SN35.95 vihesā: a question of harm and cruelty

Vihesā seems to apply when harm arises. For example, if a drunk driver smashes into my car, there is harm, but no intention to harm. There is simply ignorance allowing harm.

This understanding gives me a bit of difficulty with SN35.95:

SN35.95:23.1: Tassa vaḍḍhanti vedanā, anekā dhammasambhavā; Abhijjhā ca vihesā ca, cittamassūpahaññati; Evaṁ ācinato dukkhaṁ, ārā nibbāna vuccati.
SN35.95:23.1: Many feelings grow arising from thoughts. The mind is damaged by covetousness and cruelty. Heaping up suffering like this, you’re said to be far from extinguishment.

When a drunk driver causes harm through neglect, there is really no cruelty, but there is a lot of harm. Preoccupation with harm due to negligence leads to resentment, causing more harm.

Another example is a landslide. When I was climbing one day, I saw a rockfall that killed someone. There was definitely harm here, but I could not see any intention to harm. Nor could not see any cruelty. But I could see that preoccupation with the harm of the landslide could damage the mind.



Exactly! That seems to be the point of the sutta, right? Your mind is being “damaged by covetousness” for a world where accidents don’t happen. Instead,

regarding things seen, heard, sensed, and cognized by you: in the seen there will be merely the seen

Then, the “harm of the landslide” will simply be “the seen.”

Does that help, or am I missing your question? :slightly_smiling_face:


My struggle is to resolve the apparent clash between the Pali vihesā and the English cruelty. “Cruelty” is actually used in the definition of vihimsā, which is different than “vihesā” in that vihimsā is associated with intent and/or agency.

Yet the Buddha chose here to use vihesā, not vihimsā. Per the Pali dictionary, it appears that vihimsā is the inflicting of vihesā on another. In contrast vihesā seems to refer to harmful outcome independent of intent or agency.

In other words, there’s a difference between “The mind is damaged by cruelty” and “The mind is damaged by thoughts of vexation, annoyance and injury”. Then again, the latter is quite the unpalatable mouthful. :laughing:

Thanks for the answer. I’m not sure that English can quite match the succinctness of “vihesā”. Perhaps “cruelty” suffices here for brevity and clarity. Can we agree that the Pali meaning is actually subtler and more general, encompassing more than just cruelty?


Oh I see. Yeah, perhaps “anxiety” or “worry” would have been better. Perhaps Bhante @sujato can explain his choice here?

Fwiw (I’m sure you’re aware already) Bhikkhu Bodhi has:

Many feelings flourish within,
Originating from the visible form,
Covetousness and annoyance as well
By which one’s mind becomes disturbed.
For one who accumulates suffering thus
Nibbāna is said to be far away.

It is rather unfortunate that Bhante chose “cruelty” which is usually reserved for vihiṃsa (as you pointed out) of MN 8 etc fame


Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. I had not thought to check Ven. Bodhi’s translation. Reading both English translations together fills the vihesā gap:

  • With annoyance, vexation, annoyance and injury flow inward.
  • With cruelty, vexation, annoyance and injury flow outward.
  • With vihesā, vexation, annoyance and injury are inside.

Without a single English word to capture both meanings, translation becomes quite difficult. English has a distinction where Pali has none. English has evolved a need to blame others or oneself. :open_mouth:

English actually does have a word of four letters, which can’t be repeated here. So I’ll just use the Pali.

Vihesā happens. :poop:

Ven. Khemarato, thank you for your patience and kind insight.



In German it is possible to use the equivalent of cruel, “grausam”, also in a sense where no intention is involved. From your discussion it seems that this does not work in English. In German you can for example say, someone has a “cruel fate”, or they have to go through a “cruel experience”, and there is nobody in particular to blame for that.

However this only works for the adjective; the noun is not used in such a way.

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My goodness! :open_mouth:

Perhaps we all should study multiple languages.

Thank you, Anagarika!



I’m going to use that…thank you for your interesting question and bridging an ancient language with modern sentiments :clap:t5: