MN-118, SN 54.1, etc- Digha=Long, Rassa=Short. Why "Heavy / Light"?

… When breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’
When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ …

Very curious why Bhante Sujato chose to translate digha = heavily & rassa = lightly, instead of the usual long & short?

Do the Pali words digha & rassa have qualities other than “about time or space”?

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Hmm. This is quite interesting.

When I first read about first breathing aware of long, then aware of short, this struck me at first as odd and “backwards”. And then I tried it and it actually worked, much to my surprise.

Having practiced for decades counting breaths, I was was basically accustomed to just breathing aware of long/light. And the breath did indeed get gradually longer. But it required the constant effort of counting and diligently trying to lengthen the breath, so it was never quite natural. I was therefore curious to try this new method of breathing aware long/light, followed by breathing aware short/heavy.

And sure enough, I soon became aware of the usual long breaths. However, after some time I realized that some of these long breaths were indeed shorter than the others (!). So I became aware of them as short and slightly heavier. What was odd was that this dual awareness was effortless and yet it naturally shifted breathing towards long and completely got rid of “trying to make the breath longer”. This one little awareness of a short and slightly heavier breath actually lengthened the breath with no trying on my part. In other words, the sequence of long/light aware followed by short/heavy aware worked when I tried it for the first time this year. It took less effort and was smooth and quick.

Unless I’ve got it wrong. Maybe that’s just an unusual experience. :thinking:


It makes sense according to the simile in MN 10 SuttaCentral

What makes sense? The translation of [ digha / rassa ] as [ heavy / light ] instead of [ long / short ] ? How about [ deep / shallow ] following the simile?

My question is about fidelity of translation. In the absence of any simile, as in MN-118 & SN 54.1, would that make sense?

Ok. Now I’m getting confused. A long breath can be deep or shallow. So can a short breath. And for me a long breath is light, drawn like the thinnest thread. The short breath for me is the heavy in- or out- rush of air. It’s a bit like the confusion in telling people to “scroll up”. Different people have different mental models. The only unambiguous translation I’ve seen so far is long/short.

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This is insane, but, dīrgha and long are cognates.

Believe it or not.

Its a pretty wild phonological change that connects them though.

They are both from *dl̥h₁gʰós in theorized Proto-Indo-European.

The h becomes voices as an i, and the l̥is preserved as an r-colouring after the i.

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Yes, deep/shallow would also be fine. To me that sounds similar to heavy/light. I think that the point is that in the simile the first action sounds more intense than the second, so long seems more like “deep breathing” than “peaceful breathing”.

But in the end it’s a judgement call.

I was hoping to get a clarification about the translation. Still waiting.

There was a discussion by @Sujato of this issue a couple of years ago, I think when he presented a draft of MN10.

OK, here is some discussion:


Thanks mikez66. The link is exactly what I was looking for. Will read through the chain of discussions.

I have always understood the instructions about long/short breath as making neutral observation, i.e. just objectively note the breaths clearly as they change between long or short. That’s good enough to guide my meditation.

What motivated me to read Sujato’s new translation carefully is to find out whether Ajahn Brahm’s explanation about -setting up mindfulness ‘in front of’- ( which he said did not capture the nuance of Pali language & also misleading) and should be understood as - setting up mindfulness as ‘the foremost priority’ - is reflected in the new translation. It was not.

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s version is : established mindfulness in front of him.
Bhante Sujato’s version is: establish mindfulness right there.

Either Sujato does not agree with Ajahn Brahms’s explanation; or that such a translation will be stretching the original Pali text too far (and perhaps best left as a footnote commentary)?

There was already a thread discussing the translation of “the Uposatha day” as " the sabbath" - I still find the “sabbath” translation strange, because to me the word sabbath is associated with Jewish religious observation. Anyway we should leave the sabbath debate to the other thread.

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Let us know what you think. Like it says in the title, it’s an evolving approach!

Yes, I think it’s unjustified. The word parimukha is found only one other place in Pali, where it means literally “around the mouth” (referring to facial hair). Whether it has such a meaning here is dubious, but it shows that there is no real solid choice.

I believe that the term is an example of the tendency in Pali to reduplicate meaning, giving near-synonyms in close conjunction. In such cases it’s better to translate idiomatically. I’m not sure if I’ve succeeded, though. Maybe I should simply say, “began mindfulness meditation”.


Hi Bhante,

Perhaps, like I’ve heard Patrick Kearney say in a few on-line talks, you could use the Aussie idiom:
“Set up mindfulness in your face…” :sunglasses:

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I take these as examples of things to notice about the breath.

Hi Whippet,
I ‘m not clear what ‘these’ refers to. Enlighten me please?

I meant long and short ( or heavy and light ). There are all sorts of things one could notice about the breath, this is one example.

Referencing the heading and OP … get it …I was looking in the last couple of post above yours.

Dear Bhante, thank you for the explanation about parimukha.

I have deep respect for Ajahn Brahm, but I am receptive to different interpretations when they make more sense.

A thought just occurred to me about translation. As a test: what if the translated version is “re-translated” back to the original language by another translator? Can they “restore” it to the original text? And if not the exact words, how close to the original meaning? In the Chinese Agama, unfortunately most of the original texts, in Sankskrit or other Indo-stan languages, were lost.

“Around the mouth” “the front of the face” (prognathous) might make sense if we consider that’s one of the most sensitive parts of the body/mind…

(mods: I could edit this to make a censored version if required)


It’s nothing worse than what one would see on a Jain statue.