Questioning the translation of AN 8.15, "Misconduct is a woman’s stain"

What is your argument for why it cannot be instrumental or genitive? I assume you have one, otherwise it would be strange to say that it is ablative.

The instrumental and genitive of yāna- “carriage” are yānena and yānassa. Only the ablative is yānā (i.e. like itthiyā).

Yāna is neuter, itthi is feminine. Itthi singular instr.; abl.; gen.; loc, = itthiyā. No?

I refrained from posting anything for a bit on this thread because I wasn’t sure how beneficial it would be, but I think there’s a pretty obvious reason why misconduct would be a woman’s stain in an ancient culture.

The misconduct refers to sexual misconduct, e.g. committing adultery. If a woman is having sex with multiple men and becomes pregnant, fatherhood cannot be reliably established, family life breaks down. No traditional man is going to want to raise, especially unwittingly, another man’s offspring.

Misconduct is not a man’s stain because motherhood is easy to establish, the baby’s mother is whatever woman the baby was seen to come out of. Also, ancient India is highly patriarchal.

So, in short, since genetic lineage is ultimately funneled through the woman, it makes sense for traditional societies to make her the ultimate bearer of sexual responsibility. Hence, misconduct is a woman’s stain.


You’re probably right: so it declines like jātiDeclension of feminine nouns in -i – so the syntax is ambiguous about whether it’s genitive, locative, dative, ablative, or instrumental … and it’s not an abstract noun.

Still the word order, I think, implies that word is qualifying the (type of) misconduct, rather than owning the stain.

Yes, that is an example of reasoning which implies that the current translation is plausible (and misleading, IMO).


Grammatically, it is because the word is in the genitive case, indicating possession.

The pattern with all of these phrases is that if this bad thing prevails, it brings harm to the subject. If one is negligent, a house deteriorates. If a donor is stingy, it is bad for their generosity. And so on. If a woman behaves badly, it is bad for her. The text doesn’t specify what kind of bad behavior, although obviously sexual transgressions are at least included. Regardless of what we may think of this, the text is clear.

No, this is not what it means. The grammar simply can’t be read in this way.

Sorry, no, that is not what it says.

No, it is genitive.

Lol no, we are not mindless automatons. Experts love to disagree!


My thoughts exactly!

This is a different ending. The -ya as a secondary suffix denotes an abstractive. For example, we have the verbal root vid “to know” which gets suffixed with -ya to become vidyā “knowledge”, which in Pali is resolved as vijjā .

Itthiyā is genitive singular feminine from the stem . It has nothing to do with the abstractive meaning, it is just a coincidence of forms. Happens all the time.

In Pali, word order doesn’t affect the construal of the sentence (which is determined by the case relations), but is solely for emphasis or rhetorical purposes.

This particular passage is quite unusual. It is expressed as prose, then as verse. Normally in such cases the prose version would use more standard word order and forms, and the verse would mix it up. And typically (in the Anguttara) we would assume the verse is added later. However in this case the forms and word order are virtually identical in both prose and verse. This must be because the passage began originally as verse and was adapted into a prose form.

My guess would be that the series of terms is a kind of traditional axiom or saying, which the Buddha took up to subvert it by adding his own ending. The same pattern is used commonly in the Sagathavagga.

In verses it is almost inevitable that the “standard” word order is mixed up in all sorts of ways. Sometimes this is for poetic effect, other times in order to comply with the metre (metri causa). But of course, it’s poetry, so these choices are largely subjective.

Sorry, no, that’s just incorrect. The text says nothing of “originating”, and the relations between words don’t work that way.

Consider the first line:

Asajjhāyamalā, bhikkhave, mantā

Here the first two terms are compounded, so the case relation between them is not determined. The compound can in theory be rendered a number of different ways. However, while grammatically possible, most such variations are ruled out by the sense of the words. For example, we could treat it as a dvanda compound and say “Not reciting and stains are hymns”. But that can’t be correct. Another possible rendering would be “hymns are the stain of non-reciting”. But again, that doesn’t make sense. So the number of potential renderings is constricted by both grammar and sense. In this phrase, it is not easy to construe it in a way that satisfies both.

The general rule here is this: compounded phrases inherently express less information than the resolved forms. So it is always best to rely on the resolved forms where possible and infer to the compounds.

Now, the first two terms are declined to agree with mantā (nominative plural neuter). This pattern is followed in the next line.

But in the following line, the compound is resolved, and the relation is expressed with the genitive vaṇṇassa. So this is unambiguous: “Laziness is the stain of beauty”.

The following lines also contain genitive forms: rakkhato, itthiyā, dadato. So this is no accident, and clearly the syntax should be construed as genitive throughout. This is obvious from the text, and is confirmed in the commentary, which uses the genitive plural forms in its glosses: mantānaṃ and gharānaṃ. Likewise, genitive forms are also used in the Gandhari parallel (malo malosa kosijo).

Why does the text have the shorter nominative forms? Metri causa. The metre has eight syllables per line, so the forms are shortened to fit. Again, happens all the time. Welcome to the wonderful, wild world of translating Pali verse!

I mean, yes, the mother does have a great affect on lineage. But this is over-interpreting the line. It is merely saying that when a woman transgresses, this is a stain on her. It’s not excusing men from the fault of transgression—indeed, normally transgression is defined from the man’s point of view. Is it sexist to mention women alone in this context? Sure! But it just says what it says. A translator’s job is not to judge, but to transmit.


Thank you very much, Bhante. :slight_smile: Your post was, in all ways, an excellent lesson for many. I do not think you quote without being aware of context of "A speculative thought: what if… " but rather spoke to and answer questions quite directly. Well spoken, thank you, imo i can rely on this.

May all being s be happy.


Thank you, Bhante.

To summarise, I think you said it must be translated the way you did, because the genitive case is used.

Asajjhāyamalā, bhikkhave, mantā;
anuṭṭhānamalā, bhikkhave, gharā;

Given that mantā and gharā are nominative (neuter plural), why translate them as “of hymns” and “of houses”?

Assuming the compounds aren’t dvanda then are they determinate? E.g. in asajjhāyamalā, doesn’t asajjhāya describe the type of malā? So it’s saying, “stain-of-not-studying, bhikkhus, hymns”? How do you get from there to “of hymns”? Shouldn’t the translation say, at most, “[one of the stains is] the stain of not studying hymns”?

My thesis was that the stain or impurity would be “owned” by the negligent/lazy person, not by the object of their neglect.

Perhaps you’re saying we can’t infer anything from the case of mantā and gharā (i.e. their being nominative) because those phrases use compounded nouns? So we look to the next lines, find the genitive vaṇṇassa, and take it that the first two lines might as well as been genitive too?

But then you say …

This is […] confirmed in the commentary, which uses the genitive plural forms in its glosses: mantānaṃ and gharānaṃ. Likewise, genitive forms are also used in the Gandhari parallel (malo malosa kosijo).

malaṃ, bhikkhave, vaṇṇassa kosajjaṃ

Moving on to the third line, given that vaṇṇassa is genitive, how do you deduce that it’s “laziness is the stain of beauty”, rather than, “[another type of] stain is the laziness of beauty”?

Or further (taking “appearance” instead of “beauty”), “laziness of appearance” i.e. “appearing lazy”: so in other words, “it’s a stain (on the perpetrator) to look lazy”?

pamādo, bhikkhave, rakkhato malaṃ
maccheraṃ, bhikkhave, dadato malaṃ

Moving on, rakkhato could be genitive or dative; pamādo and malaṃ are both nominative again.

I see that rakkhato, together with dadato, are the only two where:

  • malaṃ is on the right-hand-side, and

  • the right-hand-side contains a present participle (“guarding” or “giving”), instead of a noun (“hymns”, “houses”, “beauty”, “a woman”).

These are the (only) two where assigning the stain to the object makes sense to me: it’s staining the action, the guarding, the giving.

You said though that,

In Pali, word order doesn’t affect the construal of the sentence (which is determined by the case relations), but is solely for emphasis or rhetorical purposes.

I assume that means that the case relations are of primary importance (and cannot be contradicted by a translator), but within that constraint the word-order isn’t entirely negligible (it’s of secondary importance, not unimportant) – except in verse, where I’d expect the word order to insignificant because the meter is important instead.

malaṃ, bhikkhave, itthiyā duccaritaṃ

And (having looked at the rest) that leaves only itthiyā, again.

You can’t be sure that itthiyā is genitive, can you, or can you be? That “-” ending could imply any of genitive, locative, dative, ablative, or instrumental.

In summary I think you’re saying that:

  • It’s right to attribute the stain because the noun is genitive
  • If (instead of being the owner of the stain) the noun were the cause or occasion of stain, or just qualifying the type of stain, then the noun would have to be ablative oslt
  • The first two nouns (houses and hymns) are nominative, but ignore that, because the others are all probably (some definitely are) genitive … and the commentary interprets them as genitive … and, it’s genitive in the Gandhari
  • Assume that itthiyā is genitive too, because the others are: so it is (i.e. she would be) the owner of the stain and the misconduct.

Thank you again for answering my question (and for making all the suttas more accessible).

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I agree with Ajhan Sujato on this. I wanted to add that ‘stain’ here doesn’t have the same connotation as ‘sin’ which I believe in Abrahamic religions, permanent (until forgiven?), to be spent for eternity in hell. It seems more in line with blemish/rust/rot ie somewhat more impermanent. In fact, there are no permanent sins in Buddhism. Also I might add it was a sexist time by the looks of it, perhaps to put it mildly. We shouldn’t try to disguise this fact, but rather distinguish the message from the backdrop, as when we start altering texts to suit political and/or other forces around the message will end up garbled, however bad it sounds, it will do more damage than it will remedy.

with metta

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I read a paper once, The Bahudhātuka-sutta and its Parallels On Women’s Inabilities, which suggests that some “sexism” was added later.

Regardless, I just wanted to ask about the translation: not discuss corruption (of text) and political forces, if you don’t mind. I don’t want to discuss here whether the English fits everyone’s preconceptions of society: only to ask (verify) whether it’s an accurate (necessary and sufficient) translation, conveying the letter and spirit of the original.