Suvira Sutta - Pointing to an Effortless Vayama?

From SN 11.1

“‘If there exists any place anywhere
Where without work one won’t decline,
That is indeed Nibbāna’s path:
Go there, Suvīra,
And take me along with you.’

“So, bhikkhus, if Sakka, lord of the devas, subsisting on the fruit of his own merit, exercising supreme sovereignty and rulership over the Tavatiṃsa devas, will be one who speaks in praise of initiative and energy, then how much more would it be fitting here for you, who have gone forth in such a well-expounded Dhamma and Discipline, to toil, struggle, and strive for the attainment of the as-yet-unattained, for the achievement of the as-yet-unachieved, for the realization of the as-yet-unrealized.”

Lately, one of my little pleasures is to read a small section from the Samyutta Nikaya just before I sleep at night. I recently read Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation of this sutta and found his notes (which I tend to usually ignore as I feel it interrupts the flow most of the time) on this section rather intriguing. There appears to be, and to have been, some confusion about the interpretation of this particular section. I don’t pretend to understand exactly what Ven Bodhi was talking about. I am no Pali expert. But I did work out - possibly erroneously - that there was some thing here that even the authors of the commentaries found confusing.

I am interested to know what Ajahn @Brahmali and Bhante @sujato think about this and what their take on it is.

To me, being someone who doesn’t know enough Pali - but has been meditating on and off for many years and listening to good teachers for a long time - this section of text points to the fact that the type of hard work we ought to be doing is the type where we become skilled at non-doing and not working hard - in particular when it comes to time on the cushion/chair.

I’m also wondering if a section of text is missing. I would’ve expected the Buddha to make things more explicit.

I guess when you take the text as a whole, the overall message is clear and this section does appear confusing. But I couldn’t help smiling as I read it…wondering whether Sakka was telling Suvira that a bliss that comes from “laziness” is the Path to Nibbana! But is this what the Pali is telling us? And is this likely to be the whole of the original text. I don’t have the time to look into it but I can’t help wondering what the parallel texts in Chinese etc. say.

Many thanks for any replies.


Lately, one of my little pleasures is to read a small section from the Samyutta Nikaya just before I sleep at night.

Good on you! The Sagāthavagga especially is full of inspiring and sometimes profound poetry.

I am interested to know what Ajahn @brahmali and Bhante @sujato think about this and what their take on it is.

The trickiest part is the verse you quote above. In the Pali it reads:

Sace atthi akammena, koci kvaci na jīyati;
Nibbānassa hi so maggo, suvīra tattha gacchāhi;
Mañca tattheva pāpayā’’ti

Bhikku Bodhi translates koci as “any place.” Yet the masculine singular form (here koci) normally refers to a person. In impersonal usage, such as with “any place,” we would expect the neuter form instead, kañci or kiñci. If we read koci as “anyone,” we get:

If there is anyone anywhere
Who does not lose out through inaction,
That is the path to Nibbāna:
Go there, Suvīra,
And take me along with you.

I take so maggo, “that path,” to refer back to akammena, “through inaction.”

I think this interpretation, as you mention, fits with the overall message of the sutta, that is, that inaction does not work. I believe this is what the Pali is trying to say.

This does not mean, however, that using huge amounts of force is the correct approach. I think the evidence in the suttas supports the view that using wisdom and wise contemplation are the essential components of “right effort.” This counts as effort because you need to turn the mind in the right direction. And you need to learn to reflect properly, which requires perseverance. If all else fails, then pure willpower can perhaps be used as a last resort, which is the message from MN20. All this relates to the practice morality.

When it comes to meditation practice, letting go of effort is going to be a major part of it. But at this point we are no longer dealing with right effort, but right mindfulness and right stillness.


I agree with the “anyone” argument, but note that the correct reading is probably jīvati. My note on this reads:

The Chinese texts at both SA2 43 (活) and SA 1114 (生) appears to support jivati rather than jiyati. Bingenheimer at sa-2.43 has “Have you ever seen or heard of someone who, without effort, ​attains happiness in life?” Both the Chinese texts have more lines than the Pali, and given that the Pali has five lines, it seems likely the text has suffered loss. I translate according to what I guess the meaning to have been.

I have modified my translation following Brahmali’s reading of koci:

‘If there exists anyone anywhere
who can can live happily without working,
that surely would be extinguishment’s path!
Go there, Suvīra,
and take me with you!’


But what about the na? The Pali has na jīvati, which I find hard to make sense of. The alternative reading na jīyati, however, is quite meaningful.