MN50 (The Rebuke of Māra): translation and interpretation queries

Dear Friends,

I am having some difficulties understanding the section SC 13 of this sutta and would really appreciate help in clarifying it for me.
I have 2 main questions:

  1. The adjectives pattakkhandhā adhomukhā madhurakajātā appear not to have been translated in Bhante @sujato’s English translation. Why the omission?

  2. How are we to understand the criticism levelled at the bhikkhus that they are like animals stalking their prey? Is it an accusation that the bhikkhus practice a form of meditation that involves intense focus on a single object (much as a cat hunting a mouse is seemingly totally absorbed in the the task)? Or, is it a more general criticism that these bhikkhus who sit around meditating with seeming total absorption look (to the casual observer) no better than animals patiently stalking their prey. In other words, is the criticism aimed at their supposed practice per se, or just their appearance?

Do my questions make sense?

Thank you!


I think it’s just Mara trash talking. :yum:


I think the criticism implies that the bhikkhus are meditating with a mind obsessed with unskillful states (i.e., the five hindrances). MN 108 uses the same four terms (jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati) and explains that it refers to meditating with hindrances (and presumably indulging them rather than overcoming them):

The Blessed One, brahmin, did not praise every type of meditation, nor did he condemn every type of meditation. What kind of meditation did the Blessed One not praise? Here, brahmin, someone abides with his mind obsessed by sensual lust, a prey to sensual lust, and he does not understand as it actually is the escape from arisen sensual lust. While he harbours sensual lust within, he meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates [jhāyati pajjhāyati nijjhāyati apajjhāyati]. He abides with his mind obsessed by ill will, a prey to ill will…with his mind obsessed by sloth and torpor, a prey to sloth and torpor…with his mind obsessed by restlessness and remorse, a prey to restlessness and remorse…with his mind obsessed by doubt, a prey to doubt, and he does not understand as it actually is the escape from arisen doubt. While he harbours doubt within, he meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates. The Blessed One did not praise that kind of meditation.

See also AN 6.46 and AN 11.9


Thank you, Christopher for this astute observation.


That would be what the experts call “a mistake”! I’ll fix it. Rendering: “Slouching, downcast, and dopey”.

It’s kind of both, isn’t it? It’s encouraging the people to see the meditators in a certain way, and implying that they are full of delusion. It’s a common idea, that because there is nothing happening on the outside, then inside must just be dull and messay.


Thank you Snowbird, Christopher and Bhante Sujato; you have all really helped me clarify my understanding here. :pray:


Bhante @Sujato, inspired by this thread I’ve been studying MN50 all week and my mind keeps tripping on the end of one segment:

For ten thousand years I roasted in the annex of that Great Hell, experiencing the pain called ‘coming out’.

The modern use of ‘coming out’ is perhaps awkwardly inappropriate here?

For this passage, Piya Tan 2011 has instead offered:

For ten thousand years, I burned in the Ussada, suffering the feeling called ‘emerging from being burnt.’

The phrase ‘emerging from being burnt’ offers more explanation than “coming out” in that it evokes an experience akin to the ingestion of red-hot iron balls that slowly pass through the digestive tract to eventually emerge after their long and painful journey.

The torture here is the inverse of that torturous digestive trauma. It is the agony of being bound in pain constantly facing freedom, unable to grasp it, doomed to confining pain while being slowly squeezed out of hell over thousands of years. It is the totally appropriate punishment for Mara Dusi, who could not let go of his wicked obsession to harass and is now doomed to experience the same, physically. His head is that of a fish gasping and gaping as caught fish do in the air, mouthing endlessly for the water that is just there, just out of reach there. Just as Dusi gave the monks no easy escape from his harassment, so too is Dusi given no easy passage from the oppressive pain found in a mere annex to hell.

I’m not sure how to condense all of the preceding succinctly, but perhaps we might have some alternative to ‘coming out’?



Yikes, indeed. I’ll use “emergence” instead.

The exact sense of the phrase is not all that clear to me. Piya’s translation is not supported by the text, there is nothing equivalent to “from being burnt”. The commentary explains it as “feeling that emerges as the result of deeds” (vipākavuṭṭhānavedanaṃ), which seems to underlie Ven Bodhi’s rendering as “emergence from ripening”. But neither the commentary’s reading, nor the rendering of it, seem particularly persuasive to me. It seems rather that the pain is that which is experienced by one who has “emerged” from the Great Hell.


Thank you for the correction. The link to burning was purely coincidental from my looking up “coming out”, which brought up the red-hot copper ball as a search result. Painful emergence together with the existing clue of the fish head together inspire compellingly distressful imagery.

Curiously, vuṭṭhān…/emerge…, is used extensively elsewhere for emergence from absorption. So a thought might arise that Mara Dusi only emerged from the Great Hell when he was able to relinquish his wrong, obsessive “absorption”. It’s an associative train of thought (and certainly not conclusive) that Mara Dusi had to accept his fate in order to emerge from it.