Samvegasutta (SN 46.57)

Dear friends,
Can someone please help me understand why in SN46.57 Samvegasutta has been translated to ‘A great thrill’?

My understanding of Samvega is something along the lines of spiritual-angst. Somewhat informed by this essay by Thanisarro Bhikkhu.

Many thanks,

1 Like

I think it has to do with the choice of the translator - Frank Lee Woodward - back in the old days.

I am not sure as well whether Michael Olds - the webmaster of - has made himself alterations to the original PTS texts.

I don’t think so. It is, as you say, the rendering choice of Woodward. But it’s not 19th century; first published 1930.

1 Like

what’s thrilling is to see you as anagarika :slight_smile::thumbsup:




My observation is that Samvega can be interpreted as Spiritual Emotion , Spiritual Urgency, For Eg, Somanassa Sutta , Mahaparinibbana Sutta Well it depends on the translators understanding of the Pali terms which is difficult to represent the same meaning with english term with same intention of delivering the exact purpose/goal/aim with which buddha used the term samvega.

I hope the below article shall throw some light on Samvega.

Brons-Samvega-final.pdf (328.0 KB)


Thanks for sharing this Bhante.

I really liked this bit from the article’s conclusion:

There are very many different forms and techniques of meditation in Buddhism, and many of those seem to have little in common.

This suggests that “meditation” is a functional rather than a substantive category—that is, it is not defined by some substantive properties that allactivities called “meditation” have in common, but by those activities’ function, by what meditation is intended to establish.

If this is right, then meditation is any mental exercise that results in a certain, specified goal.

Hence, meditation on death is any mental exercise that results in saṃvega and mindfulness of death (i.e., awareness of one’s mortality); and loving-kindness meditation is any mental exercise that results in a significant increase in mettā, loving-kindness, but perhaps here better translated as “empathic concern.”

Taking this into account, Buddhaghosa’s recommendation can be read as a recommendation to experience
saṃvega, increase mortality awareness (or mortality salience), and increase (untargeted, universal) empathic concern.
If suffering is bad, and people with samvegic experience(s) and increased loving-kindness/empathic concern are motivated to reduce suffering, then indeed mental exercises to evoke saṃvega and to increase mortality awareness and empathic concern are socially desirable


Thanks for bringing this extremely interesting point up, Pasanna.

Often, translations of the term Saṃvega(which can be found e.g. in Sn 46.57 and Itivuttakha 28-49) such as “urgency” appear to clash with several philological considerations based on the Pali Canon.

Wiltshire (1990**) goes as far as saying "The term Saṃvega […] is a word that occurs within the vocabulary of Buddhism and Jainism, having a comparable doctrinal meaning in both. The term denotes the rudimentary emotional experience that brings about disillusionment with the world and material things, so making it possible for the process to begin of non-attachment and disregard (P. Nibbida, Skt.Nirveda) of worldly objects"

Wiltshire’s interpretation definitely resonates with Polak’s (2011*) understanding that the Jhanas have no object of concentration whatsoever (no matter how much we search and research – we cannot find any Jhanic stock formula specifying Jhanic objects of concentration in Early Buddhism).

A right translation of the term Saṃvega would have immense, tremendous interpretative consequences, especially when we consider SN 56.13 (which mentions Viraga as in “dispassion”, Skt. Vairagya).

Keeping the Samvega point in mind (Samvega having to do with disillusionment) and Polak’s interpretation, we may come to the conclusion that the Jhanas are mostly about “what not to do”, while seeing danger in the slightest fault – disillusioned with anything that is anicca, dukkha, and anatta i.e. fleeting, unsatisfactory, and alien/not pertaining to the self.

The main Jhanic challenge would be to mindfully, alertly, while clearly comprehending, “drop” (also as reflected in Vitakkasanthana Sutta MN 20 e.g. and the Jhanic stock formulas) any maladaptive bodily/mental urge the very moment this arises – while not directing the attention anywhere in particular (apranahita samadhi? animitta samadhi?)

Suttas including Mn 111 (which goes as far including insight within the Jhanas) seem to support this interpretation. The same goes for MN 152 which mentions “not seeing forms” while apparently remaining in peaceful, sublime, equanimity.

Polak convincingly argues that the various types of “samadhis” (animitta, sunyata, apranahita etc.) described/mentioned in the Pali Canon (and perhaps even Jhana and Tathata/“suchness”) all refer to the same meditative state.

These considerations would shine a light on otherwise-obscure parts in the Pali Canon and on why not much is discussed about Jhanas in ancient texts such as Udana and Sutta Nipata.

In brief, through this "mindful, alert, and “sampajano” insight, one attains a peaceful, sublime, equanimous, Tathata, apparently as it appears e.g. in Udana “In the seen there will be the seen etc etc”. That said, Samvega may play an initial role of “disillusionment” towards anything conditioned (i.e. the sankharas) and the gradual jhanas depicted in the Pali Canon may represent little more than a description of what gradually and automatically happens when we start being mindful (in a silently mnemonic sense) of what has to be done (instantly dropping conditional urges as per various suttas, including SN 56.13 and MN20).

I hope this helps!

Thanks again for bringing this up.

River Fideda aka Davide Ferri

Meditator/Buddhist studies enthusiast

*G. Polak Re-Examining Jhana (2011)

**M.G. Wiltshire. Ascetic Figures Before and in Early Buddhism (1990)