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Theravada Buddhism

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In Theravada Buddhism, anupubbikathā or ānupubbikathā[1] (Pali) — variously translated as "gradual discourse,"[2] "gradual instruction,"[3] "gradual training,"[4] "progressive instruction,"[5] and "step-by-step talk"[6] — is a method by which the Buddha taught the Dhamma to suitably receptive lay people. In this approach, the Four Noble Truths are the consummate teaching. The common formula is:

  1. Generosity (dāna)
  2. Virtue (sīla)
  3. Heaven (sagga)
  4. Danger of sensual pleasure (kāmānaṃ ādīnava)[7]
  5. Renunciation (nekkhamma)
  6. The Four Noble Truths (cattāri ariya-saccāni)[8]

From the Pali Canon

In the Pali Canon, the title for this training, its general intent and outline are provided in the following narrative formula (in English and Pali) which is found in multiple discourses:[9]

"Then the Blessed One gave the householder ... progressive instruction, that is, talk on giving, talk on virtue, talk on the heavens; he explained the danger, degradation, and defilement in sensual pleasures and the blessing of renunciation. When he knew that the householder['s] ... mind was ready, receptive, free from hindrances, elated, and confident, he expounded to him the teaching special to the Buddhas: suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path." [10]

Atha kho bhagavā ... gahapatissa ānupubbīkathaṃ kathesi. Seyyathīdaṃ: dānakathaṃ, sīlakathaṃ, saggakathaṃ, kāmānaṃ ādīnavaṃ, okāraṃ saṅkilesaṃ, nekkhamme ānisaṃsaṃ pakāsesi. Yadā bhagavā aññāsi ... gahapatiṃ kallacittaṃ muducittaṃ vinīvaraṇacittaṃ udaggacittaṃ pasannacittaṃ, atha yā buddhānaṃ sāmukkaṃsikā dhammadesanā, taṃ pakāsesi: dukkhaṃ samudayaṃ nirodhaṃ maggaṃ.[11]


Details for this training are provided in DN 2[12] and, to a lesser degree, in MN 27 and MN 51.[13]

See also


  1. For some alternate spellings of this Pali word, see Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), p. 39, entry for "Anupubbikathā," retrieved 2008-01-21 at Also note that, in the La Trobe University (n.d.) on-line edition of the Canon, the middle "i" of anupubbikathā or ānupubbikathā has a macron (ī).
  2. "Gradual discourse" is found, for instance, in Walshe (1995), p. 215.
  3. The translation "gradual instruction" is used, for instance, by Nyanatiloka (1980), entry for "ānupubbī-kathā" at
  4. The translation "gradual training" is used, for instance, by Bodhi (2005) and Bullitt (2005). This translation can be problemmatic insomuch that the gradual Buddhist notion of anupubbasikkhā is more generally translated as "gradual training" as well.
  5. "Progressive instruction" is used, for instance, Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), p. 485.
  6. Thanissaro (1998).
  7. In regards to translating ādīnava, Bullitt uses the word "drawbacks" while Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001) use "danger" (p. 485), and Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25) recommend "disadvantage, danger" (p. 99, entry for "Ādīnava," retrieved 2007-11-13 from
  8. See, for instance, Bullitt (2005).
  9. According to Nyanatiloka (1980), three discourses that include this formula are DN 3, DN 14 and MN 56 (see Nyanatiloka, 1980, entry for "ānupubbī-kathā" at A search of the on-line La Trobe University (n.d.) database reveals that the compound term ānupubbīkathaṃ (seeānupubbīkathaṃ) can be found ten times in the Vinaya Pitaka and eight times in the Sutta Pitaka including: DN 3 (D.i.110), DN 5 (D.i.148), MN 56 (M.i.379), MN 91 (M.ii.145), AN 8.12 (A.iv.186,, AN 8.20 (A.iv.209,, AN 8.21 (A.iv.213,, and KN's Ud. 5.3 (Ud. 48) (see Thanissaro, 1998). Additionally, a search of the La Trobe University database for ānupubbiṃ kathaṃ (seeānupubbiṃ%20kathaṃ) results in two instances of the formula being found in DN 14 (D.ii.41, D.ii.44). In DN 14, the identified formulaic statement is not stated by Gautama Buddha (who, according to the Pali canon, is the 28th Buddha) but by Buddha Vipassī (the 22nd Buddha), thus reinforcing that the Four Noble Truths are "the teaching special to the Buddhas," that is, Buddhas in addition to this age's self-awakened one, Gautama Buddha (see Walshe, 1995, pp. 215-16).
  10. Upāli Sutta ("To Upāli," MN 56), verse 18, trans. by Ñāṇamoli & Bodhi (2001), p. 485. The final fourfold "special teaching" is a reference to the Four Noble Truths.
  11. La Trobe University (n.d.), Majjhima Nikaya, vol. I, BJT page 72, PTS pages 379-80. (retrieved 2007-11-12 at
  12. See, for instance, Thanissaro (1997).
  13. Bodhi (2005), p. 226.


  • Ñāṇamoli, Bhikkhu (trans.) & Bodhi, Bhikkhu (ed.) (2001). The Middle-Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-072-X.
  • Walshe, Maurice (1995). The Long Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Dīgha Nikāya. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-103-3.

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