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An Analytical Study of Appamāda-Suttas in Pāli Tipitaka by Venerable Aung Shing Marma

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The central goal of a Buddhist is to attaining the nirvana and be free from all sufferings. Being a diligent is the key option to be blessed in, diligence is the path to deathlessness and non-diligence is the path death (Dhp.21). Because of its importance from his dead bed the Buddha advised to his followers that all conditioned things are nature to decay, strive on diligently! (D.1995,p.156). Diligence (appamāda) is the foundation of all wholesome mental phenomena, and mind is the forerunner of all actions. The equivalent terms for ‘appamāda’ in English are thoughtfulness, carefulness, conscientiousness, watchfulness, vigilance, diligence, heedfulness, earnestness, zeal, non-laxity etc.

There are couples of suttas by the name appamāda-sutta in the Pāli Canon and some of they do not hold same name according to some editions. Different editions hold different name and listed order, however the contents of the sutta do not differ one another. This study therefore highlighted the number of occurrence of Appamāda-sutta in the Canon, the similes that Buddha to explain in Appamāda-sutta, integration and disagreement throughout textual editions, especially Chattha Sangāyana (CS), Buddha Jayanti TripiIaka (BJT), Siamrat (SR) and Pali Text Society (PTS) editions. In addition, this paper also brought what are the controversial Appamāda-suttas and vice versa. The researcher’s opinion of being rationally consideration on the suttas also provided with synthesis and critique.

Brief Summary of Appamāda-suttas

Before studying the contents in suttas, it is an importance to know what a sutta means in Buddhist scriptures. Sutta means a discourse or sermon that is taught Buddha or his disciples. The Nettipakarana explains how a sutta has to be and if it does not content the threefold definition it cannot be a sutta. (Ireland, 1976). The threefold definition of a sutta: A sutta ‘must conform’ (to the Truths), or ‘must give access’ (to the four stages of sanctitude). A sutta ‘must point the way’ (of overcoming the three unhealthy roots). A sutta ‘must have the nature of Dhamma’.

The comparative studies on the sutta name Appamāda-sutta in Pāli Tipinaka of all editions show that there are ten Appamāda-suttas which are unanimously accepted by all editions in the same manner without differences neither listing order nor placement. On the other hand, there are also some criticisms are left; all editions are not same in every aspect of naming the suttas, vaggas and listing orders. It is also interesting to learn all Appamāda-suttas are recorded in the Samyutta-nikāya and Anguttara-nikāya, of which seven are in Samyutta-nikāya, and remaining three are in the Anguttara- nikāya. There is no such sutta apart from these two nikāyas. Furthermore, all of them are taught in Sāvatthi (some suttas do not state the place) addressing the clergy communityBuddhist monks who practice the dhamma as their refuge to attaining the Nibbāna, and other two are taught in requests of the King Pasenadi Kosala and a Brahmin (no name of Brahmin is mentioned).

The summaries of the ten Appamāda-suttas are:


The King Pasenadi Kosala visited the Buddha while the Buddha was staying in Sāvatthi. He asked the Buddha that whether there is any one quality of dhamma which acquires and keeps both welfares: this very life and life after. The reply was, diligence is the one quality by which a person can acquire and keep both welfare in this life and next. (S. I, 1998, pp.195-196/ tr. 1993, pp.111- 112).

This sutta was taught to the monks in Sāvatthi, giving a simile of harbinger (pubbanimitta) of the arising of the sun and diligence. Just as dawn is the forerunner of the day to start, diligence is the harbinger of the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path. He who cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path based on seclusion, non-excitement, for ceasing and give up in the end with maturity. (S. V, 1994, p.30/ tr.1994, p.28).

In connection of previous sutta the Buddha taught in different aspect of cultivating the Noble Eightfold Path. The dawn is forerunner, the harbinger of the arising of the sun. Just as harbinger of the day, diligence is the harbinger of cultivating the Noble Eightfold Path. A person cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path restraining from passion, hatred, illusion. (S. V,1994, p.32/tr.1994,p.29).

In Sāvatthi, the Buddha taught one condition dhamma which is the most useful for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path. The one condition dhamma is being a diligent. A diligent monk cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path based on seclusion, non-excitement, for ceasing and gives up in the end with maturity. (S. V,1994, p.33/tr.1994, p.30).

In connection to previous sutta the Buddha taught one condition dhamma which is the most useful for the arising of the Noble Eightfold Path. How does he cultivate that one condition dhamma being a diligent? A diligent monk cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path restraining from passion, hatred, illusion. (S. V,1994, p.35/tr.1994, p.30).

The Buddha spoke thus, in Sāvatthi – I do not see any other single condition, on account of which the non-arisen Noble Eightfold Path arises, as diligence. And, the already arisen Noble Eightfold Path can reach the perfection, as diligence. A diligent monk cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path based on seclusion, non-excitement, for ceasing and gives up in the end with maturity. (S.V,1994, p.36/tr.1994, p.31).

In connection of previous sutta the Buddha spoke thus – I do not see any other single condition, on account of which the non-arisen Noble Eightfold Path arises, as diligence. And, the already arisen Noble Eightfold Path can reach the perfection, as diligence. A diligent monk cultivates the Noble Eightfold Path restraining from passion, hatred, illusion. (S.V,1994, p.37/tr.1994, p.31).

Walking meditation.jpg

This sutta does not mention wherein it was taught; however, the audiences were the monks. The Buddha urged the monk to be diligent on four occasions – in giving up bodily, verbal, mental and wrong view of misconduct, and vice versa. If a monk is diligent in these four he does not fear the future to face and death. (A. II,1995, p.119-120/tr.1995, p.123).

A certain Brahmin visited the Buddha (place is not mentioned) and asked him whether there is a single factor which leads to progressive of this life and life after. Diligence is only single factor which leads progressive of this life and hereafter. (A.III,1994, p.364-5/tr.1995, pp.259-260).

This is unlike to others. It has rank of 10 similes to explaining appamāda. Appamāda is the basis and highest quality among all good qualities (kusaladhamma). It was taught to monks but place name is not mentioned. (A. V,1999, pp.21-22/tr.1994, pp.16-17).

Similes of the Appamāda

In fewer Appamāda-suttas we read similes and metaphors. The most reading simile is the elephant’s footprint. The Buddha never forgets to mention the example of elephant’s footprint whenever he gives similes of appamāda. More similes of appamāda are vividly drawn pictures to imagine in these three suttas (S. I, 1998, pp. 195-196, A.III,1994, pp.364-365 and A. V,1999, pp.21-22), of which the suttas in the Anguttara-nikāya consist of more similes than in the Samyutta-nikāya.

No Similes read in two Appamāda-suttas of AIguttara-nikāya A. III
1 The Buddha is the perfect one among all living beings X
2 Elephant footprint is the largest among others’ footprints X X
3 Universal monarch is the most prominent among kings X X
4 All stars radiances are not equal to one-sixteen part of the moon’s radiance X X
5 The Sun eliminating the darkness lights the day X
6 All scents of flowers, the scent of jasmine is the foremost X
7 Among root scents the black-gum is the foremost X
8 Among wood scents the red sandal wood the foremost X
9 All rafters join at roof-peak X X
10 All water flow to the ocean X
11 A bunch of mangoes stand on account of the stalk X
12 Reed-cutter holds the reeds at the top and shakes to and fro and beats X

In comparison of similes the researcher has furthermore studied the Appamāda-vaggas as well. According PTS edition there are eleven Appamāda-vaggas: ten in the Samyutta-nikāya and one is in the Dhammapada. It would not be wrong to doubt and question why those Appamāda-vaggas in the Samyutta-nikāya are similar in their aspects of teaching except a single word or phrase differs from each other. This is indeed what is read in many Appamāda-suttas as well. As there are lot repetitions we are not provided diversity of similes in different suttas and vaggas differently. Consequently, there is only one sutta (A.III,1994, pp.364-365) which bears two different similes that we do not read elsewhere in Appamāda-suttas and vaggas. They are: (11) A bunch of mangoes stand on account of the stalk (12) Reed-cutter holds the reeds at the top and shakes to and fro and beats. (The numerical numbering is in according to lists of similes given in above table). They are taught to a certain Brahmin. But this leaves an indifference to concentrate on these particular similes. It is, perhaps, not wrong to assume that Brahmin who might be a farmer. Cutting grass and mangoes’ stalk are not undertaken duties of a Brahmin. A Brahmin indeed traditionally overtakes in charge of teacher, fire-priest and scholar. The Buddha therefore had better to use similes of fire-sacrifices rather than cutting grass, because it is not a daily undertaking of a Brahmin. Kasibhāradvāja is another Brahmin, who is a farmer of Magadha and his statement is clear enough to support this argument – ‘now I, recluse, plough and sow, and when ploughed and sown I eat. Do thou also, recluse, plough and sow, and when thous hast ploughed and sown, eat.’ (S.I, tr. Mrs. Rhys Davids 1993, p.217) The Buddha, on the other hand, taught to monks and the king Pasenadi Kosaka giving some common and natural similes, such like all water from river, canal etc flows down to the ocean; the sun lightens the darkness of a day.

The Appamāda-sutta (A. V,1999, pp.21-22) consists of ten similes while all Appamāda-vaggas in the Samyutta-nikāya also do the same. We read in both the first nine similes are the same, except the last one. The Appamāda-sutta (A. V,1999, pp.21-22) has simile of ocean whereas in all the Appamāda- vaggas of the Samyutta-nikāya has Bāranasi’ woven cloth. Unlike to them, the Appamāda-vagga in the Dhammapada does not have simile; rather we read metaphordiligence is the path to deathless, non-diligence is the path to death (Dhp. 21). Amata (deathless) is a synonym for the Nibbāna: the ultimate goal of Buddhists. This metaphordeathlessness’ is also read in one Appamāda-sutta (S. II, 2000, p.132).

Synthesis and Critique on the Appamāda-suttas

There are fairly controversy and confusing with the occurrences of the Appamāda-sutta in the Pāli Tipinaka. It has been editing for many times, but still there is no unanimous agreement yet to come. Each edition has its own system of titling and numbering the suttas although the CS (the 6th Theravada World Buddhist Council) was undoubtedly accepted by Theravada world for re-examining the Pāli Tipitaka in May 1954 at Rangoon, Burma. It was not done only by Burmese. The committee of the CS organized some groups of Pāli Tipitaka re-examiners in other Theravada countries to examine the texts (Witanachchi, 2003, p.727). But, still every edition has its own authority of naming the title, and numbering system of the suttas, vaggas etc. This therefore leaves a room of doubt and criticism on the Pāli Tipitaka.

The readers and researchers of the Pāli Tipinaka are bewildered of suttas’ names and numbering systems. Disagreement of naming the suttas, for an example, the Appamāda-sutta (S.I,1998, pp.196-201) of the Sagāthavagga of the Samyutta-nikāya has two names. The CS and BJT gave the sutta title Kalyānamitta-sutta, while the SR and PTS named Dutiya Appamāda-sutta. G.A. Somaratne, the editor of the Sagāthavagga of the Samyutta-nikāya (S.I, 1998) for PTS also named Dutiya Appamāda-sutta. He is although a Sri Lankan professor and his government edition (BJT) accepts what was named by SC; that is, the Samyutta-nikāya.

Moreover, this Samyutta-nikāya or Dutiya Appamāda-sutta was taught to the King Pasenadi Kosala following to previous sutta (S. I, 1998, pp. 195-1956) in his second visit to the Buddha. But it does not thoroughly highlight on the contents of appamāda, rather it highlights detail discussion on intimating a good friendship. A monk in a good friendship is expected to be practiced in the Noble Eightfold Path. He who does not practice in accordance to the Noble Eightfold Path is supposed to be unsociable friends. The Buddha is the best friend of all kinds because he practices the Noble Eightfold Path and leads others to trouble-free living.

According to SC and PTS editions there is again another Appamāda-sutta (S. II, 2000, p.132/tr. 1994, pp.93-94) in Nidānasamyutta of Nidānavagga of the Samyutta-nikāya. The Nidānasamyutta is the first chapter (samyutta) of the Nidānavagga according to SC and PTS editions. But the BJT and SR editions do not provide with Nidānasamyutta, both of them start from Abhisamayasamyutta, the second samyutta (chapter) for CS and PTS editions. On account of this, Bhikkhu Bodhi notices the disagreement and notes in his introduction to the Samyutta-nikāya “the Burmese textual tradition of the Samyutta-nikāka, followed by the Pali Text Society edition, count fifty-six samyuttas, but the Sinhalese tradition counts fifty-four. The difference comes about because the Sinhalese tradition treats the Abhisamyasamyutta (our 13) as a subchapter of the Nidānasamyutta(12), and the Vesanasamyutta (our 36) as a subchapter of the Salayatanasamyutta (35). Neither of these allocations seems justifiable, as these minor samyuttas have no explicit thematic connection with the topics of the larger samyuttas into which the Sinhalese tradition has incorporated them” (Bodhi, 2000, p.54). The sutta contains of the Buddha’s advice to monks, that is, what is not known and not seen. A monk who do ‘not know and not see’ the nature, the origin, the cessation, the path leading to the cessation of decay and death, birth, becoming, grasping, craving, feeling, contact, six sense bases, name and form, consciousness and mental formation as it reality is. He should be diligent to find out what that knowledge of reality is. Another argumentative sutta is the Appamādagārava-sutta (A IV, 1999, pp.27-28/tr.1995, pp.16-17). This sutta does not have characteristic of Appamāda-sutta compare to others. It is a re-talk of what a god (deva) had spoken to the Buddha at Jetavana monastery. The god proposed seven factors of non- decline that if monks abide to them. They are reverence for:

  • Master (Satthugāravatā)
  • Dhamma (Dhammagāravatā)
  • Order (Samghagāravatā)
  • Training (Sikkhāgāravatā)
  • Concentration (Samādhigāravatā)
  • Earnestness (Appamādagāravatā)
  • Goodwill (Panisanthāragāravatā)

Despite all editions accept this title Appamādagārava-sutta, Hare in his translation for PTS translated ‘Earnestness’ which means appamāda. He missed to include ‘gārava’ that which is part of the sutta. Woodward, another translator of the Anguttara-nikāya for PTS translated the title Appamāda-sutta different place differently. In his translation (A.II, 1995) used the term ‘Earnestness’ for the sutta 116 (this arabic number represents Appamāda-sutta in A.II,1995, pp.119-120 edited by Rev Richard Morris) while he did translate ‘Seriousness’ for another Appamāda-sutta (A. V, 1999, pp. 21-22/tr.1994, pp.16- 17). The Pali-English Dictionary of Rhys Davids & William Stede and Buddhist Dictionary of Nyanatiloka do not give such meaning ‘seriousness’ for appamāda. This kind of translation for proper names (sutta, vaggas etc) is sometime misleading the readers and researchers of the texts; because, it brings an odd meaning who do not have enough knowledge on Buddhism, especially on the concept of Buddhist terminology. For an instance, translating the Pali Text Society into Pāli “pālipotthakasamiti” does not render clear meaning to what original was. On the other hand, it seems changing the proper name (sutta’s name) is not that much important. Therefore, it would be better to keep the title with translation within brackets.

Furthermore, the roman-scripts edition of PTS does not provide with the title name instead it gives in roman numeral numbers. For instance, the XXXI is representing the Appamādagārava-sutta. The question is now how to recognize this XXXI is for Appamadāgārva-sutta because neither provides a table contents of suttas nor inside the texts.

It is therefore consequently misleading the researchers. Upali Karunaratna in his paper “Appamāda Sutta” (edited, G.P. Malalasekara, 1998, pp.29-30) wrote for Encyclopedia of Buddhism volume II, states that there are fourteen Appamāda-suttas, of which nine appear in the Samyutta-nikāya, three in the Anguttara-nikāya and the last one is in the Itivuttaka. It seems Upali’s studies on the Appamāda-suttas were not a comparative research of different editions despite they have being edited by different traditions, people, nations and years. His paper also shows that his study do not highlight the Appamāda-suttas only. “Name given in the Suttasangaha (199) to a sutta quoted from the Itivuttaka on the value of diligence (appamāda). It is said in this sutta that a person would be benefited in this world as well as in the next, if he is diligent [Ubbo-attha Sutta: It.16]” (Malalasekara,1998, p.30). This Ubboattha-sutta of the Itivuttaka is not an Appamāda-sutta. It is completely a different sutta. It is just like some other suttas which has explanation on the characteristic of the appamāda, same the Mahāarinibbāna-sutta of the Dīgha-nikāya does.



The study on the Appamāda-suttas in Pāli Buddhist scriptures showed some kind of disagreement, and need of Theravada world to rehearsal for the Pāli Canon again. So that we can have a unify titles for suttas, vaggas, etc and numbering system for them as well. There are thirteen Appamāda-suttas that we read in these four editions (SC, BJT, SR and PTS), and three of them are named and grouped differently. In addition, there are couples of Appamāda-suttas which differ only a single word or phrase from preceding sutta. They are collectively taught to three groups of individuals: monks, the king Kosala and a Brahmin. Also, there are twelve kinds of similes of appamāda are depicted in these suttas and among them the most favorite simile is the elephant’s footprint – elephant’s footprint is the largest among all animals. Similarly, appamāda is the foundation for all virtuous actions, and it is a map to immortality.


A. AIguttara-nikāya
BJT. Buddha Jayanati Tripitaka
D. DIgha- nikāya
Dhp. Dhammapada
ed. Edited
S. Samyutta-nikāya
SC. ChaIIha SaIgāyana
SR. Siamrat
tr. Translated




Primary references

Secondary References


Author: Venerable Aung Shing Marma