SN47.42 Why "atthaṅgamo" rather than "nirodhā "?

In SN 47.42 the relationship between citta and nāmarūpa is taught as:
Nāmarūpasamudayā cittassa samudayo; nāmarūpanirodhā cittassa atthaṅgamo.
“The mind originates from name and form. When name and form cease, the mind ends.”

Note the use of samudaya for both nāmarūpa and citta in the first phrase, but the use of
nirodhā and atthaṅgamo in the second.

A well-respected Dhamma teacher has offered that the use of atthaṅgamo indicates that citta does not end, but is like the setting sun (another definition of atthaṅgamo), in which the citta disappears but is not subject to cessation.

Here’s the quote from the book: " With the cessation [nirodhā] of name-and-form there is the disappearance [atthaṅgamo] of citta.’ (S.47:42) It’s notable that the term ‘nirodhā’ isn’t replicated; and that the term ‘atthaṅgamo’ is normally applied to the sun as it sets. So whereas from the text one would expect the phrase ‘the cessation of citta’, a ‘sunset’ suggests that the citta’s energies aren’t manifesting in terms of nāma, but are not annihilated."

One potential problem with this interpretation is that in the first phrase, nāmarūpa and citta are clearly co-dependent and conditional, whereas the above interpretation appears to indicate that citta remains after its co-condition has ceased.

  • Does anyone read the above interpretation in a different way?
  • Can anyone shed light on why nirodha was not used for citta rather than atthaṅgamo – there’s unlikely to be a definitve reason, but the question is asked about reasonable possibilities from textual and teaching standpoints.
  • Is it possible that atthaṅgamo was used because for the arahant the cessation of nāmarūpa in this sentence might point to the utter lack of clinging and identification with these factors, while consciousness/mind/citta is still present prior to the physical death of an arahant? In that sense, the citta might poetically be described as “disappearing like the setting sun” until final cessation with parinibbāna.

Just asking, and interested in any responses that can shed light on this. :pray:


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Full quote of SN47.42 is as below

“Mendicants, I will teach you the origin and the ending of the four kinds of mindfulness meditation.
“Catunnaṁ, bhikkhave, satipaṭṭhānānaṁ samudayañca atthaṅgamañca desessāmi.
Listen …
Taṁ suṇātha.

And what is the origin of the body?
Ko ca, bhikkhave, kāyassa samudayo?
The body originates from food.
Āhārasamudayā kāyassa samudayo;
When food ceases, the body ends.
āhāranirodhā kāyassa atthaṅgamo.

Feelings originate from contact.
Phassasamudayā vedanānaṁ samudayo;
When contact ceases, feelings end.
phassanirodhā vedanānaṁ atthaṅgamo.

The mind originates from name and form.
Nāmarūpasamudayā cittassa samudayo;
When name and form cease, the mind ends.
nāmarūpanirodhā cittassa atthaṅgamo.

Principles originate from attention.
Manasikārasamudayā dhammānaṁ samudayo;
When focus ends, principles end.”
manasikāranirodhā dhammānaṁ atthaṅgamo”ti.

That structure “atthangamo” you pointed out actually do not apply only to citta but also to body, feeling and principles as Ven. Sujato translated it. Therefore, citta is not treated as out of ordinary in this sutta.

In my opinion, it just means “citta can not arise as long as namarupa not arise” or “citta won’t ever arise/appear as long as namarupa not arise”. So, it means “citta does not exist alone by itself”, it does not mean “citta is temporarily hidden away like sunset”. Same meaning applies to body, feeling and principles.

Edit: Another interpretation for “atthangamo” besides “ends” can be “withered away” or “without nutrient”

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We’re in agreement about the conditionality of all the khandhas.
However, the question was why nirodha was not used rather than atthaṅgamo.
Using “nirodha” would have been easy and direct in the latter portions of the phrases, so why use another word that has other possible implications, (as per the Dhamma teacher that was quoted)?
That’s more the gist of my inquiry.

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Perhaps ‘atthangama’ is a bit more poetic, with the sense of ‘fading away’.
It does seem ultimately synonymous with ‘nirodha’.

As was mentioned, the word is based on the ‘other’ attha, (skt asta), meaning home or place of rest. So, ‘going home’ or ‘going to rest’.

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I’m inclined to agree that its use may be poetical; or, it may simply be the use of two synonyms that would have been clear at the time – like an english speaker saying “destroyed” in the first part and “annihiliated” in the second.

But I’m curious as to other possibilities since, as noted in the OP, other well-respected Dhamma teachers have offered other interpretations.

And these interpretations can have significant implications for one’s Dhamma practice.

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Agree, “fading away” has also similar meaning as I suggested above. In the end, it just means “can not exist alone/independently” which totally rules out any attempt of using the image of sunset to illustrate the meaning.

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While we agree about the definitions of atthaṅgamo, the Dhamma teacher who has offered another interpretation cited in the OP is one of the most well-known and well-respected Theravadin monks currently living. So I can’t agree with categorical statements like “totally rules out any attempt …”

The question is why another word was used when nirodha would have been easy and direct. There may be another point here, as noted in the above posts.

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If we stop eating food or food ceases/nirodha, do our bodies immediately cease/nirodha? Or instead, our bodies withered away?

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If we end, or cut off light and water from a plant, it will slowly fade and die, ultimately cease to exist.

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This goes along with the third possibility mentioned in the OP:
“Is it possible that atthaṅgamo was used because for the arahant the cessation of nāmarūpa in this sentence might point to the utter lack of clinging and identification with these factors, while consciousness/mind/citta is still present prior to the physical death of an arahant? In that sense, the citta might poetically be described as “disappearing like the setting sun” until final cessation with parinibbāna.”

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Personally, I am not convinced that SN47.42 was talking about arahant specifically. Personally, I am not convinced either that the cessation of namarupa in this sutta gives hint to “the utter lack of clinging and ident with these factors”. For you, may be yes but not me, sorry.

I do NOT think that this third possibility mentioned in the OP is compatible (or go along) with the meaning “withered away” or “fading away” or “ends eventually”.

Ok. So what do you mean? Your recent post was:

I’m not sure what you’re trying to express.
Nor am I insisting that the interpretation offered is correct. It was written as a possible interpretation. It’s also possible the two words were used as synonyms with nothing further to add to the topic. But that was the question in the OP.

The cessation of mind is temporary just as that of body is not actual death.

I don’t see anything in this sutta that indicates “temporary cessation.” When food/nutriment ends, body ends,and so forth.


This isn’t really true. That is not the way the word is “normally applied”. It is only a very rare use of the word. Normally it just means straight up disappearing or ending. An example: “Mendicants, I will teach you the origin (samudaya) and ending (atthaṅgama) of suffering.” (SN12.43) This obviously does not means suffering is somehow “not manifesting but is not annihilated”. It just means suffering ceases.

Consider the similarity between this line and the opening line of SN47.42. Clearly the Buddha says that he will teach the arising and cessation of the four satipatthānas including the mind, not their setting like the sun. As Orsen pointed out, that should be clear directly from SN47.42 as well. “When contact ceases, feelings end” is just the standard dependency of feelings on contact. It doesn’t mean feelings somehow remain after contact ceased. Same with citta.

The dependency here of citta on nāmarūpa seems to be the same as that of consciousness on nāmarūpa that we find for example in DN15. And there it is also clear that consciousness ceases when nāmarūpa ceases.

Now, as to your question, why athtangamo is used rather than nirodhā? Well, we can ask that question of any word. Why did you use “rather than” and not “instead of”? :slight_smile: There isn’t a reason behind every word choice we make, and it’s the same with the Pāli canon. But atthaṅgama is often found as the opposite of samudaya, see for example the quote I gave at the start. So that may be the reason. It’s definitely not because of a special connection with citta.

(BTW, we can also wonder what ancient Indians thought happens to the sun at night. Did they know it travels round the earth or did they think it went out? I don’t know, but the latter wouldn’t be a unique idea.)

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  1. Attha, 2 (nt.) (Vedic asta, of uncertain etym. ) home, primarily as place of rest & shelter, but in P. phraseology abstracted from the “going home”, i.e. setting of the sun, as disappearance, going out of existence, annihilation, extinction. Only in Acc. and as °- in foll phrases: atthaṅgacchati to disappear, to go out of existence, to vanish Dh. 226 (= vināsaṃ natthibhāvaṃ gacchati DhA. III, 324), 384 (= parikkhayaṃ gacchati); pp. atthaṅgata gone home, gone to rest, gone, disappeared; of the sun (= set): J. I, 175 (atthaṅgate suriye at sunset); PvA. 55 (id.) 216 (anatthaṅgate s. before sunset) fig. Sn. 472 (atthagata). 475 (id.); 1075 (= niruddha ucchinṇa vinaṭṭha anupādi-sesāya nibbāna-dhātuyā nibbuta); It. 58; Dhs.1038; Vbh. 195. —atthagatatta (nt. abstr.) disappearance SnA 409. —atthaṅgama (atthagama passim) annihilation, disappearance; opposed to samudaya (coming into existence) and synonymous with nirodha (destruction) D. I, 34, 37, 183; S. IV, 327; A. III, 326; Ps. II, 4, 6, 39; Pug. 52; Dhs. 165, 265, 501, 579; Vbh. 105. —atthagamana (nt.) setting (of the sun) J.I, 101 (suriyass’atthagamanā at sunset) DA. I, 95 (= ogamana).—attha-gāmin , in phrase uday’atthagāmin leading to birth and death (of paññā): see udaya. —atthaṃ paleti = atthaṅgacchati (fig.) Sn. 1074 (= atthaṅgameti nirujjhati Nd228).—Also atthamita (pp. of i ) set (of the sun) in phrase anatthamite suriye before sunset (with anatthaṅgamite as v. l. at both pass.) DhA. I, 86; III, 127.—Cp. also abbhattha. (Page 24)

The idea of the sun setting was that it disappeared, went out of sight, went into hiding. In fact, in the Veda, the time of night and darkness was a time of sin (pāpa). The gods and Vedic rituals lifted the Sun and caused it to rise. IIRC part of the idea of the sun moving was that the universe was like a wheel with an axel connected to the sun, and the sun went around in a circle. The sacrifical fire connected to the axel and allowed it to connect to the Sun and transfer oblations and whatnot.

But besides all of that, the main idea was that the Sun disappeared, and it seems like sometimes there are poems about the mystery of this: where does it go? how does it hide? please come back. etc.

So this extends into things vanishing, disappearing, ceasing, etc. and then is used as a normal word for ‘cessation’ as the concept evolves.



That makes sense. In that case ‘disappearance’, which I tend to use, is perhaps a better translation than ‘ending’. Because it can mean both ‘cease being visible’ and ‘cease to exist’.


Yeah, it does make sense with the whole imagery of fire going out as well.

Where does the flame go when it goes out? It just disappears. This means the same thing as it ceasing. So the visual and ‘existential’ aspects correspond.



Many thanks, Bhante. Your explanation is very helpful.

As an aside, I also understood atthaṅgama as equivalent to cessation but the quote from the book I cited, in which it was proposed that it usually meant the setting of the sun, prompted the OP and some speculation on my part.
Your clarification solved the mystery! :slightly_smiling_face:

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Happy to help!

But we all know how to use Google, you know. :wink: