What does 'aṭavi·saṅkopo' mean?

The expression comes in a number of suttas from AN (AN 5.54, AN 5.78 etc.)

It goes like this:

bhayaṃ hoti aṭavisaṅkopo, cakkasamārūḷhā jānapadā pariyāyanti.

Translations vary a lot

ven. BB:

there is peril, turbulence in the wilderness, and the people of the countryside, mounted on their vehicles, flee on all sides.

ven. TB:

there is danger & an invasion of savage tribes. Taking power, they surround the countryside.

The commentary says:

‘aṭavisaṅkopo’ ti aṭaviyā saṅkopo. aṭavīti cettha aṭavivāsino corā veditabbā. yadā hi te aṭavito janapadaṃ otaritvā gāmanigamarājadhāniyo paharitvā vilumpanti, tadā aṭavisaṅkopo nāma hoti, taṃ sandhāyetaṃ vuttaṃ.

I don’t feel comfortable enough to provide an exact translation, but it says it should be understood as thieves dwelling in the forest, who come out of the forest, invade villages and towns and plunder them

ven. BB: turbulence in the wilderness (saGkopayati in Sankrit means ’ become agitated, excited or angry’)

ven. TB: an invasion of savage tribes (? I guess this is due to those people coming from the forest, translating saṅkopo as ‘savage’)

‘cakkasamārūḷhā’ ti ettha iriyāpathacakkampi vaṭṭati yānacakkampi. bhayasmiṃ hi sampatte yesaṃ yānakāni atthi, te attano parikkhārabhaṇḍaṃ tesu āropetvā palāyanti. yesaṃ natthi, te kājena vā ādāya sīsena vā ukkhipitvā palāyantiyeva. te cakkasamārūḷhā nāma honti.

When the danger arrives, those who have a cart put their important belongings in it and run away, and those who have none take carrying poles or carry their belongings on their head and run away.

ven. BB: mounted on their vehicles

ven. TB: Taking power (? probably a non-litteral interpretation with cakka - the wheel - as symbol of power)

‘pariyāyantī’ ti ito cito ca gacchanti.

Apparently, this means that they go ‘here and there’ (wherever they can).

ven. BB: they flee on all sides

ven. TB: they surround the countryside (this apparently takes janapadā as what should be an accusative, which it is not, it seems).


Yes, it’s a difficult idiom.

First, while the reading you give is the most widely accepted, it is worth bearing in mind that there are many variants: aṭṭavisaṅkopo, aṭavisaṁkho, aṭavisaṅkhepo, aṭavisaṅkhobho. Sankopa doesn’t appear elsewhere so far as i know, but it appears to be derived from kuppati in the sense “agitation, uprising”. The reading saṅkhobha is from saṅkhubhati in a similar meaning. Saṅkhepa appears to be incoherent, even though adopted by the PTS edition. Aṭṭa and saṁkha also appear to be mistakes. (One might almost imagine combining them as aṭṭasaṁkha, “grabbing the conch”, i.e. “sounding the alarm”. But this is way too much of a stretch!)

Aṭavī means “forest, jungle”, and in certain idioms it also means “people of the forest, savage tribes”.

The latter idiom is apparent in Ja 539:

Aṭaviyo samuppannā, raṭṭhaṃ viddhaṃsayanti taṃ
the savages rise up and attack the nation

The commentary interprets aṭavī in AN 5.54 in this sense, as per the passage you quote above:

aṭavīti cettha aṭavivāsino corā veditabbā
here, aṭavī should be understood as bandits living in the jungle

So Ven Thanissaro follows the commentary here, while Ven Bodhi reads the term as meaning simply “forest”, against the commentaries. Ven Bodhi’s reading is more literal, and perhaps more linguistically justified, but it makes for a less clear translation.

Note that I don’t think Thanissaro is translating saṅkopa as “savage”. Rather, I believe he construes aṭavī as “savage tribes”, and saṅkopa is “invasion”.

As you say, Thanissaro appears to have misunderstood the second part of the sentence.

Here’s my translation:

There comes a time of peril from wild savages, and the countryfolk mount their vehicles and flee everywhere.


Flee, hither and thither perhaps?

with metta

That seems to be a better interpretation indeed, Bhante

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From Critical Pali Dictionary:

aṭavī-samkopa, m. (cf. paccanto kupito & aṭaviyo samuppannā above under aṭavī), unrest in forest districts; AN I 178,20 (explained as ‘inroad from forest tribes’ by Mp = aṭaviyā saṁkopo, etc.); Ill 66,9 (w. r. °-saṁkhepo)