Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

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Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Dmytro » Thu May 06, 2010 8:24 am

Hello Pali friends,

Prof. Peter Harvey gives a good overview of this term:

True reality for the spiritually ennobled ones (or, for spiritually ennobled ones, a true reality):

Ariya-sacca, usually translated "Noble Truth," but K.R.Norman sees this as "the least likely of all the possibilities" for the meaning of ariya-sacca. He points out that the commentators interpret it as: "'truth of the noble one,' 'truth of the noble ones,' 'truth for a noble one,' i.e., the truth that will make one noble, as well as the translation 'noble truth' so familiar to us. The last possibility, however, they put at the very bottom of the list of possibilities, if they mention it at all" (A Philological Approach to Buddhism, London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1997, p. 16). He prefers "truth of the noble one (the Buddha)," but acknowledges that the term may be deliberately multivalent. At S v 435, the Buddha is "the Spiritually Ennobled One," but the term also applies to any of the ennobled persons (see entry on "Spiritually ennobled ones"). They are different from the "ordinary person," the puthujjana, though an ordinary person can become a Noble person by insight into Dhamma.

As regards the translation of sacca, this means "truth" in many contexts, but as an adjective it means both "true" and "real." Taking sacca as meaning "truth" in the term ariya-sacca is problematic as in the above discourse it is said that the second ariya-sacca is "to be abandoned"; but surely, the "truth" on the origination of pain/the painful should not be abandoned. Rather, the "true reality" which is the origination of pain/the painful — craving — should be abandoned. Moreover, the discourse says that the Buddha understood, "This is the ariya-sacca which is pain," not "The ariya-sacca 'This is pain,'" which would be the case if sacca here meant a truth whose content was expressed in words in quote marks. The ariya-saccas as "true realities for the spiritually ennobled ones" are reminiscent of such passages as S iv 95, which says that, "That in the world by which one is a perceiver of the world, a conceiver of the world — this is called the world in the discipline of the spiritually ennobled one (ariyassa vinaye)." That is, spiritually ennobled ones understand things in a different way from ordinary people. Indeed, at Suttanipāta p.147, it is said, 'Whatever, bhikkhus, is regarded as "this is true reality" by the world... that is well seen by the spiritually ennobled ones with right wisdom as it really is as "this is deceptive"', and vice versa. Sn. p.148 then says 'Whatever, bhikkhus, is regarded as "This is pleasant" by the world... this is well seen by the spiritually ennobled ones with right wisdom as "this is painful (dukkha)"', and vice versa. This is because desirable sense-objects are impermanent and bring pain when they end, and because spiritually ennobled ones, unlike ordinary people, see the five 'bundles of grasping fuel' — the conditioned world — as painful. While ordinary people do not agree with this, or that 'birth', that is, being born, is painful, they may of course agree that, for example, 'not to get what one wants is painful'. ... .harv.html" onclick=";return false;

The detailed gloss from Atthakatha and Visuddhimagga, with quotes from the suttas:

Yasmā panetāni buddhādayo ariyā paṭivijjhanti, tasmā ariyasaccānīti vuccanti. Yathāha – ‘‘catārimāni, bhikkhave, ariyasaccāni (saṃ. ni. 5.1097). Katamāni…pe… imāni kho, bhikkhave, cattāri ariyasaccāni. Ariyā imāni paṭivijjhanti, tasmā ariyasaccānīti vuccantī’’ti. Apica ariyassa saccānītipi ariyasaccāni. Yathāha – ‘‘sadevake, bhikkhave, loke…pe… sadevamanussāya tathāgato ariyo, tasmā ariyasaccānīti vuccantī’’ti. Atha vā etesaṃ abhisambuddhattā ariyabhāvasiddhitopi ariyasaccāni. Yathāha – ‘‘imesaṃ kho, bhikkhave, catunnaṃ ariyasaccānaṃ yathābhūtaṃ abhisambuddhattā tathāgato arahaṃ sammāsambuddho ‘ariyo’ti vuccatī’’ti. Apica kho pana ariyāni saccānītipi ariyasaccāni; ariyānīti tathāni avitathāni avisaṃvādakānīti attho. Yathāha – ‘‘imāni kho, bhikkhave, cattāri ariyasaccāni tathāni avitathāni anaññathāni, tasmā ariyasaccānīti vuccantī’’ti. Evamettha nibbacanato vinicchayo veditabbo.

Metta, Dmytro

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by DNS » Thu May 06, 2010 2:01 pm


See also Ven.'s definition / translation for ariya as "holy": ... 178#p61952" onclick=";return false;

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Pannapetar » Sun May 16, 2010 8:16 am

Thank you for explaining your views.

Interesting to read different opinions about this topic. My own idea is probably close to that of Retro, which if I interpret him correctly, is that one needs to learn some of the Pali key terms for the sake of semantic precision (much like technical jargon).

Cheers, Thomas

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Dmytro » Mon Aug 30, 2010 5:19 am

This term is usually translated as the "Noble Truth", though translators note the grammatical anomaly of such interpretation: ... .html#fn-1" onclick=";return false;

However the Pali commentaries provide quite different interpretation:

Attahitakaamehi ara.niiyaani kara.niiyaani ariyabhaavakaraani,
ariyassa vaa bhagavato saccaaniiti ariyasaccaani.

Theragatha-Atthakatha 3.198

1097. Sattame tasmaa ariyasaccaaniiti yasmaa tathaani
avitathaani ana~n~nathaani, tasmaa ariyaana.m saccaaniiti vuccanti.
Na hi vitathaani ariyaa ariyasaccato pa.tivijjhanti.
1098. A.t.thame tathaagato ariyo, tasmaa “ariyasaccaanii”ti yasmaa
ariyena tathaagatena pa.tividdhattaa desitattaa ca taani ariyasantakaani
honti, tasmaa ariyassa saccattaa ariyasaccaaniiti attho.

Mahavagga-Atthakatha 3.299

Ariyasaccaananti ariyabhaavakaraana.m saccaana.m.

Mahavagga-Atthakatha 2.542 , Nettippakarana-Atthakatha Mya: .253

Tattha “ariyasaccaanii”ti avatvaa nippadesato paccayasa"nkhaata.m
samudaya.m dassetu.m “saccaanii”ti vutta.m. Ariyasaccesu hi ta.nhaava
samudayo, na itare. Na ca kevala.m ta.nhaava dukkha.m samudaaneti,
avasesaa kusalaakusalaapi paccaya.m samudaanentiyevaati tepi samudayato
dassetu.m “saccaani” tveva vutta.m.

Mohavicchedani Mya: .193

Ole Holten Pind writes:
By the way, who invented The Four Noble Truths? One of the early western
buddhologist I suppose. Everything becomes clear, however, when they are
seen, not as truths, but as Four Realities to ariyas, namely noble persons.
One may also add the analyses of the saccaani found in the Abhidhamma
literature like the Vibha.nga and Pa.tisambhidamagga (basically an exgesis
of the relevant Sa.myutta passage). I wonder if any buddhologist ever
reflected upon the puzzling qualification of the first "truth" as akusala.
If sacca is understood as reality this qualification makes perfect sense. In
the context of the canonical statements of the saccaani, it also becomes
understandable why the annihilation of the first sacca is seen as kusala.
Why would any one annihilate a truth? My interpretation also explains the
noun phrase dukkha.m ariyasa.m which is usually translated as "The Noble
Truth about Suffering." This is grammatically impossible, and scholars have
therefore concluded that the transmission is erroneous. On my interpretation
this problem disappears completely: ariyasacca.m is evidently apposition to
dukkha.m: suffering, which is a reality to an ariya (or ariyas). The much
discussed grammatical problems of the remaining propositions concerning the
truths are nothing but instances of gender attraction. The formulation
including the unexpected ungrammaticality of the gender attraction is neatly
reflected in Buddhist Sanskrit literature, cf. Arthavini.scaya (the editor
Santani corrected the text!) and Dharmasa.ngraha." onclick=";return false;

K.R. Norman writes:
Take for example the phrase "noble truth" has become commonplace to talk about the four noble truths, and this is a prefectly acceptable translation of the compound ariya-sacca: ariya means noble and sacca means truth, so ariya-sacca means noble truth. This translation is so common and so fixed in our minds, that it seems almost like blasphemy to have to point out that not only is this not the only possible translation, but it is in fact the least likely of all the possibilities.

If we look at the commentators we find that they knew this very well. They point out that the compound can have a number of meanings. It can mean "Truth of the Noble One," "truth of the noble ones," "truth for a noble one," i.e. truth that will make one noble, as well as the translation "noble truth" so familiar to us. This last possibility, however, they put at the bottom of the list of possiblities, if they mention it at all. My own feeling is that it is very likely that "the truth of the Noble One (the Buddha)" is the correct translation, although we must never lose sight of the fact that in Indian literature multiple meanings are very often intended, so that it is not always possible to say that there is a single correct meaning.
From: "A Philological Approach to Buddhism" p. 16

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Dmytro » Mon Aug 30, 2010 5:23 am

Regarding the meaning of 'sacca' as 'truth',

Ole Holten Pind wrote:
I just want to add that the use of sacca in the Paali canon in general does
not support the idea that it denotes truth. All instances known to me
indicate that sacca primarily denotes something real, an incontrovertible
fact, reality. Cf. the canonical phrase saccato thetato. The commentators
gloss saccato as bhuutato.
In the Vinaya, however, you find saccam used in the sense of true. Every time someone commits an offence and the monks mention the offence to Buddha, he questions the "criminal" by asking "is it true as reported that ..." (sacca.m kira). In such a case the use of sacca evidently concerns the truthfulness of the accusations." onclick=";return false;

Stephen Hodge wrote:
That "satya" (sacca) can also and often mean "truth" seems quite easy to demonstrate. Consider the term used as the opposite to "satya" in such compounds as "satya-vaadin" / "m.r.saa-vaadin" (sacca-vadin / musaa-vaadin) - "one who speaks the truth" / "one who speaks falsehoods". Or else the concept of "satya-vacana" - the efficacy of the utterance primarily depends upon its verity, although its reality is perhaps implicit.

But I think one will run into difficulties if one wishes to define "satya" in general as either "truth" or "reality". If one looks at the use of the word "satya" in the Indian Buddhist and the wider general Indian philosophcal context, it would seem that the semantic range of "satya" covers both "truth" and "reality". In other words, "truth" and "reality" are virtually synonymous - if a thing is real, then it is true and if a thing is true, then it is real. There are some statements in which the word can best be rendered by "truth" and at other times as "reality", but this is perhaps just a product of the semantics of those words in English. In many cases, including that of the four satyas, I find that "fact" would fit best and cover both meanings - if it were not somewhat inelegant, one might want to translate "aarya-satya" as "noble fact" (leaving aside here the question of relationship of "aarya" in this context). Thus, texts I have worked on recently speak of a disciple who recognizes the fact (= truth-reality) of suffering and so forth." onclick=";return false;
I understand what you are saying about the usage of "true" and "real" --
discussions about the relationship between these two, the epistemological and the ontological, have flourished for centuries in Western philosophy. But viewed in toto, this distinction is less clear in Indian philosophy as a whole and I suggest that our difficulties in rendering "satya" in a Western language arise from the inherent ambivalence of the term and the quasi-conflation of epistemology and ontology in Indian philosphy. For myself, the best translation practice is to translate contextually, perhaps supplying "satya" in parentheses as needed rather than superimposing a Western philosophical distinction which may not be present in Indic languages." onclick=";return false;

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by PeterHarvey » Mon Jun 04, 2012 10:14 am

An extract on this topic from the 2nd edition of my Introduction to Buddhism, Cambrisge University Press- should be out in Nov. 2012:

The translation of ariya-sacca as ‘Noble Truth’ (e.g. Anderson, 1999), while well established in English language literature on Buddhism, is the ‘least likely’ of the possible meanings (Norman, 1997: 16). To unpack and translate this compound, one needs to look at the meanings of each word, and then how they are related. The term sacca (Skt satya) is regularly used in the sense of ‘truth’, but also to mean a ‘reality’, a genuinely real existent, a real. In pre-Buddhist works, Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.15.3 sees the universal Self as satya, and Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 2.3 talks of two forms of Brahman: sat, which is mortal, and tyam, which is immortal, with 2.3.6 implying that the latter is ‘the real behind the real [sayasya satyam iti]’ (Olivelle, 1996: 28), i.e. satya encompasses all reality, which is two-fold in its nature. There is also a connection to sat, meaning existence.
As regards the meaning of (ariya-) ‘sacca’ in the Buddha’s first sermon, there are three reasons why it cannot here mean ‘truth’. Firstly, it is said that the second ariya-sacca is to be abandoned (S.V.422): surely, one would not want to abandon a ‘truth’, but one might well want to abandon a problematic ‘reality’. Secondly, it is said that the Buddha understood, ‘“This is the dukkha ariya-sacca”’, not ‘The ariya-sacca “This is dukkha”’, which would be the case if sacca here meant a truth whose content was expressed in words in quote marks. Thirdly, in some Suttas (e.g. S.V.425), the first ariya-sacca is explained by identifying it with a kind of existent (the five bundles of grasping-fuel – see below), not by asserting a form of words that could be seen as a ‘truth’. In normal English usage, the only things that can be ‘truths’ are propositions, i.e. something that is expressed in words (spoken, written, thought). Something said about dukkha, even just ‘this is dukkha’, can be a ‘truth’, but dukkha itself can only be a true, genuine reality. Hence ‘true reality’ is here best for ‘sacca’, which still keeps a clear connection to ‘truth’ as the other meaning of sacca.
What of the term ariya? As a noun, this means ‘noble one’. In Brahmanism, the term referred to members of the top three of the four social classes, denoting purity of descent and social superiority (see p. 0). In Buddhism it is used in a spiritual sense: the Buddha is ‘the noble one’ (S.V.435) and other ‘noble ones’ are those who are partially or fully awakened, and those well established on the path to these states (see p. 00). To make clear the spiritual sense of the term, and that to be a ‘noble one’ is an attainment rather than something one is born to, the translation ‘the spiritually ennobled’ seems most apposite: a person who has been uplifted and purified by deep insight into reality. As an adjective, ariya means ‘noble’, hence the Buddhist path, the practice of which makes ordinary people into noble ones, is itself said to be ‘noble’.

While a ‘truth’ might be ‘noble’ or, for those who have insight into it, ‘ennobling’, the case is different when sacca means a ‘true reality’. As one of the ariya-saccas, the origin of dukkha, is to be abandoned, this can hardly be ‘noble’ or ‘ennobling’. Ariya, then, must here mean ‘the spiritually ennobled’. A ariya-sacca must thus be a ‘true reality for the spiritually ennobled’ (Harvey, 2007a, 2009a). The four of these are the most significant categories of existence, that only the spiritually ennobled recognize the full import of. Correct identification of them, and deep insight into their nature, is what makes a person spiritually ennobled. Of course, teachings about these true realities are still seen as truths, but such teachings are not themselves the ‘ariya-saccas’.

The Four True Realities for the Spiritually Ennobled form the structural framework for all higher teachings of early Buddhism. They are: i) dukkha, ‘the painful’, encompassing the various forms of ‘pain’, gross or subtle, physical or mental, that we are all subject to, along with painful things that engender these; ii) the origination (samudaya, i.e. cause) of dukkha, namely craving (taṇhā, Skt tṛṣṇā); iii) the cessation (nirodha) of dukkha by the cessation of craving (this cessation being equivalent to Nirvāṇa); and iv) the path (magga, Skt mārga) that leads to this cessation. The first sermon says that the first of the four is ‘to be fully understood’; the second is to be ‘to be abandoned’; the third is ‘to be personally experienced’; the fourth is ‘to be developed/cultivated’. To ‘believe in’ the ariya-saccas may play a part, but not the most important one.

The same fourfold structure of ideas (x, origination of x, its cessation, path to its cessation) is also applied to a range of other phenomena, such as the experienced world (loka; S.I.62). This structure may also have been influenced by, or itself influenced, the practice of early Indian doctors: (i) diagnose an illness, (ii) identify its cause, (iii) determine whether it is curable, and (iv) outline a course of treatment to cure it. The first True Reality is the metaphorical ‘illness’ of dukkha (Vibh-a.88), and the Buddha is seen as fulfilling the role of a spiritual physician. Having ‘cured’ himself of dukkha, he worked to help others to do likewise. The problem of suffering had prompted his own quest for awakening, and its solution naturally became the focus of his teachings. He sometimes summarized these by saying simply, ‘Both in the past and now, I set forth just this: dukkha and the cessation of dukkha’ (e.g. M.I.140).

Harvey, P., 2007a, ‘Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: The Discourse on the Setting in
Motion of the Wheel (of Vision) of the Basic Pattern: the Four Realities of the Noble One(s)’, translation, with notes, on Access to Insight Website: ... .harv.html" onclick=";return false;

Harvey 2009a, ‘The Four Ariya-saccas as ‘True Realities for the Spiritually Ennobled’- the
Painful, its Origin, its Cessation, and the Way Going to This – Rather than ‘Noble Truths’ Concerning These’, Buddhist Studies Review, 26 (2): 197–227.

Norman, K.R., 1997, A Philological Approach to Buddhism, London, School of Oriental and
African Studies.

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Nyana » Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:58 am

FWIW, the cattāri ariyasaccāni don't exist as anything other than theoretical doctrinal statements apart from the minds that realize them. Thus, it seems accurate to emphasize that they are truths to be realized by cognitions rather than realities that exist independent of cognitions.

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Sylvester » Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:18 am

Thanks Dmytro.

I'm inclined to agree with Prof Harvey's resolution of "sacca" into "reality", instead of Truth or truth.

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by danieLion » Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:23 am

The notorious Mr. Peacock prefers "ennobling truths".

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Dmytro » Sun Jun 10, 2012 9:25 am

Perhaps something like "an observable fact" will do:

"Through much reflection and a lot of meditation it was still some time before I saw what the Buddha was getting at,: The Second Noble Truth is not an abstraction at all; it is something that can be observed directly over and over. As soon as the craving comes up the suffering is right there with it. As soon as I “had” to have that shirt, there was stress and anxiety. But as soon as I backed up a bit with the thought, “I don’t really need that,” the suffering vanished. I realized I had been living in a world of incessant suffering, a world that was aflame, and I had not even noticed with all my vast reason and common sense. Arriving at what the Buddha was getting at was a matter of scrambling, struggling and fording to reach the mountaintop, but once I got there, reality spread out before me." ... uddhism-7/" onclick=";return false;

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Nyana » Sun Jun 10, 2012 10:57 am

In some of his translations Ven. Ñāṇamoli translates sacca as "actuality" (plural: "actualities").

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Re: Pali Term: Ariya-sacca

Post by Dmytro » Tue Jan 01, 2013 6:10 pm

Kutthi sutta provides an excellent example of the place that four 'ariya-sacca' plays in the Buddha's 'gradual instruction' (anupubbi-katha). They were never meant to be the theoretical doctrines, but rather a way of developing wisdom for those ready for it.

Atha kho bhagavā sabbāvantaṃ parisaṃ cetasā cetoparicca manasākāsi 'ko nu kho idha bhabbo dhammaṃ viññātuṃ?"ti.

Then the Blessed One, having encompassed the awareness of the entire assembly with his awareness, asked himself, "Now who here is capable of understanding the Dhamma?"

4. Addasā kho bhagavā suppabuddhaṃ kuṭṭhiṃ tassaṃ parisāyaṃ nisinnaṃ, disvānassa etadahosi: " ayaṃ kho idha bhabbo dhammaṃ viññātuṃ"ti.

He saw Suppabuddha the leper sitting in the assembly, and on seeing him the thought occurred to him, "This person here is capable of understanding the Dhamma."

Suppabuddhaṃ kuṭṭhiṃ ārabbha ānupubbīkathaṃ kathesi. Seyyathidaṃ? Dānakathaṃ, sīlakathaṃ, saggakathaṃ, kāmānaṃ ādīnavaṃ okāraṃ saṅkilesaṃ, nekkhamme ca ānisaṃsaṃ pakāsesi.

So, aiming at Suppabuddha the leper, he gave a step-by-step talk, i.e., he proclaimed a talk on generosity, on virtue, on heaven; he declared the drawbacks, degradation, & corruption of sensuality, and the rewards of renunciation.

Yadā bhagavā aññāsi, suppabuddhaṃ kuṭṭhiṃ kallacittaṃ muducittaṃ vinīvaraṇacittaṃ udaggacittaṃ pasannacittaṃ. Atha yā buddhānaṃ sāmukkaṃsikā dhammadesanā taṃ pakāsesi, dukkhaṃ samudayaṃ nirodhaṃ maggaṃ.

Then when the Blessed One knew that Suppabuddha the leper's mind was ready, malleable, free from hindrances, elevated, & clear, he then gave the Dhamma-talk peculiar to Awakened Ones, i.e., stress, origination, cessation, & path.

Seyyathāpi nāma suddhaṃ vatthaṃ apagatakālakaṃ sammadeva rajanaṃ patigaṇheyya. Evameva suppabuddhassa kuṭṭhissa tasmiṃ yeva āsane virajaṃ vītamalaṃ dhammacakkhuṃ udapādi: 'yaṃ kiñci samudayadhammaṃ, sabbaṃ taṃ nirodhadhammanti. '

And just as a clean cloth, free of stains, would properly absorb a dye, in the same way, as Suppabuddha the leper was sitting in that very seat, the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye arose within him, "Whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation." ... .than.html" onclick=";return false;

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