Gratitude vs Gratification-a little Pali exercise

“Monks, these two people are hard to find in the world. Which two? The one who is first to do a kindness, and the one who is grateful for a kindness done and feels obligated to repay it. These two people are hard to find in the world.” Dullabha Sutta: Hard to Find

Consider the difference between these two sentences:

I have gratitude.

I have gratification.

The orientations and nuances are subtle yet indicate quite different feelings. Gratitude involves another. Gratification involves the self.

Here is something of an illustration.

  Gratitude Gratification




Synonyms acknowledgment, appreciativeness, grace, gratefulness, honor, indebtedness, obligation, praise, recognition, requital, response, responsiveness, sense of obligation, thankfulness, thanks, thanksgiving   delight, enjoyment, fruition, fulfillment, glee, hit, indulgence, joy, kicks, luxury, pleasure, recompense, regalement, relish, reward, sure shock, thrill
Antonyms ingratitude, thanklessness   disappointment, dissatisfaction, upset
Relationship Other-oriented, reciprocal, active, relational   Self-oriented, non-reciprocal, passive, non-relational


The row labeled Relationship gives some indication of the differences between these two perspectives.

The reason this whole comparison came up was due in part to the recent Thanksgiving holiday and the fact that I’m writing this just a few days before Christmas and also to frequently hearing and reading of people expressing gratitude for things such as the sunrise, warm weather, the ocean, frost on the trees, flowers, rainbows and mountains.

I do know that there are many traditions that ascribe, if not consciousness, then at least some type of life force, mana, universal awareness or the like to many of these items but it is only the Buddhist context, and particularly that which is in the Dharma, the teachings, being addressed here.

As well there were some gratitude expressions I noted for certain personal abilities and situations such as going hiking, living in the city, living in the country, the comfort of a bed, sleeping late.   In these latter cases it was not about receiving the opportunity to do these things (gratitude) but simply about the personal enjoyment of them-the satisfaction received from one’s own choices and activities. (gratification)

Then there were a few cases where gratitude was expressed for one’s own pain, suffering and problems. This  kind of negatively focused gratitude seems to be a distortion of self-gratification into a display of masochistic martyrdom. An embracing of the opposite of gratification, being disappointed etc and attempting to elevate it into a noble endeavor. Still a highly self-involved activity and one to which  gratitude may be misapplied. Sometimes it can even make one feel rather heroic to adopt this attitude.

Yes we can be grateful for lessons learned from hardship but to cling continuously to the pain and suffering accompanying that hardship or even glorify it, is to carry on either living in memory rather than the present or in a state of delusion and this is perhaps not a helpful or useful exercise. It is like an exercise in trying to purify the experience of pain and suffering with a gloss of happiness without addressing the pain and suffering, and their causes themselves. It is a type of self-delusion and self-victimization.

One prominent example I came across was that of a cancer survivor, Barbara Ehrenreich who has just written a book called Brightsided:How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America on the Self-Help and Happiness industries. While undertaking cancer treatment she encountered an attitude that is rather hard to fathom. A reviewer Bart Farkus describes the situation in this way:

It’s hard to say whether it’s sad or merely pathetic that when she expressed a pragmatic attitude — instead of the ultra-positive attitude that’s expected from those battling the dreaded scourge — she was viciously attacked by those who would never even consider a negative thought about their disease. Ehrenreich recounts how many cancer sufferers wax philosophic about how their lives are so much better now that they’ve had life-threatening cancer, and that cancer itself is a “gift.” Ehrenreich ultimately discovered that mere annoyance at her breast cancer was enough for other members of her support groups to castigate her and even attack her for her attitude.

There is a certain disconnect with reality in this kind of approach. Gratitude for the “gift” of suffering is highly misplaced and unrealistic. It is true that being able to more fully appreciate life is a lesson learned from suffering but a “gift” is something one would wish to give to others as well. Is cancer that kind of situation?

The Pali Words  

Not being a Pali scholar by any means, nonetheless I undertook to examine the words gratitude and gratification in Pali anyways.

In English they both come from the same related Latin root words of gratia and  gratus which mean agreeable, favor, thanks, congratulate, gratitude, grace which may account for the frequent overlap in meaning.

In Pali however the gratitude and gratification words are delineated in completely different ways.

Gratitude Words Pali Gratification Words Pali
grateful :(adj.)

kataññū; katavedī; ramanīya; sukhāvaha.

gratification : (nt.) paritosana; pasādana. (f.) ārādhanā; saṃsiddhi.
gratefully : (adv.) kataññutāya. gratify : (v.t.) toseti; rameti; pamodeti; pasādeti. (pp.) tosita; ramita; pamodita; pasādita.
gratefulness : (f.) kataññutā. gratuitous : (adj.) mudhā dinna; nimmūlaka; ahituka.
gratitude : (f.) katavekitā. gratuitously : (adv.) nimmūlena.


Notice that there is almost no overlap between the two categories of Pali words. Most of the gratitude words have a similar root of kata. The gratification words have diverse roots. The only possible overlap may be between the words ramanīya under grateful and ramita under gratify but I don’t know enough about Pali to be able to differentiate them. The rest of the words don’t appear to have any relation between categories.

And the Pali words in each category have different meanings. Here are some of the examples of their meanings and the meanings of related words.



Kataññu (adj.) [cp. Sk. kṛtajña] lit. knowing, i. e. acknowledging what has been done (to one), i. e. grateful often in combn with katavedin grateful and mindful of benefits


Katavedin[kata + vedin, see kataññu] mindful, grateful


Pasādana (nt.) [fr. pa+sad] 1. happy state, reconciliation, purity, granting graces, gratification


Sampasāda [saŋ+pasāda] serenity, pleasure


Sampasādana [saŋ+pasādana] (nt.) tranquillizing  (in the description of the second Jhāna); happiness, joy

Pali Text Society’s Pali to English dictionary

It is quite clear then that in Pali gratitude and gratification are markedly differentiated.

And this is reflected in various ways in the Pali canon. Instances of gratitude are marked with a sense of reciprocity as the opening quotation indicates as well as this one.

  “Monks, I will teach you the level of a person of no integrity and the level of a person of integrity. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded.

The Blessed One said: “Now what is the level of a person of no integrity? A person of no integrity is ungrateful, doesn’t acknowledge the help given to him. This ingratitude, this lack of acknowledgment is second nature among rude people. It is entirely on the level of a person of no integrity.

“A person of integrity is grateful & acknowledges the help given to him. This gratitude, this acknowledgment is second nature among fine people. It is entirely on the level of a person of integrity.

{II,iv,2} “I tell you, monks, there are two people who are not easy to repay. Which two? Your mother & father. Even if you were to carry your mother on one shoulder & your father on the other shoulder for 100 years, and were to look after them by anointing, massaging, bathing, & rubbing their limbs, and they were to defecate & urinate right there [on your shoulders], you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. If you were to establish your mother & father in absolute sovereignty over this great earth, abounding in the seven treasures, you would not in that way pay or repay your parents. Why is that? Mother & father do much for their children. They care for them, they nourish them, they introduce them to this world. But anyone who rouses his unbelieving mother & father, settles & establishes them in conviction; rouses his unvirtuous mother & father, settles & establishes them in virtue; rouses his stingy mother & father, settles & establishes them in generosity; rouses his foolish mother & father, settles & establishes them in discernment: To this extent one pays & repays one’s mother & father.” Kataññu Suttas: Gratitude

Instances of gratification or satisfaction are marked with an exhortation to share one’s wealth and well-being. It becomes a question of integrity and ethics.

“That’s the way it is, great king. That’s the way it is. When a person of no integrity acquires lavish wealth, he doesn’t provide for his own pleasure & satisfaction, nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his parents, nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his wife & children; nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his slaves, servants, & assistants; nor for the pleasure & satisfaction of his friends. He doesn’t institute for priests & contemplatives offerings of supreme aim, heavenly, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven. When his wealth isn’t properly put to use, kings make off with it, or thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. Thus his wealth, not properly put to use, goes to waste and not to any good use. Aputtaka Sutta: Heirless (1)

Or gratification and satisfaction are tied with craving. This is most often the case in the Suttas since the enjoyment of the feeling of gratification/satisfaction is directly tied to craving.

“Now suppose that there was a leper covered with sores & infections, devoured by worms, picking the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, cauterizing his body over a pit of glowing embers. The more he cauterized his body over the pit of glowing embers, the more disgusting, foul-smelling, & putrid the openings of his wounds would become, and yet he would feel a modicum of enjoyment & satisfaction because of the itchiness of his wounds. In the same way, beings not free from passion for sensual pleasures — devoured by sensual craving, burning with sensual fever — indulge in sensual pleasures. The more they indulge in sensual pleasures, the more their sensual craving increases and the more they burn with sensual fever, and yet they feel a modicum of enjoyment & satisfaction dependent on the five strings of sensuality. Magandiya Sutta: To Magandiya

A few further examples of the many:

Adiya Sutta: Benefits to be Obtained (from Wealth)

Khaggavisana Sutta: A Rhinoceros

So in expressing gratitude two questions may be asked. Grateful to whom? And what is to be done by way of reciprocity included in that gratitude?

Language References:

English to Pali dictionary

Pali Text Society’s Pali to English dictionary

Buddhanet’s Pali to English dictionary

Buddhist Door’s Buddhist glossary

A Little Message at Christmas

To everyone who stops by here I wish to thank you for your time, comments, efforts, thoughts and interest in the Dharma.

May you be freed from suffering.

गते गते पारगते पारसंगाते बोधि स्वाह

gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā

3 comments on “Gratitude vs Gratification-a little Pali exercise

  1. The foundation of mindfulness of the skandha of feelings (vedananupassana-satipatthana). Through mindfulness of feeling we realize the truth of the origin of suffering.

  2. Wow, this is a really important distinction; one I hadn’t thought about before. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  3. Pingback: Right Lifestyle, or Right Livelihood? « Urocyon's Meanderings

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