Translating the Four Nikāyas


Good luck on your translations!

Just a quick point about your example: “If they make a bad choice, consciousness goes to a bad place.”

I like your thoughts on upaga and vinnana. Awareness as vinnana may not be that bad, although consciousness seems to work fine. At times it also seems like sanna could be awareness. In “the cessation of perception and feeling” for example, or in DN1 speaking about different types of wrong view about “immortal perception”. In English one doesn’t really say that.

It’s more understandable, but what would be a “imperturbable choice” then? How can you make a choice in such a state of mind?

The concept of sankhara seems much broader than choice, as it includes just will in general. I’d say even the anusaya (“underlying tendencies”) fall under them, because these also lead to the rebirth of consciousness, so must be included in sankhara in dependent arising.

I also think unmeritorious is not too obscure, especially in Buddhist circles.

In lack of a better word for sankhara I like “activities” in general. So just a quick draft:

“If he does an unmeritorious act, consciousness goes to a place in accordance with that.”

Just my thoughts.



Respectful Greetings, Ajahn Sujato,

Thank you so much for Getting It™ when it comes to releasing your works under Creative Commons licensing. Regardless of the quality of readable translation that comes out of this process (which I’m confident will be very good, if not excellent), the value in having it in a reusable, non-proprietary format is intensely valuable. The average reader/user may not have a sufficient technical background to appreciate this, but I feel it’s an aspect pretty much worth more than the translation itself (since it facilitates future, easier translations, and opens many new doors to future contributors).

Thank you for taking the time to make a technically clean and geek-compatible implementation of your work. I think it will seriously pay off in the longer term. In time, you might just become the “Linus Torvalds of Buddhist written teachings” (in the sense of imbuing “Openness” into all the underlying media conveying these teachings).

I feel this development in Buddhist history is akin to inventing the printing press.


Sounds reasonable. The problem with act or activities is that it sounds very external. We don’t usually use it of a purely mental event. In addition, I feel that “choice” has a more ethical orientation to it. But I recognize the problems that you raise. On the whole, it would be best to use the rendering that offers the most clear meaning in common contexts, and when it gets to something obscure like anenjasankhara, well do our best!


Thanks so much, this makes me happy! We are in a new world, and we need Buddhist texts for it. I can’t wait to put these translations out there, and see what people do with them!


The translating software you picked, Virtaal, is very cross-platform. It’s already in my “Software Manager” in Linux Mint (and it got a 4 out of 5 stars rating there). Here are a few screenshots (which I couldn’t find any of either in Wikipedia, or on Virtaal’s website), for anyone interested in what it looks like, to actually use:



In fact we’re no longer using Virtaal. We are using Pootle, which is from the same team. It seems they have more or less ceased development of Virtaal. They both use the same underlying technology, but Pootle has the great advantage of being a web app. So you just point it to a URL and anyone can use it to edit in their browser, no installation needed.

The files are still 100% compatible with Virtaal and other local PO editors, but only on Pootle will you have access to the special features like Pali lookup and so on.


You may find useful a Pali morphological analyzer:





Thanks for letting us know about these. @blake and @vimala, when you get a moment you might want to check these out.


@blake, it turns out that @vimala and I are fairly near where the author of these programs lives, for these next few days. Vimala has contacted them, and we are trying to arrange a meeting. May I ask you to check them out right away, if possible, so you can give us some feedback for the meeting? Thanks.


Dear Bhante

Apologies for raking up this old post. I would like to ask for your thoughts on the nature of the “moral choice” that is made as saṅkhāra. The principal issue for me is of course the possibility of free choice in these matters, especially when we enter the realm of the anusayas.

I have in mind the Cetanā Suttas in SN 12.38 -40. Three layers of saṅkhāra are discussed, denoted by the verbs ceteti, pakappeti and finally anuseti.

The activities denoted by the first 2 verbs fit perfectly into the “choice” interpretation, but does one floundering around without meditation have much, if any choice with his/her anusayas? Certainly, the notion that one can veto choices is another choice in itself. But for the MN 64 infant mired in its latent tendencies, what choice does it exercise when it anuseti?

Skillful meditators would indeed have a choice when they become aware of the anusayas. But I’m not so sure if “choice” can be meaningfully attributed to untrained persons in relation to latent tendencies.

What does Bhante think?


None at all. Because the link between an underlying defilement and an explicit moral choice requires a certain maturity of mind and thought, which they have not yet developed—which is, in fact, the point of that very passage.

Why not? People make choices that go against their defilements all the time. “I want an extra piece of cake—no, that’s being greedy!” “I’m really angry, I want to hit him—no, calm down, breathe, let it go.”

Anusayas influence choices, but they don’t determine them.


these are examples of so to speak gross expression of anusayas, which are very clear and visible, but more subtle automatic reactions i think are also governed or influenced by them and these are a lot harder to subject to free will without training


Sure, but that wasn’t the original question.


Do they determine them for an infant?

I would suppose that they did, and that maturation was a process of ‘switching on’ the full set of executive (and therefore morally-significant) mental functions (something settling down around age 25, perhaps, since that’s when myelin sheathing is done, but who knows?)


How could they? Children, or at least infants, don’t make morally significant choices. That’s why we don’t hold them accountable by law or morality, and it’s why kamma doesn’t really get working until you grow up (see MN 38). To make kamma you need upadāna, and that involves, as you say, “executive” functions, like holding views of self.

Since infants don’t make kamma, but they do have anusaya, therefore the anusaya don’t determine choices.

This is fundamental to all Buddhist treatments of causality. There is not one, single determinative factor, but multiple interrelated webs of cause and effect.

What’s myelin sheathing? Is that the moment in your twenties when life stops being fun and you realize it’s all downhill from here?


Dear Sylvester,

I don’t think oneanusetis,” rather it is the defilements that anuseti. The point about these defilements, and this is quite clear from MN64, is precisely that they are mostly latent, and as such they are usually not directly experienced. You may be perfectly content, but anger and desire can potentially arise at any time. Knowledge of these underlying tendencies is mostly inferential.

I say mostly inferential because there can also be some degree of awareness of these tendencies, and this is in part what SN12.38 - SN12.40 are about. These suttas make the point that even if volition is not operating when you die, the underlying tendencies will ensure that you get reborn. The underlying tendencies can be regarded as the “station” of consciousness (viññāṇaṭṭhiti) and the particular “direction” of the mind. In other words, your mind has been developed in a particular direction, and it is aiming, inclining, and pointing towards wherever it thinks happiness is to be found. This is what the second and third links of dependent origination are about, saṅkhārapaccayā viññāṇa: the sum of the moral qualities of your volitions affects the station of your consciousness in this life and then upon rebirth. And this station of consciousness can be directly experienced, because it is nothing other than the general level or quality of your consciousness, and the general direction in which your volition is pointing.


Myelin sheaths are basically the brain coating otherwise exposed wiring, solidifying the build of the thing to increase inter-brain communication speed, but I do use it with a heavy & ignorant “perhaps”.

Otherwise, thank you.


Thank you Ajahn Brahmali. I agree completely with your points, although I am not so sure about this -

even if volition is not operating when you die , the underlying tendencies will ensure that you get reborn.

It’s not at all apparent to me from the texts that for this nidāna to be effective, it has to be operating when one dies (in the sense that one must be intending when dying). I thought it is enough to have been performed at any time in the past before death; perhaps Bhante meant “clinging”?

What I find unsatisfactory is Bhante Sujato’s counter-example -

“I want an extra piece of cake—no, that’s being greedy!” “I’m really angry, I want to hit him—no, calm down, breathe, let it go.”

Those do not seem to be examples of the underlying tendencies not underlying. Those look like cases of one intending to veto any further kamma that flows from the underlying tendencies underlying. If one looks at eg SN 36.6 using the paṭighānusaya paradigm, this tendency is only said not to underlie if “paṭigha na hoti”. In fact, in the 2nd example, the fact that one is angry already establishes that the underlying tendency to aversion underlied (at least at that moment).

Which brings me back to my point - do we actually have a choice when it comes to the anusaya anuseti-ing or not anuseti-ing a particular feeling?


Perhaps “operating” was the wrong word. The point is that the anusayas will ensure rebirth until you are an arahant. Their very existence is enough.

You don’t have any choice about the existence of the underlying tendencies, but the degree to which they give rise to defilements will depend on the development of your mind. The greater your mindfulness, samādhi, and wisdom, the less power the anusayas will have in expressing themselves as experienced defilements.