Why should a good man disdain human life?

“Appamāyu manussānaṃ, hīḷeyya naṃ suporiso;
Careyyādittasīsova, natthi maccussa nāgamo”ti.(S I 108)

[The Blessed One:]
Short is the life span of human beings,
The good man should disdain it.
One should live like one with head aflame:
There is no avoiding Death’s arrival.
—English translation by Bodhi Bhikkhu

Doesn’t “hīḷeyya” imply that the Buddha has an unwholesome mental state? Why should life be distained?

Here is the link to the Paṭhamaāyu Sutta SN 4.9 for reference.

The point of the Buddhist path is to come out the the endless cycle of rebirth (samsara) which is suffering. A fully enlightened being has no more births and has also escaped suffering. From their point of view, any life is suffering and should be disdained in favour of reaching enlightenment and no more births.

Here the Buddha is pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of a short human life, which will soon end in death and then more rebirth and suffering. He is encouraging people to practice diligently to escape such a fate.

No, he is just indicating the mental attitude one should have to samsara if one wants to get out of suffering.

He is not saying that life is worthless but rather, encouraging us to use our short lives well!


Atha kho māro pāpimā yena bhagavā tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā bhagavantaṃ gāthāya ajjhabhāsi:

But isn’t it Mara speaking, and addressing the Buddha?

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@Gillian The Pali passage I quoted here is from the Buddha.

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Hi @Gillian!

Mara says to the Buddha:

“Dīghamāyu manussānaṃ,
na naṃ hīḷe suporiso;
Careyya khīramattova,
natthi maccussa āgamo”ti.

We get the end quote marker, “ti”, for Mara’s speech. The response quoted in the OP is from the Buddha. :slightly_smiling_face:

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As so often the way things come across in translation may affect the emotional charge of particular phrases in unintended ways. So we have to be careful about reading out of the translation, rather than reading in to the text. Let’s first see what we can learn about the word.

The verb hīḷeti is quite a rare one, and only features a few times in the EBTs, and apparently always in verse. A quick search shows the following:

  • Snp 3.11: One should not hīḷeti even a little giving.
  • DN 21: two (who were reborn in a higher realm) hīḷeti even the gods (of the lower realms.)

It may well appear elsewhere! But the fact that it seems a poetic term suggests that there are probably more common synonyms used in prose. And in later texts such as the Milinda, we find phrases like oññāto hoti hīḷito khīḷito garahito paribhūto acittīkato. These are basically all terms to “criticize, look down on”, etc. If understood as “criticism” then they may or may not be associated with negative mental states: some criticism is justified.

The commentary doesn’t gloss this word, so that’s no help.

In Sanskrit, it also appears to be quite rare, and has two basic senses:

  • to be angry
  • to disregard or slight

So much for the word meaning, let’s not forget the narrative context, too!

The Buddha gives a teaching on the brevity of life and the need for living a good life so as to not waste our time. Mara comes along and contradicts the Buddha, using the word hīḷeti.

It seems that, given the two senses of the word, Mara is deliberately trying to slight the Buddha, laying a trap for him. One might even say that Mara is hīḷeti-ing the Buddha!

On the one hand, Mara is justified in saying that the Buddha is “criticizing” or pointing out the downsides of life. On the other hand, by choosing this specific, very rare word, he is also implying that the Buddha does so out of negativity and anger. It’s kind of a passive-aggressive word game.

The Buddha doesn’t play the game, though. He just owns it: Sure, I’ll sledge the shortness of life, it’s suffering, and we should never forget it!

This is one of the Buddha’s rhetorical tools, and we find it used in a number of places, most prominently in the Veranja Sutta. There, the Buddha is addressed in an aggressive way, accused of all manner of bad things. But he doesn’t reject the labels, he accepts them, but redefining them in his own way.


Hi Classmate!

Thank you for the correction. :slight_smile:

I read the two '-ti’s as attributing both verses to Mara; I didn’t realise that ‘-ti’ necessarily signals a change of conversational turn. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation makes it absolutely clear who is speaking each verse:

Then Mara the Evil One approached the Blessed One and addressed him in verse:

5“Long is the life span of human beings,
The good man should not disdain it.
One should live like a milk-sucking baby:
Death has not made its arrival.”

The Blessed One:

6“Short is the life span of human beings,
The good man should disdain it.
One should live like one with head aflame:
There is no avoiding Death’s arrival.”

Then Mara the Evil One … disappeared right there.

& I failed to count the ’ " 's @sujato’s translation: very subtle!!!


Huh. I read the “ti” as signaling the change in speaker. But now that you mention it, I’m not sure it necessarily signals that in all cases.

Good point! Thanks! I will research!

Or maybe some kindly Pali speaker will stop by. :smile:


Since the second verse is a direct rebuttal of the first, it would make sense that it would be the Buddha’s reply, no?
Kathaṃ vā ettha hotī”ti? :smiley:


That would be cool. :smiley:

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Thanks, @stephen :slightly_smiling_face: Yes, in this passage I know from context it is the Buddha’s reply.

@Gillian and I were wondering if the “ti” always signalled a change in speakers. Or if the same speaker might make multiple statements in a row that use “ti”.

Evameva kho. :smiley:

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Maybe because “life” is a part of dukkha.
And the goal of Buddhism is to end dukkha.

the ‘ti’ is often used to indicate ‘direct speech’ , without a change of speaker. A bit like a thought bubble in a comic strip. Consider this passage from the discourse on the nature of non-self:

labbhetha ca rūpe – ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti. Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ anattā, tasmā rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvattati, na ca labbhati rūpe – ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti.

As IB Horner translated:
and one might get the chance of saying in regard to body, ‘Let body become thus for me, let body not become thus for me’. But inasmuch, monks, as body is not self, therefore body tends to sickness, and one does not get the chance of saying in regard to body, ‘Let body become thus for me, let body not become thus for me’.

Perhaps we can look at this in class.


Super. :smiley: Thanks so much.

I am in quiet despair over the state of my memory, and can’t parse this. :sob:

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I believe Stephen asked me, “Or how do you see this?” And I answered, “Indeed just so.” agreeing with what he had said about the passage.

EDIT: Though based on class, my answer should have been:
"Evaṃ no ettha hotī”ti.
That way I would have stayed in the same sutta. :smile:

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LOL; I saw that too. I think evameva is better translated ‘similarly’.
But now to have a go at parsing (please feel free to correct/improve :wink: ):

Kathaṃ [ka+ -thaṃ Advb*] vā [indecl particle, but where’s its other half?!] ettha [e+ -tha, Advb*] hotī [Vb 3sg]
(*Bomhard p45)
Literally: how - or - herein - is.
So maybe @stephen asked “How’s this?” “How’s that?”

Evaṃ [indecl Adv] no [enclit pers pron amhākaṃ] ettha [e+ -tha, pronominal Adj*] hotī [Vb 3sg].
(*Bomhard p43)
Literally: thus - for us - like this - is
So perhaps,“Yes, it’s like this for us.” / “We agree.”

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Indeed. And it’s also worth noting that the use of -ti is not entirely reliable. Mostly it is clear, but there are some omissions or tricky cases.