MN26 Translation Question

@sabbamitta et al

My (otherwise famous) German translation by Neumann has nature (“Natur”) instead of Māra all trough these stock passages.

Why would he translate it as such? Is the Pali word for nature similar to Māra? Or how is this passage ambigoous in the original Pali? Thanks.

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I have no idea why Neumann chose to translate it this way, and he hasn’t obviously a comment to that passage. Seems strange to me. The Pali word is simply māra.

Maybe his choice of “Natur” was rather an interpretation than a translation? Perhaps he thought the concept of “Māra” shouldn’t be taken literally, and tried to explain it as “nature”? But that’s just speculating. We can’t ask him any more.

Thank you for clarifying this. Yes it’s interesting because some of his footnotes go into extreme details, yet he left some of his choices for the basic terms uncommented.

Yes it certainly looks like it. Also he haa Wähnen for defilements which is rather interesting as well. I wonder where he got his understanding from. Wiki just says that he was the assistant of an Indologist in Vienna. Liebe Grüße

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Etymologically speaking, Māra (masculine noun) in a Vedic context means ‘death’ (personified or impersonal). The Atharvaveda contains two compounds kṣudhā-māra (death by physical starvation) & tṛṣṇā-māra (death by pathological thirst/craving). So Māra is identified as the causer of maraṇa (death). Devas in non-Buddhist texts are called amara (immortal, someone for whom there is no maraṇa), their drink is ambrosia (amr̥ta).

Tṛṣṇā (Sanskrit) = Taṇhā (Pāli).

Outside the early-Buddhist tradition, in coeval Hindu texts, Māra (who is Cupid) is spoken of as being an invisible warrior who has no body (an-aṅga) and who attacks and overpowers living beings with his five arrows (i.e. the 5 senses and their objects of pleasure). In early Buddhism the Buddha (the enemy of Māra) is depicted as an unembodied warrior (i.e. similar to Māra), that even the invisible Māra (leave alone the rest of the living beings) cannot find or attack, and who instead successfully sees through and defeats Māra’s guile by being above and beyond the control of sense-pleasures (so when Māra is “found/seen” by the Buddha, he accepts that he’s been defeated by the Buddha).

Taṇhā is closely associated with Māra, death personified (in whose control/dominion the vast majority of mortal beings operate). The Buddha (as per the EBTs) is described as having gone beyond the pale of Māra’s control, so the cycle of saṁsāra (repetitive births and deaths) has been overcome by him, he has gone beyond the natural order of all living beings (the domain of Māra) and has achieved the ultimate deathless-state (amr̥tam padam).

Although I do not know German and cant read the translator’s mind, he may have been thinking of the above when he equated Māra with Nature.

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Mara is a murderer. He does not hold the keys to life and death, but on the other hand, he abuses life and death. Death can be a natural process, however, as well as unnatural.

Mara means murderer however, we should not forget that and not be afraid of dying. Dying does not mean we are falling into the lap of wrongdoing. Even the Stream Enterer can [at least partially] die, then take rebirth. If one has birth, one has death, if one has death, one certain of birth, at least most of the time.

Because despite his being (probably) the first Austro-Hungarian convert to Buddhism, Neumann remained culturally a Habsburg Catholic and this had much influence on the choice of diction in his translations.

In all Neumann has three ways of translating Māra according to what he supposes it to mean in each context. He uses “Māro der Böse” – when he thinks it’s the deva of this name (māra-devaputta); the Latin loanword “Mortem” when he thinks it’s being used as a personification of death (maccu-māra); and “die Natur” when he thinks it’s a personification of mental defilements (kilesa-māra)

Mostly his judgment seems fairly sound, but here and there we find him making some eccentric choices. For example, in the Bahudhātukasutta where the Buddha speaks of the impossibility of Māra being female, Neumann bizarrely decides to treat it as kilesa-māra rather than Māra-devaputta:

Er weiß: ›Unmöglich ist es und kann nicht sein, dass das Weib Herrschaft über den Himmel, Herrschaft über die Natur, Herrschaft über die Geister erlangen mag: ein solcher Fall kommt nicht vor.‹

But why refer to kilesas as “die Natur”? I suspect what he had in mind was an opposition that would have been very familiar to his contemporaries, but is much less heard of today, namely that between Heiligkeit and Natur. In this context the former refers to the prelapsarian state of holiness, innocence and harmony, and the latter to the corrupted and fallen nature that obtained after the talking snake incident in Genesis 3.

“Indem Adam und Eva dem Versucher nachgeben, begehen sie eine persönliche Sünde, aber diese Sünde trifft die Menschennatur, die sie in der Folge im gefallenen Zustand weitergeben. Sie ist eine Sünde, die durch Fortpflanzung an die ganze Menschheit weitergegeben wird, nämlich durch die Weitergabe einer menschlichen Natur, die der ursprünglichen Heiligkeit und Gerechtigkeit ermangelt.”

Katechismus der Katholischen Kirche, (1997) Nr. 404.

Nowadays the translation doesn’t really work, for even though plenty of Christians still believe in original sin, the concept no longer has anything close to the extensive cultural influence that it did in Neumann’s day.


Interesting, I would have suspected Kantianism rather.

Buddhadasa famously drew this exact parallel and encouraged would be Christian converts to follow such an interpretation of Christianity instead.

Would you say that the notion that “creation” is inherently flawed is a foreign idea to Bhuddism and the idea that this is implicit in the 1st and 2nd noble truthts a Western interpreation?


Wow, Bhante! :astonished: Thank you for this great analysis! :pray:

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