Upalāpana means giving someone something to get what you want from them: “bribe”

When the Buddha had outlined the 7 principles of non-decline to Vassakāra, he responded that the Vajjians could indeed not be overcome except by upalāpana or by “sowing dissension”. The sense of upalāpana has not been clearly recognized by translators. Bodhi has “treachery”; Walshe has “propaganda”; Brahmali (in different contexts) has “befriends”, “supports”, “wins over”; Thanissaro has “befriends”; I had “diplomacy” as does Ānandajoti.

As for dictionaries, Digital Pāḷi Dictionary has “persuading; coaxing; cajoling; buttering up”, to which Cone’s dictionary adds the sense “wins over”.

Let’s have a look at some contexts. Here are the relevant Vinaya passages in @Brahmali’s translation.

pli-tv-bu-vb-pj1:6.1: Sometime later, in the Great Wood near Vesālī, a certain monk befriended a female monkey by giving her food. He then had sexual intercourse with her.

(You might be thinking that the exact meaning of upalāpana is the least interesting thing about this passage, but I will ignore that and forge ahead!)

pli-tv-bu-vb-pc70:1.55: If a monk supports that novice monastic, or he is attended on by him, lives with him, or shares a sleeping place with him, even though he knows that he has been expelled in this way, he commits an offense entailing confession.’”

if he supports him, saying, “I’ll give him a bowl,” “I’ll give him a robe,” “I’ll recite to him,” or “I’ll test him,” he commits an offense entailing confession.

pli-tv-kd2:21.2.4: Those monks should treat that learned monk with kindness. They should assist him and support him, and they should attend on him with bath powder, soap, tooth cleaners, and water for rinsing the mouth.

pli-tv-bu-vb-pj2:7.26.18: A man befriended that monk by giving him food. Seeing a customs station, he gave the monk a valuable gem, saying, “Sir, please take this gem past the customs,”

pli-tv-bu-vb-pj4:1.3.16: Or a bad monk takes valuable goods and requisites from the Sangha—a monastery, the land of a monastery, a dwelling, the site of a dwelling, a bed, a bench, a mattress, a pillow, a metal pot, a metal jar, a metal bucket, a metal bowl, a machete, a hatchet, an ax, a spade, a chisel, a creeper, bamboo, reed, grass, clay, wooden goods, earthenware goods—and uses them to win over and create a following among householders.

In the suttas we find:

sn3.25:4.13: In this royal court there is abundant gold coin and bullion stored in dungeons and towers. Using this wealth we can pay off an approaching enemy.

So in all the cases we find the sense of using some kind of material gift in order to win someone over to your side. This might be done in a wholesome way, as for example providing suitable gifts for a senior monk, but in most cases it is a form of manipulating or bribing. In any case we can definitely rule out “treachery”, “propaganda”, or “diplomacy”. “Supporting” and “befriending” are not completely wrong, but I feel there could be a clearer rendering.

The sense from SN 3.25 is particularly relevant, as it shows exactly how a king might “pay off” or “bribe” an enemy.


first thing that comes to my mind while reading this…
manipulate…control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.
wouldnt work everywhere, but just thought id share

Have no usable idea. But - just to widen the search-space - the term “sugar daddy” comes to mind. (I don’t, for instance, think that “bribe” would be used in such cases)

Thanks for this! This agrees with CPD, which also has “bribe” as a possible rendering.

As you recognise, however, upalāpana is also used when the motive is wholesome. It follows that if we are to use “bribe” when the motivation is unwholesome, then we need another translation when it’s not. In the latter case, “support” or “befriending” would seem to work well. In fact, I now think “support” is better. In the above contexts, especially at pli-tv-bu-vb-pc70:1.55 and pli-tv-kd2:21.2.4, it is not friendship as such which seems to be the point, but rather favourable treatment.

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Doesn’t “win over” work there?

‘schmooze’ has both friendly and personal gain aspects.
Schmoozing with a monkey is a bit weird though :wink:

Unlike literally everything else about that passage?


Yeah, I am not entirely happy with “support”. It’s too broad and loses the connection to speech, which is at the core of upalāpeti. (Still, the story with the monkey shows that upalāpeti is not always concerned with speech.) On the other hand, “win over” would seem to mean that one gets another to agree with one’s position or whatever. It is too close to “persuade”, which is not what we are dealing with here. In both pli-tv-bu-vb-pc70:1.55 and pli-tv-kd2:21.2.4 what is at stake is simply making someone well disposed towards oneself through the way one speaks to them. CPD has “talk in a friendly way to”, which is wordy but to the point. I don’t think there is a single good word in English for this, hence “support”. Perhaps we should follow the commentary which suggests “endearing speech”, piyavacana, which sort of gets us back to “befriend” again. Argh!!!

is not far off the mark, but in this context we should look for a word that does not imply a negative kind of manipulation or ingratiation.


I had a look at all the examples given and perhaps ‘benefit’ might work. ‘To be of benefit’ is free of positive/negative motivations, it is simply how it is viewed from the perspective of the recipient (beneficiary)… something of benefit that makes them well disposed toward the one who acts/speaks/provides something that is beneficial. But perhaps this is too neutral, if the motivation of the benefactor is to ‘win them over’ on purpose … as in manipulate.

The examples cited so far mostly work…

  • A certain monk benefitted/was of benefit to a female monkey by giving her food
  • If a monk is of benefit to that novice
  • If he is of benefit to him by saying I’ll give him a bowl
  • They should assist him and be of benefit to him and attend on him with bath powder…
  • A man benefited/was of benefit to that monk by giving him food
  • …and uses them to be of benefit and create a following among householders
  • Using this wealth we can benefit an approaching enemy - this fragment doesn’t capture it well without further clarification, but it is still to their advantage/benefit to take the wealth rather than fight ??
  • The monks of the group of 6 were of benefit to Kantaka

Just an observation from a non-pali speaker :pray: :slight_smile:


It can just be ‘networking’ or having a friendly hangout with friends according to my Oxford dictionary app.

Some other suggestions
gains favour