... Petavatthu 20

Another translation by The Thālaka Group (@fiachra.harte, @khagga, @ficus, @a.messenger, @gillian).

This text had a number of confusing features; choices we remain worried about are indicated with :thinking: and we would welcome help from those better versed in Pāḷi.

8. cūḷaseṭṭhipetavatthu

A short ghost story about a merchant.

In this story King Ajātasattu (son of Bimbasara who killed his father, and who visits the Buddha in DN2) sees the ghost of a miser from his rooftop. The miser’s daughter is a Brahmin so her offerings to him have been ineffectual.

King Ajātasattu:
“naggo kiso pabbajitosi bhante,
“Naked and emaciated, you seem a renunciate, Bhante, :thinking:
rattiṁ kuhiṁ gacchasi kissa hetu;
Where are you going in the night, and for what reason?
ācikkha me taṁ api sakkuṇemu,
Explain to me, if we may, :thinking:
sabbena vittaṁ paṭipādaye tuvan”ti.
we may be able to support you with great wealth. :thinking:

The Ghost:
“bārāṇasī nagaraṁ dūraghuṭṭhaṁ,
tatthāhaṁ gahapati aḍḍhako ahu dīno;

I was a rich and miserable householder in Varanasi, the world-renowned town,
adātā gedhitamano āmisasmiṁ,
ungiving, greedy-minded, and indulgent.
dussīlyena yamavisayamhi patto.
Having attained to the realm of Yama through bad character.

so sūcikāya kilamito tehi,
I am fatigued with hunger.
teneva ñātīsu yāmi āmisakiñcikkhahetu;
I’m unable to go to my relatives for even a little food. :thinking:
adānasīlā na ca saddahanti,
dānaphalaṁ hoti paramhi loke.

They are ungenerous and do not believe that the fruits of giving are in the world beyond.

dhītā ca mayhaṁ lapate abhikkhaṇaṁ,
and my daughter continuously said to me,
‘dassāmi dānaṁ pitūnaṁ pitāmahānaṁ’;
“I will offer gifts for my fathers and my ancestors
tamupakkhaṭaṁ parivisayanti brāhmaṇā,
[if] the brahmins are served by what is done”. :thinking:
‘yāmi ahaṁ andhakavindaṁ bhottun’.”ti.
[Thus] I was prevented from eating in Andhakavinda” :thinking:

tamavoca rājā “anubhaviyāna tampi,
eyyāsi khippaṃ ahamapi kassaṃ pūjaṃ;

The king said, “Go quickly to receive that and I too will give you an offering.
acikkha me taṁ yadi atthi hetu,
Tell me what is the cause of this?
saddhāyitaṁ hetuvaco suṇomā”ti.
What is the cause? [Let us] hear…” :thinking:

“tathā”ti vatvā agamāsi tattha,
Having agreed, [the ghost] went to that place.
bhuñjiṁsu bhattaṁ na ca dakkhiṇārahā;
They ate rice that was not worthy of being offered.
paccāgami rājagahaṁ punāparaṁ,
He returned to Rajagaha again.
pāturahosi purato janādhipassa.
He appeared in front of the king.

disvāna petaṁ punadeva āgataṁ,
Seeing the peta coming again,
rājā avoca “ahamapi kiṁ dadāmi;
The king said, “What shall I give?
ācikkha me taṁ yadi atthi hetu,
Tell me if there is a means
yena tuvaṁ cirataraṁ pīṇito siyā”ti.
by which you would be satisfied for a long time.”

The Ghost:
“buddhañca saṅghaṁ parivisiyāna rāja,
“Serving the Buddha and the Sangha O King,
annena pānena ca cīvarena;
with food, water, and robes,
taṁ dakkhiṇaṁ ādisa me hitāya,
dedicate this offering for my benefit.
evaṁ ahaṁ cirataraṁ pīṇito siyā”ti.
Then I will be satisfied for a long time.”

tato ca rājā nipatitvā tāvade,
dānaṁ sahatthā atulaṁ daditvā saṅghe;

Because of this the king immediately laid down an incomparable gift, and gave it with his own hand to the Sangha.
ārocesi pakataṁ tathāgatassa,
He explained it to the Tathāgata,
tassa ca petassa dakkhiṇaṁ ādisittha.
and he dedicated the offering to the peta. :thinking:

so pūjito ativiya sobhamāno,
What was offered was very pleasing to the mind.
pāturahosi purato janādhipassa;
He appeared in front of the King
“yakkhohamasmi paramiddhipatto,
[and said], “I am a yakkha having acquired magical powers.
na mayhamatthi samā sadisā mānusā.
There is no human equal to me.

passānubhāvaṁ aparimitaṁ mamayidaṁ,
tayānudiṭṭhaṁ atulaṁ datvā saṅghe;

See this immeasurable majesty, which you donated to the sangha and dedicated to me.
santappito satataṁ sadā bahūhi,
yāmi ahaṁ sukhito manussadevā”ti.

I go about happy always greatly satisfied, O king of men.”


@sujato, your title is The Ghost Cūḷaseṭṭhi, but actually the ghost isn’t named in the story. And shouldn’t the prior elements qualify the rightmost element of a compound?


Sadhu sadhu! When are these going to be added to Bilara and the website?

I think this would usually be translated as “the realm of Yama.” Otherwise it sounds to me like Yama is the name of the realm.

I think this is a good situation where the word “yakkha” should be translated. As I understand it (and this may be more Theravada tradition more than strict EBT) yakkha can have two meanings. One is a specific type of non-human (like we might meet in the Yakkhasamyutta). The other meaning, which we commonly find in the Pv, is just a very powerful being.

Leaving it untranslated could make it seem like the ghost changed from a peta to a yakkha. And because in some (non EBT) traditions there is the idea that merit shared can get beings out of the ghost realm, it might confuse things.

Sorry I can’t offer suggestions on your :thinking: spots.


I was confused about this! I thought the ghost got ‘promoted’ to a Yakkha due to the donation. So it still is a peta, but refers to itself as a ‘ powerful being’…

:blush: :pray:t4:we appreciate your input on these translations very much :gift:


That’s my understanding; hopefully someone else can confirm.


Thank you @Snowbird for taking an interest in this and for your feedback. We’ve made this change.

That is interesting, but I’m just wondering: what do you think of this in relation our translation of Petavatthu 18, where a Peta seems to unambiguously changes form and leave the peta realm as direct result of shared merit?

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Do you mean Pv 13?

My understanding of that petavatthu is that her appearance change is because she can finally eat. And I don’t see anything indicating that she passed away in the ghost realm and was reborn in another realm.

I think part of the general confusion about ghosts is that they are always and exclusively in a state of suffering. So that when a ghost experiences relief, we assume it’s because they are no longer a ghost.


At Snowbird, do you know of any useful and reliable material that we can read in English to help us understand the other realms?

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The Buddhist Cosmos by Venerable Punnadhammo is a good place to start I think, it has a whole chapter on the Peta realm. You can download the e-book for free here: THE BUDDHIST COSMOS


I was going to recommend The Buddhist Cosmos, but I haven’t read most of it, so I can’t really say.

You can find things scattered throughout the suttas, but I’m not aware of an anthology that pulls it all together.

This sutta could be used to support the idea that the peta world is not exclusively painful like the heal realms, although it’s kind of indirect.