Titthiya and nānāsaṃvāsaka

Titthiya is almost universally translated as “one who belongs to another sect”, or some similar expression involving the term “sect”. The problem with this is that the titthiyas describe the adherents of any spiritual path apart from the Buddhist, including, for instance, the Jains. At present we would call Jainism a religion, not a sect. It seems to me, therefore, that titthiya should rendered as “one who belong to another religion”.

In fact, the word sect normally implies an subset of a larger religion, often a non-conformist group establishing their own orthodoxy. Now there is a Pali word, quite frequently used in the Vinaya Piṭaka, that almost perfectly matched this description, namely nānāsaṃvāsaka. Nānāsaṃvāsakas are Buddhist monastics who get ejected either for holding a wrong view or for refusing to abide by the monastic rules and regulations. They are, in effect, sectarians. Alternatively, nānāsaṃvāsakas are Buddhist monastics who disagree with the opinions in a certain monastic community and then formally separate themselves from those monastics. This, too, is a kind of sectarianism.

So, by freeing up the word sect by not using it for titthiya, it can now be used for nānāsaṃvāsaka instead. I now render nānāsaṃvāsaka as “one who belongs to a different Buddhist sect”.


This is one of those awkward terms to translate from Chinese, too. They interpreted it very broadly as “outside path” 外道, meaning any type of philosophical or religious teaching that isn’t Buddhist. Usually, translators change to something like heretics or non-Buddhists.


Well, it’s always difficult to map social concepts, especially when they have a history and set of connotations. Let’s try tho!

Phrases include:

  • tittha = “religion”
  • titthiya = “religious follower”
  • titthakara = “religious founder”.
  • aññatitthiya = “follower of another religion”
  • aññatitthiya paribbājaka = “wanderer following another religion”
  • titthiyasāvaka = “disciple of the followers of another religion” (?)
  • titthāyatana = “religious tenets”

Does that seem okay?

One problem with “sect” for nānāsaṃvāsaka is that it might tend to get read into Buddhist history, i.e. as equivalent to nikāya. But as it doesn’t occur in the Suttas, it’s not my problem!

I’m very partial to using the term “path” instead of “religion” or “faith”. It’s definitely more in line with the usage throughout Asia. I don’t have the knee-jerk reaction to “religion” that many have, though.


Largely it does, although I see some of these terms slightly differently. Not all of them occur in the Vinaya, but here are my current renderings of those that do:

  • titthiya: “an ascetic of another religion”. In this way it is distinguished from titthiyasāvaka. One of the commentaries states: Tattha titthiyāti … tesaṃ sāsane pabbajitā pūraṇādayo cha satthāro.
  • aññatitthiya: I take this to be a synonym for titthiya, see e.g. aññatitthiyapubbo, which I render “someone who was formerly an ascetic of another religion”.
  • aññatitthiya paribbājaka: “a wanderer of another religion”.
  • titthāyatana: I now have it simply as “religion” (tittha does not occur in the Vinaya), but perhaps I need to adjust this. In the Vinaya a person is said to physically go to and return from a titthāyatana, which seems to suggest it means “the community of another religion”. Here is what the commentary says: Titthāyatanānīti titthabhūtāni āyatanāni, titthiyānaṃ vā āyatanāni.
  • titthiyasāvaka: “a lay follower of another religion”.

Yes, I suppose that’s inevitable, but in a sense some of these nānāsaṃvāsakas could be regarded as forming proto-nikāyas. I am thinking of Devadatta’s followers in particular, but also the Vinaya’s frequent reference to nānāsaṃvāsakas, their monasteries, and how to deal with them. This suggests the formation of sects was well advanced by the time of the Second Council.

There are quite a number of terms in the Pali for spiritual or religious systems, such as tittha, brahmacariya, and dhammavinaya, and we obviously need terms in English for all of them. “Path” is certainly a very useful one to help distinguish them from each other. Currently I have “a spiritual path” for dhammavinaya and “a spiritual life” for brahmacariya.


So lovely and inspiring to see everyone working away :slightly_smiling_face:

With Gratitude and Metta
:pray:t2: :dharmawheel: :revolving_hearts:


Bhante @sujato does the words has the meaning of being the followers of the tīrthaṅkaras?

It could be. Then your translation can resolve around that. For example Follower of tīrthaṅkara

That one word was used for the Leaders of other religions.

See mulasarvastivada vinaya. The Tīrthikas section

The trouble with this solution is that English-reading people would ask 'Who were the tīrthaṅkaras? … and so we get straight back to the original issue.

Sect in English has not always carried pejorative connotations. The Cambridge Dictionary gives these three definitions:

  1. a religious group that has separated from a larger religion and is considered to have extreme or unusual beliefs or customs (usually disapproving)
  2. a religious group with beliefs that make it different from a larger or more established religion it has separated from
  3. A sect is also a small group of people who share a particular set of political beliefs.

A subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary would allow one to read the full history of the word’s use which, if I recall correctly, started out quite benignly and gradually gathered disapproving overtones. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century a lot of Protestant sects arose in Christian countries and sect designated simply Christian groups that were ‘not Roman Catholic and not Church of England’.

The word didn’t start developing negative connotations until round about the beginning of the twentieth century, so if the early translators used it, they were actually being quite accurate in their time. This is a good example of why new generations need new translations of ancient texts.

Pāḷi changed in its day but the written texts we see don’t change further; however all modern living languages are in a state of continual slow change.

See also Wikipedia ‘Sect’ here.
Totally off-topic but rather fun: The religious sect that became baseball’s answer to the Harlem Globetrotters


We translate things like Brahmins. And people usually just quess its a group if they are beginner. And even more advanced student never care to properly search about Brahmins.

It would be nice if suttacentral makes the suttas like the 84000 website.

That way if you click on Tīrthikas and it says what it means. It’s very handy. Because I think we have to start using old terms back. It’s nice for us that are students of this path.

I believe it’s very important to do that. Start leaving the common words untranslated. Introduce us to new ones. That way suttacentral becomes a pali beginner website.

I suggest using sects of Tīrthikas

And leaving the definition by now in the suttacentral dictionary

I hope you take my suggestion to make immediate definition or meaning

Would love that. Learning suttas and new words :heart:




Brahmin is one of those words that’s been adopted into the English language. … Anyway, I think we should leave the “real” translators to get on with discussing their work. :wink:

I don’t actually intend it in a pejorative sense, but rather to indicate a sub-group within Buddhism. It seems to me that a spiritual path that is entirely external to Buddhism would best be regarded as a (different) religion, not a (different) sect.

If you display the Pali and the English text side-by-side, and then enable the Pali lookup tool, you will get quite a bit of information on each word merely by hovering over any Pali word that interests you.


Greetings cdpatton ,

Actually , 外道 is in contrast with 內道( inner path) which means turning inwardly therefore not seeking outwardly and not referring to non-buddhist .

外道 is well documented as a translation of Skt. tīrthya and related terms.

See, for example, its Digital Dictionary of Buddhism entry for the various ways it’s defined. You can also get an in-depth definition and discussion from the 佛光大辭典.

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Sorry my meaning was to address the translator intention in the usage of 外道 (seeking outwardly) and 內道 ( implied buddhism which has the meaning turning inwardly as yoniso manasikara) and not (just) referring to non buddhist .

Oh yeah Bhante. I didn’t play around with that. But I meant like while reading without needing to do that. Just to use a new term.

It’s seems I only have in my mind the words that is untranslated.

But I play with that. Ok now carry on. :pray:t4:

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I understand that … I was wondering if a problem might possibly arise through readers applying a pejorative meaning to the word when they encouter it.

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AFAIK, Buddhism and Jainism are just “sects” of Sramana movement (including those 7 spiritual teachers of that time mentioned in DN 2). So I think it’s ok to be rendered as “other sects” for titthiya.

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:joy: I just thought something. If you see the meaning in Sanskrit crossing. Meaning the Sangha meant crossing hearers. Like just passers by hearers. :rofl:

I see what you mean. I think in many cases the pejorative sense is quit appropriate, the sect formed by Devadatta being a case in point. And I think a lot of the monastics who were nānāsaṃvāsaka in the early days of Buddhism were of this sort. This follows from how their status as outsiders often arose, namely by being expelled from the Sangha. Such monastics would not have been considered as equals.

It is true, however, that sect may not be the best word for the different divisions into nikayas that we find in Theravada Buddhism today, but then the word is not meant to describe our current situation. Yet even within the nikaya system, it is common for people of one nikaya to look down upon those of other nikayas, often not considering them as properly ordained and all that. So sect is perhaps not entirely wrong in this case either.

You are right, but the samaṇa movement was not a unified religious movement; it was more like a social category. Again, when it comes to translation, I think we need to ask what would we call these various “spiritual paths” today. As I have mentioned above, we would consider Jainism and Buddhism as different religions, at least in common usage.

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