"happiness" (?): a consistent one-word translation for "sukha" everywhere in the suttas

In my own translations (pali to english) I’m thinking of using a single word consistently everywhere for “sukha”.

Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Bodhi, for example, use “pleasure” for sukha in the jhanas context, “bliss” or “happiness” under other contexts. Ven. Sujato also uses different words for “sukha” under different contexts.

I’m thinking “happiness” is general and vague enough it could work everywhere. Thoughts? Bhante @sujato, since you just translated all the suttas, can you offer some perspective? I’ve gotten fed up having to look up pali all the time whenever I’m reading different English translations to see what word they mean (sukha, saata, rati, nandati, etc). It would be nice if sukha and piti could each have one consistent English word translation so when I read that English word, I know exactly what pali word is meant without having to check the pali. (this is just for my own translation, other translators have different goals in their translation, I’m not criticizing other translators here)

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How is ‘pleasure’, ‘gladness’, ‘contentment’?

I personally like ‘ease’ (or ‘feeling-of-ease’) a lot, but it’s not that practical, so it will stay in individual use I guess.

It’s difficult to find something that would work for the third jhana as well, it must allow a lot of subtlety

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I find happiness a bit too close to delight, as in “delight is the root of suffering
The etymology of sukha would suggest a cumbersome “good axle bearing hole”. Although clunky, it does offer a perspective of interest.

Even “ease” is a bit problematic because it tends to associate with “lack of energy/effort” and therefore wanders a bit too close to “lazy.” Note that “good axle bearing hole” can apply to a jet engine under full thrust, which is certainly not easy-going.

Given that sukha and dukha are often paired, thinking of sukha as “no-suffering” gives me the least trouble when reading suttas.


Are “pleasure” and “pleasant” from the same root? If so, that might be the best word to use to stay closest with established standards. B.bodhi and Thanissaro use pleasant in vedana context, and “pleasure” for jhana context. Sometimes that use “happy” or “blissful”, but I could use “pleased”.

B.Bodhi uses “gladness” for pamojja.

The thing is, kāma and rāga (lust and passion), are occasionally used in positive contexts, for example, a person in moments of death trying to attain arahantship falls short, and is reborn as a non-returner because of Dhamma-rāga (passion for Dhamma, slight conceit and little bit of attachment to Dhamma). I’ve run into “kāma” in a positive sense a few times as well, can’t think of a reference off hand.

Similarly, what you think of as kusala “sukha” sometimes in an akusala usage. example,
in dhamma-cakkap-pavattana sutta SN 56.11 “two things are to be avoided, yo cayam kāmesu-kāma-sukha-llika-anuyogo”

Chanda is not just used for akusala activity, such as kāma-chanda (sensual desire).
Chanda, “desire”, is an important kusala activity that drives right effort “chandam janeti, vayamati viriyam arabhati”, and 4ip (iddhi pada).

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As far as I see, yes. French ‘plaisir’ is the original noun, and ‘plaisant’ is the present participle.

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I think there is definitely a place for a strict word-for-word translation, just as there is a place for more liberal and interpretive translations.

A word-for-word translation would end up less readable and missing some nuance, but it would be great for search and other NLP tasks.

I’d love to see my translations used as the basis for a specialized text like this. The more people work over it, the more issues are turned up and can be corrected.


That’s how I think of it too - perhaps rendering sukha as “satisfaction”?


Problem is that literally, ‘you can’t get no…’ because ‘satis-factio’ means to have-done-enough - and it’s never enough, not in the first, not in the second jhana. Only in the fourth, when sukha is not any more, it is enough.


English seems to be unfortunately very good at expressing everything as attachment: “I ate the gallon of ice cream. Now I feel satisfied” (gluttony) Satisfaction after indulgence is that brief apogee of weightlessness before suffering. Ahhhh, English just can’t let go.

I remember that feeling so well. :yum:


What about relief?
In Thailand a name for toilet/restroom is สุขา, which reads as sūkhā. :slight_smile:



Or happiness is a nice cigar? :yum:

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I think it is important in the context of the jhanas to translate sukha as pleasure as in the first three jhanas sukha is experienced as physical pleasure in the whole body as clearly expressed in the three similes.

Sukhavedana is “pleasant feeling”. Does that help?