Translating the Four Nikāyas

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.

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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.

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Thank you Bhante. With this -

, I wholeheartedly agree. Now we probably need a glossary of the glossary, ie what does “choice” mean in relation to sankhāra.

Well, the point being that you can’t overload a translation. Even a natively written English text read by a native speaker, if it is of any complexity, requires some study, reflection, and consideration. If you try to inject the full quantity of meaning you think you read into every word, it rapidly becomes overdone, like bread with too much butter.

But hey, that’s why we have Discourse, right?


That’s true, Bhante.

BTW, how would you translate anuseti and nānuseti? I get the sense that some treat the anuseti as just the fact of the anusaya “being there”, or existing. But when I look at the context of those suttas that conjecture and contrast the case of someone in whom the anusaya anuseti, versus another in whom the anusaya does not anuseti, they don’t seem to be contrasting arahants from the rest.

Might it be easier to just treat anuseti as carrying an idiomatic sense of “being activated”, rather than just mere presence/existence?

So far, “linger”.

AN 3.132

So ca khvassa kodho dīgharattaṃ anuseti.
and their anger lingers for a long time.

AN 4.10

yo kāmesu kāmarāgo kāmanandī kāmasneho kāmamucchā kāmapipāsā kāmapariḷāho kāmajjhosānaṃ kāmataṇhā sā nānuseti.
So the lust, delight, affection, infatuation, thirst, fever, attachment, and craving for sensual pleasures don’t linger on inside.

I like this for these passages, but I haven’t encountered a lot of contexts yet, so we’ll see.

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as puthujana i think we don’t since we have little control over arising of emotions, ideas, desires, urges and reactions, the best we can do is notice them and inhibit their development

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in this respect, of interest is the practice of self-will denial in Christian monastic asceticism, where obedience to a spiritual guide and ecclesiastic authority is regarded a virtue

following a set of rules and instructions imposed from outside such as the proverbial “god’s will” or precepts and Vinaya i think serves the same purpose as self-will denial, namely reduction in the scope of one’s own new kamma making

basically the less there’s of the self, i.e. volition, the less kamma is produced

If it’s a situation beyond your control, then I agree, you have less capacity to make significant choices.

But if you choose to submit your will, that in itself is a choice, a very powerful choice, to abdicate your responsibility as an adult.

that’s true, the question is what sort of choice this is: wholesome or otherwise, and if it’s made it will be one of the fewer choices overal to be made for as long as it is effective
fewer choices means less kamma, including the unwholesome one, i suppose ? :confused:

We have to take responsibility for things we’re responsible for. This is, I think, a really important part of spiritual life. It is so easy to just say, “I’m letting go”, when what it means is that you’re shirking responsibility, afraid to make decisions, and not being accountable for the harm this causes others.

I think this is what’s meant when the suttas say the dumbest of all ascetics are those who can’t even decide what’s right and what’s wrong. We have to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and that knowledge brings with it the responsibility to act accordingly. Heck, even Spiderman knows this. If we can’t do this, then everything we build on top has no foundation.


i think quite the opposite, it takes great courage to submit one’s will, to stop asserting oneself exercising one’s ego which is nothing but defilements anyway
and of course one doesn’t submit one’s will to any Tom, Dick and Hary, it obviously is a person who themself knows right from wrong and follows the same path as you, who in effect is and must be a kalyanamitta, only more experienced and wise
neither one abdicates one’s own understanding of what the path demands and is about and the ability to gauge the guidance by another against this understanding

Bhante, what a fantastic project, and very much needed.

18 months doesn’t seem long enough but I wish you the best and am really looking forward to reading the results.

Thanks for the support.

No doubt! If I allowed myself to think of the real scale of it I would probably never have started.

At the moment I’d estimate about 24 months. But however long it takes, the main thing is quality. It will be ready when it’s ready.


Bhante, I don’t know when this is happening (I see the thread is nearly a year old?) but I wish you a safe journey and good luck on your quest!