一切 & sarva

Continuing the discussion from EBTs which indicate the experience of the body disappears while meditating?:

一切 translates “sarva” or “sabba” in Buddhist texts.


Yes, indeed…

But both 一切 and sarva/sabba, according to my knowledge, signify “all” or “every:” i.e., “every several member of a group.” I only know sarva/sabba from others’ translations, but 一切 I know directly; and, again, it’s closest, I think, to the English, “everything” which, again, denotes “each and every single thing:” this goes for early and/or late Buddhist texts, modern Mandarin; and, basically, any and everywhere I’ve ever seen it. And, actually, that’s pretty much all I have ever seen sarva/sabba translated as: “all” or “every,” as defined above: “all x’s” or “every x.”
That is, except for the anomalous (at least, to my eyes) translation of 一切/sarva/sabba appearing in the 16-step APS first tetrad, third step: which nearly everyone I have ever read (with one notable exception I’ll mention in a sec) renders, “whole” or “entire:” i.e., the complete mass of a single body," which is a very different concept, indeed; and one which I thought would impact on the (now closed) discussion on whether kāya in said step refers to the physical body or the breath body.
Because, in most of the English language translations of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu’s expositions on MN 118, sabbakāya from sabbakāyappaṭisaṃvedī is explained to mean, “whole body,” which he teaches refers to the physical body. But there is at least one occasion on which he translates it as “all bodies,” which he claims is a reference to the breath as a “body among bodies.” He then goes on to instruct practitioners to “experience” (paṭisaṃvedī ) the relationship between the breath body and the physical body–in preparation for the next step where calming the breath (i.e., “the body conditioner” [kāyasaṅkhāra]) will, in turn, calm the body. (Though, honestly, that never sat well with me because, in my limited knowledge of Pāli, I always thought, to get the plural “bodies,” it would have to be something to the effect of kāyā, instead of kāya.)
All that is a lead-up to my question, which is: can sarva/sabba really be legitimately translated as “whole?” (一切, as sarva/sabba’s default translation, is obviously just along for the ride.) Where else, if anywhere, is it so translated?

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The All

1 At Savatthi. “Bhikkhus, I will teach you the all. Listen to that….

2 “And what, bhikkhus, is the all? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and odours, the tongue and tastes, the body and tactile objects, the mind and mental phenomena. This is called the all.

3 “If anyone, bhikkhus, should speak thus: ‘Having rejected this all, I shall make known another all’—that would be a mere empty boast on his part. If he were questioned he would not be able to reply and, further, he would meet with vexation. For what reason? Because, bhikkhus, that would not be within his domain.”

Thank you very much, but I’m not sure that this helps much.
The sabba, or 一切, in this sutta has indeed been translated here as “the all:” which, in English, admittedly sounds like a singular whole. But could it not be similarly translated “everything?” that is, “every single thing in existence.”
There is a slight nuance that is maybe not so apparent here–and, perhaps, wouldn’t affect the meaning of this particular sutta much–but, in the third step of the first tetrad of APS, the difference between “whole” and “all” is great.
In this sutta, maybe somewhat atypically, sabba is a noun; in such a context, “all” and “whole” are not that different. But as a true adjective attached to a noun (as sabba is in said step of APS), they would each mean something very different.
Taking a (very little) bit of initiative, I just ran through suttacentral’s dictionary entry on sabba; and the very first meaning given in the PTS entry is, in fact, “whole.” I followed up the few sutta references cited, and none of them seem to mean “the whole (of something).” They all mean “all (of some things).” I admit that I didn’t go through every citation in the entry; but having already seen the word sabba used many times, I have never come across a single instance where it meant “whole,” and really don’t expect to now (though I would Honestly love to proved wrong here).
I don’t think anyone is paying serious attention to this point (nor to this post): the orthodox thinking on this question has been “whole body” for quite a long time already. Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu has translated it as “all bodies”–but that was only once; and, in any case, I don’t know how respected he is as a translator by the community at large. So, I don’t expect to be moving any mountains tonight. (And, of course, maybe I’m wrong: it’s possible I’ve missed somewhere where sabba does mean “whole.”) Still, I think thes question has implications for @frankk’s point in the previous thread, and for many people’s practice. So that is why I asked.

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In the construction, sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ, an enumerative dvandva compound, where is the functional difference between all of the Buddhas/Bodhisattvas and the whole of the Buddhas/Bodhisattvas?

Or we can just use the compound sarvadharmāḥ (nominative plural), if that is simpler to deal with than sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ (which is in the dative plural). In this simpler context, what is the difference between all of the phenomena or the whole of the phenomena. For that matter, the entirety of the phenomena.


In Chinese, sarvabuddhabodhisattvebhyaḥ is rendered as “一切佛菩薩.”

In Chinese, sarvadharmāḥ can either be 一切法 or 諸法. I wonder what the difference is, if any, they both appear to be attempts to translate sarva.

Nowhere. Because they are two English renderings of the same original phrase, and that phrase is a (compound) plural noun: Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. But I am not asking about the difference between English words; nor am I asking about sabba describing any plural nouns: I am asking about sabba describing a singular noun in Pali.
I really try to avoid posting on the internet because I have learned that I am not very well adapted to communicating through this medium. But I appreciate your efforts and patience, and I am going to try again to express my point. Let’s start from English:
Describing a singular noun with the word “whole” is very different from describing a plural or compound noun (like you gave above) with the “all:” “the whole car,” as opposed to, “all cars.” What you showed above was an example of the latter. (We could also use “the whole of cars,” but that wording would be a little forced.)
And, indeed, the example you provided is exactly the way I have always seen sabba used: describing plural nouns. But, in APS first tetrad, third step, we are told that sabba is describing a singular noun: “body.” This is the first and only example I have ever come across where sabba is said to describe a singular noun. In any other case, it is obviously describing a group, a plurality, of many individual things, and is translated as such.
(And, in English, singular nouns are not usually qualified with “all,” but, rather, with “whole;” “all” is usually reserved for plural nouns: which was why I juxtaposed “all” and “whole,” and, apparently, caused alot of confusion. But I hope that’s cleared up now and we can move past that.)
So, have you ever come across sabba describing a singular noun? Can you show me an example? I haven’t. And certainly not one of 一切 qualifying a singular noun. (Except, that is, in Chinese translations of the 16-step APS.)
Anyway, have you–or anybody–ever seen one? And, if not, what makes this instance so special? If we couldn’t find any other examples of sabba describing singular nouns, wouldn’t that maybe warrant a reevaluation of the meaning of sabbakaya here? Well, before we “reevaluate” anything, has anyone ever seen sabba describing a singular noun?


I think it’s especially important when investigating sarva/sabba ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī’ in the 16-steps of Ānāpānassati to consider the context of the 4th step ‘passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ’, and the 2nd tetrad with the obviously relational 3rd step of ‘cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī’ and 4th step of ‘passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ’

1st tetrad

  1. sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī
  2. passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ

2nd tetrad

  1. cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī
  2. passambhayaṃ cittasaṅkhāraṃ

Also, noticing that there’s a slight difference in the 3rd step of the 1st tetrad and the corresponding 3rd step of 2nd tetrad, “2.3”, if you will, includes saṅkhāra and “1.3” does not (but it’s probably implied).

I still don’t understand the different between “the whole X” and “all of X”, regardless of it X is plural or singular. For instance, all of the Buddha, the whole Buddha, all of the Buddhas, the whole of the Buddhas.


I think the buddha(s) & bodhisattva(s) examples are kind of distracting in this thread, let’s stick to EBT’s since I think @knotty36’s example and investigation is related mainly to Ānāpānassati and the EBT suttas/āgamas. No hard feelings, btw.

I think what @knotty36 is getting at is whether sabba/sarva is referring to a unified whole or a collection of particulars/parts.

I think the issue was the plurality, not the nouns.

This is even more direct: “all of the X” vs “the whole X”. X is singular not plural.

True. But not the nouns in English, which is where you seem to be focusing:

I am not asking about English translations; I am asking about…

…in Pāli.
@SCMatt, if we took it as a given for the time being that saṅkhāra in 1.3 is “probably implied” (which I’m not opposed to), saṅkhāra, like kāya, is in the singular, no? I agree that “solving the mystery of the identity of kāya in 1.3” should, in the end, be approached from multiple angles. But, at this point, I’m examining only a particular grammatical aspect of the issue: I’m questioning the proposition that sabba can qualify a singular object. I’ve asked for other examples, and, thus far, the best we’ve been able to come up with is

Because I don’t think it’s there. In other words, sabba can only qualify plural nouns. In which case, I really think a re-examination of 1.3 and its exegeses would be warranted. (I don’t think it’ll happen, but that’s a different story.) Additionally, it would, perhaps, add some legitimacy to an understanding like the Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu translation of sabbakāya as “all bodies” I alluded to above.
There’s another possible scenario: I’ve always disqualified sabbakāya as “all bodies” because I figured the plural of kāya to be kāyā, or something of that nature. But, ignorant as I am of Pāli, I want to ask if it is possible that kāya is something akin to collective nouns in English, like “family,” which sort of ambiguously straddle the divide between singularity and plurality: i.e., the British say, “my family are” while Americans say, “my family is.” Kāya as a “group” or “body” might suggest this. But I, for one, have nowhere near the knowledge of Pāli to be able to investigate something like that.


I’m looking at a few compounds right now. “Sarvaloka” (the whole world) is one of them, seeing how they behave.

Sorry, this is really late as a response, but can you give some context? Maybe this example of sarvaloka you’ve cited could also be (possibly, better) rendered “all worlds”?

It’s a pretty common compound. Just look it up in google. Use a declined version if you want to find it in a Sanskritic text. The meaning seems to be “the whole world” or “all the world”.

Your rendering would make more sense if loka was in the plural IMO.

I just thought of a particularly good example:

tabe raha ei sthāne kiṅkarere dayā tava sarvaloke jāne
“Please remain here so that people all over the world will know how merciful you are to your servants.”
(Caitanya Caritāmṛta 5.115)

Notice how sarva interacts with the singular loke instead of the plural lokeṣu. The locativity in the translation above is the “over the”.

Sorry for the delay, I just saw your reply.

Yes! You’ve gotten my meaning: this is exactly what I was talking about!

So, we have a Sanskrit example here; and, now, the same would be possible in Pāli then? Are we sure? Do we have a Pāli example (other than, presumably, MN 118 sabbakāya)?

IMO Generative grammar is generative grammar. No collection text will systematically exhaust the grammatical abilities of its source language unless it is going out of its way to give a thorough scholastic dictionary account of every single word, every single inflected form of every single word, etc.

Since it is a “legal” compound in Sanskrit, I would say it logically follows that Pāli’s grammar can generate the same form.

It’s likely we’d see sarvakāye or something like that in a Sanskritic recension of Pāli materials on the subject.

For instance, this is neither kāya nor loka, but check out sarva’s interaction in Therāpadāna, Sālakusumiyavagga, 10. Nimittabyākaraṇiyattherāpadāna, at the 5th stanza:

Sabbākāraṃ pakampittha,
kevalā vasudhā ayaṃ;
Nigghosasaddaṃ sutvāna,
ubbijjiṃsu mahājanā

I just googled sarva for the first time in SuttaCentral and a few of uses of it applying as “entire” for a singular noun can be found.

sarvakāyasaṁskārapratisaṁvedī āśvasan […] <-- this one is ambiguous, I can’t figure out how to parse it.

And there is at least one instance in Pāli at Kv9.7: Sabbaṃ cittaṃ vitakkānupatitanti?

It’s seems normal enough IMO