Lobha, Dosa, Moha

Dear Bhante @sujato and Ajahn @Brahmali,

Could you please share your preferred translation of lobha, dosa, moha?

Thank you :anjal:


Nice to hear from you Rudite.

Yes, I am not sure if the usual translations of these three words are quite satisfactory. Much of the time translators try to stick to a policy of giving each Pali word a specific English equivalent. This can lead to some very strange renderings, such as translating abhijjhā-domanassa (as in the Satipaṭṭhāna-sutta) as “covetousness and grief,” when it really means “desire and aversion” in the realm of sensual pleasures. In the present case, this policy leads to translating lobha, dosa, moha as “greed, hatred, and delusion,” because most of the more reasonable words are already taken up to translate other Pali terms.

An important point, it seems to me, is that although the Pali uses many different synonyms for a particular idea (desire: kāma, rāga, taṇhā, lobha, etc) this does not mean that we have to do the same in English. There are good reasons why the Pali is expressed in this way, such as stabilising an oral text. But this is not a problem we have to worry about now, and so there is really no need to replicate this feature in English. This means I think it is perfectly acceptable to translate different Pali words with the same English word or expression, just as it is acceptable to translate the same Pali word with different English renderings depending on the context. As Bhante Sujato has frequently pointed out, we should be careful with trying to over-determine the Pali text. When you translate each Pali word with a different English rendering, which implies that you understand subtle nuances of the original, you are giving the impression to the reader that you know more about the Pali than you actually do. And in the the process you are actually distorting the message of the original.

To get a feeling for what lobha, dosa, and moha mean, context, as always, is very helpful. The three words are commonly used to describe the three bad motivations in making kamma, and much of their meaning can be understood on this basis. Lobha is essentially a synonym for sensual desire, which means that the translation “greed” is too limited. If someone has an extramarital affair, we would not normally call that “greed,” but it is certainly included within lobha. So one could just translate lobha as “desire,” while keeping in mind that it refers to unwholesome desires.

There is a similar problem with translating dosa as “hatred.” Hatred is a very strong word, whereas any degree of ill-will can be a basis for bad kamma. So “anger” or “ill-will” would be much preferable in this case.

Translating moha as “delusion” is also fraught. Delusion is commonly used to describe the deep delusion of a sense of self, whereas moha often refers to a state of mind where one lacks clarity and on that basis makes bad kamma. Just to state the obvious, one may have a sense of self and still make good kamma. For this reason I would prefer “confusion” for moha, since confusion is normally used in a more relative sense, and it does not normally refer to a deep misapprehension of the nature of the mind.

Translation work is difficult. Having criticised some of the great translators of our time, I should straightaway say I have enormous respect for them. But by standing on the shoulders of giants, perhaps we can improve the translations a bit further. (While now doubt introducing many new mistakes!)


Love these explanations, Bhante.

I especially like the idea of thinking of moha as confusion rather than delusion, because it helps to understand why the three go together as a set. Desire and ill-will are things you can consciously experience, and so something that being mindful helps you deal with and drop. The same is somewhat true of confusion, because when you are confused, you have direct experience of a bewildered and unsettled state, and can mitigate it by settling yourself, being more heedful, and clarifying your mind. But delusion isn’t like that. One can’t “let go” of delusion, because it is of the nature of a delusion that you don’t know what you are in error about.


So far I’ve been using “greed, hate, delusion”

ducks and covers :blush:

I don’t really have too much to say against Ven @Brahmali’s arguments above, nor am I particularly wedded to these choices. But I will mention just two issues:

  1. Nothing is perfect! I can look at Brahmali’s suggestions and find fault with all of them. “Desire” makes it impossible to maintain the actually meaningful distinction between the ethically neutral chanda and (almost) always negative forms of desire. Sure, you can find another word for chanda, but, given the narrowness of the semantic field, it is almost certain that that will impact on some other choice.
  2. At least as important as consistent meaning is the problem of just making the darn sentences work. Words in Pali tend to get used in all kinds of constructions—as verbs, different tenses and numbers, passive, active, as synonyms, in negative forms, etc., etc.—and, while it is impossible to capture all these in English, and folly to try, keeping a reasonable consistency in rendering is one way of maintaining some semblance of order. It is far from everything, but it helps to get a start in how to handle a sentence, and forces a degree of discipline in terms of how it is rendered. The more you drift from consistency, the more you have to go back to the drawing board with each new sentence, each reformulation of the same idea. And the harder it is for a reader to understand that this is, in fact, just a reformulation of the same ideas. (See my recent comments on the Mettagu-puccha, for example: a more strictly consistent translation would have been less inviting of misinterpretation, making the links with the prose texts more apparent.)

If we move incrementally from existing patterns, we can at least have some grasp of what the unintended consequences of these renderings might be, and can adjust accordingly. We can correct “covetousness and grief” without creating new problems.

The more our renderings depart from accepted usage, the more these changes will cascade through the translation with unpredictable side-effects. We know of the side-effects of choosing “becoming” to render bhava, because we have seen generations of how this has been misinterpreted. We don’t know what will happen with our new approaches, because we can’t predict how the text will be hacked and appropriated.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that consistency with previous translations should be a priority. On the contrary, I think it is good to break consistency; it prompts new ways of seeing. All I’m saying is that any change will, as well as advantages (assāda), have drawbacks (ādīnava), and we don’t know what they are—they are known unknowns, if you will. The approaches that have been used in the past have evolved for a reason: they solve actual problems. Maybe they’re not the best solution, so if there is a better way, have at it!

tl;dr: One of the many lessons I learned from Isaac Asimov in my scifi geekdom days—apart from “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”—was his quote from Emerson:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Hopefully it is possible to achieve a wise consistency.


I should have said “sense desire” rather than just desire. The distinction between chanda and unwholesome forms of desire is definitely important to keep.

Indeed. This has occurred to me, of course. And this is part of the reason it is wise to have respect for previous translators. I think what we should do, however, is to make notes every time something seems a bit out of whack. This gives us the opportunity to make changes later on. It is too easy to gloss over these problems and then never really consider them properly. I know I do this all the time, and I wish to change my bad habits. I want the final product to be readable, meaningful, and as close to the Buddha’s intent as possible.

I think the least problematic of my above suggestions - and they were really just responses to Rudite, not translation suggestions as such - is changing moha to “confusion.” This opens up some interesting possibilities in how one might translate avijjā/vijjā. I am not really happy with my current translation of these terms. But I’ll leave that for later.

So I guess you are just proving this saying by contradicting everything you have just said? That leaves me hopeful.


Also an advantage of consistency: you can find and replace everything when you change your mind!


Thank you very much Ajahn @Brahmali and Bhante @sujato :anjal:, very helpful!

By the way, in Latvian the word for “anger” is dusmas, to me it sounds quite close to dosa in Pali. Probably not so important and not really helpful to find a good translation, but interesting anyway :slight_smile:


The advantage of IT shouldn’t be lost. We can literally place the cursor over a word and get a number of identified meanings, especially when one word doesn’t necessarily convey a meaning.

Hi everyone.

Hope that helps.

Sanskrit references


In Sanskrit, the root is √ लुभ् lubh

  • To be perplexed or disturbed, become disordered, go astray (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa).

  • To confound, bewilder, perplex, derange (Śathaphana Brāhmaṇa).

  • To cause to desire or long for, excite lust, allure, entice, attract - or - to desire greatly or eagerly, long for, be interested in (Mahabharata; But that might be a later meaning).


  • Alobha: “non-confusion”, steadiness (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa).


  • Bewildered, confused (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa).

  • Greedy, covetous, avaricious, desirous of or longing for (MBh).


राग rāga: has the meaning of colouring or dying. Also in what might be late MBh and in Upaniśad (?), it has the meaning of: “any feeling or passion, (especially) love, affection or sympathy for, vehement desire of, interest or joy or delight in”.


In Sanskrit, the root is √ मुह् muh.

  • Become stupefied or unconscious, be bewildered or perplexed, err, be mistaken, go astray (Ṛg Veda).
  • To stupefy, bewilder, confound, perplex, cause to err or fail (Ṛg Veda).
  • To become confused, fail, miscarry (Śathaphana Brāhmaṇa).

Manomuh: perplexing or bewildering the mind (Atharva veda)


  • Loss of consciousness, bewilderment, perplexity, distraction, infatuation, delusion, error, folly. (Atharva Veda).


In Sanskrit, the root is दुष् √duṣ

  • To become bad or corrupted, to be defiled or impure, to be ruined, perish ; to sin, commit a fault, be wrong (Aitareya B - Chāndogya U)

  • duṣkṛt - acting wickedly, criminal, evil-doer (Ṛg Veda - Atharva Veda - MBh).

  • duṣṭi - corruption, defilement, depravity (Atharva Veda).

  • viḍus - to defile, corrupt, disgrace (Ṛg Veda)

It has retained later on, the general meaning of wickedness and corruption.

As दुष्ट DUṢṬA:

  • duṣṭa - guilty, culpable (Ṣrauta sūtra).

Duṣṭa has the general meaning of defective, faulty, bad, wicked, malignant, offensive, inimical, a villain, rogue, evil-natured, malignant, vicious.

As दोष DOṢA:

  • Offence, transgression, guilt, crime (Śrauta sutra?)
  • Fault, vice, deficiency, want, inconvenience, disadvantage (Upaniṣad?)

Sutta references


AN 6.44

AN 10.174

SN 1.29

SN 35.127
In this sutta there is the pericope “Lolaṃ kho, bho bhāradvāja, cittaṃ". Bodhi has translated lola as wanton.
लोल lola [√lul] in Sanskrit means: moving hither and thither, shaking, rolling, tossing, dangling, swinging, agitated, unsteady, restless (MBh).
This goes pretty much along with: “being disturbed, becoming disordered,” from the √ lubh above. And with “bewildered - deranged”, from the texts referenced above.

Lobha seems to convey the meaning of being unsteady from a (sensual) stimulus.


SN 1.46

SN 56.41
This sutta shows the meaning of stupefaction that is carried by the Sanskrit √ muh; particularly from the Ṛg Veda reference.

“Stupefaction towards unexpected things (& experiences)” seems to be the meaning of moha.
“Bewilderment, or confusion resulting from the failure to understand”, seems to be an adequate (long) definition.


“And how is hostility (offensiveness, wickedness,) born of affection? There is the case where an individual is pleasing, appealing, & charming to (another) individual. Others treat that individual as displeasing, unappealing, & not charming, and the other one thinks, ‘This individual is pleasing, appealing, & charming to me. Others treat this individual as displeasing, unappealing, & not charming.’ He gives rise to hostility for them. This is how hostility is born of affection.
AN 4.200

Here, friends, I see a certain person being reprimanded at an improper time, not moved (motivated) at a proper time; being reprimanded about what is false, not being moved (motivated) about what is true; being reprimanded harshly, not being moved gently; being reprimanded in a harmful way, not being moved in a beneficial way; being reprimanded by one with hostility, not being moved by one with a citta of loving-kindness.
Idhāhaṃ, āvuso, ekaccaṃ puggalaṃ passāmi akālena codiyamānaṃ no kālena kupitaṃ, abhūtena codiyamānaṃ no bhūtena kupitaṃ, pharusena codiyamānaṃ no saṇhena kupitaṃ, anatthasaṃhitena codiyamānaṃ no atthasaṃhitena kupitaṃ, dosantarena codiyamānaṃ no mettacittena kupitaṃ.
AN 5.167

“If one does not grant pardon to those who confess transgression - Angry at heart, intent on hostility , One strongly harbours enmity.
Accayaṃ desayantīnaṃ yo ce na paṭigaṇhati - Kopantaro dosagaru, sa veraṃ paṭimuñcati.
SN 1.35

"Lust and corruption (depravity) have their cause here (in this - the following):
Rāgo ca doso ca itonidānā:

Developed from affection (fondness for), arisen from oneself,
Snehajā attasambhūtā
Strongly attached to manifold sensual pleasures
Puthū visattā kāmesu
SN 10.3

Having heard sounds both pleasant and raucous,
Do not be enthralled with pleasant sound.
Dispel the course of hate (hostility) towards the raucous,
And do not soil the mind by thinking,
‘This one is displeasing to me.’
SN 35.94

One has not dispelled hostility. Because he has not dispelled hostility, other people disturb him. Being disturbed by others, he manifests mental disturbance: he is reckoned as violent.
Doso appahīno hoti. Dosassa appahīnattā pare kopenti, parehi kopiyamāno kopaṃ pātukaroti. So caṇḍotveva saṅkhaṃ gacchati.
SN 42.1

Dosa seems to convey the meaning of: Hostility, wickedness, corruption, depravity, defilement.



I think it is important that we should have the option of translating different Pali words with the same English word or expression. Perhaps this could be done by marking the English words that are equivalent to more than one Pali word with some kind of marker, by which the individual usages could be traced. The marker would not appear in the actual text. This would then enable you to make changes to subgroups of English words using find and replace. It seems to me that this should not be too difficult to do with the software that you are currently using.


You have to go over every word in the translation and insert the metadata. It’s not impossible, but would take a lot of work. Practically speaking, the saner option is to make it possible to see the underlying Pali text segment.


One idea is, in any substantive discussion or essay, to provide a glossary of translation choices (with rationale) for crucial terms one employs in a specific writing. (Allows for the possibility of changing one’s mind in a different context.) V. Nanamoli does this – explaining more informally in footnotes what appears in the glossaries in his Visuddhimagga translation.

Short of claiming authoritative depth of experience or expertise, I’ve taken an active interest in this area, ever since being taken-back by the range of conflicting choices of English terms by various translators, e.g. for the classic progression of mental qualities in jhana-entry – (B.Bodhi DN2.75; CST40 225)
‘‘Tassime pañca nīvaraṇe pahīne attani samanupassato pāmojjaṃ jāyati,
pamuditassa pīti jāyati, pītimanassa kāyo passambhati, passaddhakāyo sukhaṃ vedeti, sukhino cittaṃ samādhiyati."
Pamojja → piti → passaddhi → sukha → samādhi.
One translator using “joy” where another uses “rapture” or “delight” for piti;
and then “bliss” or “joy” for sukha;
or even “joy” for “pamojja”,

So here some thoughts:

For lobha and dosa, I like to think of them as getting caught-up in reaction to the two primal vedana-s (“feeling-tones”, instinctual organic responses), i.e. actively wanting, moving towards some pleasing stimulus, or actively dis-wanting, moving away (ab-verting = aversion) from a displeasing one.

For moha, “confusion” (pouring, mixing together) has advantages (as mentioned above); perhaps as “blind confusion”, lack of discrimination, rather than simple momentary uncertainty (e.g. aporeia).

“Covetousness and grief” – abhijja does have the sense of coveting, but the Pali seems to have a bit stronger, more colorful, sense: “burning for beyond” (jhayati-abhi). And domanassa seems s/w less specific than “grief” with it’s overtone of grieving for loss; more just mental ill-ease, perhaps dis-ease (du-/do- as in dukkha, and mano as generally mental).

To divert slightly, a problem with (high) English is the standard prejudice against freely fabricating new words, as common in Pali, or German, classical Greek, etc. B. Bodhi refers to this in a comment (on translating ekāyana), that he found difficulty trying to stick to using single English words for single Pali words (following Nyanaponika, if I recall).


I always thought if translating dosa as aversion, then lobha should be logically paired as attraction.


I currently see these as branching from the deeper moha, but that they branch in opposite directions. Movement towards and away grounded in delusion/confusion. Of course, then lobha has to be qualified as sensual attraction as Bhikkhu Brahmali has pointed out to distinguish from attraction to the dhamma or desire for spiritual-states/liberation.

I’ve been looking for the etymology of “love”.

In Old German there is “liubi”, and a current German girl firstname is “Lioba”, referred to as “Love” or “Heart”. In Dutch (my mothertongue) it’s “liefde”, and the current German is “Liebe”.

So now I was curious if the English word “love” comes from Pali “lhoba”, because that would make a lot of sense to me. Even more so, since German and Dutch are one of the over 400 “indo-german languages” spoken mostly in Europe and Asia. The word of course refers to India, and that is the link to Pali.

Following the discussion above, this would mean that “love” historically refers to unwholesome, or even sensual desires. Whereas in current English, “love” stands for a much broader concept.

Any etymologists in the room?


I never thought of it, but yes, it seems like a plausible source. The online etymological dictionary concurs, so I think you’re on to something.