Is extinguishment (nibbāna) a state? On translating pada

I was inclined to share these brief thoughts after reading this thread: Nibbana -- A "dhamma", a "dhatu" -- or utter extinguishment?

In the Pali Canon the cessation of suffering is often called the Deathless pada, the sorrowless pada, the peaceful pada, and so forth. (E.g. Iti43, Snp1.11, Snp1.12, Kd1) Most translators translate pada in these cases as ‘state’, as in ‘the sorrowless state’. However, as far as I’m aware, the word pada nowhere else really ever means ‘state’. Other words spring to mind which may carry that meaning, such as ṭhāna, but not pada.

Pada, being related to the English ‘pedal’, literally means ‘foot’, ‘step’, and ‘footprint’ and by extent can mean ‘path’ (where one walks) or ‘place’ (where one stands). For example, the word for ‘country’ is janapada, literally perhaps ‘people’s place’. Monier-Williams lists ‘a plot of ground’ as one meaning of the Sanskrit pada, and refers to padajñā in Rig Veda 1.62.2, which going by Griffith’s translation seems to refer to knowing (jñā) the places (pada) where to find cattle.

I belief pada serves as a metaphor for the end of the eightfold path, not as a description of what that end exactly is, like some sort of state (even though ‘state’ still is so vague as to allow it to be anything). Just like we do not go to a literal island, far shore, refuge, literal extinguishment, and so forth, we do not go to a literal pada. The fact that pada in this context virtually always occurs in verse also leans towards it being an emotionally evocative term rather than an ontological one.

So, following K. R. Norman in his translation of the Sutta Nipata, we can translate ‘the sorrowless place’, ‘the peaceful place’, and so on. This is evocative language which connects to our five senses, just like ‘the island’ and ‘the refuge’. But to anyone who has even a slight understanding of the Buddha’s teachings it will be immediately clear that this ‘place’ is not meant literally.

And so this is another example of how translations of verse especially tend to focus overly much on literalism.


Thanks again, Bhante.

I’ve understood Pāli verses to be more metaphorical and evocative than the prose in the suttas. And, you know, having to fit eight or however many syllables into a given line will surely influence the choice of some words.
So for me, I find the verses encouraging and inspiring — and instructive, but not in the same way as the prose suttas.

Thanks for sharing about “pada.” I took it in other instances as pointing to the Path, foot, etc. Didn’t know it could indirectly point to “place” — although, as you wrote, taking “place”, “sphere”, or any other abstract noun concretely will lead to misapprehensions and possible migraines. :blush:
I think the good news is forums like D&D help practitioners to clarify their understanding. Hopefully!


I wonder though if translators use “state” rather than “place” precisely because some readers might take “place” literally?

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Ireland translates Iti 43:

The escape from that, the peaceful,
Beyond reasoning, everlasting,
The not-born, the unproduced,
The sorrowless state that is void of stain,
The cessation of states linked to suffering,
The stilling of the conditioned—bliss.


The escape from that is peaceful,
beyond the scope of logic, everlasting,
unborn and unarisen,
the sorrowless, stainless state,
the cessation of all painful things,
the stilling of conditions, bliss.”

Must we take everlasting and bliss also as metaphors?