Possible translation error in MN 10?


Major translation error in MN 10.

I have noticed the following translation in MN10:

And again, monks, a monk, when he is walking, comprehends, ‘I am walking’; or when he is standing still, comprehends, ‘I am standing still’; or when he is sitting down, comprehends, ‘I am sitting down’; or when he is lying down, comprehends, ‘I am lying down.’ So that however his body is disposed he comprehends that it is like that.

I find this in all translations of Ven @sujato and Ven Thanissaro’s translations as well.

When I checked the Sinhalese translations I can’t see this was translate as “i am”


This is how the discussion is progressing in Dhamma wheel.


Thinking of the actual practice of satipatthana, it does make more sense without the “I am”.


Are you referring to the English translation of the Pāli?

If so, the Pāli verb gacchāmi is the 1st sg.present indicative active form of the root gam ‘to go’.
The (so-called) primary ending -mi contains the hic et nunc ‘here and now’ marker -i.
The meaning of gacchāmi is ‘I am going’.


Thanks, Leon
This is the main argument put forward against my post.
It makes sense.
But I like to know the opinion of Bhante @Dhammanando (third umpire) as he did not point out this in his answer to Dhamma Wheel post.


Very interesting. When I am walking meditation, I do avoid “I”. it just feels clunky and superfluous.

Instead, the attention is on “where is this now?” Or the attention notices that “here is walking fast” or “here is walking slowly” or “foot+rock. careful!”.

Because of this, when I read the translations, in my mind I substitute “here and now” for “I am”.
Sadly, the “here and now” does take up more space than “I am”.

So the translations work for me, and I also agree with your point.



What the members of Stack Exchange think about this?
theravada - Is there a major translation error in MN 10? - Buddhism Stack Exchange


It was the pronoun ‘I’ that you seemed to be concerned with, and so my answer focussed on that rather than on the other information conveyed by the -mi ending.


First of all: don’t get your knickers in a twist!

Every phrase of every sentence of a translation requires judgment, care, and reflection, and there is no one “right” way to do things. Translation of Pali verbs into English requires sensitivity to context, as there is never a one-to-one mapping of forms from one language to another. Indeed, the very idea of a grammatical form is merely an abstraction, a concept invented by grammarians to help understand language. Abstractions developed in one language only ever loosely apply even to that language and comparing the sets of abstractions and conventions (AKA the “rules of grammar”) between one language and another is never more than a broad approximation.

Thus when choosing to translate the first person indicative verb, or the present active participle, a translator applies their best judgement to how to express it in English. Making one choice rather than another by no means constitutes a “major error”. And to depict it as that is not remotely accurate or helpful.

Now to explain what is happening.

The Pali text has a series of similar phrases, one for each of the four postures. Normally in sets like this the different phrases are presented with a high degree of syntactical consistency. But this passage is a little unusual in that the syntax varies in the four cases.

In the final three cases, i.e. standing, sitting, and lying down, the sentence uses a doubled phrase, where the past participle is echoed with the same form, the past participle. Literally it is something like “One who has stood knows ‘I am one who has stood’.” The past participle is used in such cases in a perfect sense, to indicate that the action has been completed. Each of these postures is a static one, and one is in that posture. Here, the verb “I am” (amhi) is applied to the past participle, as the past participle verb form does not specify person.

With walking, however, that phrasing cannot be applied. Why? Because the past participle means “gone”. Obviously this doesn’t work: “One who has gone knows ‘I am one who has gone’.” So in the first part of the phrase, the present participle is used (gacchanto “going”), and it is echoed with the present indicative verb, “I go”. Lit: “The going one knows ‘I go’.”

In this case, the person “I am” need not be specified by amhi, as it is already coded in the first person verb form.

Thus the difference in syntax between the first phrase and the next three is entirely due to the specific nature of Pali syntax. No translator would waste their time trying to replicate that, as in any case, the sentence must be expressed differently to be idiomatic English. Note, however, that in my translation, the different syntaxes are, in fact, echoed so very slightly in my phrasing. You’re welcome!

when a mendicant is walking they know: ‘I am walking.’ When standing they know: ‘I am standing.’ When sitting they know: ‘I am sitting.’ And when lying down they know: ‘I am lying down.’


+1 to untwisted knickers

Translators, like all humans, can make mistakes. It’s absolutely possible for there to be translation errors, even major ones. So thank you @SarathW1 for raising an issue you found.

That said, I would advise the OP (and everyone) to take a deep breath and review their knowledge of the subject (in this case: Pāḷi grammar and syntax, the original language, etc) and really consider what they’re saying before making public claims.

We have the extraordinary privelege of Bhante Sujato’s friendship on this blog. Let’s try to respect his time by making sure we’re confident in what we say before sounding alarm bells.


Thanks(That’s)all folks.


I’d also like to point out that “cross-forum” activity doesn’t fit my understanding of right speech. Whatever someone says on one forum should be kept there, and not cross posted to here. This forum is complete in itself, and individuals have the right to participate wherever they like, without their actions on another forum being brought up here.

Doesn't the “cross-forum” activity fit right speech?