuality. Strengthening one’s body, too, is normally related to sensuality. But the main point is perhaps that both of these groups represent monks who are not much interested in the Dhamma, and as such they are separated from all the other groups, all of which represent monks who in different ways focus on Dhamma practice.

There is a little feature of the Pali that underlines the same point. The relevant text reads:

Ye te bhikkhū tiracchā­na­ka­thikā kāya­daḷhi­bahulā viharanti tesampi ekajjhaṃ senāsanaṃ paññapeti—“imāyapime āyasmanto ratiyā acchissantī”ti.

… and for the gossips and the body-builders, thinking, “In this way even these venerables will be happy.”

The feature I have in mind is imāyapime, which is a contraction of imāya pi ime. In this context pi is likely to mean “even”. This word is not found for any of the other categories of monks, suggesting that this category is somehow special. In other words, Dabba the Mallian “even” looked after the monks who were far from living up to the expected ideal.

I applaud your inquisitiveness and willingness to challenge received opinion. At the same time I would urge you not to dismiss too readily the collective understanding of millennia of tradition. As so often, there is an elusive middle way that will give the best results in interpreting the Dhamma.


I don’t wish to give the impression that I disregard the commentaries or am advocating for throwing them out willy-nilly. One of my reasons for posting this topic is that I was hoping that there might be more information available in the commentaries that I don’t have access to that provides some background on what is going in in this situation, or with this particular term- I see that something quite similar turns up in the 5th section of the Therigatha Aṭṭhakathā but don’t have access to a translation and haven’t had a chance to dig into it in any depth. I’m wondering if there is anywhere specifically, maybe in the commentary, where this meaning of kāyadalhibhulā is derived or if everything just stems from Rhys-Davids’ interpretation of a rare compound.

If these fellows were ‘body builders’ as the term is ordinarily understood, it just seems that this would be something that would be mentioned elsewhere- it stood out to me because I haven’t seen it in any other context in the Canon, and because it’s a suggestive reference given the connections between the Buddhist tradition and various yogic or martial disciplines. Gossips are mentioned elsewhere, and this seems to be a distinctive type of fault or orientation, given that the other categories are monastic vocations- it would be quite surprising if the early Sangha or the later Theravada tradition included people who were explicitly practicing some kind of physical cultivation but it wasn’t included anywhere in the canon or commentary except in a story about housing.

If, on the other hand, kāyadalhibhulā is a term for a superficial monk who is just in it for the free meals and there is no kind of structured physical practice taking place, then the translations proffered by Horner and the dictionaries of ‘athlete’ or ‘body builder’ don’t really convey that and maybe mislead the reader a bit. It violates the reader’s expectations of what those terms mean in English to call a freeloader an ‘athlete’ or ‘body builder’ because they are only concerned with keeping body and soul together.

With respect to imāyapime, I also noticed that the final clause of this section is different from the earlier ones and wondered if it was significant. The others have a logical connection to the type of monk mentioned, whereas this one just has the more generic ‘it would be pleasing even to them’. One observation is that the lack of a specific connection drawn between the two categories of monk makes it more likely for the meaning to become obscure. Another is that whether kāyadalhibhulā monks are superficial body builders or monks who congregate in noisy groups, the same situation would hold- these aren’t particularly observant monks, but Dabba is going out of his way to accommodate them. In fact, if the two terms were linked or combined in some way originally- gossips who are habitually forming into bigger and bigger groups- then it makes as much sense or more sense, because they will have a larger group of willing participants to draw from.

So I respect the wisdom that is collected within the commentaries, but I’m also mindful that their authors weren’t infallible, and by the time they were written there were already things about the canonical texts that had become obscure and were prone to imaginative elaboration. In this case, it seems we either have a rare compound that became obscure and was then elaborated on, or we have a novel category of monastics who don’t seem to be discussed anywhere else, or we have an overly literal translation that goes back to Rhys-David but doesn’t convey the facts of the situation and is likely to mislead the reader.


Hi @wkhtfb, Can you confirm there is no equivalent of the term kāya­daḷhi­bahulā to be found in the Chinese vinaya parallels?


Thanks for your contribution- I was hoping someone else could compare with the other Vinayas as @gnlaera suggested above, since I’m not able to read their Chinese forms. My initial question was primarily about a Pāli term but I certainly wasn’t intending any kind of sectarian claim about the Pāli Vinaya- it was simply the only place where I encountered this particular claim about ‘body builders’ being a recognized faction of the Sangha.


although the list ends by grouping those 無威儀 (without deportment) with one another.

So this seems to accord with the ‘gossips and crowd gatherers’ interpretation- no kind of ‘physical adept’ is specified in the Mahāsāṃghika version, just a grouping of ill-behaved monks.

The lists from the other Vinayas are quite standard and very similar to the initial list found in the Pali (suttantikā, vinayadharā, dhammakathikā, jhāyino)

Do the other Vinayas end their lists with the meditators, or do they also have a grouping of those ‘without deportment’ or similar as the Mahāsāṃghika does?

Thanks again for adding this to the discussion!


There is the beautiful English word “gregarious”. Does it not refer to a person, who likes to be in a crowd? It would be the opposite of a seeker for seclusion (viveka). A person who likes (to mix with) large crowds …


@akincana Yes, ‘gregarious’ would be quite close in meaning to what I am suggesting.

Post-canonically, ‘Kāya­daḷhi­bahulā’ occurs in the Visuddhimagga in the discussion of suitable circumstances for meditation practice. Bhikkhu Nanamoli translates it as ‘one who is much concerned about caring for the body’, (following the Vsm-mht definition which he gives as ‘one who is occupied in caring for and exercising the body’) and it says they ‘create disturbances, like adding muddy water to clear water’. It again occurs in a pairing with ‘one addicted to aimless talk’, suggesting that this phrase in the Vinaya is the origin. Again, we see ‘tiracchā­na­ka­thikā kāya­daḷhi­bahulā’ grouped together as the type of monks likely to cause disturbances, but no discussion of any kind of physical practice.

The Visuddhimagga also adds: “And it was owing to one such as this that the attainments of the young bhikkhu who lived at Kotapabbata vanished, not to mention the sign.” This seems to refer to a mountain vihara in Rohana in Southern Sri Lanka- does anyone know the rest of the story?

One candidate might be a story from the Mahavamsa, where a samanera (‘young monk’) lives at Kotapabbata and frequently climbs the mountain to visit a stupa near the peak, even hauling up large stones for stairs to make the climb easier. His health becomes poor as a result of these exertions, and he eventually passes away and is reborn as Prince Gamani, the future king Dutthugamani. This comes from a portion of the Mahavamsa that is thought to have circulated as a popular epic before being composed in Pāli, so it’s possible Buddhaghosa would have heard some version of it, even though the Mhv is generally thought to have been composed after his lifetime.

It would be a little strange to be lamenting the death of this particular monk, since Dutthugamani was a popular hero in Sri Lanka, but it’s possible that Buddhaghosa heard a precursor version of the story. Of course, it’s possible that Buddhaghosa had someone completely different in mind, who had passed from memory by the time the commentators needed to define tiracchā­na­ka­thikā kāya­daḷhi­bahulā, and the connection between the Mahavamsa story and obsessive exercise was made by them.