Here is the passage with a rough translation of what I believe it is supposed to be saying, it is from 3-400AD, Buddhist scripture:

  • 少欲者,少欲俱相類相聚相應相可;
  • few are the chaste, the few chaste are altogether mutually ranked mutually congregated mutually responding mutually functioning;

If there are other issues with this rendering please feel free to address them, although my chief concern is the usage of 相. Should it be read as "marked by [類/聚/應/可]"?

4 Answers 4


The core meaning of the character 相 is not ' mutual' but ' from one to the other'.

For example:

  • 相授 (one person give to or teach another person)

  • 相送 (one person see another person off)

  • 相傳 (story retold from people to people)

'相' is used to describe 'mutually' because it can be the shortened form of '互相' (mutually from one to the other)

  • 兩人相聚( the two meet) is 相聚

  • 眾人相聚 (everybody meet) is also 相聚

  • 人相食 means 'people eating people' (two people cannot mutually eat each other)

The examples above prove 相 does not mean 'mutually' ( but 互 does)

From the context of the sentence in the question:

  • 相類 (identify each others) means every similar things could identify each others

  • 相聚 (stay together) means every similar things would stay together

  • 相應 (react to each others) means every similar things would react to each others

  • 相可 (agree with each others) means every similar things would agree with each others

  • I trust your answer, however, if you will permit me to ask another question, as a novice and a learner, 相類 (identify each others) <--this is the same meaning as "[are] mutually ranked", or "are ranked the same", isn't it? I just ask this question because I do not know. 相聚 (stay together) --> this seems also the same as "are mutually congregating" 相應 (react to each others) --> this seem also really close to "are mutually responding" Is this because 相 basically means "the same" in this specific isolated context?
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 5:57
  • I mean to ask, does "mutually" seem to sometimes work as an English rendering here because 相, in this specific context, could have been replaced with either 互 or 互相, in this specific context (but not in other contexts necessarily)?
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 6:00
  • if it is between two individuals, then 相 could be the short hand for 互相 'mutually' ( you classify me, I classify you), But in this context, it seems there's more than two individuals. therefore, I interpret 相 in 相類, in it's basic meaning: 'from one to the other' . If it was 互類, 互聚,互應 and 互可 then the meanings of 'mutually classify each other'. 'mutually congregating', 'mutually responding' and mutually agree with each other' would be quite clear
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 6:19
  • " But in this context, it seems there's more than two individuals." <-- Yes, I think that we are dealing with "universal" groupings of myriad people in the context of this text. Because I am a learner, if you have time, what would you render 類, 聚, 應, & 可 as if 相 was systematically rendered, in English, as "from one to the other"?
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 6:23
  • '相' is used to describe 'mutually' because it can be the shortened form of '互相' -- Not necessarily. The two meanings coexisted in classical Chinese long enough, and there is a bigger chance that the 'mutual' meaning came first. 互相 is a relatively recent word. Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 6:28

少欲俱相類,相聚,相應,相可 《雜阿含經》

少欲俱相類,相聚,相應,相可 《佛說相應相可經》

少欲者: 貪欲少的人、欲望較少的人 People with less desire

俱: all

相類: 互相類似 They think and behave similarly.

相聚: 互相聚集 They often get together.

相應: 互相契合 They tally or correspond mutually.
相應 means to tally or to correspond (契合) in Buddhism, not to react or to interact.

相可: 互相許可 They agree with one another. They agree mutually.

相 may mean "mutually" or "each other". However, one is an adverb, and the other is a pronoun. I think the 相 in 相類, 相聚, 相應 and 相可 are more likely to be the adverbs, not the pronouns. So, 相 means "mutually" here.

  • 2
    "Each other" is used only as the object of a verb or preposition. It usually follows the verb or preposition. Those 相 are in front of verbs, 類,聚,應 and 可, therefore they should be the adverbs. 相類 Their thought and behavior are mutually alike. 相聚 They mutually visit or meet.
    – young99
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 4:01


少欲 is alpeccha, so 少欲者 is someone who has little or moderate wishes.

俱 is 俱全 (completely). 少欲俱, is completely full of alpeccha.

a math equation metaphor:a1+a2+a3+a4 = a (1+2+3+4)

so, 相類﹒相聚﹒相應﹒相可 is 相 (類﹒聚﹒應﹒可)

"類聚" is group together, e.g. 物以類聚

應 - 應對, interact

可 - 認可, affirm

so, it's 少欲者(people full of alpeccha) would group together, affirm each other, interact "in-group".

the usage of 相 in english, depend on the written style, mutually is a good choice. cause that the text describes a situation of "group", clearly, not a one - one scenario.

last, the original text of this excerpt from 雜阿含經:


一時佛在舍衛國祇樹給孤獨 園。佛告諸比丘:「比丘!諸不聞者,不聞俱相類 相聚相應相可,多聞者,多聞俱相類相聚相 應相可;慳者,慳俱相類相聚相應相可,布施 者,布施俱相類相聚相應相可;黠者,黠俱相 類相聚相應相可,癡者,癡俱相類相聚相應 相可;多欲者,多欲俱相類相聚相應相可,少 欲者,少欲俱相類相聚相應相可;難持者,難 持俱相類相聚相應相可,易持者,易持俱相 類相聚相應相可;難給者,難給俱相類相聚 相應相可,易給者,易給俱相類相聚相應相 可;不足者,不足俱相類相聚相應相可,足者, 足俱相類相聚相應相可;不守者,不守俱相 類相聚相應相可,守者,守俱相類相聚相應 相可。」佛說:「比丘!如是,黠人當分別是因緣,可 行者當為行,不可行者當為莫行。」

  • This scripture contains a series of "opposites" presented, alongside a stock descriptive phrase (相類﹒相聚﹒相應﹒相可). "少欲 is alpeccha, so 少欲者 is someone who has little or moderate wishes." <--if 少欲者 does not mean "few are the chaste", there is probably a similar problem with my rendering of the previous phrase: 多欲者,多欲俱相類相聚相應相可,--> many are the lustful, many are the lustful altogether mutually ranked mutually congregated mutually responding mutually functioning, <-- what is the proper rendering of 多欲者?
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 17:26
  • buddhism terms are very specialised, i would not translate it by my self, consult dictionary of this field. 多欲 might be "rāga-carita"; so 多欲者 might interpret as "someone who is greedy-natured". Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 17:59
  • just curious :) since you're reading 雜阿含經, for what purpose? learning literary chinese? buddhism? comparing differences between early translations & later one? anyway, have fun :) Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:03
  • I am trying to learn Chinese, while also learning about Buddhist scripture, and I am also very interested in the relationship of this material with other very early textual traditions of Buddhism, like the Gandhari tradition, for instance.
    – Caoimhghin
    Commented Apr 27, 2017 at 18:41

Maybe the etymology of 相 could help: 木 plus 目: 'mu plus mu' to give a meaning of 'same, sameness, like'.
'chaste' has only sexual connotations. A buddhist does not just try to contain his or her sexuality, but the roving roaming relentless mind.

相類 same kind

Those of few desires,

have little desire to be with their kind, meet, interact or seek their peers.

From the Diamond Sutra:

Subhuti finds happiness abiding in peace, in seclusion in the midst of the forest. This is because Subhuti abides nowhere: therefore he is called, "Subhuti, Joyful Abider-in-Peace, Dweller-in-Seclusion-in-the-Forest."

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