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Most of the English translation I read, Anatta is translated as not-self and Anicca as impermanence. However many Sri Lankan Buddhist monks do not agree with this translation. They say it is a miss translation by Buddhagosha. According to many Buddhist monks, it appears, Anicca means our inability to control the five aggregate. Anatta means the futile nature of the five aggregate. Is this true?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Dec 5 '19 at 8:34
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It is 'anatta' that means our inability to control the five aggregate, as found in the Pali as follows, where the word 'anicca' is not found at all:

Rūpaṃ, bhikkhave, anattā. Rūpañca hidaṃ, bhikkhave, attā abhavissa, nayidaṃ rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvatteyya, labbhetha ca rūpe: ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti. Yasmā ca kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ anattā, tasmā rūpaṃ ābādhāya saṃvattati, na ca labbhati rūpe: ‘evaṃ me rūpaṃ hotu, evaṃ me rūpaṃ mā ahosī’ti.

Bhikkhus, form is nonself. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to disease, and it would be possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’ But because form is nonself, form leads to disease, and it is not possible to have it of form: ‘Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.’

SN 22.59

It is 'anicca' that means the futile nature ('dukkha') of the five aggregates, as also explained in SN 22.59:

"What do you think of this, O monks? Is form permanent (niccaṃ) or impermanent (aniccaṃ)?"

"Impermanent (aniccaṃ), O Lord (O Bhante)."

"Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?"

"Unsatisfactory, O Lord."

"Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self (attā)'?"

"Indeed, not that, O Lord."

Anatta (not-self) is the recognition that conditioned things (such as the five aggregates) do not belong to you (i.e., are not "mine") and cannot be an intrinsic permanent "you" (i.e., are not "me") due to their impermanent (anicca) nature.

  • Can you explain (or prove) e.g. why anicca is translated as impermanence? – ChrisW Apr 3 '17 at 1:02
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    Why? Because the sutta says anicca means subject to change. Also refer to SN 22.97 suttacentral.net/en/sn22.97 where nicca is correlated with words such as stable, eternal, not subject to change, that will remain the same just like eternity itself. – Dhammadhatu Dec 17 '17 at 2:16
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Anatta - non / not self is right. No self is wrong as it is an extreme view. See: Ananda Sutta

Anicca - impermanence. In ability to control comes because of impermanence but this is more to do with Anatta.

Anatta is also the in ability to control the 5 aggregates, 6 sense bases and their experience, not anicca.

Also see: Sutta references which Discuss Self and Not Self under Different Contexts

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    I don't think it's enough to merely give a definition, for this question. The OP expresses doubt about usual translations so I think they want something more (proof or reasoning, perhaps). – ChrisW Mar 25 '17 at 11:27
  • If there were something permanent, I'm as well unable to change it. So by the same logic even the permanent "is" anicca? (I don't really like the use of "is" etc in this context/expressions, thus I possibly do not apply it here "correctly", but just for the other contradiction in my comment.) – Gottfried Helms Mar 13 '19 at 10:53
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"Anicca means our inability to control the five aggregate."

Original translation of Anicca: impermanent.

2nd translation of Anicca: our inability to control the five aggregates.

Both translations refer to the same.

When one has no ability to control the five aggregates, impermanence is present.

It's because of the inability to control the five aggregates, that impermanence arises. Thus, looking at both translations with such wisdom, they are both correct.

If we use the 2nd translation, you must realize the nature of the five aggregates. Once realized, you know how and why they arise. By knowing how and why they arise, you get the ability to control the five aggregates. Once you get the ability to control them, you make them cease. Once ceased, impermanence is destroyed.

Both translation lead you to the same result: cessation of suffering. Cessation of impermanence.

"Anatta means the futile nature of the five aggregate."

Original translation of Anatta: not self.

2nd translation of Anatta: the futile nature of the five aggregates.

Both translations refer to the same.

When the futile nature of the five aggregates is present, one is subjected to clinging onto this wrong view: "this is self".

The futile nature of the five aggregates is like a magician playing a magic trick and you being ignorant can't recognize it's a magic trick. Once you start investigating and scrutinizing the magician's magic trick you slowly start to see how it works and once you realize how it works, you finally realize it was just a magic trick!

In the same way, when you investigate and scrutinize the futile nature of the five aggregates, you slowly start to see how it works and once you realize how it works, you finally realize it was just "not self"!

When one realizes the futile nature of the five aggregates, one is free from the wrong view: "this is self" and comes to the right view: "this is not self"

Thus, looking at both translations with such wisdom, they are both correct.

And what is the futile nature of the five aggregates?

It arises and it ceases. It does that for a very very long time. In doing so it does not lead to happiness, to the cessation of suffering, but always to suffering, to impermanence. It always ends in suffering. It leads to suffering. That's why it is futile. When one sees this futility, he comes to the realization "If this were self, it wouldn't be subjected to such futility" and concludes "thus, this is not self".

Why he comes to such conclusion? Read my answer here: Impermanent self

"Most of the English translation I read, Anatta is translated as not-self and Anicca as impermanence. However many Sri Lankan Buddhist monks do not agree with this translation."

I wouldn't say that there is disagreement in the translation. They just translate it or interpret it differently to explain the same thing. I would say this is more a question about the way of passing wisdom to listeners. They translated/interpreted it differently so to lead their listeners to the realization of the truth. Nonetheless, bot translations/interpretations lead the listener to the same goal: cessation of suffering.

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Nyom Sarath, and those with interest,

At(t)ma(n)-peap (my person, "I-ness", usually, polite and modest 3rd person addressing of oneself when speaking with householder as pabbajita "one gone forth", here where he dwells) followed the hard leaded discussion on many places of Dhamma-discussion a little, which was merely very un-welcome to many and sometimes "brutal" and ignorant approached, from my persons view, especially in scholar-spheres and where practicing is merely secondary matter, even unwished to be discussed.

Coming to this question, not as a linguistic scholar and also not as a script scholar, but from a practical use, also of language and of it's sense, in relation to the practice and aim.

Here in Cambodia, which maybe has the longest unbroken "oral only"-tradition, with less exchange to organised communities elsewhere and seemingly long unbroken lineage without much scholars, in a more modern way, and scripts very young, many pali and sanskrit words are living part of the countries language in daily use, and also general translations into Khmer (khema = land or person at peace) language are mostly often different to modern translation in living languages.

The word atthanay,for example, as part of common language, adjectivly used, means simply "makes no sense", "has nothing to hold on". Anicca is translated as min-deang or *min-dang (khmer), which means, not-knowable, not to see, not control-able, not in the sphere of control or foreseeable.

That would, independently of this "old" Sri Lankan approach, Sarath quoted,

Anicca means our inability to control the five aggregate. Anatta means the futile nature of the five aggregate.

fit well with each other. Practical in living language and meaning, as well practical in relation of the path, for the aim to get ride of suffering/stress, rather to find such as an "I" or destroy it.

At the heart - the sense stays actually (like also particly mentikned by Beginner her) the same with the usual words - it would, for a good and in line of the general context of the Dhamma, and ways conductive for the path, just fit better than use the modern/popular words, since speculations about, if there is a self or not, needs to be avoided, and are root causes of suffering (e.g. papanca).

But maybe the "problem", causing disputes, lies merely there, that the issue of at least emptiness, usually have not been taught to the untrained person (mind), and that people not free of sakkaya-ditthi, one of the lower fetter, self-view, self-believe, has simply a hard to work without self or not-self, therefore prever the use of one or another extreme and bend it here and there that it does not possible seem like eternal- or nihilism, but still is.

How ever, to cut away a "dangerous" assuming that some might draw from it: that would not mean that Nibbana is self - making a dopple-chance in a thought line - it just would mean that Nibbana makes sense (attha), aside of all other phenomenas which do not (anattha), and it is no more not in the sphere of insecurity, niccha, secure. For whom or what, is no question in this sphere, cut off, made an end.

How ever, my person never come across a saying of "nibbana atta, nibbana niccaṃ" quoting the Buddha, ditectly. Maybe out of good reason as well, such was not said, since Nibbana is not an antidote to Samsara, but "simply" beyond.

But this "tiny" distinction fits also well into the "not-modern" translation, suggested here:

anattā

While in the case of the first two characteristics it is stated that all formations (sabbe sankhārā) are impermanent and subject to suffering, the corresponding text for the third characteristic states that "all things are not-self" (sabbe dhammā anattā; M. 35, Dhp. 279).

Hence: Nibbana "just" nicca: secure: might be possible valid to express, taken that sabbe dhammā anattā incl. Nibbana (for security to be not mistaken as "the Self")

So the answer here will again either stay food for not conductive thoughts for the path either, or possible lead even more "just" to practice and see (dang km) for "oneself" (kluan eing km).

May all able to, gain the best out of it and reach the stream till highest fruit.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for any commercial purpose or other wordily gains]

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To understand anatta, you need to understand what is sasvata and what is uccheda very deeply.

For example, through samma ditti, one might be void of Sakkaaya Ditti, Vicikiccha, Silabbatha Paramasa, but unless you become an arhat, you won't understand Attawada (a consequence of not understanding anatta).

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I am a bit suspicious about all those meanings due to following reasons.

  1. Buddha should have given these discourses in Magadhi language which was the language mostly used during that time in that area. Magadhi is not Pali, even though there are some resemblance between them.

  2. The Suttas were edited appropriately in the first Buddhist council for the purpose of preservation by oral tradition, by arahants. The discourses were delivered could have been resembled the modern day talks (for instance, the first sutta was delivered overnight, but if you chant it now, it will be finished before half an hour) so the arahants could have taken the core of the teachings and made it into something that could be chant-able.

  3. The fourth council in Sri Lanka paved the way to write them down and it was conducted without the patronage of the king at that time. The king Vattagamini-Abhaya was a sympathiser of Mahayana. Perhaps the monks were really concerned about the threats to the teachings by some people who were dealing with the king. There is no mention about arahants in the meeting and perhaps, only scholarly monks undertook the recitations and writings. Because the language of these monks is Sinhala and they had to learn Pali to understand (remember, Pali was not spoken in Sri Lanka, it used to be , even now, should be learnt), there is possibility that some of the meanings got lost with time.

  4. Still, there is a possibility of understanding the meaning of those words if the Sinhala commentaries were preserved. But as soon as Buddhagogha translated them in to Pali, all the Sinhala commentaries were burned. This should not be a problem if can have full faith in Buddhagosha's ability to translate. Unfortunately, no-one knows about his Sinhala skills as well as the grip on Buddhist teachings being a previous practinioner of Vedas. There are possibilities, that he tried to explain the terms the way he understood them through his knowledge in Vedas ultimately introducing vedic concepts unwittingly.

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It appears, Anicca means our inability to control the five aggregate. Anatta means the futile nature of the five aggregate. Is this true?

As far as I understood yes this is correct. I'll explain how I realized that this is correct.

Anicca

The closest word to the meaning of the word Anicca is insatiable. According to the Buddah, world (five aggregates) is insatiable.

Why is it (five aggregates = world) Anicca | Insatiable

Because everything in this world is based on reasons. The results, which we see as the world (five aggregates) are there as a result of some causes (reasons) happened previously.


Below are evidences from the cannon to prove that Anicca is the core of this Dhamma, and it is about insatiability.

Below is from Dhammacakkapavattana

Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

What alway get mistaken from above content is that birth is about the normal birth we talk about everyday. And the death is about the normal death we can see every where. And the aging etc...

But this sutta called 'Assutavā Sutta clearly state that Assutavā bhikkhave, puthujjano is clever to worry about the outer world. So if someone think and worry about outer world he is puthujjano. Which means he doesn't know the correct path to the Nirvana.

And also in the same sutta, it clearly states that Tatra bhikkhave sutavā ariyasāvako paṭiccasamuppādaṃ yeva sādhukaṃ yoniso manasikaroti which means the person who knows the path to Nirvana focus and think about the paticcasamuppada but not the outer world.

So when this compares with the Dhammacakkapavattana sutta, it get proven that Birth (jathi), Aging (jara), Death (marana) in Dhammacakka.. are not about outer world things, which we think they are. The true meaning of those are about the mind and thoughts. Here jathi mean birth of thought, if that thought initiate as a result of ignorance then that causes to existence of life (sasara). Like wise all those things are about thoughts and the mind.

Then in Dhammacakka.. what mistakenly understand was not getting what is wanted is ...(yampiccan na labathi thampi dukkan = Anicca = Insatiable). Majority (putajjana) thought this is another fact same as birth, aging, etc. No this is a common fact for all birth, aging, death, etc.. Below is an evidence to prove this point from Sacca-vibhaṅga Sutta where not getting what is wanted is extracted and explained.

“And what is the stress of not getting what is wanted? In beings subject to birth, the wish arises, ‘O, may we not be subject to birth, and may birth not come to us.’ But this is not to be achieved by wishing. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted. In beings subject to aging… illness… death… sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair, the wish arises, ‘O, may we not be subject to aging… illness… death… sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair, and may aging… illness… death… sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair not come to us.’ But this is not to be achieved by wishing. This is the stress of not getting what is wanted."

Therefore Anicca = Not getting what is wanted = insatiable is applied to all the facts (birth, aging, death, etc..) mentioned in the Dhammacakka.. and it is not just another fact like birth or death.

And also this clears that why five aggregates cannot be controlled? It's because those are Anicca. They behave the way those are supposed to be (according to the hethu phala reasons and results). Understanding that makes to realize nothing in the world behave the way we want. Abstract word to explain all this is Anicca.

If someone think about impermanence is the cause for the dukkha in buddhism, No it is not, Because in buddhism dukka ariya sacca is a ñāṇa (knowledge = understanding) it's not a feeling. But putajjana people think this dukka ariya sacca as a feeling which we feel through, death, aging, etc.. But as mentioned NO it's not a feeling but ñāṇa, an understanding about the world, which is meant by Anicca. Though I just say Anicca here, I don't think anyone understand the word Anicca from this answer, as that word contains more complex meaning which is very hard to explain in words (specially using a language which is not my mother tongue)


Anatta means the futile nature of the five aggregate

Yes, as explained above once the five aggregates are behave the way they are supposed (Anicca behavior) to be (due to the previous causes) everything become futile. Because though we thought something from outer world (we identify the outer world from five aggregate; I'm not going to explain it here) is giving us happiness no it is not. Why? if that something is giving the happiness to us then everyone should get that happiness from it, isn't it?

Eg: Some people like old type cars, if that happiness come from the old cars then everyone should be happy after owning an old car. But it is not the case. Some people hate old cars. So it is very clear that the happiness is not given from the outer world (from five aggregates) not from the old car. So where the happiness is created? it is created in someone's mind thinking that outer world thing is worth to have (kind of feeling; sorry don't know words to explain it more).

Here thinking the outer world is giving happiness is a cause of ignorance, because putajjano doesn't know that world is Anicca. So they think (made up in the mind) outer world (car) is a worth thing to have, which is not and going after those without knowing the fact that car is the way he wants it to be. But the reality is that car is there (and this person owns it etc..) because of the reasons not because of he wants it that way.

hetum paticca sambuthan hethu banga nirujjahthi World come to live as a result of reasons and once reasons are gone (exceeds) world dies ; here take the car an example to world

Therefore everything (world, which born from five aggregates) are futile. There's no meaning of running after them, securing them.. Only thing to do is see the world with the understanding of Anicca which causes to understand paticcasamuppada. Then we realize that only thing to do in this world is obtaining the Nirvana.

NOTE: I tried many times to answer with these contexts, but most of the time the answer get down voted. And I'm not worrying about that, because the world is Anicca, and there are no reasons to understand this dhamma by majority. That's buddha's word. Anyone who has reasons | causes to see the correct path may read and understand this answer. (I'm not trying to be an expert here, I'm also another follower to Nirvana like others).

With Metta...!

  • @ChrisW yes, I raised that question, and you see, that question is down voted (means somethimg like rejected as a valid content) That's why I said real dhamma won't be understood by the majority, and the putajjana people (the majority) wont understand the reality of the world 🙏 – Isuru Dec 3 '19 at 18:36
  • In this comment you seemed to accept that it's derived from a+nicca not from an+iccha so I don't know why you're still posting the opposite. And yes SN 56.11 says what it does, about craving, it doesn't mention anicca at all though does it, so maybe it's not on-topic when you're only trying to define anicca. – ChrisW Dec 3 '19 at 19:02
  • @ChrisW as I said, to understand what I'm trying to say is not easy here. I'm not trying to define a word here. This is the dhamma. Get the meaning don't run after words. "Yampiccan na labathi thampi dukkan" is the result due to the "Anicca behavior" of the world. Its because "hetum paticca sambutban hetbu bhanga nirujnathi" About the comment you mentioned here, I've agreed to the opposite of anicca is nicca, not to the meaning. Meaning of aniccha as impermanence is not correct. With that there are lots of conflicts. At one place it says, 'maranan niyathan' = death is for sure; – Isuru Dec 4 '19 at 1:59
  • I'm not trying to define a word here. This is the dhamma. Well your interpretation of SN 56.11 sounds orthodox and I too see that (the noble truths) as the essential core of the Dhamma. Sometimes a topic is about trying to define a word though (like the OP's topic here, "What is the meaning of Anicca and Anatta?" -- those words are in other suttas (not SN 56.11). I think that the doctrines or observations about anicca and anatta (translated "impermanent" and "not-self") are also useful (as well as SN 56.11) and important parts of Buddhism, which we're lucky to have, it seems a pity to ... – ChrisW Dec 4 '19 at 3:55
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The best argument for wrong translation of Anicca come from SN 12.20, “Paccayasutta” which says,

Katame ca, bhikkhave, paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā? Jarāmaraṇaṃ, bhikkhave, aniccaṃ saṅkhataṃ paṭic­ca­samup­pannaṃ khayadhammaṃ vayadhammaṃ virāgadhammaṃ nirodhadhammaṃ. Jāti, bhikkhave, aniccā saṅkhatā paṭic­ca­samup­pannā khayadhammā vayadhammā virāgadhammā nirodhadhammā. Bhavo, bhikkhave, anicco saṅkhato paṭic­ca­samup­panno khayadhammo vayadhammo virāgadhammo nirodhadhammo. Upādānaṃ bhikkhave … pe … taṇhā, bhikkhave … vedanā, bhikkhave … phasso, bhikkhave … saḷāyatanaṃ, bhikkhave … nāmarūpaṃ, bhikkhave … viññāṇaṃ, bhikkhave … saṅkhārā, bhikkhave … avijjā, bhikkhave, aniccā saṅkhatā paṭic­ca­samup­pannā khayadhammā vayadhammā virāgadhammāvirāga nirodhadhammā. Ime vuccanti, bhikkhave, paṭic­ca­samup­pannā dhammā.

Translated:

And what, bhikkhus, are the dependently arisen phenomena? Aging-and-death, bhikkhus, is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation. Birth is impermanent … Existence is impermanent … Clinging is impermanent … Craving is impermanent … Feeling is impermanent … Contact is impermanent … The six sense bases are impermanent … Name-and-form is impermanent … Consciousness is impermanent … Volitional formations are impermanent … Ignorance is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and cessation. These, bhikkhus, are called the dependently arisen phenomena.

It appears that it is incorrect to say death is impermanent ... and therefore, anicca doesn't mean impermanent!


According to the following video, the Nibbana is Atta. This video is in the Sinhalese language.

https://youtu.be/ma81JD_LNeM?t=6084

  • I don't understand the first part of this answer, nor the second. – ChrisW Apr 2 '17 at 23:50
  • The second is an example of a link-only answer. Please summarize a bit more (in the answer) what the video says, especially since the video isn't in English (sometimes I would summarize it for you, but I can't Sinhala). SE doesn't approve of answers which contain nothing but a link. – ChrisW Apr 2 '17 at 23:55
  • I think I understand now (though I don't agree with) the argument in the first part of the answer ... I tried to expand that first part of the answer, to clarify what it's saying: please verify whether my expansion is correct i.e. what you wanted to say. – ChrisW Apr 3 '17 at 0:06
  • Why do you say 'Aging-and-death, bhikkhus, is impermanent' is wrong? – dmsp Apr 9 '17 at 7:54
  • Very good. So in this context anicca means, the phenomenon lacks continuity or solidity. We conjure it momentarily and at those moments it seems as if it existed and will exist, but in actuality we assemble it at that very moment. So here I'd translate it as ephemeral, non-continous. – Andrei Volkov Sep 28 '17 at 15:12
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In the following statement

"What do you think of this, O monks? Is form permanent (niccaṃ) or impermanent (aniccaṃ)?"

"Impermanent (aniccaṃ), O Lord (O Bhante)."

"Now, that which is impermanent, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?"

"Unsatisfactory, O Lord."

"Now, that which is impermanent, unsatisfactory, subject to change, is it proper to regard that as: 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self (attā)'?"

"Indeed, not that, O Lord."

How is it that the monk replies to the Buddha that everything that is impermanent is Unsatisfactory. If you think about it this cannot be true can it. if you take a simple example, if you have a broken arm, is it satisfactory? I would suggest no. when the injury gets better is it satisfactory? I would suggest yes. In this case the state of a broken arm was impermanent therefore it got better. But this impermanence did not bring about dissatisfaction

if we think about when we are unsatisfied a bit..

would we be satisfied if things transpired the way we wanted it to? I would suggest yes would we be satisfied if things didn't transpire the way we wanted it to? I would suggest no

Therefore it seems to me that a better interpretation of anicca might be to mean "we aren't satisfied with a result"

This might be the case, most of the time....

We obviously aren't satisfied when things go against our wishes. The converse is, we get what we want. In this case are we satisfied? Think about it... we still aren't are we? we turn our attention to the next pursuit that we believe makes us happy. We are always looking for gratification, but there is no gratification in external things. So we are constantly unfulfilled, unsatisfied... INSATIABLE

I would say INSATIABLE is a better meaning for Anicca.

Now look at the same conversation with one work changed

"What do you think of this, O monks? Is form satiable (niccaṃ) or insatiable (aniccaṃ)?"

"insatiable (aniccaṃ), O Lord (O Bhante)."

"Now, that which is insatiable, is it unsatisfactory or satisfactory?"

"Unsatisfactory, O Lord."

If form is insatiable is it fruitful to expect gratification from it?

It seems to me that it is futile - anatta

Is this the case for you? This is for you to think deeply through your own life experiences.

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    This is a question-and-answer site, not a discussion site. So topics consist of one question and several (mutually independent) answers. I can explain that in more detail if you like, but for now I'm going to edit this so that it answers the original question (i.e. SarathW's question at the top of the page) instead of its addressing itself to Dhammadhatu's answer. – ChrisW Mar 13 '19 at 9:40

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