SN 12.1 Paṭiccasamuppādasutta Study Translation

SN 12.1 Paṭiccasamuppādasutta (aka Dependent Origination)

It’s taken since 2000 after asking a teacher to explain the links of dependent origination to finally reach this point. His very short answer was, “To understand them it is best to read them in the language they were originally written in.” As this is an alternate translation attempt it does (unintentionally) differ from conventional interpretations and is subject to correction from time to time. To read in pdf format please follow the hyperlink below.

SN 12.1 Paṭiccasamuppādasutta Alternate Literal Translation

Kind regards Orgyen Yangzom (Ani)

Edit: The hyperlink didn’t follow the file when I rearranged my cloud folders so needed create a new hyperlink and update it here.


I have revised and edited my translation of avijjA. The dictionary connects it to skt. avidya, but in the cloth discourse (yet to post to SC) I have viditvA as having-learned which I think fits the contexts of where vid and ved appear across the discourses I’ve studied so far. So after more intensive searching last night I found the skt. avijJa which also translates as dark or in the dark, which seems to fit the Tibetan image of a blind man stumbling along a path for the first link.

To my thinking avijJa sounds or reads closer to avijjA than avidya. Further research into vijJa revealed that in Hindi it can mean enlightened. As I am translating buddha as awakened then enlightened seemed to fit well for vijjA where it appears in the few discourses I am attemting to translate/study (some yet to post to SC). So I have edited avijjA to un-enlightened which seems to fit where it appears.

Of course as I’m still learning then I could have this all wrong. So for now it is just my humble interpretation.

Kind regards and thank you for your patience with this ageing fool in rags. :smile:

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Yep, if I may suggest, what is important is that you make clear that this darkness or lack of vision / understanding avijja is alluding to is, in the big scheme of things, a primordial lack of understanding of the four noble truths, its ennobling tasks and the cessation they call us to eventuate.

Given that the Buddha is recorded in suttas like MN71, MN76, MN79 and MN90 to have discarded omniscience as an impossibility (while the contemporary Jains had it as a key selling point of their saints) you can say that a Buddha or an arahant may well be ignorant to things beyond his time or outside the scope of his spiritual life.

At the same time, you can say for sure that a Buddha or an arahant has, through the fulfilling of the ennobling tasks totally and completely dispelled the ignorance with regard to the four noble truths themselves.

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Thank you for your input and suggestion. You raise some important points to consider. Maybe using enlightened for vijjA is too problematic even though I’ve tried to use it in a pragmatic sense, because as I think you are trying to point out it can get confused with enlightenment and ‘omniscience’.

The problem I have struck with the use of the word ‘ignorance’, is that some people interpret it as meaning to deliberately ignore something and take offence thinking it implies they are an ignorant person, when in this context this not what is meant. So in my experience the use of ignorance can also be problematic.

In Skt. jJA means familiar or knowing something. vi means separating or dividing. So could avijjA be translated as, un-discerning (The Four Noble Truths)?

If I were to continue with ‘enlightened’, then maybe: unenlightened (in the dark regarding The Four Noble Truths) which I might just go with for now until something better turns up.

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Hi AniOrgyen,

thanks for the translation you have shared with us, I can imagine it was quite a bit of work to do it. However, I think it could help your translating enterprise if you supplemented an explanation why you have rendered some Pali words the way you have. Your comment on avijja looks like a nice start, and there are quite a few words I am puzzled about, e.g. paccayo.

As for the word avijja, I was very surprised that you were able to find a Sanskrit counterpart spelt like avijJa. The reason I was surprised is that I had no idea what the capital J sound is supposed to mean, so I googled the word and found this webpage. So, first the Sanskrit word means not really ‘in the dark’, but rather ‘stupid, ignorant’, i.e. pretty much the same as ‘avidya’. However I was still suspicious about the weird capital J, it looks so much like an encoding error for Sanskrit diacritics, so I checked the Devanagari spelling, and it turns out the word अविज्ञ actually reads avijña. You can check it yourself by going to the Wikipedia page for the Devanagari script and checking this Wiktionary page on the ज्ञ ligature. The consonant cluster is realized as ññ in Pali, cf. Sanskrit prajña - Pali pañña or Sanksrit vijñāna and Pali viññāṇa, so the regular Pali form of the Sanskrit avijña should be aviñña. I searched a bit in the PTSD and found the word aviññū that is equal in meaning to aviddasu, and this latter word means - ta-da! - ignorant or foolish. So, I am afraid that your alternative rendering of avijja is wrong because it doesn’t fit the historical phonology of the Pali language.

This is why I think that writing a second document explaining the reasoning behind the decisions you made when making the translation would be extremely beneficial because we will thus be able to find wrong renderings - and even explain why they are wrong - or change our own preferred renderings because of your arguments in favour of a new translation :pray:


Thanks for your input. The challenge I’m having is this. avijjA is the negative to vijjA. So I need one english word that fits for the contexts where vijjA appears and then it’s opposite would be un-… what ever that word might be? Maybe I’m asking too much of the English language and it’s going to take me some time, but thats ok.

Maybe using the English phrase ‘in the dark’ is questionable, but equally the image of a blind person on the path for the first link doesn’t in my mind conjure up ignorance. Not everyone sees or interprets things in the same way so for some people ‘ignorance’ is the correct word, but for others it could be an obstacle.

So, linguistically the Pali vijja is the counterpart of the Sanskrit vidyā, as you surely know, and there is no way around that, so just look up the Sanskrit word. ‘Un-knowledge’ works just fine.

Okay, ignorance has pretty bad connotations in English, which is why some translations used the neutral nescience.

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Are you referring to academic knowledge or experiential knowledge?

The direct knowledge of the Four Noble Truth.

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So experiential knowledge as opposed to academic knowledge. So one word for experiential knowledge?

Sorry, looks like I misled you a bit here :slight_smile: The word ‘avijja’ means ‘not knowing’, ‘non-knowledge’, and it may refer to both academic and experiential knowledge depending on the context. It only means not knowing the Four Noble Truth in the specific context of the Buddhadhamma. We could even say the Buddha used ‘avijja’ as a term, not as a word of our regular language. So, if we want a literal translation, we should ignore the philosophical side of things where the term is explained. We should merely translate the word, and the word ‘avijja’ means just ‘not knowing’ without any further qualifications.


I use “delusion” for avijjā. This works well because avijjā is really a misunderstanding of the nature of reality, as least in a Buddhist context. For vijjā, which is the opposite, I use “insight,” that is, insight into the nature of reality.

Good luck and have fun!


Thanks but if ñāṇa is knowing then how would you translate vijjā where it appears in vijjācaraṇasampanno? But I suppose knowledge and non-knowledge might fit. I need some time to reflect on all this, thanks for your help. :slight_smile:

Ok I think I see where I’ve gone wrong. So I’ve exchanged knowing for knowledge and vijja becomes knowing so avijja is now un-knowing and I’ve fixed paccaya (thanks for picking up on this) where it appears and everything appears to work better now. So thanks again Vstakan, gnlaera and brahmali for your input, and taking the time to help me. :slight_smile: I’m sure it won’t be the last time I get something wrong.


As for the non-literal but rather good old literary translation I am 100% with Ven. Brahmali, these are the exact renderings I like to use in my personal ‘inner lingo’.

Yet, if we are talking about the literal translation, we should also admit that there is no easy one-to-one correspondence between words in different languages. The English word blue means two different colours in Russian: siniy ‘dark blue’ and goluboy ‘light blue’, so the Russian rainbow has seven colours. In the Uzbek language blue, ashen and green are one and the same colour ko’k. The Russian verb pon’at’ / ponimat’ has two corresponding meaning in English: understand and realize. The German words Wissen, Kenntnis, Erkenntnis are all translated in English as knowledge. They can be translated differently depending on the context, e.g. the plural of Kenntnis - Kenntnisse - can also mean expertise or command as in command of English. The thing is we are doing a literal word-for-word translation, which means we should ignore the context except in cases of homonymy. We are literally interested in the most basic meaning of a word rather than the contextual ones because explaining contextual differences is practically textual exegesis that we wanted to avoid in the first place. The most basic meaning of vijja and ñāṇa in English is knowledge. These two words can mean different things in Pali and Sanskrit, just like Wissen and Erkenntnis are different words in German, but in English on the very basic level they all mean knowledge.


Sadhu !


Due to Google Drive cloud changes I need to change all hyperlinks, but can’t edit the original post so posting the new link here:

SN 12.1 Paṭiccasamuppādasutta Alternate Literal Translation

Metta Ani

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