SuttaCentral

My own renditions of some suttas


#1

So I’ve been working on some of my own versions of some major suttas, and would like to share and maybe get some feedback.

They can be seen here: https://groveinbloom.wordpress.com/

The project is mainly for my own education, but maybe it could be useful in some cases (maybe to teach young students, or people with English as a second language?)

The “method” page contains a bit about what the style and method I used. Mainly though, I attempted to create renditions of the suttas which are much simpler in style, with very little repetition, making them easier to read. In other words, I attempted what is called plain language style with dynamic equivalence in translation. What this means is, a lot of the repetitive structure is eliminated and it reads more like a modern dialogue from a novel or something. It may be shocking to some!

Anyways, it’s a work in progress and I’m having fun with it. Check it out and tell me what you guys think!


#2

These look great, Javier, congratulations!

I’d be fascinated to see if you like to make any posts discussing specific issues or strategies you used in particular cases.


#3

I love the style of sparseness and straightness of speaking/telling. I know no pali, so I can only hope you were “right” or at least “tight” with your translation…


#4

Sadhu Sadhu! What a wonderful project. What’s the copyright you are releasing them under?

Do you want feedback on potential errors?


#5

I like your translation philosophy. I think we could certainly use what I would call “modern English” versions of these texts. There’s plenty of room for literal translations and more interpretative translations that fit what the modern reader is accustomed to reading. The challenge is staying accurate at the same time, but it’s a worthwhile effort!

Thanks for sharing.


#6

Your translation of MN118 reminds me of how Ajahn Brahm translates it in his lastest edition of Word of the Buddha (or at least the latest version that’s been posted on this forum).

  1. When they breathe in a long or heavy breath, they are aware of it.
  2. When they breathe in a small or fine breath, they are aware of it.

Don’t forget to breathe out!


#7

Fantastic. I remember discussion of your concept months ago. I’m so glad your project is progressing and rather commend the choices you made about which suttas to start with.

I think that you’ve set the bar incredibly high for yourself with this

According to the linguist Eugene Nida, this is a “quality of a translation in which the message of the original text has been so transported into the receptor language that the response of the receptor is essentially like that of the original receptors.”

What I mean is that no one can be certain how the Buddha’s original receptors responded, simply because it was so long ago, and we weren’t there, and understanding the cultural and religious background they all existed in is dependent on the heck of a lot of scholarly investigation by others.

Nevertheless, we do know that the Buddha gave great delight to his listeners; so he must have been ‘an easy listen’. Your versions are an easy read because they’re stripped of the repetitions that are a stumbling block for modern readers. I think that if I’d encountered your translations rather than those of Maurice Walshe when I read my first suttas I’d have been drawn to serious study much sooner. I hope that there is a real appetite for your website.

I’m quite in awe of your bravery in doing without a thorough knowledge of Pali (tho perhaps you understate your level of comprehension); I would find simplifying one difficult English language text straightforward, but to compare translations and decide which meaning to follow would totally daunt me.

I’m bookmarking immediately. Sadhu x 3. :pray:


#8

Thanks Bhante!

Do you have anything in particular in mind? Again, I’m a total amateur at this stuff, with no formal training, but I wouldn’t mind discussing whatever questions you have.

I definitely tried to keep the meaning / main idea straight if that’s what you mean!

I actually haven’t thought about it, but since its Dhamma, definitely something public domain…any recommendations?

And yes, please, feedback!

Thanks!

Yes, that is a bit weird, perhaps I can change it to “When breathing a long or heavy breath, they are aware of it.”

Thanks Gillian, yes this is exactly the kind of thing these renditions are meant to address.

Oh, my pali is almost non-existent! I guess “gall” would be a better word than “bravery”! But there are already so many good translations out there that I feel confident I am not getting the main ideas wrong. And since I am attempting a more dynamic - less literal rendition of these suttas, I do not really need to know the intricacies of the grammar of the original language (at least, this is what I tell myself - again - the gall!). But I do have access to a lot of pali resources online so its not difficult to look up a word here and there and dig into why certain translators went one way or the other.


#9

Some thoughts…

Here, A Grove in Bloom - The Kalamas

"But when you know for yourselves what things are unwholesome, wrong, and criticized by the wise. When you are aware of what leads to harm and suffering. Abandon all of it.

So that’s two fragments (relative clauses I think) and a sentence. Shorter sentences are good, but I think you should remain grammatically correct. Pali tends to have long compound sentences not easily broken up. Normally I think this would all be joined with comas. I don’t know if this is too radical…

"But when you know for yourselves what things are unwholesome, wrong, and criticized by the wise: abandon all of it. When you are aware of what leads to harm and suffering: abandon all of it.

Certainly the meaning doesn’t change one bit. Therefore within the parameters of your project, I think it’s ok. You could use comas instead of colons, but I think the colons make it more clear. I also noticed a similar issue in A Grove in Bloom - Kaccānagotta
I’d also say that there is a number mismatch with “things that are unwholesome” and “abandon it”. Perhaps you could say “abandon it all.”

here…

"The eye is on fire, sights, the awareness that sees, the contact between them, and the sensations arising from that contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. They’re all burning with the flames of craving, hatred and ignorance, burning with the fires of birth, aging, death, sorrow, grief, pain, sadness and despair.

In the first sentence, I don’t think the construction works. I get to the end expecting something that isn’t there. How about

"These things are on fire: the eye, sights, the awareness that sees, the contact between them, and the sensations arising from that contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

With the second sentence you combine what Bhante Sujato has as two, and I don’t think it makes it any easier to read. You’ve dropped out the “Burning with what?” which I guess is ok. But I would still keep it two shorter sentences, something like this…

They’re all burning with the flames of craving, hatred and ignorance. They are all burning with the fires of birth, aging, death, sorrow, grief, pain, sadness and despair.

I noticed here, A Grove in Bloom - Foam

On close examination, they see all forms as totally void, hollow and without substance.

In my experience I don’t think “void” is a common word for ESL folks. Could you say “empty”?

I’d recommend to link to Sutta Central for each page. In that way you could have more freedom to be free with the translation if you could point to “See here for a more literal translation and to see the original Pali.”

This is a very worthwhile project. Although I love Bhante Bodhi’s translations, I find that when I have an audience that includes either a large number of young people or ESL speakers, I spend far to much time explaining the meaning of unfamiliar English words.


#10

Thank you so much for your feedback, this is exactly what I am looking for! I will look through these texts and put your recommendations in.

This is still a work in progress so any input is very appreciated. I’m still working through them, going back and forth with the different suttas on the site and so on. For example, this morning I significantly overhauled the Satipatthana sutta, removing a lot of the repetition that I had retained.

Thanks again. I welcome more feedback from anyone.


#11

The eye is on fire, sights, the awareness that sees, the contact between them, and the sensations arising from that contact, whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Contact (phassa) arises after the visual object and it’s corresponding consciousness. It’s not biology, but an. experiential description.

Vedana, is broad encompassing feeling from all 6 sense bases and you have used ‘sensation’ for it, which to me is narrow, and has the nuances of only body sensation.

I don’t have a lot of time to review but if it’s posted we could discuss them. Lots of different opinions!


#12

Hmm not sure why you have that view of the word sensation. Merriam Webster has:

Definition of sensation

1a : a mental process (such as seeing, hearing, or smelling) resulting from the immediate external stimulation of a sense organ often as distinguished from a conscious awareness of the sensory process — compare perception

b : awareness (as of heat or pain) due to stimulation of a sense organ

c : a state of consciousness due to internal bodily changes a sensation of hunger

d : an indefinite bodily feeling a sensation of buoyancy

The reason I opted for it is because wanted to avoid feeling as a translation for vedana, since feeling has too many psychological connotations in everyday use.

But I’m open to other terms if you can make a good case for it. I was going to go with “hedonic tone” originally, but its just too obscure of a term.


#13

Language changes, as do dictionaries.

Because of this, I’m inclined to think that translations should focus on internal consistency more than fidelity to the “idiom of the day.” By focusing on internal consistency, one can be quite precise with common terms at the risk of generating some misunderstanding in readers unfamiliar with the use of a translated word within the EBT context. For example, physics has used the word “charm” quite precisely yet with a nod at conventional use of the term “charm.” The EBTs are quite precise in terminology, and an adaptation of conventional terminology can be quite effective.

This came home to me last night when we had some non-Buddhist friends over and we talked about the end of suffering. After studying the suttas, I have realized that my understanding of suffering has actually changed to be quite precisely defined by “the second arrow”. This caused some confusion when we talked about the end of suffering because I said “end of suffering” and they heard “end of pain”. In other words, the use of the word “suffering” (vs. dukkha) gave me a bridge to a new understanding.


#14

I agree with this myself. Sensation in English is closer to the low-level, prior-to-perception mechanism that vedana represents, but Mat has a good point. In the West, there are five senses, and in Buddhist texts there are six. So, readers will not immediately realize the distinction if they are non-Buddhists walking in off the street.

Ultimately, we end up creating a technical language to deal with these conceptual incongruities. It’s great when two languages have close parallels, but often we have to make judgements about which word fits best and then explain the inadequacies.


#15

But the word sensation / sensing can also have mental connotations. Think about, for example, the idea of a “sixth sense” as referring to telepathy, or the colloquial figure of speech “I sense there’s something wrong with this person…” - in this sentence, “sense” refers to a mental quality.


#16

That’s true. I often find myself considering primary and secondary uses of words when I translate. There’s almost always different ways a single word is used, but often the other ways are unusual. It’s clearest to readers when you avoid less common usages. So, I tend to prefer sensation for vedana because in English sensation refers to bare sensory experience.

Feelings can be all kinds of things. I can have the feeling its going to rain today, or someone can hurt my feelings. I’m not sure those feelings would equate to vedana. They would be perceptions or judgements.

So, to me, sensation is clearer. It’s just that in English people think in terms of five physical senses instead of six. As a translator, we can’t do much about that other than explain the situation to the reader.


#17

This is important.
Thus all good writers and translators are clear in their own heads who the readers are who they are addressing. It’s important that they make this clear in their book blurb or website header. :grinning:


#18

Sensation- does it capture the meaning of affective tone, or is closer in meaning to ‘stimuli’.

‘I sense something’ is different from ‘contact gives rise to sensations’ as the context is in short supply in the second sentence.


#19

Of course its not perfect, no word can capture the exact meaning of another word in another language. But its close enough, I think.

Hedonic tone or affect / affective tone might be better terms which capture the meaning more “literally” but you also have to take into account readability and I preferred to just go with sensation


#20

Have you tried using the hemingwayapp.com tool? It might be helpful for simplifying.

“Ceases” could possibly be replaced by stops or ends.

Regarding the above discussion on feeling, I wonder if it would make sense to include the Pali in parentheses. I realize this may seem to go against the basic purpose of the translation. However including the Pali could give you even more freedom to give a translation that was clear even it it takes many words. Of course you can do that anyway, but if some of your readers have familiarity with the Dhamma, including the Pali may help things click together.

I know you have the Terms page, but that’s a bit cumbersome for the reader. Another option could be including the terms used in a particular sutta at the top of the page. It all depends on exactly who your target user is. I work mostly with people who know the Dhamma in their own (non English) language and are training so they can teach it in English. For them, including the Pali terms would be very beneficial. (And for them Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations are not close enough to spoken English to be useful.) Personally I don’t think including Pali in that way is frightening to new people. In fact it can be a signal that “this is something specific and meaningful that I may need to use again.”