Distinguishing Phenomena and What Is Meaningful

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The sutra, Distinguishing Phenomena and What Is Meaningful (Skt. Dharmārthavibhaṅga; Tib. ཆོས་དང་དོན་རྣམ་པར་འབྱེད་པ།, Wyl. chos dang don rnam par ‘byed pa) is set in Anathapindika’s park at Shravasti, where the Buddha Shakyamuni is residing with a gathering of monks and bodhisattvas. In delivering his teaching, Shakyamuni describes an ancient world known as Flower Origin, in which lived a buddha called Arisen from Flowers. That world was governed by a king known as Attainment of Victory, under whose rule everyone practised the Mahayana. Prompted by the prince Ratnakara, the royal family goes to meet Arisen from Flowers. That buddha then teaches the audience about the insubstantial and unsatisfactory nature of the aggregates, and describes beings’ tendency to perceive the aggregates in a flawed manner: while the aggregates are actually impermanent, repulsive, unclean, and unreal, sentient beings conceive of them as lasting, beautiful, pure, and true. Buddha Shakyamuni further explains how beings are themselves a product of their actions, and that the five aggregates (the components that together constitute a sentient being) are not purposely created by anyone.

The sutra thus presents a version of the well-known four misapprehensions, often described in Buddhist canonical literature as the main underpinnings of sentient beings’ mistaken view of the world: erroneously perceiving (1) the impermanent to be permanent, (2) the painful to be pleasant, (3) the dirty to be clean, and (4) what has no self to have a self.[1]


The Tibetan translation of this sutra can be found in the General Sutra section of the Tibetan Kangyur, Toh 247


  1. 84000 Translating the Words of the Buddha.