SC Next: Introduction to the Suttas

Well, as the linked article below says, he was kicked out of Wat Pa Pong, so he can’t be all bad!

The “controversy” is that he proposed reciting the patimokkha in its original form, leaving out the sekhiya rules. It’s not about whether someone actually keeps any of the rules, only about whether they are ritually incanted in the proper form.

As for the rest of the forest tradition, I couldn’t say. But they are an ācāriya tradition, and he rejects that, so I can’t imagine they like him all that much.

Thanks for the link. Sanitsuda is in fine form here.

Last week, the junta announced the setting up of a committee to identify problems in Buddhism and come up with policies and measures to tackle them.

As an agency working directly on Buddhist affairs, the National Office of Buddhism has obviously felt the need to show the country’s new boss that it is doing something.

Its priority, however, is not tackling monks’ laxity and rife temple corruption, which has long shaken public trust in the clergy. Instead, its first self-assigned job is to get rid of a popular monk who told his followers to forgo rites and rituals and concentrate instead on the teachings of the Buddha in the Tipitaka scripture.

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Ok, I think I get it now: he is abbot of Wat Na Pa Pong (Pathum Thani province); but he trained originally at Wat Nong Pa Pong (Ubon Ratchathani Province, Ajahn Chah’s monastery) and they cut him off in 2014 when he refused to back down. These Thai names are quite confusing :sweat_smile:

Thanks.

Interestingly, the books that he authored seem to be only compilations of suttas , not a single interpretation from him or even introductory paragraphs (e.g. http://watnapp.com/media/Anapanasati.pdf)

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Yes, that’s right, you have to look carefully.

I haven’t read them myself, so I couldn’t say if that was true of all his books, but certainly that’s what he’s famous for. What’s incredible is not that he’s putting some suttas in some books, but how popular his movement has become in such a short period of time. We’ve been saying basically the same thing for decades, and making very little impression on the Thai community. But when I was in Perth a couple of years ago, they were all talking about him and reading his books. I guess it takes someone to explain it clearly in Thai, and somehow connect with the zeitgeist.

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From my understanding of the Tipiṭaka in Thailand, the Suttas are all translated/written in ราชาศัพท์, or ratchasap (the highly intricate and complex Thai register used with Thai royalty, of which barely anyone speaks or can read).

I’ve always understood that the reason so few Thai people read the Suttas is basically because they can’t read them (since they are written in ratchasap). I know Ajahn Buddhadasa did translate some Suttas to standard Thai, but I think it never really caught on.

I’ve always wondered how Buddhism in Thailand would change if the Sutta Piṭaka would be translated to standard Thai, similarly to how it has been translated into English here in the West.

Is that what Ajarn Kukrit Sothipalo has done and what a lot of Thai people have become interested in?

@sujato

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Indeed, this is true, and it’s rather striking that most of the people in Thailand who read suttas on SC read the English translations, not the Thai. I’m sure some of these are Dhamma tourists, but Thai people have told us that they read the English for exactly this reason.

The same problem applies to the Sinhala and some other Asian translations.

I talked about this with a Sri Lankan monk while in Sri Lanka. We were speaking of how the Sinhalese translations use elaborate formalisms to refer to the Buddha. I said, “But that’s not what the Pali texts themselves do; they’re quite simple and relatively informal, and the monks just address the Buddha as bhante.” He agreed, yes that’s what the Pali is like. But you can’t do that in Sinhalese, you have to make it fancy and formal!

He has certainly brought the suttas forward in a more accessible form, but I am not sure to what extent he has actually retranslated suttas. Perhaps @Dheerayupa could give us some more infor on this. In any case, I would dearly love to see accurate, modern, plain-language Thai translations on SC.

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I guess its related to how some folks just won’t let go of the Latin mass or of the King James Bible. There is a certain feeling that difficult to understand language means that it is holier and more spiritually powerful.

This is a silly idea.

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This has been a problem but is getting better I believe. It’s an understandable step wise progression from being locked away as an object of worship to being a relatively accessible instruction for practice. Also the other dimension to this is, ‘do it, and they will come’. The form you put out will draw the crowd that will benefit from it as different people get drawn to different things.

With metta

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Thank you, yes, I believe this to be true. The good thing is there’s no need to have just one translation, and people can enjoy the Dhamma in different styles.

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@Yasoja

His disciple has uploaded the Thai translation of the suttas (Siam Rath version) to make it freely available for Thai people, which is an admirable stance.

However, when listening to some of his interpretations of some suttas or the Buddha’s teachings on YouTube, some may strongly disagree with his interpretation. For example, (if my memory serves me right) Arahants still have sexual desires, but they are aware of that and can suppress them. And you can still drink alcohol and enter the Stream.

Dheerayupa

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Dear Bhante @sujato and dear @Yasoja,

His movement appeals to educated Thai people who have seen how Thai Buddhism has become contaminated by superstitions and etc.

However, to be honest with you all here, I’ve heard lots of negative things about him, and I don’t agree with some of his interpretations of the teachings.

Having said that, as a Buddhist, I’m grateful for his initiative, which has ‘awakened’ lots of Thai people to go back to the original sources of teachings.

Dheerayupa

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Yes it may be true for the first time reader of the Buddhism.
When you get in to a deeper discussions this may be a problem.
Say four people having a discussion about Nibbana in four different terminology.
I had this problem when I started reading the following post and finally I realise that they are talking about Hiri Otappa.

https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=30572

Dear Bhante @sujato and everyone,

As I said in my earlier posts, Ajahn Kukrit doesn’t do any translation, but his website hosts the translation of the Tipitika, which is a huge job. I was looking forward to reading Maha Chulalongkorn’s version, but I stopped holding my breath a long time ago after learning about some politics there. They said they were going to do it since I approached them in early 2014 and nothing has appeared in the cyber world yet.

@samseva

The translation of the Tipitika in Thailand is usually done by a number of monks without a single uniformed editing team to make the translation standard. Some suttas in the Maha Chulalongkorn’s version were done by high-quality Pali expert monks.

Regarding difficult lexicon used in the translation, first of all, one should know that the Thai language belongs in the mono-syllabic Sino-Tai family, but we have borrowed lots and lots of vocab from Pali and Sanskrit. Words borrowed from Pali and Sanskrit are used in the domains of academia, the royalty, and of course Buddhism!

The Thai translation of the Tipitika isn’t widely read IMHO because:

  1. Physical size and accessibility. Before the digital age, the whole Tipitika consists of 30-50 volumes of books. Pretty daunting! Also, because of the cost of printing such big sets, generally one temple has only one set, which is usually kept in a nice-looking bookcase in the dhamma hall.

  2. Comprehensibility.

2.1 Words are to convey meanings and concepts. Several concepts in Buddhism cannot be easily translated into simple mono-syllabic Thai words; thus, IMHO, monks kept the Pali terms. Since I was in primary school (aged 7), I had to memorise such terms as Ariya Sacca, Ittipada, Dasavidha-rājadhamma, Hiri Ottappa, etc.

2.2 The Buddha was a prince (I will not go into a debate whether he was or not), we have to use royal words when talking about him. Royal words are to be learnt (and tested as part of our Thai language course), as they are not of everyday use.

2.3 The Tipitika was considered both sacred and literary; hence, the need to make the language beautiful (= not simple and straightforward).

So, most people who are not well-versed in Pali just listen to monks’ teachings, as we trust that they know what they are doing. :wink:

The movement set by Ajahn Kukrit can bring about improved trends in learning the teachings of the Buddha.

Regarding accurate, modern, plain-language Thai translations, Bhante,… a great monk said that he is happy to help, but he needs a team to realise such a gigantic project. Let’s see how the dhamma will lead… :slight_smile:

With great respect,
Dheerayupa

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Hi @Dheerayupa,

Thank you for the detailed answer.

Regarding my initial post, my only complaint in regards to how the Suttas are translated in Thai is that so few people read them as a result.

To illustrate what I mean, I gave a Sutta in Thai to a Thai friend, but he said that he couldn’t read it because it wasn’t in Thai but in Pāli. So I gave him the English translation, so that he could read it. :smiley:

Does this mean that, for the Pāli Suttas in Thai, a very large portion of all the words are actually still in Pāli?

While words such as dukkha being translated as suffering, jhāna as absorption and sati as mindfulness don’t convey the exact and perfect meanings of these Pāli words, they do a rather good job.

Are there no standard Thai words to translate the Pāli words that the majority of Thai people don’t understand? Obviously, words like สติ, สมาธิ, วิปัสสนา and so on are already part of standard Thai, but mostly for Pāli words of which most Thai people don’t know or have learnt from their primary school education, but have forgotten.

I wouldn’t expect anyone to read or study the Vinaya Piṭaka. Surely, there are more important parts of the Tipiṭaka to study if one has no intent on ordaining. :slight_smile: However, how big would say the Majjhima Nikāya be?


I am coming at this with seeing how the whole Nikāyas of the Sutta Piṭaka were translated into English by two scholar monks and a Pāli scholar, and are available in print format, each consisting of around 1500 pages total, for $75US.

Again, for the only reason of hoping Thai people could benefit from directly reading the Suttas, would it not be possible for a highly skilled scholar monk to translate the whole of the Majjhima Nikāya into a 1500-page volume, in a more accessible register?

This is very interesting. :slight_smile: I would be happy to get news of this.

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Indeed. It is true, there are a fair number of Pali words in common use in ordinary Thai, although often in a different meaning. But the real problem is that all sorts of obscure and technical words are also retained in the Thai sutta translations.

I don’t believe these are retained because it is really difficult to translate them. I think the problem is that the translators were aiming at creating “prestige” editions appealing to the literati, and where passages are difficult they preferred to retain the Indic form to avoid criticism.

Paradoxically, this means that the Thai translations are fairly easy for me to read. Lots of key words in Pali, with a glue of Thai syntax to hold it together. I can read suttas in Thai much easier than I can, say, a daily newspaper.

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Although not beneficial for the laity, there is the advantage that the Suttas in Thai are rather precise for those who have some knowledge of Pāli?

Do you find ราชาศัพท์ difficult, or you have ease with it also due to your knowledge in Pāli?

Well, i haven’t studied them in enough detail to be able to say how accurate they are overall, but in the cases I have read it was easy to get a clear sense of the underlying Pali text. I think they would be useful for serious Thai students.

It’s not so hard, just a few pronouns and idioms. When you’re a monk, you have to get used to a pretty complex set of pronouns anyway!

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Dear @Samseva

Ditto. I prefer to read the English translation, too — easier to understand! LOL!

As Bhante @Sujato said: “There are a fair number of Pali/Sanskrit words in common use in ordinary Thai, although often in a different meaning.”

Ordinary Thai has lots of Pali words, but only educated people would understand them. General public in rural areas with little education would not truly understand the word โลกาภิวัฒน์ (globalization). And it’s a real problem that many Pali words have slightly different meanings in Thai (but different enough to cause misunderstanding), and many words with many meanings may be widely known for one particular meaning only.

For instance, สัญญา means promise. So, to learn that สัญญา doesn’t mean ‘promise’ in the Five Aggregates is no different from learning a new item of lexicon; in fact, it’s worse coz we automatically interpret it as ‘promise’.

And yes to “all sorts of obscure and technical words are also retained in the Thai sutta translations”.

As for Bhante @Sujato’s statement: “where passages are difficult they preferred to retain the Indic form to avoid criticism.”

Bhante, I admit I have done that, too, in my line of work. :smiley: It’s just easier to assume that my readers can understand those English words than to try to find a perfect equivalentand then get criticised that my choice is not perfect. Being a translator in Thailand is like being on a chopping board all the time as some overseas graduates are confident that their English is good and do not hesitate to criticise and ridicule others, including the The Royal Society of Thailand (ราชบัณฑิตยสภา), which consists of experts from different fields and whose official roles are to plan and regulate the Thai language.

When I cited the number of the volume, my intention was to say general human beings are intimidated by a big volume of books! After seeing 45 volumes of the Tipitika, they just turn away from the whole thing without bothering to find out that they can pick and choose to read just a couple of suttas!

To translate a book, one needs to have expertise in both languages (not many Thai people do), and most important of all, one needs to have motivation to do it. Motivation can be financial gains or ‘puñña’ or merits. That’s why so far it has only been royally-sponsored projects implemented by big ‘monk’ organisations that have done the job.

An individual can do it as Bhante @Sujato has proven, but how many Thais have the expertise and time and motivation to do it?

This great monk I was talking about has good knowledge of Pali, but not as good as Bhante (his words, not mine), and he is a busy monk with temple responsibility.

As for a layperson to do this project? Again, let’s see…

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Thank you very much, @Dheerayupa. This gives a much clearer understanding of the translation of the Tipiṭaka in Thai/Thailand.
:anjal:

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Has there been an updated version of this article published?

The latest version is here:

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