A few terms to consider

I have a few minutes, and a working internet connection, so I thought I’d share with you a few terminological questions that I’ve encountered while doing my translations. Feedback is appreciated! This is by no means a complete list, just a few that come to mind.


We’ve been told so many times that there’s no word for this in English, and we end up with a clumsy phrase like “altruistic joy”. But how’s this for a definition of muditā:

a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

Not too bad, right? This is the top meaning in Google for “pride”.

But we can’t use pride, it means arrogance and conceit! Actually, in modern English, that meaning is fading away, and pride has mostly positive connotations. Is this something that we can adopt in Buddhism? For now, I use “rejoicing” for muditā, but I am tempted …


I’d love to translate this as “illumination”. I’m convinced that this is the underlying metaphor, and it is one that still makes itself felt in many places. However it’s also true that jhāna has associations with two roots in Pali, and the other root just means something like “contemplation”. I couldn’t find anywhere, either in the Pali or the commentaries, that would justify so strongly emphasize the aspect of “illumination”, so for now I have retired it, and just use the Pali term.


I’m using “convergence”, but I’m wavering. I think this has a reasonably good meaning, and it’s a word that’s common enough to be readily recognized. The problem is that it’s not commonly used in a psychological sense, so it often sounds somewhat awkward. In some contexts it’s great. For example, sukhino cittaṁ samādhiyati: “when he’s happy, the mind converges.” But I don’t know: “right convergence” is not really natural sounding.


Mostly found in the Satipatthana Sutta and similar contexts, where it is the opposite of vikkhitta, which means “scattered”. I wonder whether, since we have dropped “concentration” for samādhi, we can use it for saṅkhitta?


It seems odd to keep this in Pali, as there are plenty of English words that have a reasonable meaning. I want to avoid the gendered form “monk”, except in cases where it is clearly referring to an actual monk. the most obvious alternative is “monastic”, which I’ve used before. It’s a bit clumsy, but not too bad, and it used in modern Buddhist discourse.

However the meaning is not quite right. It specifically refers to a resident of a monastery, but many bhikkhu/nis didn’t actually live in monasteries. I have come to see it as more reflecting a modern sensibility of what a bhikkhu/ni is rather than the reality in the Buddha’s day.

So I have come to prefer using “mendicant”. It’s much more precise in meaning, essentially meaning exactly the same thing as bhikkhu. And as far as usability goes, it is about as common in English as “monastic”. I like it because it’s a challenging and strong meaning. It baldly says what the bhikkhu/nis are, and invites comparison with modern monastic lifestyle.


In a similar challenging mood, I have dared to translate Nibbāna with its actual meaning: extinguishment.

Generations of translators and teachers have hedged around this, not translating it, or using avoidy terms like “unbinding” or “freedom”. But there’s no doubt it simply means “extinguishment”.

Some people will be upset with it. Good! They should be, it’s upsetting. Even the gods were scared of the ending of being. If a spiritual text is not disturbing, it’s not doing its job.


one whom it upsets and disturbs most likely doesn’t understand the essence of nibbana to begin with

freshness is good, novelty is refreshing, at the same time terminological standardization is also important, so people speaking the same language understand each other, a goal which isn’t achieved if terminology is volatile

the terms may not convey the original meaning with absolute accuracy but within the field they, having acquired new connotations imparted from the Pali, have the advantage of being understood by the initiated

Your thoughts on ‘culmination’ for samaadhi? To me, it conveys not only a sense of coming together but also that it is a coming together to something ‘higher’ - higher mind.
edit 2: Actually, upon looking it up found out culmination just means ‘peak’, probably not the best translation then. Had a different meaning to me for whatever reason.

I’ve heard Buddhadas used ‘cool’/‘cooling’ for Nibbaana, I guess that doesn’t convey the ultimate sense of it though.

human pride is not a pure emotion but one tainted with overtone of egotism and possessiveness

a quotation from the Wikipedia article on muditā aptly expresses my point

Mudita should not be confounded with pride as a person feeling mudita may not have any interest or direct income from the accomplishments of the other. Mudita is a pure joy unadulterated by self interest.

what’s your opinion on co-happiness ? or benevolence as the opposite of malevolence

benevolence sounds more like mettaa

My current intellectual understanding of the Brahma-Vihaaras is that they are rooted in mettaa.

From that ‘root dwelling’ of good-will, loving-kindness, and unconditional love there are subtler? dwellings/abidings/attitudes. The relationship is like a parent to children. These ‘child’ attitudes that grow out of the mettaa root are empathetic qualities the way I understand it at least. They are reactions to positive and negative feelings in others (sukkha-vedanaa and dukkha-vedanaa). Compassion is a very clear and direct translation of this empathetic reaction to other’s suffering (negative feeling/dukkha-vedanaa). To compare these empathetic child attitudes and draw out their common empathetic qualities I think you could say empathetic-happiness and empathetic-suffering. Empathetic-suffering though is just not as clear as compassion for karunaa, compassion really is a near-perfect translation. So yea, I have nothing really to offer for muditaa, maybe cheerfulness? …though that doesn’t really convey the empathetic quality.

I would be interested if any of the Bhantes could clarify how upekhaa is rooted in mettaa, or if that is a misunderstanding? Also, what they prefer as a translation for upekkha? To my current understanding it is an impartiality/equinimity/equipoise, neither painful nor pleasant, has a careful balancing quality. I’ve heard it literally translated as over-looking, though I think that sounds like cold-indifference.

Convergence is what I settled on for samādhi when I was translating something yesterday. Luckily there is also a much neater word for this in Estonian (koondumine, which means a coming together that occurs naturally). Convergence or it’s Estonian counterpart konvergents just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Perhaps something neater and easier to understand like unity or union?


Rejoicing for muditā: I like this.

Illumination for jhāna: I am beginning to warm to this. Illumination has an important gnostic aspect, which is true for the jhānas in the suttas (the jhānas are called alamariyañāṇadassanavisesa, the ñāṇadassana part being especially interesting in this context). Also, illumination has the sense of direct experience rather than intellectualisation, and this also fits very well. So I would support you in taking the plunge.

Convergence for samādhi: I know where this comes from! I am not sure what I feel about it; ambivalent I suppose. I have not translated either jhāna or samādhi, but if I like your final choice, I will probably adopt that in my translation too. So please keep me updated.

Concentration for saṅkhitta: I feel this would be too confusing, since most people would expect this to refer to samādhi. I am quite content with BB’s rendering of this as “constricted.” Constricted has a suitably negative sense, whereas concentration normally has positive or at least neutral connotations.

Mendicant for bhikkhu/nī: I have no problem with this, and think your argument is interesting. And it’s very transparent what this refers to. I have used monk/nun in my translation, since the gender is often important in the vinaya. Moreover, bhikkhunīs are referred to much more frequently in the vinaya than in the suttas.

Extinguishment for Nibbāna: absolutely! This word would have had a fairly definite meaning for an ancient Indian audience, and this is completely lost if we don’t translate the word. It becomes far to easy to read all sorts of things into it.


My two cents:

Rejoicing–good idea! I think it captures well the feeling & spirit of muditā.

Illumination–hmm, although the word actually seems to fit the experience, I think it has connotations in English that could be problematic, eg. illumination seems kind of close to some ideas of ‘enlightenment’ and thus might get confused as awakening in the Buddhist sense which would just compound a problem that already exists at times. Would rather see jhāna untranslated.

Convergence–I kind of like it in that the meaning works, but agree ‘right convergence” doesn’t really work, and I think would just lead to a different kind of confusion (than ’concentration’ does). I guess I prefer untranslated at this point, or ‘unification’. 'Right unification’ might take some getting used to, but it works well, and sounds quite natural, in terms of “the mind becomes unified”.

Concentration for saṅkhitta–oh no, too confusing. Contracted?

Mendicant–I quite like this.

Estinguishment–good! Or untranslated.

I also wanted to do this! But in the end it didn’t really work…

I tend to agree, although I think the Wikipedia quote is perhaps a little old fashioned. I think the wholesome meaning of pride is very much to the fore in contemporary English, but it’s not 100% there yet. It still feels like a contested word, used precisely to challenge the notion of pride. Muditā, on the other hand, is not contested at all.

Very true; although that probably includes most of us! Generally, I think a spiritual literature should be jouous and uplifting, but it must also contain some challenges. I remember once at the Brickfields Vihara in KL, they had a signboard that rotated random Dhammapada verses. Now, most of them are great, but there are a few challenging verses in there. Anyway, a lay person saw one of these, and came to complain to Ven K Sri Dhammananda. He just said, well, maybe it’ll make people think.

This is true, and I don’t want to change things for the sake of it. Still, my primary concern is to reach those who are not the initiated. At the end of the day, I’ll use what I think is the best rendering for ordinary non-expert readers.

I don’t like co-happiness, it’s another neologism. And I think benevolence is actually better for metta. In fact I have thought of using it, except loving-kindness is very well entrenched, and not just among specialists.

I think these subtleties of meaning have to grow out of usage: we have to be careful about overloading our terminology with meaning.

As for upekkhā, literally “watching over” or “watching closely”. But again, this one is probably too well established to change.

Yes, maybe. It’s only that these are used for ekaggata and ekodibhava, etc. Still, maybe it can be done.

Interesting. Well, maybe I’ll share a few contexts using illumination and see how people respond when it’s actually used.

Probably right.

This is actually a really good point that I hadn’t considered. In Vinaya it is in fact essential to assume a default gender, not least since that’s how the literature is divided. The same would apply in, say the bhikkhu samyutta and bhikkhuni samyutta.


This is one of the reasons I was hesitating about it.

Are you thinking of anything in particular?

@sujato @LXNDR

And I think benevolence is actually better for metta. In fact I have thought of using it, except loving-kindness is very well entrenched, and not just among specialists.

Please do serioulsy consider changing to benevolence for mettā. Why not? It’s so much better and you’re not afraid to use new terms for other well entrenched terms when you think another word is better!

I would if I was really convinced. My reservations are that it is still a somewhat distant term. Benevolence is what a society has, or maybe a god, but for me it doesn’t capture that closeness and power of mettā.

There are many things in the Pali where the translation feels colder and less vivid than the text. Obviously in some cases this is unavoidable. But where possible, I am trying to make the language closer, more direct, more human.

Actually, I would love to use “love” for mettā. Can?


This is one of the reasons I was hesitating about it.

Interestingly, I just looked it up in

Full Definition of ILLUMINATION

: the action of illuminating or state of being illuminated: as
a : spiritual or intellectual enlightenment
b (1) : a lighting up (2) : decorative lighting or lighting effects
c : decoration by the art of illuminating
: the luminous flux per unit area on an intercepting surface at any given point
: one of the decorative features used in the art of illuminating or in decorative lighting

re: possible confusion with convergence:

Are you thinking of anything in particular?

It was more wondering if many people might just go “Duh?” Also Bhikkhu Bodhi uses convergence for samosaraṇa, as in AN 9.14 & 10.58 (sorry, not sure how to link to the suttas in SC) for the fairly well-known teaching that all dhammas converge on feeling so not sure if that would be confusing.

Any reason why you don’t want to use unification? Just seems to me it might be a little more accessible in terms of someone getting a sense of what it means.