'parisuddhena cetasā pariyodātena' and 'citte parisuddhe pariyodāte'


Presuming that I can get over my abhorrence of signing away copyright and all publishing rights forever to Routledge, I will have an article out very soon in which I make a case against the primacy of semantics in Buddhism Studies, especially in arguments over how to translate technical terms.

The focus of the article is the word vedanā, which cannot be understood semantically. Etymologically it is something that “makes known”; in Sanskrit usage a vedana is “an announcement”. The Buddhist usage is defined by virtue of a performative speech act - we say “vedanā means dukkha, sukha, adukkhaṃasukha” and so it does. For no other reason than we said so. This sense cannot be guessed at from etymology/morphology.

Hence semantic arguments for “feeling” vs. “sensation” (or some other more elaborate phrase like “hedonic tone” cannot be resolved. There are arguments for and against all of the choices on semantic grounds, but no decisive factor.

And this is true for much of our technical vocab.

In order to settle such questions, I argue, we have to turn to other ways of looking at language, such as speech act theory (J.L. Austin, John Searle) or to cognitive linguistics (George Lakoff, Mark Johnson) to understand how the words came to take the meaning they have in our technical jargon.


Buddhaghosa uses sound symbolic etymologies extensively. E.g.

bhagī bhajī bhāgī vibhattavā iti
Akāsi bhaggan ti garu bhāgyavā
Bahūhi ñayehi subhāvitattano
Bhagavantago so bhagavā ti vuccati

The weighty one (garu) has blessings (bhagī), is a frequenter (bhajī), a partaker (bhāgī) a possessor of what has been analysed (vibhattavā). He has caused abolishing (bhagga), he is fortunate (bhāgyavā). He has fully developed himself (subhāvitattano) in many ways. He has gone to the end of becoming (Bhagavantago) thus he is called “Blessed”
(bhagavā) Vism VII.56

But he is not using these in the way that Yāska specified. One of my Sanskrit teachers, Eivind Kahrs, wrote a book about the Nirukta: Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition (1998). This is quite hardcore, but back in 2008 I wrote a short essay about Yāska’s book for a more general readership.

Yāska elucidated three situations:

Firstly there are obvious examples like √budh where the root and it’s transformations are known.

Secondly there are examples where the meaning is not obvious but one can use grammatical paradigms to work out what sense of it is - such as √gam.

Thirdly there are very obscure examples which defy logical analysis.

And it is only in the third case, the last resort, that one attempts to guess the meaning using sound symbolism. It is a fact that monomorphemic words (e.g. the dhātus) that start with the same sound are far more likely to share meanings than words that start with different sounds. See the work of Margo Magnus who did her PhD on this phenomenon. As a last resort this is not a bad heuristic when combined with attention to the context.

So really what Buddhaghosa is doing is not based on the Nirukta heuristic. He’s just playing around with sound symbolism. The idea that this is part of a “Vedic project” seems implausible to me. Vedic has almost no meaning in the 5th Century (the middle of the Gupta Empire). The Vedic period pretty much ended with Pānini in 4th Century BCE, who ushered in the classical phase of Brahmanical culture by codifying the Brahmanical vernacular of his day as saṃskṛtabhāsa and producing the Dhātupada which is still the basis of most Sanskrit dictionaries.

I’m not aware of the “nirukta v grammar debate”. Could you post some references? Thanks.


Hmmm. I think the sentence in question is making a distinction, however implicit, between citta and kāya. I’m sure you know this distinction. And this makes good sense to me as applying in this case.

Let us stipulate that kāya here means “person” and further stipulate that “person” refers to the five khandhas. Conventionally, citta cannot be distinct from the five khandhas. So citta pervading kāyaṃ means what?

In other words, if you argue that kāya means pañcakhandha, that also encompasses citta, by definition (though I’ve never been quite sure how citta fits into the khandhas). So what you are saying, in effect, is that the khandhas pervade the khandhas. But there can be nothing special about this, since it must apply at all times in any case.

So if kāya means “person” here, the sentence as a whole is meaningless. No doubt it can mean “person” sometimes, just as sometimes it literally means “a group”. It just doesn’t mean “person” here.


I wasn’t even thinking of Buddhaghosa. I’m thinking of those of us who continue in the PTS’ venerable tradition of etymology, versus the contextual approach of the grammarians.

For the nirukta v grammar debate, I take my skepticism from Warder’s opening remarks that “roots and stems, … are mere abstractions devised by grammarians for the analysis of language” (Introduction to Pali, p.4).

It’s been years since I read Howard’s The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Vol V of Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, and my copy is in my office. But if memory serve me, his characterisation of Panini’s position versus the etymologists is that context and usage dictates meaning, not roots.


Again, kaya is just the Vedic counterpart of the god Ka. Ka is the self made actual. Ka is Prajapati made selves, like you and me.
That is to say a self to be felt through the fields (ayatanani) of senses (salayatana).
It is just what is called in philosophy “the actualization of a potential”.
It retains the same meaning in Buddhism - with a major difference.
In Vedism, kaya (lit. “what belongs to Ka”) is continuous and blissful (brings happiness).
In Buddhism, it can’t be. (anicca and dukkha).

As far as what are the particularities of" what belongs to Ka" are concerned, it can be summarized as follows, and holds both in Vedism and Buddhism:

Kaya is an organ (like eye, ear,… brain). It has the particular function of “gluing” the other organs together. It is very close to prana (breath), which is the chief of the organs in Vedism.

Kaya is not like a mere mano - that is to say - a mere “orchestrator” of the organs - but the “glue” that holds the all body and its organs together.
Its vital function is also “touching”.
It is therefore the all shebang of the sensuous realm of a personal self.
But it is also Ka as Prajapati, Brahma and Atma. It also deals with the (liberated) citta, out of this (world of senses) - within the different higher spheres.

In Buddhism, this actual form of the Atma>Brahma>Prajapati, as seen by the Vedist, as continuous and blissful, is a wrong view. Even in the higher spheres (like the Brahma world, for instance).

There can’t be continuity and blissfulness in paticcasamuppada.
Sakkāyadiṭṭhi (the Vedic view of a continuous and blissful Ka) is just a wrong view.
All actualisations (sensuous or not), of the organs or the khandhas, are impermanent and dukkha.


But take a look at Bodhi’s translation:

He sits pervading this body with a pure bright mind, so that there is no part of his whole body that is not pervaded by the pure bright mind.

That seems like bad English to me. If we want to avoid using ‘his’ because of an issue with ownership, then should we not be consistent? And anyway, we are talking about his body! For me, it is better English and with the same meaning, to use ‘his’ throughout the passage.

Oh, how interesting! I really look forward to that - I hope I notice when you post it! (If you would happen to remember and be so kind as to tag me in the post that would be fantastic! I miss so much… although naturally you have far more important things to take up your memory with!)

In the meantime do you happen to have any summary available of what vedana means, and doesn’t mean? I have been wanting to gain a clearer EBT understanding of this.

Regarding the other comments from everyone, thank you very much, I will take time to digest! …


I think we might distinguish kāya from citta by including rūpakkhandha in kāya, but not in citta. Citta is closely linked to viññāṇa and as such has mostly to do with pure mentality. The distinction is not great, but then I am not sure whether the idea of the five khandhas pervading the five khandhas is unintelligible. The point to me is simply that when you develop your mind it affects your entire being.


As Vajirā says to Māra (SN I.136)

Kiṃ nu sattoti paccesi, māra diṭṭhigataṃ nu te;
Suddhasaṅkhārapuñjoyaṃ, nayidha sattupalabbhati.

Yathā hi aṅgasambhārā, hoti saddo ratho iti;
Evaṃ khandhesu santesu, hoti sattoti sammuti.

Dukkhameva hi sambhoti, dukkhaṃ tiṭṭhati veti ca;
Nāññatra dukkhā sambhoti, nāññaṃ dukkhā nirujjhatī’’ti



Body sensation–>Body sense base–>Body consciousness–> [body contact–> feelings, perceptions, fabrications] -the portion in the [] is nama, the rest is rupa. It is clear that this string of specific causality (idapaccayata) starts with the physical body, though from body contact onwards it becomes very much a mental experience (leaving aside Consciousness, as belonging to neither one). We cannot take out the starting cause of the body here because without it the content of feelings etc will not be about the body, and presumably, and maddeningly, about something else! :slight_smile:

This process is no different when in a jhana either. In a jhana the feelings (vedana) will be blissful so where ever consciousness picks up the subtle skin sensation it will be felt as blissful. Sankhara in jhana will be limited to a certain range, so they will be triggered in specific ways. It will be so different that it will be hardly any body at all, after being used to a gross sensual plane body that has sensual overlay on the initial physical stimuli.

with metta


It’s good to look at the EBT to get a an EBT perspective. SN 36 is an entire samyutta just on this topic.

in particular, SN 36.14 ties vedana, originating from the anatomical body, to the vedana as its experienced in the 4 jhānas

SN 36.14 agāra-suttaṃ

SN 36.14 agāra-suttaṃ
SN 36.14 guest-house-discourse
♦ 262. “seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, āgantuk-āgāraṃ.
"Suppose, monks, (there is a) guest-house.
tattha puratthimāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
Over-there (from the) eastern direction (they) come (for) lodge usage,
pacchimāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
(from the) western direction (they) come (for) lodge usage,
uttarāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
(from the) northern direction (they) come (for) lodge usage,
dakkhiṇāyapi disāya āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti.
(from the) southern direction (they) come (for) lodge usage,
khattiyāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
(the) warriors, (they) come (for) lodge usage,
brāhmaṇāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
(the) brahmins, (they) come (for) lodge usage,
vessāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti,
(the) middle-class, (they) come (for) lodge usage,
suddāpi āgantvā vāsaṃ kappenti.
(the) slave-class, (they) come (for) lodge usage.

(3-fold vedana explicitly said to arise from anatomical body)

evameva kho, bhikkhave,
just like that, monks,
imasmiṃ kāyasmiṃ vividhā vedanā uppajjanti.
(in) this body, various feelings arise.
sukhāpi vedanā uppajjati,
pleasant feeling arises,
dukkhāpi vedanā uppajjati,
painful feeling arises,
a-dukkham-a-sukhāpi vedanā uppajjati.
neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises;

(carnal feelings are tied to 5 cords of sensual pleasure, clearly anatomical body)

sāmisāpi sukhā vedanā uppajjati,
carnal pleasant feeling arises;
sāmisāpi dukkhā vedanā uppajjati,
carnal painful feeling arises;
sāmisāpi a-dukkham-a-sukhā vedanā uppajjati.
carnal neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises;

(anatomical body originated spiritual feelings arise in jhāna, see SN 36.31 for explicit tie to jhāna definition)

nirāmisāpi sukhā vedanā uppajjati,
spiritual pleasant feeling arises;
nirāmisāpi dukkhā vedanā uppajjati,
spiritual painful feeling arises;
nirāmisāpi a-dukkham-a-sukhā vedanā uppajjatī”ti.
spiritual neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling arises.
[end of] fourth [sutta in this section].


Furthermore vedana is found in conjunction with each of the six sense bases suggesting it is an integral part of our experience of the world:

The Theme of the Hundred and Eight SN36.22

“Bhikkhus, I will teach you a Dhamma exposition on the theme of the hundred and eight. Listen to that….

“And what, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma exposition on the theme of the hundred and eight? I have spoken of two kinds of feelings by one method of exposition; I have spoken of three kinds of feelings by another method of exposition; I have spoken of five kinds of feelings … six kinds of feelings … eighteen kinds of feelings … thirty-six kinds of feelings by another method of exposition; and I have spoken of one hundred and eight kinds of feelings by still another method of exposition.

“And what, bhikkhus, are the two kinds of feelings? Bodily and mental. These are called the two kinds of feelings.

“And what, bhikkhus, are the three kinds of feelings? Pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. These are called the three kinds of feelings.

And what, bhikkhus, are the five kinds of feelings? The pleasure faculty, the pain faculty, the joy faculty, the displeasure faculty, the equanimity faculty. These are called the five kinds of feelings.

“And what, bhikkhus, are the six kinds of feelings? Feeling born of eye-contact … feeling born of mind-contact. These are called the six kinds of feeling.

“And what, bhikkhus, are the eighteen kinds of feelings? Six examinations accompanied by joy, six examinations accompanied by displeasure, six examinations accompanied by equanimity. These are called the eighteen kinds of feelings.

“And what, bhikkhus, are the thirty-six kinds of feelings? Six types of joy based on the household life, six types of joy based on renunciation; six types of displeasure based on the household life, six types of displeasure based on renunciation; six types of equanimity based on the household life, six types of equanimity based on renunciation. These are called the thirty-six kinds of feelings. “And what, bhikkhus, are the hundred and eight kinds of feelings? The above thirty-six feelings in the past, the above thirty-six feelings in the future, the above thirty-six feelings at present. These are called the hundred and eight kinds of feelings.

“This, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma exposition on the theme of the hundred and eight.”

I think if we know the context it is not too difficult to appreciate the meaning of the term even though it cannot be pinned down as an English word. The issue is Buddhist scholarship claiming that it isn’t possible without even having done one’s homework fully :slight_smile: .

with metta


from Bhante Sujato’s MN 119 translation, for standard 4th jhana formula and its simile:

Furthermore, a mendicant, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness. They sit spreading their body through with pure bright mind. There’s no part of the body that’s not filled with pure bright mind. It’s like someone sitting wrapped from head to foot with white cloth. There’s no part of the body that’s not spread over with white cloth. In the same way, they sit spreading their body through with pure bright mind. There’s no part of the body that’s not filled with pure bright mind. As they meditate like this—diligent, keen, and resolute—memories and thoughts of the lay life are given up.

(this ekodhi + samadhi refrain is used for all the exercises in MN 10 kayaanupassana / MN 119 kayagatasati)

Their mind becomes stilled internally; it settles, unifies, and becomes immersed in samādhi. That too is how a mendicant develops mindfulness of the body.

All the of those kayagatasati exercises are absolutely, no doubt referring to the anatomical body of flesh and blood, agreeing with the Theravada commentary.

MN 119 kayagata and MN 10 kaya anupassana exercises

(1. 16 APS breathing first 4 steps)
(2. Four postures)
(3. S&S mindfulness and clear-comprehension)
(4. 31Asb: asubha, 31 body parts)
(5. Four elements)
(6.1 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: 3 days old, festering)
(6.2 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: various animals devour)
(6.3 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: skeleton with flesh)
(6.4 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: skeleton bloody)
(6.5 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: skeleton)
(6.6 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: skeleton bones scattered all directions)
(6.7 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: very white bones)
(6.8 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: pile of bones 4 years old)
(6.9 9siv: 9 cemetary contemplations: white powder)
(7.1 STED 4j: first jhāna + simile)
(7.2 STED 4j: second jhāna + simile)
(7.3 STED 4j: third jhāna + simile)
(7.4 STED 4j: fourth jhāna + simile)

for kāya to be coherent, this must be so. It is not “personality” or merely “a group or collection of things”. Kāya anupassana in the 4sp is contrasted with citta anupassana, and kāyagatasati seems to be synonymous with kaya anupassana.

In bojjhanga samyutta, kāya sutta, SN 46.2, is clearly talking about the anatomical body, both in their simile, and as a physical body in kāya passadhi of passadhi-bojjhanga.

SN 46.2, note how kāya is contrasted with citta

(5. Passaddhi)

Ko ca, bhikkhave,
“{And} what, monks, [is the]
āhāro an-uppannassa vā
nutriment (for) un-arisen
passaddhi-sam-bojjh-aṅgassa uppādāya,
tranquility-awakening-factor's arising,
uppannassa vā passaddhi-sam-bojjh-aṅgassa
(and) arisen tranquility-awakening-factor's
bhāvanāya pāripūriyā?
development (and) fulfillment?
Atthi, bhikkhave,
There-is, monks,
Tattha yoniso-manasi-kāra-bahulī-kāro–
(To) that-there, wise-mental-production-frequently-done,
ayam-āhāro an-uppannassa vā
is-the-nutriment (for) un-arisen
passaddhi-sam-bojjh-aṅgassa uppādāya,
tranquility-awakening-factor's arising,
uppannassa vā passaddhi-sam-bojjh-aṅgassa
(and) arisen tranquility-awakening-factor's
bhāvanāya pāripūriyā.
development (and) fulfillment.

In the theravada abhidhamma vibhanga, it agrees that the sutta says the body is physical (further in the vibhanga, they say that the abhidhamma view of the same passage requires treating kaya-passadhi as a body of mental aggregates).

both Ven. Analayo, and Ven. Thanissaro, have extensively surveyed and in Ven. T’s case, translated much of the pali sutta pitaka in English. Ven. Analayo has also surveyed much of the Agama EBT parallels, and they treat the body as physical, anatomical, flesh and blood in the 4 jhanas.

The Arahant upatissa, in Vimuttimagga, and the early theravada commentators, also treat the kaya in 4 jhanas as the anatomical body.

The scholar Buddhaghosa, and the late Te. Abhdhamma composers, found it necessary to redefine kāya and vedana by brute force, away from the physical into a “collection of mental things”, effectively redefining jhana in late Te. Abhdhamma.

If kāya has the flexibility as Ajahn Brahmali claims in the context of four jhanas, there would be no need for late Abdhamma to use brute force in explicitly redefining these important basic terms.

If kāya has the flexibility as Ajahn Brahmali claims in the context of four jhanas, there would be no need for an english translator to use a translation that omits the default physical understanding of kāya in the four jhanas, or in 16 APS (anapana), as the context would make it clear.

If kāya has the flexibility as Ajahn Brahmali claims in the context of four jhanas, why is Ven. Analayo, Ven. Thanissaro, Bhante Gunaratana, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the early Theravada commentators, Ajahn Lee, etc., how come they don’t see it that way?


Thanks @frankk, yes I read that and commented on it a while ago. Interesting to read it again. And thanks @Mat also. To me, from all of that it really does look as though vedana can be translated as affect, as the term is used in psychology/neuroscience. That would include homeostatic, sensory, and emotional affects - all 3.

And regarding this division:

That would seem to correspond to homeostatic and sensory affects being ‘bodily’; and emotional affect being ‘mental’.

Does anyone have any objection to that (vedana=affect)? It seems to fit quite straightfordwardly. Does anyone have any reasoning why it doesn’t?


If the goal is to leave the kama loka to reach the rupa loka, then kaya has first to seclude itself from the external. The way to do it is to breathe his own way, to walk his own way, to stand…, sit…, turn his own way.
By doing so, kaya is in the internal - somewhat freer from the influence of the external.
Citta then becomes more liberated, and kaya loses a bit of its “materiality” and gets closer to the “mentality” (more “spiritual”) of the liberated citta.

Kaya is the physical “body”. But kaya is also more than that. The scope of kaya is beyond the usual organs of salayatana.

As far as vedana is concerned, i’d call it experience, as does Brahmali.
But an experience (pleasant, unpleasant, neither-nor,) that triggers an inquiry.
And that is what sanna is all about.
An inquiry into that experience, that yields assumptions. And vinnana is just the knowledge derived from these assumptions.
That is what these terms come up to be in the Vedic litterature, close or contemporary to Buddha’s time.

Vedana is just any kind of experience, that asks for an explanation(s) … and some reasonable knowledge(s).

Sorry for the diacritics - I haven’t yet been able to find something for android - Any hint would be greatly appreciated.


Really? That would include all 4 non-body khandhas, right? Does vedana really subsume all of those 4 khandhas? For example, the experience of a purely conceptual thought, is vedana? Experience is a huge word!


Obviously, the vedana that happens in sankhara nidana has a different mode of expression than the vedana that happens in salayatana, for instance.
The scope and lineament of the experience is quite wide and disparate.
Sentiency is not the only mode of expressing an experience.
Sentiency is just the ultimate mean of finding clues to our ignorance - so it seems. (nothing better has been found since).


Indeed. That’s a great little sutta.


Actually, I do not favour “experience” for vedanā. I think it too broad.


For the benefit of those who, like me, cannot read Pali fluently, I share below Bhante @Sujato’s very cool translation of this fragment:

Why do you believe there’s such a thing as a ‘sentient being’?
Māra, is this your theory?
This is just a pile of conditions,
you won’t find a sentient being here.
When the parts are assembled
we use the word ‘chariot’.
So too, when the aggregates are present
‘sentient being’ is the convention we use.
But it’s only suffering that comes to be,
lasts a while, then disappears.
Naught but suffering comes to be,
naught but suffering ceases.

Hope I got it from the right sutta (SuttaCentral)


Agreed. It means, precisely, the agreeable, disagreeable, or neutral feelings that arise on having a conscious sense experience. No more, no less.

“Experience” is more like all of the khandha processes working collectively. In the unenlightened it may also translate dukkha or loka (as per Sue Hamilton’s book Early Buddhism: A New Approach).

There is no word in Pāli (or Sanskrit/Prakrit) that relates directly to this narrowly and artificially defined semantic field, so the early Buddhists chose a word that was not too far wrong, vedana “announcement”, and coined a new (f.) noun, vedanā, from it, to convey the idea. Hence the weakness of semantic approaches when dealing with Buddhist technical vocabulary.

In translating it into English we face the same dilemma.