What does it mean to eat for decoration and adornment?

Bhante @sujato, quoting from your essay A Reader’s Guide to the Pali Suttas:

And with Ajahn Brahmali, who has been working on Vinaya translations at the same time, I have had many illuminating discussions about the meaning of various words and phrases. He said one thing that stuck in my mind: a translation should mean something . Even if you’re not sure what the text means, we can be sure that it had some meaning, so to translate it based purely on lexical correspondences is to not really translate it at all. Say what you think the text means, and if you make a mistake, fix it.

A translation should mean something.

What does that mean in the case of the formula for reflection on food:

mn2: ‘Not for fun, indulgence, adornment, or decoration, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support spiritual practice. In this way, I shall put an end to old discomfort and not give rise to new discomfort, and I will live blamelessly and at ease.’

What do you think it means to eat “for adornment” and “for decoration”? Is it about playing around with food, using bits from my almsbowl to “adorn” myself or to “decorate” the dining hall? Or… ? I’ve never actually understood this. :thinking:

Paṭisaṅkhā yoniso piṇḍapātaṃ paṭisevati: ‘neva davāya, na madāya, na maṇḍanāya, na vibhūsanāya, yāvadeva imassa kāyassa ṭhitiyā yāpanāya, vihiṃsūparatiyā, brahmacariyānuggahāya, iti purāṇañca vedanaṃ paṭihaṅkhāmi navañca vedanaṃ na uppādessāmi, yātrā ca me bhavissati anavajjatā ca phāsuvihāro ca’.

Reflecting properly, they make use of almsfood: ‘Not for fun, indulgence, adornment, or decoration, but only to sustain this body, to avoid harm, and to support spiritual practice. In this way, I shall put an end to old discomfort and not give rise to new discomfort, and I will live blamelessly and at ease.’

na maṇḍanāya - Not for adornment
rather be "not for putting on weight like bodybuilding and things like that."
na vibhūsanāya - Not for decoration
rather be "not for beautification / not for having fare and lovely skin / attractive skin or something like that"

“Properly considering almsfood, I use it: not playfully, nor for intoxication, nor for putting on weight, nor for beautification; but simply for the survival and continuance of this body, for ending its afflictions, for the support of the chaste life, (thinking) I will destroy old feelings (of hunger) and not create new feelings (from overeating). Thus I will maintain myself, be blameless, and live in comfort.”


Indeed, as the venerable said. I’ll consider rephrasing it to make it more clear.


Thank you, Bhantes. With your help the German version now reads like this:

‚Nicht zum Spaß, nicht zum Schwelgen, nicht, um kräftig oder hübsch auszusehen, sondern nur zum Erhalt dieses Körpers, um Schaden abzuwenden und die geistliche Übung zu fördern. So werde ich altes Unbehagen beenden und neues nicht entstehen lassen, und ich werde ohne Tadel und unbeschwert leben.‘


Dear @sabbamitta your translation reads so beautifully, like poetry :pray: :heart_eyes:


Interestingly, in the Madhyama-āgama and Ekottarika-āgama versions of MN 2, the recommendation to avoid adornment occurs in relation to robes and dwelling places, not food. In A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-Nikāya, Vol. 1, Venerable Anālayo makes the case that the part about adornment didn’t originally belong with the requisite of food. I’ve attached a PDF of the relevant page (single page with footnotes).

Adornment.pdf (580.8 KB)


Thank you very much for pointing this out! This does of course explain why the idea of eating for adornment and decoration seems somewhat strange to the topic, and so my original association of “adorning” the exterior of the body and “decorating” a room seems in fact not too far fetched; only strange when it has to be squared with food.

Interesting also to see that the explanation given above stems from the Visuddhimagga—which may be a sign that at that time too they were struggling in order to understand this passage.

Still, when translating we have to translate the text as it stands; but I am going to reconsider how exactly I want to put this. Maybe I should translate it with regards to the context it originally belongs to?



I agree with you completely. The text has to be translated as it stands, regardless of hypotheses that seem likely but can’t be definitively proven. I think the ideal situation would be to incorporate footnotes into the translation, as Bhikkhu Bodhi does. This allows for the addition of relevant contextual information from the translator. But I know SC doesn’t have this feature and there are valid reasons for that.


For the English version this would mean that “adornment and decoration” as it stands are actually quite fine. Bhante @sujato, what do you think?

As much as I am aware SC is currently working on a feature like this which would allow to view notes for those who wish, and for those who don’t it could just be the plain sutta text:

Expectant to see it come! :star_struck:


Oh, thanks, I remember this, but forgot where it was. In passages like this, where the original text is not quite clear or coherent, I try to avoid “smoothing” out the translation; the rough edges should appear rough.

Indeed, our new data structure supports notes, and they will appear when the site is updated some time next year. Also we plan to build a note field into Bilara for translators.

One reason we are doing this now is that we have found a way to incorporate notes while also keeping the data clean. Normally notes are a kludge on the coding side. But the way we are doing it we can insert even multiple sets of notes or none at all.