Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsambuddhassa

Introduction to 3.4.7
Avoiding Idle Chatter

The title of this sutta is Tiracchānakathāsuttaṃ. The literal meaning of tiracchānakathā is: - ‛talk that is not upright, animal talk’ - which the commentary explains as ‛horizontal talk’ - talk which, because it does not lead to emancipation and runs horizontal if compared to the upward leading paths towards heaven and liberation.1

Whenever the Buddha found his disciples engaged in tiracchānakathā he emphasized to them that this sort of talk was not suitable for anyone who had gone forth out of faith; having left the householders life they should not get involved in various kinds of useless talk: - ……“bhikkhave, tumhākaṃ patirūpaṃ kulaputtānaṃ saddhāya agārasmā anagāriyaṃ pabbajitānaṃ, yaṃ tumhe anekavihitaṃ2 tiracchānakathaṃ anuyuttā vihareyyātha, seyyathidaṃ”..…

One should avoid exchanging any talk of topics such as3: - ……”seyyathidaṃ – rājakathaṃ corakathaṃ mahāmattakathaṃ senākathaṃ bhayakathaṃ yuddhakathaṃ4 annakathaṃ pānakathaṃ vatthakathaṃ sayanakathaṃ mālākathaṃ gandhakathaṃ ñātikathaṃ yānakathaṃ gāmakathaṃ nigamakathaṃ nagarakathaṃ janapadakathaṃ itthikathaṃ sūrakathaṃ visikhākathaṃ kumbhaṭṭhānakathaṃ5 pubbapetakathaṃ6 nānattakathaṃ7 lokakkhāyikaṃ8 samuddakkhāyikaṃ itibhavābhavakathaṃ9 iti vāti vatthakathaṃ” - ……”talk about kings, robbers, ministers of state; conversation engaging in armies, dangers, wars; talk about food or drink, clothing or beds; talk about garlands and fragrances; about relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities or countries; telling stories about women and heroes; engaging in gossip of the street and the well; tales of the departed and ghosts; distracting talk of all kinds, speculating about world and ocean; talk about becoming or not becoming thus or suchlike.”

Intention to speak falsehood was the precondition of musāvādo. Likewise the commentary details that the respective volition to while away the time of others with something that has no purpose needs to precede samphappalāpo and is accompanied by the effort to put it into effect:

Yena samphaṃ palapati niratthakaṃ10, so samphappalāpo
. - That by which one chatters idly and meaningless, is gossip. Gossip is the unwholesome volition causing efforts by body or by speech to communicate what is purposeless. - Anatthaviññāpakakāyavacīpayogasamuṭṭhāpikā11 akusalacetanā samphappalāpo. – It is less blameworthy when indulged in less, more blameworthy when indulged in a lot. - So āsevanamandatāya appasāvajjo, āsevanamahantatāya mahāsāvajjo. Tassa dve sambhārā bhāratayuddhasītāharaṇādiniratthakakathāpurekkhāratā12, tathārūpīkathākathananti. – There are two constituents: having preverence to purposeless stories such as the Bharata war or the abduction of Sita, etc., and the telling of such stories.13

The Buddha further instructed the Bhikkhus that next to avoiding all kinds of samphappalāpo it was the wholesome practice to engage in the following ten topics of conversation: - “……imesaṃ ce tumhe, bhikkhave, dasannaṃ kathāvatthūnaṃ upādāyupādāya14 kathaṃ katheyyātha……. Katamāni dasa? Appicchakathā, santuṭṭhikathā, pavivekakathā15, asaṃsaggakathā, vīriyārambhakathā, sīlakathā, samādhikathā, paññākathā, vimuttikathā, vimuttiñāṇadassanakathāti – imāni kho, bhikkhave, dasa kathāvatthūni.” – “Talk on humbleness, on contentment, on solitude, on disassociation, on arousing vīriyā, on sīla, on samādhi, on paññā, on liberation and on the knowledge and vision of liberation. These are the ten topics of conversation!”

[1] aniyyānikattā saggamokkhamaggānaṃ tiracchānabhūtā kathāti tiracchānakathā – animal talk: what makes it horizontal talk is talk that does not lead towards heaven and liberation.

[2] anekavihitaṃ: aneka + vihitaṃ: many + furnished, equipped

[3] taken from: Paṭhamakathāvatthusuttaṃ; Yamakavaggo; Aṅguttaranikāyo; Dasakanipātapāḷi, also found in Brahmajālasuttaṃ; Paṭhamakathāvatthusuttaṃ; Udumbarikasuttaṃ and others

[4] yuddhakathaṃ: yuddha (pp. of yujjhati) + kathaṃ: fight, make war + talk

[5] visikhākathaṃ; kumbhaṭṭhānakathaṃ — `gossip at the street corner and at the well`. Both describe low talk because they refer to the places where people are exchanging news when meeting and while filling up their waterpots.

[6] pubbapetakathaṃ: pubba + peta + kathaṃ: former + ghosts + talk

[7] nānattakathaṃ: nānatta + kathaṃ: multifarious + talk, all sort of talk to idle away one’s time about this or that

[8] lokakkhāyikaṃ: loka + akkhāyikaṃ: world + tale, speculation

[9] itibhavābhavakathaṃ: iti + bhava +abhava +kathaṃ: suchlike + becoming + not becoming + talk

[10] niratthaka: (adj.) meaningless, useless, unprofitable

[11] anatthaviññāpakakāyavacīpayogasamuṭṭhāpikā: anattha + viññāpaka +kāya + vacī + payoga +samuṭṭhāpikā: no reason/meaning + able to instruct/communicate + by means of body and speech + causing, occasioning

[12] bhāratayuddhasītāharaṇādiniratthakakathāpurekkhāratā: bhārata + yuddha + sītā + haraṇa + adi + niratthaka + kathā + purekkhāratā: Bhārata + war + sītā + taking + beginning with/and so on + meaningless + talk + preference 

[13] For the commentarial explanation of the respective other precepts please compare: on sammākammanto: for pāṇātipātā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.6 Daṇḍasuttaṃ; on - adinnādānā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.6 Daṇḍasuttaṃ; for - kāmesumicchācārā (abrahmacariyā) veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ see 3.5.8 Methunasuttaṃ and on - surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī-sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi see introduction to 3.6.5 Siṅgālasuttaṃ - The Buddha’s advice to Laypeople.

[14] upādāyupādāya: upādāya + upādāya: taking up + being attached to

[15] pavivekakathā – pa + viveka + kathā: solitude/seclusion + talk


Pāli lesson (with audio) 3.4.7

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Last modified: Tuesday, 21 February 2017, 7:28 PM