Question/comment about AN 10.2 & its Chinese parallel

Hi, good people at Discuss and Discover,

AN 10.2 is often used to illustrate the natural causality in the Dhamma, and I had a question that came up in reading its Chinese parallel, as I’m not proficient in Pali.

“Mendicants, an ethical person, who has fulfilled ethical conduct, need not make a wish: ‘May I have no regrets!’ It’s only natural that an ethical person has no regrets."
AN10.2 (Bhikkhu Sujato’s translation)

“Bhikkhus, for a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous, no volition need be exerted: ‘Let non-regret arise in me.’ It is natural that non-regret arises in a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous."
AN10. (Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation)

What’s interesting for me is to read the Chinese, and to see that the Chinese parallel seems to be much more emphatic:

MA43: No Need for Thought

The characters 不應思 translates (at least in my understanding of modern Chinese) as “should not think”. This seems to be much more emphatic than “need not make a wish” or “no volition need be exerted”.

So MA43, in my reading, would be something like:

“Ananda, someone who keeps precepts should not think “may I have non-regret.” Ananda, it is but natural (that) keepers of precepts will gain non-regret.”

The emphatic “should not” also has an implication for one’s practice, because the Buddha is explicitly instructing not to use willpower to progress on the Path.

My question then is whether the emphatic “should not” is also reflected in the Pali original of AN10.2? I would be most keen to hear from Bhante @sujato, Ajahn @Brahmali & Venerable @Sunyo (though I am mindful that the Vassa has already started!), as well as @cdpatton if I had misread the Chinese. :slight_smile:

With much metta,

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Yes, the corresponding Pāli phrase reads “na cetanāya karaṇīyaṁ”, where the verbal portion being “na karaṇīyaṁ” can either be interpreted as “should not be done” or as “is not necessary to do”.

I think Sujato’s & Bodhi’s interpretations (“is not necessary to do”) make better sense given the context, as the Buddha’s intention appears to be to point out the non-necessity of wishing for an inevitability.


思 usually translates cetana.
And 應 in a hypothetical functions more like “would” than “should.” “Someone who observes the precepts wouldn’t think, ‘Let me not be remorseful.’”


Detouring from the question, I agree with @cdpatton that vippaṭisāra should be translated as “remorse” (instead of “regret”). [@sujato]

Thank you Charles! Could you clarify what you mean by “應 in a hypothetical“ please? I’m not sure what you meant by that, as this context seems to be more of a negation.

As an alternative angle to understanding the meaning of 應, I tried to look upthe examples in this Chinese dictionary (
). From this, it seems that the main use is “should”, but it could also mean “ought to, possibly”: is that what you meant?

But the main use of 應 seems to be “should”. Some of the supporting examples of 應 (as “should”) predate the Agamas by a long time: e.g. one of the examples is from the Book of Poetry, which dates to around 1000BC to 250BC

(, while the 18th century Kangxi dictionary ( also seems to indicate that the character mainly means “should” (”當也”). “should” is also the most common meaning of the character in modern Chinese.

There are other meanings of 應 in both dictionaries, eg it also means “to answer”, and is also a surname, name of a county and country, etc., but those don’t fit the context which appears in the parallel, imo.

There is another point, which is subtler and I could be completely wrong about. In my experience, negation in Chinese tends to be more definitive than its non-negated counterparts. So whereas 應思 could be read as “ought to will or think”, 不應思 would be much more definitive, and much more likely to be “should not will or think” vs “ought not to will or think”.

But i’m mindful the above is solely from my Chinese language perspective, of Chinese texts translated from the Indic Sanskrit originals. :slight_smile: Chinese is also ambiguous, and can be hard to translate even for native speakers who are much more fluent than me!

With much metta,

In English, should is ambiguous in meaning. Should usually means “ought to,” but it can mean “probably will be.” In a hypothetical sense, we say “would” instead of “should.” “Would” is the hypothetical form of “will.” Because it’s hypothetical, it’s less certain. It means “probably will.”


It isn’t raining, so I shouldn’t get wet.
If it weren’t raining, I wouldn’t get wet.

Should and would actually mean the same thing in these sentences, “probably will.” They are really the same word used in different contexts that change their tenses.

So, that’s the first thing to think about in this passage you’re asking about. Translating 應 as “should” can be problematic because of the way the English word is understood and misunderstood in different contexts. In the case of it raining or not, it isn’t confusing. There’s isn’t anything ethical about getting wet from rain. But if a sentence could be read either way, then it lends itself to misunderstanding. Like this:

She’s the owner of the company, so she shouldn’t get a raise.
If she were the owner of the company, she wouldn’t get a raise.

Notice how “should” can be read in two different ways, one’s that’s simply stating what wouldn’t typically happen, and one that’s saying it would be unethical to give her a raise. (In my dialect of English, we would differentiate the intended meaning by stressing “should” if we meant it was a moral issue. Which is a whole 'nother level of subtlety about language.) But that’s not the case for “would.” It just means she isn’t someone likely to get a raise if she were the owner.

So, now let’s look at the passage you’ve asked about:

“Ānanda (阿難), someone observing the precepts (持戒者) wouldn’t (不應) think (思), ‘Let (令) me (我) not be remorseful (不悔).’ Ānanda (阿難), it’s just (但) a natural (自然) principle (法) that someone who observes the precepts (持戒者) then (便) becomes (得) not remorseful (不悔).”

應 as a word in middle Chinese isn’t a direct parallel to English “should” or “would,” but when it functions as an auxiliary verb, it translates to those words best. It’s primary meaning is “to correspond.” It indicates things that happen with or in response to other things.

So, when two people are conversing, one person 應 (responds) to what the other said. In Buddhist Abhidharma, dharmas are 應 (associated) or not with other dharmas. In the trikāya theory of Buddha bodies, nirmāṇa was translated as 應 because it’s the body the responds to the world by manifesting physically. In the well-known interpretation of “arhat,” they are 應 (worthy) of alms. Literally, 應 in that case means that getting alms goes along with being an arhat (because they are deserving of them). This is the main meaning of the word: corresponding, associating, responding.

But it is commonly used as an auxiliary verb that roughly translates to “should” or “would.” 當 is another middle Chinese word that’s a more emphatic auxiliary verb that means “ought, must, will, shall.” In English, “should” is ambiguous: Sometimes it means “ought” and sometimes it means “maybe will be.” 應 and 當 are like that. 應 is less certain than 當, and it’s meaning is weaker and ambiguous like “should” vs. “ought to.”