SuttaCentral

Is word of Buddha lost in the noise and translations?

Is word of Buddha lost in the noise, interpretations and translations?
Now that we have script and language to preserve and understand it better then originally when it was spoken is our understanding same as it would be for one receiving direct speech from buddha?

Firstly I appreciate all efforts put together to create suttacentral and put all suttas here with translations, parallels and all the cross references, its incredible, kudos to team for making it happen.

Further, I am lost in many different interpretations of words and sutta altogether. For e.g. few of them

  • samudaya - Origin vs Accumulation discussed here
  • sallena / sallato - dart, arrow, thorn , Śalāka (शलाक).—[masculine] chip, splinter, stalk, rod, stick, peg, pin; finger, toe; quill of the porcupine.
  • viññū - others vs wise KP 9 vs KP 9 there are 9 English translations all different
  • taṇhā - craving vs Tṛṣṇā (तृष्णा).—[tṛṣ na kicca ] thirst (Prakrit and Sanskrit) here
  • Samādhi - Immersion vs Concentration vs Stillness
  • Sutta SN 12.4 translation1 is very detailed and to the point, where as SN 12.4 translation2 seems like a shortcut “… [6–9] …”

There are several such examples where teachers and interpreters use their own words, their own translations and they stand firm on trusting their translations to be superior, how can that be possible I think word from buddha is deluded here

From my understanding I have put up a small diagram to show word of buddha and the levels of Noise which gets added its a draft and am happy to update it further if you don’t find it relevant (pls don’t quote me on dates)


Also ref: Timeline of Buddhism - Wikipedia

We need to cleanse it further like the project Authenticity was done to verify authenticity of sutta

  1. We should mark all authentic sutta with a “Authentic Badge” using what process was followed here
  2. Remove the noise, the repetitions which were included for purpose of rhyming and verbally remembering, reciting suttas as mentioned in Dependent Origination workshop at BSWA
  3. Verify with parallels in other languages(at least 3-5) to ensure same message is delivered, in case of disagreement need deep dive into definitions and rules in Vinaya can help on conclusion
  4. Verify translations to particular language and publish them like a white paper, may be process like this will help.
  5. Outcome should be one translation in particular language with many authors, reviewers contributors, different views clearly indicated so none is left behind, with references and examples for further clarification

My intention is not to pinpoint a person or specific translation here, its to obtain holistic understand of word of Buddha as if someone is receiving direct speech from Buddha

4 Likes

Wow, it sounds like an amazing project.

I have to wonder though, considering that there isn’t agreement on which language (or languages/ dialects?) the Buddha gave his teachings in, and to what extent the Pāli Canon represents what the Buddha said, if this could ever begin to be accomplished.

I, too, wonder why ‘viññū pare’ would not be translated as something like, 'others that are wise" ?

4 Likes

Not to sound dramatic, but the Dhamma is obscured within wrong view, and only through diligence can it be unearthed from within experience. Certainly the myriad of interpretation and translations can complicate matters, but the basics of developing devotion, generosity, virtue, sense restraint, sense of urgency, sense of shame/fear of wrongdoing, recollection/clear comprehension are reasonably clear and will allow the direction of sati and samadhi to become increasingly available.

The key is not to get too bogged down in theory and scholarship, but to begin living the standard described in the Canon. Practice shouldn’t necessarily be about fine-tuning for resonance across the literature, but developing that unity by bringing the entire experience together upon what is wholesome by body, speech and mind; upon non-greed, non-hate and non-delusion.

13 Likes

I agree at conceptual level from 50 miles away yes that is Dhamma and most of religions talk about same. Though reading this line from SN 56.11 , Buddha meant something special by fully penetrating the more deeper you go the more you penetrate and this leads me to understand dhamma better, if message is not clear and noisy its hard to achieve the goal.

“As long as my true knowledge and vision about these four noble truths was not fully purified in these three perspectives and twelve aspects, I didn’t announce my supreme perfect awakening in this world with its gods, Māras, and Brahmās, this population with its ascetics and brahmins, its gods and humans.”

1 Like

I couldn’t agree more, but the only way to start is to start. I remember years ago when I began practicing; the worry that I might pick the wrong teacher or interpretation; but if someone has reasonably accepted that they are immersed in beginningless ignorance and that the view may be wholly wrong, what do they have to lose? A basic trust and faith in the triple gem means we accept that there are things that we cannot know at the outset, and that means that we will never know for sure whether or not something is right before we try it out.

I think when you say, “deeper you go” is the same thing I meant by “unearthed”, and establishing something to the degree that it is firm is a whole life undertaking. Developing the precepts, not just as a duty, but as the basis for an experience that can eventually support sati and samadhi, is not just a decision. It is work. It requires effort and diligence and repetition. Today you may have a great reason for maintaining the precepts and by next week it fades and you need to cultivate that reason again or perhaps something more refined. Things are always changing, and wrong view doesn’t need permission to quietly well-up under a developing “aggregate of virtue”; we do however need strong reasons for why we want to head in the direction of Dhamma.

Sorry if this is starting to deviate from the OP, but my point is that even the best interpretation requires you to get up and try, and only when immersed in the work will a thing show its true value. So even if you start with something seemingly inconsistent, the work will help reveal any insufficiency and that may be enough to take it as a lesson learned and that can drive a person towards a direction better suited for that development, and at that point it is one’s own experience that starts to get a feel for that line between wholesome and unwholesome; where to make changes and where to hold a line. That simply cannot happen solely in an external sense across the literature. It has to have a basis in that most personal, internal space IMO.

5 Likes

I agree on removing repitions. It’s really interesting what you say.

3 Likes

Something is better then nothing I agree with your viewpoint and that’s the force driving us further. My attempt here is to polish something which can make it better receivable to us. People used to become stream enterer and enlightened just by listening to dhamma.

Probably when this something is totally lost its then when Buddha’s arise to help humanity.

2 Likes

Perhaps “while listening to dhamma”.

There is nothing at all to base an assumption that a passer-by, mired in defilements, will become enlightened, just by listening to the Dhamma. Rather to the contrary. When the defilements are eradicated, AND one listens to the Dhamma… (and has practiced all 8 steps of the N8fP)… - Then the results follow, just as cause and effect - just like ‘the cart follows the ox’ :slight_smile:

PS. this is not to negate your commendable effort and under-taking :slight_smile: :pray: :sunflower:
Hearing the true Dhamma is a priceless gift

5 Likes

It’s not about the translations.

Even the contemporaries of the Buddha had difficulties understanding the Dhamma.

Enough now with teaching
what
only with difficulty
I reached.
This Dhamma is not easily realized
by those overcome
with aversion & passion.

What is abstruse, subtle,
deep,
hard to see,
going against the flow —
those delighting in passion,
cloaked in the mass of darkness,
won’t see.

People don’t want to go there because they have invested interest in things being otherwise.

It’s like learning an unpleasant truth about someone or somethìng we hold dear, we don’t want it to be true and won’t accept it if we can help it.

People have long become used to lying & distorting the truth to achieve their goals & avoiding unpleasantness, this lying has become a habitual inclination of the mind and when the truth is uncomfortable people naturally lie to themselves and are readily deceived because they are essentially unwilling to comprehend the truth.

This is why lying is so dangerous.

The translations we have are for the most excellent, the semantic properties are generally very well drawn out and there are but a few very trifling disagreements on which words best capture the meaning.

This infatuation with existence is the main problem.

2 Likes

I think your project is very well-intentioned and I hope many can benefit through your efforts. :+1:

2 Likes

Why delve so much? Once a young Bhikkhu decided to disrobe and leave. Then his teacher brought the young Bhikkhu to Jeta vIhar to see Buddha. Buddha asked as to why he wants to disrobe.
The young Bhikkhu said, I have been given so much to recite and commit to memory but I cannot achieve that. So I want to leave and become a lay person. Buddha then asked, can you do one thing?
So excited, the Bhikkhu said yes, please let me know. Then Buddha asked, can you watch over your mind? Bhikkhu said, yes and please let me know how to do.

Then Buddha told the Bhikkhu, when you are meditating a thought of desire arise know it has arisen and when it ceases know that it ceased. So it is for any other thoughts like, ill will craving, anger, compassion, kindness, equanimity, joy and so on.
The Bhikku went to an isolated location and began to meditate as told by Buddha and striving zealously attained arahanth state.

4 Likes

I think a difficulty many people have is that they want language itself to be simplified to something like mathematics to remove all subjectivity. But language is not simple, words are not like numbers with one meaning for each word. I think if someone is fluent in a language (usually their mother tongue) and really pay attention to how a word gets its meaning in any given sentence, it becomes clear how blurry and context sensitive meaning really is. All human languages are like that, not just the ones in which we are fluent. My experience has been that when someone insists on “literal” translations of a given language, or insist that words must have only one meaning, they aren’t fluent in that language. Otherwise, they would understand the nuances of context and multiple meanings. These are the aspects of language that confuse and baffle us when we are still learning a language and haven’t become fluent yet.

On top of this issue of the complexity of any single language is the fact that no two languages fully overlap with each other. Of course, closely related languages often do overlap to a large extent, but translating between Pali or Chinese and English is very challenging, and there are times when it can only be an approximation because the languages don’t have corresponding words.

And then there’s the problem of working with ancient texts and languages that have been evolving for thousands of years. This creates issues that sometimes can’t be resolved objectively because we don’t know exactly what part of a given text is original and what is a redaction on top of previous redactions. So this is another layer of subjectivity we have to wrestle with as translators.

Myself, I think the situation of multiple languages and translation of Buddhist texts is actually somewhat appropriate to the tradition. It makes people really think through the relationship of words, meaning, and ideas, and forces us to develop critical thinking skills.

5 Likes

One of my favourite teachings. So direct and so simple, and it’s funny to use exactly those words when someone asks how to practice mindfulness and get a taste of what it’s all about.

And regarding OP. Yes, it’s a lot of noise and translations/opinions, but if one really has seen the three jewels, it becomes easy to filter rubbish from the nuggets of truth. More noise and more possible nuggets, I say.

1 Like

Can you describe more what are these jewels?

Yes, I actually find it quite liberating to see the different translations of the Pali suttas, and the translations of parallels by you and others. It inclines me to step back and consider the meaning of the teachings, rather than put too much emphasis on exactly how they were expressed. Of course, that can only happen because of expert translators!

3 Likes

We are on the New Silk Road- but on a massive global, digital scale :sunglasses::computer::artificial_satellite::iphone:

Imagine 100 years ago- you would need to be an academic, well connected or have access to a good library to get even one decent translation of a text, let alone different ones.

3 Likes

Buddha :pray:
Dhamma :pray:
Sangha :pray:

But for one to see the three jewels, Buddha, Dhamma and Arya Sangha, the doubt or vichikichcha has to go. That happens only when one attains Sothapaththi, the first of the four stages.

Well, that is an opinion and is worth to be regarded with doubts.

Buddha means awake, and I find no trouble knowing if I am awake and aware or in an awake sleep state. And it’s not complicated at all to see for oneself if this practice leads to less or higher degrees of suffering in daily life.

What’s the point of three refuges if it’s not attainable in a practical way here and now, and can be used before any attainments?

1 Like

One of best examples of something similar to what is proposed is being taught by Ajahn Bramhall here where 4 different parallels are compared this isn’t unachievable on internet as well though requires deep coordination on linguistic experts in all the parallels to translate it in a intermediate language and debate to conclusions the final word