SuttaCentral

On Norman’s Paper 'The Four Noble Truths’

Hello, Bhante @sujato.

I generally agree with what you say, but one sentence appears to have omissions as follows: ‘If I understand it correctly, [I] read [the OP quote] with Norman as a syntactical compound. That means the “correct” form of the phrase would be, breaking the compound and adding punctuation … .’

I know this is going beyond the question of my OP, but I must ask why, understanding the grammatical irregularities as you do, you translate some of the expressions much too literally. For example your translation: “This noble truth of the origin of suffering should be given up. … This noble truth of the origin of suffering has been given up.” This translation becomes quite irrational (as noted by Woodward as cited in Norman’s paper). It may have been what the Buddha literally said, but is surely not what he meant.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into my first reading of Norman’s paper, but my feeling is that Norman is suggesting that the undoubted early doctrine of the noble truths is rather awkwardly glued onto the suttas of SN56, perhaps as later generations make increasingly dogmatic and given to metaphysical speculation.

David

I agree, and I am planning to revisit my translations.

Perhaps:

‘Idaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccan’ti
The noble truth that “this is suffering.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pariññeyyan’ti
That noble truth that “this suffering should be fully known.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pariññātan’ti
That noble truth that “this suffering has been fully known”

What do you think?

Honestly, sometimes you’re so close to something for so long, it’s hard to see it.

4 Likes

Or maybe, for the second and third:
- That noble truth that “this is suffering" should be fully known.
- That noble truth that “this is suffering" has been fully known.

No, it doesn’t work out this way. I have been thinking on that too for a while already.

1 Like

Hello Bhante @sujato and Angarika @sabbamitta

I agree that the proposed translation (quoted below) doesn’t work.

I’m far from a Pali expert. But I don’t thin, it’s a good idea to move a word (ariyasaccan = ariyasaccaṁ) outside of a clause that it is clearly within. Compounding dukkhaṁ with ariyasaccaṁ and interpreting as “the noble truth of dukkha” makes more sense to me. I think you should stay with the old translations, even though they reflect might have been a very early corruption of the unknown original.

The key noun phrases for the noble truths are dukkha, dukkhasamudaya, dukkhanirodha, and dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā. In the statement of each aspect of each truth, the relevant key noun phrase performs double duty: as part of the name of a truth and how, perhaps implicitly, the key phrase plays out. So what is meant, for example, we have in English, “There is the noble truth about the origin of suffering: [the origin of suffering, i.e., taṇhā] should be given up.” This could, perhaps, be rendered, “There is the noble truth of the origin of suffering, [there] should be giving up” where it is understood that what should be given up is the origin of suffering.

David.

Looking again, better might be the following. This seems to at least make sense in a way that “giving up the noble truth” does not.

‘Idaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccan’ti
The noble truth that “this is suffering.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pariññeyyan’ti
In that noble truth, “this suffering" should be fully known.
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pariññātan’ti
In that noble truth, “this suffering” has been fully known.
‘Idaṁ dukkhasamudayaṁ ariyasaccan’ti
The noble truth that “this is the origin of suffering.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhasamudayaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pahātabban’ti
In that noble truth, “this origin of suffering” should be given up.
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhasamudayaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pahīnan’ti
In that noble truth, “this origin of suffering” has been given up.
‘Idaṁ dukkhanirodhaṁ ariyasaccan’ti
The noble truth that “this is the cessation of suffering.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhanirodhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ sacchikātabban’ti
In that noble truth, “this cessation of suffering” should be realized.
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhanirodhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ sacchikatan’ti
In that noble truth, “this cessation of suffering” has been realized.
‘Idaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā ariyasaccan’ti
The noble truth that “this is the path leading to the cessation of suffering.”
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā ariyasaccaṁ bhāvetabban’ti
In that noble truth, “this path leading to the cessation of suffering” should be developed.
‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā ariyasaccaṁ bhāvitan’ti
In that noble truth, “this path leading to the cessation of suffering” has been developed.

If the entire clause is considered as a syntactical compound, then the action of the verb need not apply to each member. Verbs commonly are not next door to the noun to which they apply; declension rather than proximity determines this.

5 Likes

That’s certainly the best approach I’ve ever seen. All translations I’ve seen so far implicitly require the reader to conclude that this is not to be taken literally, and they should somehow know what is meant. So the difficult task of phrasing it in a way that makes sense is left to the readers, instead of the translator.

I’ll see what I can do for German.

2 Likes

@Brahmali @Dhammanando @Suvira I wonder what you think of the grammatical plausibility of this translation.

4 Likes

Thank you for tagging me Bhante @sujato! :anjal: To simplify things a little, I would just like to comment on this line:

‘Taṁ kho panidaṁ dukkhasamudayaṁ ariyasaccaṁ pahīnan’ti
In that noble truth, “this origin of suffering” has been given up.

K.R.Norman has already made some insightful comments on the Sanskrit, which I am not going to repeat.

All Chinese parallels state that the noble truth of the origin of suffering should be given up/is given up.

SA 379
苦集聖諦。已知當斷。
復次此苦集聖諦。已知已斷出。

T 110
此苦集聖諦是所了法,如是應斷…
此苦集聖諦是所了法,如是已斷…

Mahīśāsaka Vinaya Pabbajjā Khandhaka
是苦集聖 諦應斷。

Mūlasarvāstivāda Sanghabhedavastu
此苦集聖諦法,我未曾斷,今當應斷!

Sarvāstivāda Vinaya Pañcasata
是苦集聖諦知已應斷。

I hope that knowledgeable persons can forgive my amateurish attempt (this is the first time I have EVER translated Tibetan), but the Tibetan appears to be similar.

There is a nice introduction to Tibetan sources at The Sūtra of the Wheel of Dharma | 84000 Reading Room

Degé Kangyur 31: Dharmacakra-pravartana-sūtra

chos 'khor rab tu bskor ba’i mdo

’di yang sdug bsngal kun 'byung phags pa’i bden pa ste rab tu spang bar bya

This noble truth of the origin of suffering should be totally abandoned

Degé Kangyur 337: Dharmacakra-sūtra

chos kyi ’khor lo’i mdo

’di ni sdug bsngal lo kun 'byung ba…de 'phags pa’i bden pa…spang bar bya
this origin of suffering…that noble truth…should be abandoned… *(i.e. by me)

‘I should relinquish that noble truth… of this origin of suffering.

*See also The Sūtra of the Wheel of Dharma | 84000 Reading Room, which has: ***I should relinquish the origin of suffering, that truth of noble beings.’ ***

At face value, I think that dukkhasamudayaṁ ariyasaccaṁ looks like it should be read all together as the object of the verb, “This noble truth of the origin of suffering has been given up”. The reason I want to read it that way is that when I see two accusatives like that, it’s fairly natural to assume that the first one is acting like an adjective. At least the Chinese translations appear to have taken that path.

You could play around with it to make it more logical, and say, “this origin of suffering, [which is a noble truth], should be abandoned”.

In light of K.R. Norman’s statement that ariyasaccaṁ may be an addition, this would make sense structurally and historically, if not necessarily on the face value of the thing. Human brains are logic-making machines, I don’t think there is such a thing as grammar outside of our own meaning making processes, which will automatically filter out the illogical anyway. Anything that supports meaning-making (which is a property of readers and not of texts) is, ipso facto, grammatical, even if we had to use text-historical criticism to get there. :partying_face:

4 Likes

Well… I invite you to try out:

  1. ‘this is the truth of origin of suffering - the origin of craving is the origin of suffering-’ &
  2. ‘the truth of origin of suffering is to be given up’

in a literal fashion.

This is the way I translated the Chinese version. I assume that suffering is what’s known, the origin of suffering is what’s given up, the cessation of suffering is what’s realized, and the path is what’s cultivated. Each of those verbs make sense when read that way. That larger context I think solves the whole issue, IMHO. So, I inserted those understood objects to make it clearer.

4 Likes

Sorry Charles, for the lazy amongst us do you have a link?

It’s on SC, SA 379, though I can see some things I would change (formation instead of accumulation, abandon instead of terminate, etc). It needs some polish yet.

2 Likes

Sure, but Norman’s point, if I understand it correctly, was that it’s not originally two accusatives, but a syntactic compound: dukkhasamudaya-m-ariyasaccaṁ.

1 Like

Isn’t Norman’s earlier point, at 5.1, that ariyasacca.m is an insertion, the most important point here?

Well yes, but given that it is there, we have to deal with it somehow. Maybe it’s just best to simply go with the flow and translate it as others have done. It’s not hugely satisfying grammatically, but it doesn’t seem to cause any actual problems, the sense still comes through.

2 Likes

Bhante, I think most who are familiar with it mentally translate it into a form similar to what you came up with. Unfortunately, there are some who take the rather clumsy wording as evidence that there is some problem with the Truths…

2 Likes

[Edited for clarity.]

I agree that it’s better to translate what is there than to translate a hypothetical original. It looks like the work of Prof. Norman should be revisited in the light of variation among the parallels. There may be something like a subconscious suspension of disbelief or, subconscious error correction going on here. After all, most people don’t pay much attention to grammar errors if it all makes sense.

That said I can’t help but wonder whether if the word ariyasacca was a later addition. If it was and if SN56.11 was indeed the first discourse, then the discourse is much clearer and 'Koṇḍañña’s conclusion is more believable. The audience would surely have shared similar worldviews. Presumably, the five shared the belief that liberation required, ending dukkha, giving up taṇhā, and so on. Everything makes sense. The insertion of ariyasaccaṁ creates unnecessary confusion.

That is not to say that the idea of the four noble truths is wrong.

David.

Hello @mikenz66,

I don’t think people are saying that there is something wrong with the truths so much as, first, there are different (mostly modern) ways of interpreting what dukkha is and, second, when taṇhā can occur. Modern agnostic interpretations tend to limit dukkha and taṇha to what happens in this life. As a corollary, they tend to limit dukkha to what can be attributed to the taṇhā that occurs in this life. There is also often a tendency to escape dukkha by inappropriate means: e.g., by not forming close personal relationships.

David.

Here are my thoughts on this issue.

I think the idea that ariyasacca is a later addition, which seems fairly well supported, gives us good grounds for deciphering the grammar. K.R. Norman’s suggestion that we are dealing with a syntactical compound only works if ariyasacca had been there from the beginning. In other words, the expression “the noble truth that ‘this is suffering’”, does not work without ariyasacca. The same can be said for the suggestion that we are dealing with adjective plus main noun. This too only works if the ariyasacca had been from the beginning, because adjective + noun is an integrated whole.

The obvious solution is to take the words as standing in apposition to each other. Words in apposition can be added without affecting the integrity of the text. If we assume that the ancient editors knew what they were doing – which to my mind is the only appropriate assumption – then this seems to be the most reasonable interpretation. Moreover, if we regard ariyasacca as an historical addition, it makes sense to render it as a kind of afterthought, rather than as a core part of the statement. I would suggest something like the following:

“This suffering, the noble truth, is to be understood.”
“This origin of suffering, the noble truth, is to be abandoned.” etc.
OR
“One is to understand this suffering, the noble truth.”
“One is to abandon this origin of suffering, the noble truth.” etc.

8 Likes

Just one more possibility. May be there is nothing wrong with the original pali. May be all that is required is just a shift in paradigm for it to make perfect sense.

Mendicants, develop immersion.
“Samādhiṁ, bhikkhave, bhāvetha.

A mendicant who has immersion truly understands.
Samāhito, bhikkhave, bhikkhu yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti.

What do they truly understand?
Kiñca yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti?

They truly understand: ‘This is suffering’ … ‘This is the origin of suffering’ … ‘This is the cessation of suffering’ … ‘This is the practice that leads to the cessation of suffering’.
‘Idaṁ dukkhan’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhasamudayo’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodho’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti, ‘ayaṁ dukkhanirodhagāminī paṭipadā’ti yathābhūtaṁ pajānāti.
SN56.1