Studying the Titipika – the Vinaya, the Suttanta, the Abhidhamma is the only way to learn what it was that the Buddha taught. If we don’t know what he taught how can we practice correctly? We might be practicing something different from the Buddha’s teaching. But how do we study? Every word in the Tipitika is worth investigating. Every sentence has deep meaning. Let us consider the word “complication”. This was In the Anguttara Nikaya VIII.30 Anuruddha Sutta In one sentence the Buddha told Anuruddha:

“This Dhamma is for one who enjoys non-complication, who delights in non-complication, not for one who enjoys & delights in complication.”’

I looked up the pali of this sentence:

“nippapancaramassayam dhammo nippapancaratino nayam dhammo papancaramassa papancarintino”

What do you think the Buddha meant by complication and non-complication? I once heard someone –referring to this sutta- say this meant people should not think too much because this complicates things and takes people away from the present moment. And in a superficial way there is something in this. But we can always learn more.

Complication in this sutta is the English translation for papanca. There are three papanca – tanha (desire), ditthi(view) and mana (conceit). (see netti pakarana paragraph 203, 204).These three are said to prolong samasara vata , the round of births and deaths. And now we may want to understand what the Buddha mean by tanha, for example? The Buddha took four incalculably long periods of time plus one hundred thousand aeons to develop the wisdom to become a Buddha . We don’t have to develop parami to the extent of a Buddha but it still takes a long, long time. We might hope that we are the developed ones who have so much parami already but this is just tanha, one of the papanca, or we may be sure we are ones who already have great parami, but this is mana, another papanca, a prolonger of samasara.

Here are some details on mannana:

About the mulapariyaya sutta: For this explanation I rely on the commentary translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi as well as his introduction. Bhikkhun Bodhi writes:
The Pali word we have rendered ”conceiving,” mannana, comes from the root man, ‘to think”. But what is indicated by this word is not simple discursive thinking, either of a morally wholesome or unwholesome character and may involve either a right or a wrong grasp of its object. The word mannana signifies a different, more developed type of thinking, one that is decidedly unwholesome and always involves a wrong grasp of the object. Mannana is distortional thinking-thinking which, under the domination of defiled prediliction, imputes to its object properties or relational implications grounded not in the thing itself, but in the constructive activity of the subjective imagination

The commentary says that mannana is a synonym for papanca (see my letter about this a few months back). This is interesting as papanca is of three types: tanha, mana and ditthi (desire, conceit and craving). Now, as I understand it papanca is at a far deeper level than just the developed thinking Bodhi seems to indicate above. However , in other sections of his introduction he seems to acknowledge this. For instance he has a note which says “it cannot be stressed strongly enogh that the ..basic structure of ego bias is already present in toto as a potential in the worldlings mental constitution”. And in another section he relates mannana to the vipallasa (the perversions of cognition). He notes that there are three levels of perversion: perception (sanna) citta, and views (ditthi). He says “the perversion of perception occurs when the object is simply noted through one of the four distortional frames without further development. (this is the deepest level). If the object is subsequently reflected upon in the same mode there takes palce a perversion of thought. And if, through repeated reflection, the conviction arises that this frame yields an accurate picture of the world, the distortion has evolved into a pereversion of views.” The four perversions are seeing the foul as beautiful, the unpleasuarable to be pleasuarable, the impermanent to be permanent and the not self to be self. Thus he acknowledges that these perversions (and mannana ) are also present before any thinking in words.

Bodhi writes:
It is significant in this respect that the commentary glosses the word mannana by the word papanca, The activity of conceiving, the commentary points out, is motivated by three underlying mental factors which impart to x craving (tanha) , conceit , and views . Under the influence of craving the egoistic bias comes to expression in thoughts of longing and desire. Under the influence of conceit it becomes manifest in judgments and comparisons whereby we rank ourselves as superior, equal, or inferior. And under the influence of views, i.e. the theoretical bent of thought, the ego-bias issues in dogmas, tenets, and speculations concerning the reality and nature of the personal self and its focus, the world. Whereas the uninstructed worldling conceives the aggregates through craving, conceit, and views’ ” This is mine, this am I, this is my self,” the learner knows to reverse this mode of consideration. Applying his direct knowledge to the aggregates, he contemplates them thus : ” This is not mine, this am I not, this is not my self ” By the first he attenuates craving, by the second of self. As he persists in his practice of contemplation, his insight gradually develops to maturity. In the commentary itself (p50) it says “concepts due to proliferation (papanca) are grounded upon perception”.

Mike writes:

I was looking for a different discourse (addressing contention for the things of the world) when I ran across this one. I’d read it before, but had forgotten its unusual emphasis on papa~nca and its place in paticcasamuppada. Having recently experienced more than my share of papa~nca, I thought I’d pass this along. I loved Stick-In- Hand the Brahmin’s response. I think I remember reading somewhere that ‘Stick-In-Hand’s’ name did NOT refer to a walking-stick. I think this is an example of the Buddha matching his teaching to the (contentious, in this case) character of his audience.
“If, monk, with regard to the cause whereby the perceptions & categories of complication [papa~nca] assail a person, there is nothing there to relish, welcome, or remain fastened to, then that is the end of the underlying tendencies to passion, to irritation, to views, to uncertainty, to conceit, to passion for becoming, & to ignorance. That is the end of taking up rods & bladed weapons, of arguments, quarrels, disputes, accusations, divisive tale-bearing, & false speech. That is where these evil, unskillful things cease without remainder.” That is what the Blessed One said. Having said it, the One Well-gone got up from his seat and went into his dwelling.”

Majjhima Nikaya 18
Madhupindika Sutta

Sarah Abbott notes:

Is there not a difference between the papanca (proliferations) which I assume are being referred to in the sutta (i.e getting lost in concepts with wrong views) and realizing that the Teachings are very profound and intricate and that the development of understanding is not a simple matter at all?

The following sutta has been quoted before, but let me repeat an extract as a reminder of this:


Samyutta Nikaya XX.7 Ani Sutta The Peg;
“…In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won’t listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won’t lend ear, won’t set their hearts on knowing them, won’t regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

“In this way the disappearance of the discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — will come about. “Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. We will lend ear, will set our hearts on knowing them, will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”


Best wishes, Sarah


The Arrows of Thinking: Papañca & the path to end conflict, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2012; 8pp./44KB) When discussing the sources of conflict—inner and outer—the Buddha pointed to a type of thinking he called papañca. This term is often translated as “conceptual proliferation,” but a survey of how it’s discussed in the Pali Canon shows that it has less to do with the amount of thinking and more with the way thinking is framed. This is an extract from daylong course, given in the IMC of the Mid-Peninsula, California, USA on 28. April 2012 which focus on understanding what papañca is, how it happens, when it has its uses, and how the need for it can eventually be overcome.
A audio file of the full talk is avaliable on

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