MN 23: The meaning of 'kodhūpāyā­sa'?

Dear forum

I was reading a question on the Dhamma Wheel forum, asking for a Buddhist equivalent to the Christian mysticism notion of ‘dark night of the soul’ (for which no direct reply was given). This question drew my attention to MN 23, which states:

Uddhumāyikā’ti kho, bhikkhu, kodhūpāyā­sas­setaṃ adhivacanaṃ. Ukkhipa uddhumāyikaṃ, pajaha kodhūpāyāsaṃ; abhikkhaṇa, sumedha, satthaṃ ādāyāti ayametassa attho.

The frog, monk, this is a synonym for the turbulence of wrath. Take out the frog, get rid of the turbulence of wrath, dig, clever one, bringing a tool. This is the meaning of that.

The word ‘kodha’ is anger. The word ‘upāyāsa’ is commonly translated as ‘despair’. I recall when I browsed the PTS MN, back in 1991, the translation was literally this, namely, ‘angry despair’. At the time, I recall I thought it referred to a ‘righteous indignation’ towards the world; typical of the wrath described of Biblical prophets. Therefore, it may not equate to an ‘existential despair’, which is the ‘darknight’ experience.

I find the place of ‘kodhūpāyā­sa’ in the sequence of dhammas in MN 23 quite fitting because MN 23 refers to the body & mind that is on fire by day & fuming by night and includes ‘kodhūpāyā­sa’ after ignorance & before perplexity & before the five hindrances; thus seeming to place kodhūpāyā­sa’ in the period often called 'spiritual transition’.

Can @sujato, @Dhammanando or others kindly offer any scholarly or linguistic insights into this term '‘kodhūpāyā­sa’?

Thank you :seedling:

Kodhūpāyā­sa’ is also found in MN 54, which, similar to the idea of ‘spiritual transition’, refers to ‘the cutting off of affairs’, and is translated as:

Householder, there are these eight things in the Noble One’s Discipline that lead to the cutting off of affairs. What are the eight? With the support of the non-killing of living beings, the killing of living beings is to be abandoned. With the support of taking only what is given, the taking of what is not given is to be abandoned. With the support of truthful speech, false speech is to be abandoned. With the support of unmalicious speech, malicious speech is to be abandoned. With the support of no rapacity and greed, rapacity and greed are to be abandoned. With the support of no spite and scolding, spite and scolding are to be abandoned. With the support of no anger and irritation, anger and irritation (kodhūpāyā­sa) are to be abandoned. With the support of non-arrogance, arrogance is to be abandoned. These are the eight things, stated in brief without being expounded in detail, that lead to the cutting off of affairs in the Noble One’s Discipline.

A closer parallel would be nirāmisa domanassa, “spiritual sadness”, which is specifically the sadness that arises when longing for liberation.


Thank you, Sujato. You seem to be suggesting this, from your History of Mindfulness:

Spiritual painful feeling is the depression that arises as one longs for the peaceful liberations one has not yet realized…what the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta calls ‘spiritual depression’ (nirāmisa domanassa)

nirāmisa vā dukkhaṃ vedanaṃ vedayamāno ‘nirāmisaṃ dukkhaṃ vedanaṃ vedayāmī’ti pajānāti

When they have a spiritual painful feeling they clearly know ‘I have a spiritual painful feeling’.

MN 10