Dīgha Nikāya 11
Kevaddha Sutta


For free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma
D.i.223 Translated from the Pali
Maurice Walshe
The Long Discourses of the Buddha
Translated from the Pali
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta
Translated from the Pali
Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha
Translated from the Pali
Andrew Olendzki
(personal communication)
Translated from the Pali
Leigh Brasington

(with help from the previous translations)
Na kho eso bhikkhu pañho evaṃ pucchitabbo: "kattha nu kho bhanto ime cattāro mahābhūtā aparisesā nirujjhanti, seyyathīdaṃ: paṭhavidhātu āpodhātu tejodhātu vāyodhātu'ti?" Evañca kho ese bhikkhu pañho pucchitabbo: 85. “... But, monk, you should not ask your question in this way: ‘Where do the four great elements — the earth element, the water element, the fire element, the air element — cease without remainder?’ Instead, this is how the question should have been put: "'Your question should not be phrased in this way: Where do these four great elements -- the earth property, the liquid property, the fire property, and the wind property -- cease without remainder? Instead, it should be phrased like this: {{The phrase below occurs as well in MN 49, verse 25, which is the sourse of Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation}}    
Kattha āpo ca paṭhavī tejo vāyo na gādhati.
Kattha dīghañca rassañca aṇuṃ thūlaṃ subhāsubhaṃ,
Katta nāmañca rūpañca asesaṃ uparujjhatīti.
‘Where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find?
Where are long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
Where are “name-and-form” wholly destroyed?’
Where do water, earth, fire, & wind 
   have no footing?

Where are long & short,
    coarse & fine, 
   fair & foul,
    name & form
brought to an end?

Tatra veyyākaraṇa bhavatī: And the answer is: "'And the answer to that is:
Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ
anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ
‘Where consciousness is signless,
boundless, all-luminous,
Consciousness without feature,
        without end,
    luminous all around:
‘Consciousness non-manifesting,
Boundless, luminous all-round:
‘Consciousness that is signless,
limitless, all-illuminating,
Consciousness that is signless1,
limitless2, all-illuminating3,
Ettha āpo ca paṭhavī tejo vāyo na gādhati
Ettha dīghañca rassañca aṇuṃ thūlaṃ subhāsubhaṃ
Ettha nāmañca rūpañca asesaṃ uparujjhati.
That’s where earth, water, fire and air find no footing,
There both long and short, small and great, fair and foul -
There “name-and-form” are wholly destroyed.
Here water, earth, fire, & wind
    have no footing.
Here long & short
    coarse & fine
    fair & foul
    name & form
are all brought to an end.
...’ ...’ Then water, earth, fire, & wind find no footing4,
Then long & short, small & large, pleasant & unpleasant5 -
Then “name-&-form” are all stopped.6
Viññāṇassa nirodhena etthetaṃ uparujjhatīti. With the cessation of consciousness this is all destroyed.’” With the cessation of [the activity of] consciousness
    each is here brought to an end.'"
With the cessation of viññāṇa [divided-knowing]7 all this is stopped.’


Altho less well known than the more famous description of Nibbana found in Udana 8.3 (Unborn, unbecome, unmade, unfabricated), the "answer" given here no less cryptic. But if we can tease out the meaning here, we gain a deeper understanding of what the Buddha was referring to as Nibbana.

1. As Bhikkhu Bodhi says, "These lines have been a perennial challenge to Buddhist scholarship, and even Ācariya Buddhaghosa seems to founder over them." Viññāṇaṃ is easily recognized as "consciousness." As for anidassana, again, Bhikkhu Bodhi: "The word anidassana occurs at MN 21.14 in the description of empty space as an unsuitable medium for painting pictures; thus the idea seems to be that of not making manifest." Nidassana means "'pointing at' evidence, example, comparison, apposition, attribute, characteristic; sign, term" and the PED goes on to translate the negation of nidassana in the context of this sutta as "anidassana - with no attribute." This yields "consciousness with no attribute" or better "consciousness that is signless."

2. I prefer "limitless" over "boundless" both because of the alliteration with the following luminous/all-illuminating and because it seems to me to give an even wider impression.

3. It's hard to tell from the Pali whether this should be "all luminous" or "all-illuminating." I prefer "all-illuminating" since there would be nothing hidden in a mind where there are no things; where the universe is perceived as a seamless whole.

In his Long Discourses, Maurice Walshe mentions in footnote 241, "Mrs. A. A. G. Bennett translates this line: ‘Where the consciousness that makes endless comparisons is entirely abandoned,’" which despite Walshe's following comment, I think is quite close to what the Buddha meant. Walshe also mentions in the same footnote that I.B. Horner translates the same phrase in MN 49 as "Discriminative consciousness (= viññāṇaṃ) which cannot be characterised (= anidassanaṃ), which is unending, lucid in every respect (= sabbato pabhaṃ)." Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his footnotes in MN 49, say Ven. Ñanamoli translated this as "The consciousness that makes no showing, Nor has to do with finiteness, Not claiming being with respect to all."

All these possible translations give us the following table for this line:

    Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ
  • Where consciousness is signless, boundless, all-luminous
  • Consciousness without feature, without end, luminous all around
  • Consciousness non-manifesting, Boundless, luminous all-round
  • Where the consciousness that makes endless comparisons is entirely abandoned
  • Discriminative consciousness which cannot be characterised, which is unending, lucid in every respect
  • The consciousness that makes no showing, Nor has to do with finiteness, Not claiming being with respect to all  
  • Consciousness that is signless, limitless, all-illuminating

4. As Walshe says, "This is a corrective to that monk’s notion that the four elements can cease altogether somewhere." What ceases is the act of dividing materiality in these 4 categories.

Note also that I've translated Ettha as "Then." The PED gives "here, in this place; also temporal 'now', & modal 'in this case, in this matter.'" I think the temporal sense gives a better translation because it avoids implying a location, place, ontologically existing realm.

5. Long & short is obvious. As for aṇuṃ & thūlaṃ, the PED gives fine & coarse, small & large. PED gives "pleasant & unpleasant" for subhāsubhaṃ, tho of course it could also represent "beautiful & ugly."

6. Uparujjhati is "to be stopped, broken, annihilated, destroyed." But what's meant here is not the destruction of some existing pair, it's just the the ceasing of conceiving in terms of dualities; endless comparisons are entirely abandoned. So "brought to an end" is much more accurate than "destroyed."

7. Viññāṇa literally means "divided-knowing." So Nibbana is the ceasing of chopping the seamless whole of the universe into dualities. For more on this, see "The Tangle" at SN 1.23, especially the last verse; "Candana" at SN 2.15, again especially the last verse; Snp 5.13, the last 2 verses; as well as this excerpt from Kitaro Nishida. Be sure to study the other descriptions of Nibbana at the bottom of that page which will help in seeing that this description of Nibbana is the same as what's found at Udana 8.3. Also relevant is Christine Skarda's The Perceptual Form of Life.

DN 11 - Full Sutta
Snp 4.11 - Kalaha-vivada Sutta: Quarrels & Disputes
Udana 8.3 - Nibbana Sutta
Kitaro Nishida - from The Nothingness Beyond God
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