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On "Sammā," "Miccha," "Ariya," and "Angika"

The terms "sammā", "miccha", "ariya" and "angika", are closely bound up with our understanding of the Aristocratic Eight-dimensional High Way, AKA: The Noble Eightfold Path. The difference between the take presented here and that of almost all other translators (save Bhante Punnaji) is significant and it is important to understand in order to get the proper orientation to the approach suggested here (that is, emphasis on the importance of letting go):

To this point the explaination of these terms on BuddhaDust has been the following:[1]

"Sammā," the word so often translated "Right" has several problems that are avoided by the terms High or Consummate. The Pāḷi word "sammā" = sa = one amma = nursing, mothering. (I will leave to the imagination how the real meaning comes to be summit (suma, sum) — in the US we have a mountain range named by the French that will help you figure that one out). The closest we could come to "right" understanding in this way, but without the problems that come with "right" is "consummate."

High is better for this reason: the state to be attained throughout the Magga is that of detachment. "Right" is a concept fraught with attachments. It is right and all else is wrong, whereas in the Magga what we are being taught is that the terms used describe the Highest and all else is Lower (miccha) or less. A thing with two sides like Right and Wrong cannot be abandoned — those in the "wrong" will never let go, whereas, if you will imagine yourself with the ability to soar, reaching the summit is a place from which complete detachment is attainable.

Furthermore, while there might be some justification for the use of the word "right" (shy of its moralistic overtones) if one attributes its derivation to sama = even = straight = upright = right (and there is your progression from a carpenters term to a moralists term) (and certainly the two words are closely related), there is absolutely no justification for using "wrong" as its opposite (which is the problem with "right" that makes me want to use another word — very high moral behavior can be seen from the Buddhist view as "miccha". Miccha in no way comes to "wrong", it means "opposite," and for the purposes of contrast with "sammā" would probably best be translated "contrary," and there is even some justification for the term I prefer, "low" in the meaning of mi = small, miniscule, "Wee." Even a contrary way of behaving can be the right way to behave, depending on the view held. (... the right way to kill a man ...) whereas high behavior, being a relative concept, if followed, leads one ever upward from whatever starting point he may occupy.

What many are calling the Eightfold Path, I call the Multi-dimensional Way (although what I usually do to get around all the flap is to say Ariya Aṭṭhangika Magga, and put both translations in after.)

Ariya is most closely related to English "Aristocratic." It is both the name of a people, and a term used to describe the highest standard against which those people mesured themselves — that is, nobility in behavior; behavior 'worthy' of respect.

Aṭṭhangika: Aṭṭha = eight, for sure, but also "unlimited," which is more accurate. Originally the Aristocrats only counted up to 3. For heavy duty counting, they had accountants who could count up to a nahutam (in 3s). All the numbers up past three began their life as meaning "a whole bunch," and that is the case with eight. This is important when we read the Suttas and find that a good number of times the Eightfold path has Ten folds.[2] Studying the Magga further reveals that each of the folds, or dimensions, is a complete path to detachment in and of itself, and, further, digging into the sub definitions of each of the terms, one will find that there are a limitless number of loopings back, ("feedback loops" as Bhikkhu Thanissaro calls them) such as is most clearly seen in the Satipaṭṭhana, which ends with the Eightfold Path which includes Sammā Sati, and so forth. Thus we are, I believe, best guided by at least knowing the meaning of Eightfold to be Multi or Limitless. Angika = angled, dimensioned, folded back on itself, as in the arm bent at the elbow.

To this point I have used "contrary" or "low" as my translation for "miccha." As indicated above, "wrong" has always been wrong in my view, for the same reasons that I have always considered "right" for sammā to be incorrect in that it is clearly not the case that these things described as "miccha" are being considered completely wrong any more than those things considered "sammā" are being considered completely right. Things that are "miccha" are wrong relative to the "sammā" the "consummate" position pointed out by the Buddha, which is the "best" but which is, itself, to be let go.

With the clear relation of miccha to the English prefix "mis-",[3] I think I have found in "mistaken" a much more satisfactory term. A good second might be "misconceived," considering the strong relationship of miccha to sexual intercourse ... "misbegotten" might be even better. Probably the closest real term we have would be "matched" going to "mis-matched" but that would not work where no "match" is clear. [Later I have been satisfied to use "misguided" as a translation.]

One thing that is a Dhamma lesson in all this is the fact that although discussions on the meanings of these terms has been around for a while, and the early terms are not as enlightening as could be and are even misleading, nothing changes; the tendancy (even with myself, I know) continues to be to use Eightfold Path, Right, Wrong ... etc., a la Rhys Davids.

I really don't see this changing in the future. What is needed is a definitive, complete translation, but already even here in the West, there are irreconcilable differences in schools which will make the cooperation (not to mention the financing — and in this regard it is an unfortunate fact that it is those groups that are farthest from the original Pāḷi that appeal to the greatest numbers and therefore have the best financing) of such a definitive text almost impossible. Perhaps this is what the Buddha intended by the statement that True Dhamma would only last 500 years — that is true in the sense of being unadulterated, not that there would not be remnants of the true teaching that would last and last.


[1] The Eighth Lesson: Note on Terminology

[2] Adding High Vision and High Detachment — my terms; usually high knowledge and high freedom (for a discussion of my choice of these terms, see The 10th Question, Vijja) — to the usual eight)

[3] PED: Micchatta item of wrong, wrongness. There are 8 items of wrong, viz. the 8 wrong qualities as enumd under (an-) ariya-magga, forming the contrary to the sammatta or righteousness of the Ariyan Path. Besides these there is a set of 10, consisting of the above 8 plus micchā-ñāṇa and -vimutti wrong knowledge and wrong emancipation.|| ||

Micchā Sk. mithyā, cp. Vedic mithah. interchanging, separate, opposite, contrary; mithū wrongly; see also mithu] wrongly, in a wrong way, wrong-, false. -micchā- often in same combns as sammā-, with which contrasted, e.g. with the 8 parts of (an-) ariya-magga. -ka one who holds wrong views;
-sankappa aspiration;
-vācā speech (ibid.);
-kammanta conduct;
-ājīva living;
-vāyāma effort;
-sati mindfulness;
-samādhi concentration:
-gahaṇa wrong conception, mistake.
-cāra wrong behaviour.
-paṭipadā wrong path (of life):
-paṭipanna, living wrongly.
-paṇihita (citta) wrongly directed mind.
-patha wrong road, wrong course.
Mithu (adv.) (cp. Vedic mithū and P. micchā; mith, cp. mithah. alternately, Av. miqo wrongly; Goth. misso one another, missa-leiks different; Ger. E. prefix mis- i.e. wrongly: Ger. missetat wrong doing = misdeed; Lat. mūto to change, mutuus reciprocal; Goth. maipms present = Ags. mapum; mith in Vedic Sk. is "to be opposed to each other," whereas in Vedic mithuna the notion of "pair" prevails. See also methuna) opposite, reciprocally, contrary.
-bheda (evidently in meaning of mitta-bheda "break of friendship," although mithu means "adversary," thus perhaps "breaking, so as to cause opposition") breaking of alliance, enmity.
Methuna (adj.-nt.) (fr. Vedic mithuna pair, der. fr. mithu. Cp. micchā) 1. (adj.) relating to sexual intercourse, sexual, usually with dhamma, sex intercourse, in phrase -ṃ dhammaṃ paṭisevati to cohabit. - (m.) an associate. - 2. (nt.) sexual intercourse (Vedic maithuna).



Dīgha Nikāya III.33: Sangiti Suttanta: The Eights

See also: The Eighth Lesson,
The Tenth Lesson,
Glossology: Aṭṭhangika Magga

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