What does "appamada" mean?


What exactly does “appamada” mean?

At Savatthi. As he was sitting to one side, King Pasenadi Kosala said to the Blessed One: “Is there, lord, any one quality that keeps both kinds of benefit secure — benefits in this life & benefits in lives to come?”

“There is one quality, great king, that keeps both kinds of benefit secure — benefits in this life & benefits in lives to come.”

“But what, lord, is that one quality…?”

“Heedfulness, great king. Just as the footprints of all living beings with legs can be encompassed by the footprint of the elephant, and the elephant’s footprint is declared to be supreme among them in terms of its great size; in the same way, heedfulness is the one quality that keeps both kinds of benefit secure — benefits in this life & benefits in lives to come.”

That is what the Blessed One said. Having said that, the One Well-Gone, the Teacher, said further:

For one who desires long life, health, beauty, heaven, & noble birth, — lavish delights, one after another — the wise praise heedfulness in performing deeds of merit. When heedful, wise, you achieve both kinds of benefit: benefits in this life, & benefits in lives to come. By breaking through to your benefit, you’re called enlightened, wise.
Appamada Sutta: Heedfulness
Appamada Sutta: Heedfulness

The most nuanced answer that I came across was that it is a multi-valent word with multiple meanings such as:

  1. without delay (non-procrastination, proactivity)
  2. without confusion (non-confusion, clarity)
  3. practice (perhaps the practice of the Dhamma or Dhamma-Vinaya?)

The reason why I am still confused is because might have been that person’s thesis topic.
Thus, they seem to have provided me a good, nuanced, complex, but “academic” answer.

In this discourse, Pasenadi asks for literally “one quality” only - he didn’t ask for three.

In a different sutta, he was told about three qualities that arise for the harm of others
(Loka Sutta: (Qualities of) the World).
So if the Buddha meant to say three different qualities, he seems like he would have directly specified three separate qualities.

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi offered the following explanation:
This is a commentarial definition of appamada:
“Working carefully, working consistently, working persistently, for the development of wholesome qualities; doing one’s duty, not relinquishing desire, not relinquishing the task….”

Buddha’s last words seem to be:
vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā”ti.
Conditions fall apart. Persist with diligence(?).’”

Diligence, heedfulness, etc. are all synonyms with different connotations.
I.e. not exactly the same word.

Saying that there is no exact English translation may be correct, but it is not helpful either.
Perhaps it would be more helpful to explain what exactly the word “appamada” means in the context of these discourses in as many words as is necessary to convey the meaning.

What exactly does “appamada” mean?
What exactly is this one and only one quality?

Is it possible to choose the one most suitable English translation that the Buddha might have told Pasenadi in just one word and one word only had he spoken in English?


In one of the discourses the name of which I do not remember, the Buddha uses the simile of a man whose hair is on fire to convey the the significance of appamada.
That is, the Buddha says, the fire on hair can be extinguished later but practice the path now.
Whatever the English words are used to describe appamada the meaning the Buddha attaches to the word is urgency to practice the path.
With Metta


Literally, the term is a negation of negligence, carelessness, or similar negative ideas. English doesn’t typically use a negation for a positive things like other languages do, so we end up picking words like heedfulness and diligence as a translation. I’ve thought sometimes “carefulness” or “taking care” is a good translation in some passages because the term means not being inattentive or unmindful of the precepts, etc.

The old Chinese translation was fairly literal, 不放逸 or 無放逸, where 不 means “not” and 無 means “no.” 放逸 originally meant “wayward” or “willful” (like a willful child). So, “non-wayward” was the literal meaning.


Get up
Sit up
What’s your need for sleep?
And what sleep is there for the afflicted,
pierced by the arrow,

Get up
Sit up
Train firmly for the sake of peace,
Don’t let the king of death,
— seeing you heedless —
deceive you,
bring you under his sway.

Cross over the attachment
to which human & heavenly beings,
remain desiring
Don’t let the moment pass by.
Those for whom the moment is past
grieve, consigned to hell.

Heedless is
dust, dust
comes from heedlessness
has heedlessness
on its heels.
Through heedfulness & clear knowing
you’d remove
your own sorrow.


Wayward is refractory ,obstinate .

放 is set , release , let off .
逸 is escaping , leisurely , relaxed .
放逸 is overly lax , slack , slovenly .

放逸 = excessively lax , undisciplined,profligate .

:arrow_forward: 《雜寶藏經·龍王偈緣》:「何故應當爲一生,而可放逸作惡行。」

:arrow_forward: 又《帝釋問事緣》:「世尊告言:‘善哉!善哉!憍屍迦:若汝不放逸,當得斯陀含。’」


Wayward means more than obstinate, but sometimes it’s used just to mean that. It’s more like self-centered or rebellious. Being independent-minded in a bad way. It can imply the person is perverse, or just goes against social norms. The wayward child is the one that didn’t mind their parents and now they’re never-do-wells. They should have just gone to medical school like they were told, but they didn’t.

The modern Chinese Buddhist understanding of 放逸 would be negligence or undisciplined, I agree. Modern Chinese dictionaries tend to connect 不放逸 with right effort.

I was just commenting on the old classical usage that would match Pali pamada or Skt. pramada when the translators chose it. It meant self-indulgent or wayward according to Gakken, which implies the person isn’t diligent or productive, I guess. See 放逸 or 放恣.

BTW, Monier-Williams says apramāda means “careful, cautious, care, vigilance.”