AN 10.58 - Translating dhamma

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Bhante @sujato,
How about Translating “dhamma” in AN 10.58 as thought rather than thing?
Considering that the sutta is part of sacitta vagga, and to avoid possibly unintended metaphysical intepretation of things (like “Earth is rooted in desire”, or bhagava = desire).
There is possibility though, that Buddha was teaching the monk to deflect metaphysical questions from outsider by wordplay.


If Im not mistaken with limited knowledge, but the metaphysics comes from Indian Cosmology. The Buddha wasnt a Westerner, so his views on metaphyiscs are quite different than some Western views. U.S. is highly metaphysical these days. Not all Western countries are…but each countries metaphysics are different depending on the culture .

For example, The Buddha taught there were many heaven and hell planes. There are countless devas. Many stages of rebirth. Probably more metaphysical than religions like christianity. But I dont think its taken literally. Highly depends on the person. The Dharma foundation isnt metaphysical.


Hmm, perhaps I am not rigorous in my wording, but i am using “metaphysical question” to refer the kind of question asked in Vacchagotta sutta.


Greetings @calvin_sad

I’m just moving this topic to the category of translations, where it is a better fit



Well, the question is framed as one that the wanderers might ask, and the use of dhamma for “thought” or “mental phenomena” is, so far as I know, characteristic of Buddhism. I may be wrong there, though.

In any case, the range of topics is very broad, and it encompasses a wider ranger of things than “thought”.

Just to comment on this question. In Buddhist studies, “metaphysical” is often used to describe questions such as those point out by Calvin. In popular usage, it is often used in a way like “supernatural” or “unscientific”. In philosophy, it means the study of fundamental principles, questions such as “what is being”.

How these uses become confused is suggested by the history of the term; from Wikipedia:

So the root of the word suggests something like “supernatural”, but it is not used in philosophy in that sense.

The concept is further muddied because a prominent school of 20th century philosophers (the logical positivists) rejected the notion of metaphysics entirely and argued that philosophy must be based entirely on empirical grounds. The argument is that metaphysical questions are essentially a relic of godspeak and are inherently unanswerable.

This position is very close to that of the Buddha, a point not lost on some of the 20th century’s most sophisticated Buddhist philosophers, especially Jayatilleke and Kalupahana. They argued that the Buddha, while appearing to speak of things that might normally fall within the realm of metaphysics, redefined those topics so that they would be completely empirical. Other topics were simply rejected out of hand. I agree with them, and I believe the Buddha rejected “metaphysics” in this sense.

A similar argument applies to things often considered “supernatural”, such as heavens and hells, psychic powers, and so on. In Buddhism, there is no such thing as the “super”- natural. Everything is a part of nature. All such states or abilities are merely extensions of things we can observe around us. Just as a scientist can look at specks of light in a telescope and can infer the birth and death of galaxies, the Buddha could look at phenomena of the mind and infer things that, to us, seem incredible.

One of the things that distinguishes such claims as empirical is that they can be tested. Scientists say their claims are testable, and they provide a means for doing so. It’s not easy: you have to first get an advanced degree, then set up a research project, and so on. Testable doesn’t mean “trivial”.

The Buddha proceeded in the same way. He made these claims, and unlike metaphysical religions, he didn’t restrict such knowledge to divinity or those divinely inspired. Instead, he set out a path for realizing these things. Again, it’s not easy, but why should it be? We’re talking about the fundamental wisdom of the cosmos, it’s not something you can just realize in a couple of retreats.


Im going to read this again later. Just wanted to say nice. I think this addresses the original question, if Im not mistaken.


Thank you!

It does! In fact, it is because considering multiple possible meaning of “dhamma” that it occurs to me that it is possible for the Buddha is using wordplay (don’t ask me why, the range of Buddha’s humor is beyond me).
If this being the case, while it is accurate to render “dhamma” in question asked by outsider as “things”, to do the same to Buddha’s answer would deprive specificity and context of the answer, and IMO make the Buddha seem to advocate some variation of solipsism (or Cittramatrin).
How about leaving “dhamma” untranslated?
How about translating “dhamma” according to the context? Although determining which “dhamma” is meaned by the Buddha in his answer is not an easy thing.

Possible translating “dhamma” according to context in Buddha’s answer
Reverends, all thought are rooted in desire. Attention produces them. Contact is their origin. Feeling is their meeting place. Immersion is their chief. Mindfulness is their ruler. Wisdom is their overseer.
Freedom is all teaching core. They culminate in the deathless.
And extinguishment is their (? possibly both “thought” and “teaching”) final end.


Considering AN 9.14 which seems to be parallel to AN 10.58, in which the subject is “saṅkappavitakkā” rather than “dhamma”, but follow similar sequence.

This would not be right,

while rendering “dhamma” as “thought/mental phenomena” would gain a bit of support.