Minor notes on small translation fixes in the Cunda Sutta that you can probably live without

Continuing to make incremental and terribly small tweaks as compared to previous translations, let’s look at a couple of lines in the Cundasutta (Snp 1.5). You can probably ignore these as they will not critically impact your life in any way. The existing readings are quite possible and I may have it wrong. In any case, they don’t really change the meaning of the text very much, so feel free to just go about with your day and keep enjoying the old translations.

This is an interesting sutta, as it builds off the encounter between the Buddha and the smith Cunda in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. It is thus part of the extended Mahaparinibbana cycle that I discussed in my Guide to DN.

The topic is interesting, too: what kinds of ascetic, i.e. monastic, are there? The Buddha outlines four: three good ones (a winner, a teacher, a practitioner) and a bad one, the path-wrecker. The exact historical and textual situation with the Cundasutta vis a vis DN 16 is complex and I won’t enter it here.

As to the text, as usual in verse there are a reasonable amount of non-standard phrases, but on the whole it’s not too hard. But there are a couple of points where I believe the former translators have missed the mark, perhaps overly influenced by the commentaries.

Te te āvikaromi sakkhipuṭṭho

Both KR Norman and Ven Bodhi have “being asked in person” for sakkhipuṭṭho. But I feel that this is a little underselling the force of the word. It is normally used only in a specific context: when testifying in court. Literally it is “when questioned (puṭṭho) as a witness (sakkhi)”. There are other phrases used more generally to mean “in person” (sammukhā).

By using this phrase, the Buddha is underscoring the gravity and significance of the truth in what he is saying. It is also a controversial topic, as he is being asked to essentially “pass judgment” on the worth of different ascetics. This is, of course, something that he has spoken of before, and has a long history of witnessing himself (remembering that the discourse is set right near the end of his life). It also has a sense that the Buddha is not just randomly criticizing others, but is speaking only when questioned.

So I would translate it something like:

Being asked to bear witness, I will explain them to you:

Perhaps it should be less literal, but that is what I have for now.

The next one concerns a familiar term used to describe the Dhamma itself.

Yo dhammapade sudesite,
Magge jīvati saññato satīmā

The term dhammapada is interesting here, as of course it’s a little unusual to find explicit references to the names of Tipitaka texts inside the canon itself. However, Dhammapada is used in, I think, only two ways in the EBTs:

  1. “basic principles”, i.e. fundamental concepts in leading the good life that are, or should be, shared in common with non-Buddhists. (AN 4.29)
  2. “passages of teachings”, for example memorized teachings that may recur to you in your next life. (AN 4.191, SN 9.10, SN 10.6)

It never means the text of that name.

In the Cunda Sutta, Norman has “path of the doctrine”, while Ven Bodhi has “trail of the Dhamma”, both evidently reading pada as more-or-less a synonym of “path”. But it is described as “well-taught” and thus there is every reason to think it has its normal sense here, “passage of the teaching”.

Living restrained and mindful on the path
of the well-taught passages of teaching,