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SN 56.11 - Dhammacakkasutta (Translation attempt)


#1

Dear all,

One of the most important things ever spoken–if not THE most important–deserves as many translations as possible. They may just one day enlighten somebody, who knows, ey? So, since I have a bit of spare time this morning, I’d thought I’d share my draft translation of the dhammacakkasutta (SN 56.11) with you.

(All translations are impermanent, imperfect, and subject to change…)

Setting the wheel of the teaching in motion

This is what I have heard. At one time the Master was staying near Varanasi, in the Deer Park at Isipatana. There he addressed the group of five mendicants:

“Mendicants, there are two sides that should not by pursued by those who have gone forth. What are those two? One is the pursuit of pleasure in sensual experiences, which is low, worldly, common, ignoble and unbeneficial. The other is the pursuit of self-harming practices, which is painful, ignoble and unbeneficial. Avoiding both these sides, the True One fully woke up to the middle way that brings insight and knowledge, and leads to peace, comprehension, awakening, and extinguishment.
          And what is that middle way the True One fully woke up to, which brings insight and knowledge, and leads to peace, comprehension, awakening, and extinguishment? It is the noble eightfold path. That is: correct view, correct motives, correct speech, correct behaviour, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct alertness, and correct unification of mind. That is the middle way the True One fully woke up to, which brings insight and knowledge, and leads to peace, comprehension, awakening, and extinguishment.

          Now, mendicants, the noble truth of suffering is as follows. Birth is suffering. Age is suffering. Sickness is suffering. Death is suffering. Being with what you dislike is suffering. Being apart from what you like is suffering. Not getting what you want is suffering. In short, the five aggregates are suffering.
          And the noble truth of the origin of suffering is as follows. It is that craving that leads to a next life, which comes with enjoyment and desire and looks for enjoyment here and there. That is: craving for sensual experiences, craving for life and craving for annihilation.
          And the noble truth of the cessation of suffering is as follows. It is the complete disappearance and cessation of that same craving: letting it go, giving it up, being free from it, not letting it reside
          And the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering is as follows. It is the noble eightfold path. That is: correct view, correct motives, correct speech, correct behaviour, correct livelihood, correct effort, correct alertness, and correct unification of mind.

          Mendicants, when I knew that this is the noble truth of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that suffering should be known fully, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that I had come to know suffering fully, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another.
          When I knew that this is the noble truth of the origin of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that the origin of suffering should be abandoned, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that I had abandoned the origin of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another.
          When I knew that this is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that the cessation of suffering should be seen for oneself, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that I had seen the cessation of suffering for myself, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another.
          When I knew that this is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that the way leading to the cessation of sufferings should be developed, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another. When I knew that I had developed the way leading to the cessation of suffering, insight, knowledge, understanding, clarity and illumination arose in me with respect to things not learned from another.

          Mendicants, as long as I did not very clearly know and see these four noble truths as they really are like this—in three stages each and twelve aspects in all—I did not claim to have become incomparably and perfectly well-awake in this universe with its deities, demons and gods, and its mankind of renunciants and priests, kings and people. But when I did very clearly know and see these four noble truths as they really are like this—in three stages each and twelve aspects in all—I did claim to have become incomparably and perfectly well-awake in this universe with its deities, demons and gods, and its mankind of renunciants and priests, kings and people. Then I knew and saw that my liberation was certain, that I’ve had my last birth, and that there won’t be a next life now."

That is what the Master said. The group of five mendicants was pleased and enjoyed the Master’s words. And while this discourse was being spoken, the stainless and spotless insight into the teaching arose in venerable Kondanya. He knew that whatever is to originate, is all bound to cease.
          And then, as the Master set the wheel of the teaching in motion, the deities on earth exclaimed: “In the Deer Park at Isipatana, near Varanasi, the Master has set in motion the incomparable wheel of the teaching that no renunciant, priest, deity, demon, god, nor anyone else in the universe can stop!” The Deities of the Four Great Kings heard them and then also exclaimed: “In the Deer Park at Isipatana, near Varanasi, the Master has set in motion the incomparable wheel of the teaching that no renunciant, priest, deity, demon, god, nor anyone else in the universe can stop!” The Deities of the Thirty-Three heard them … The Yama Deities heard them … The Satisfied Deities heard them … The Deities Delighting in Creating heard them … The Deities Controlling Others’ Creations heard them … The Deities of Brahma’s Company heard them and then also exclaimed: “In the Deer Park at Isipatana, near Varanasi, the Master has set in motion the incomparable wheel of the teaching that no renunciant, priest, deity, demon, god, nor anyone else in the universe can stop!”
          So then, at that time, that moment, that exclamation spread out as far as the world of Brahma. This galaxy shook and trembled, and an immeasurable bright light appeared in the universe, outshining the divine splendour of the deities. Then the Master expressed himself by saying: “Kondanya has understood! Kondanya has understood!” So that is how the Venerable Kondanya got the name ‘Kondanya who Understood’.

There’s very likely to be some errors and inconsistencies in this.

I realized that when I translate things from English into Dutch (my native language) into English, I never translate word by word. Many sentences don’t make any sense if you do. People who know two languages, will understand. So that is how I decided to approach Pali as well. I read a sentence, get it’s meaning, and then reword that into English. I don’t translate word by word. For example I quite freely transformed nouns into verbs, as in “knowledge arose in me” -> “I knew”, or multiple into plural and things like that.

It seems to works decently well, I think, although sometimes it is still a bit of a struggle to keep terminology consistent throughout, which is quite important for seeing all the links between suttas. I have made more translation drafts (a lot of them just drafts in my head) using similar terminology and it seems to work as a whole as well. So if in future I’d translate more suttas, I can use words like “clarity”, “life” etc quite consistently without creating too much confusion. Well… at least not for myself. :yum:

Any comments, questions, critique, borrowing of ideas, etc. is welcome, especially about the way of translating.

With muchos mettos grandos,

Take care everybody!

Sunyo


In the Buddha’s Words
#2

:anjal:

Dear Bhante Sunyo,

Great draft! Thank you for sharing. For the below translation:

Perhaps you can use: Not letting it settle.

with respect, reverence, and gratitude,
russ

:anjal:


#3

Thanks so much Ven Sunyo for that translation. I think its fantastic you have translated some things the way you did.

I expect that the comments I am about to make must have already been made at a forum such as this but I thought I should do so anyway…

Yes translators should take the the middle way between the extremes of word-for-word literation and translations which are simply unsupported by the text.

Translators should imho abandon the original linguistic style of the past and abandon the hope that the translation will endure infinitely into the future. Rather translations should be completely in the present linguistic style because that is the best way to secure the Dhamma into the future.

So I say to all translators, please concern yourselves only with the essence and abandon the style of the old world. Please no repetitions and long statements. Style should be in a modern Q&A manner.

In the past because there was no writing; the suttas had to be set forth a certain way for mnemonic reasons. But today that should be avoided I happen to think. My humble suggestion is to always translate them for a non-Buddhist who is reading it for the first time and you will be doing it right if they are able to read it from start to finish without difficulty.

So instead of “in short these are the five aggregates” (as a generic example) which has no reference from within the sutta itself, it could be something like “In short the five things that make up mind and body are subject to suffering”.

Just a thought. Once again thanks to you and all others who working on translations. I enjoyed it very much and it made me contemplate the sutta carefully on this last day of the year. :smile:
sadhu x3


#6

Hiya!

Thanks for the comment. I agree with most. I actually start liking the repetitions in suttas more and more. So when I’d translate a sutta on the six senses, for example, I actually like to expand all the dot dot dots. But I mainly translated as a practice I. reading the Pali itself.

Aggregates slipped under the radar. It’s a filler word that had to be replaced. I like to think of it as heaps (of fuel/that we’ve taken up).

I’m happy this made you contemplate the sutta again. That’s mainly why I posted it here.

There are a few things that need changing (like age= old age. :slight_smile: *), but I think I’ll do that later.

metta to the whole world

Sunyo

(* in case Ajahn Brahmali reads this. :P)


#7

@Sunyo

Thanks so much for the translation. I really like it. Hope you’ll continue to post your translations. Not only do I really enjoy reading various translations of the suttas, I’m studying Pali on my own so it’s very helpful in this regard as well!

Yes! Glad to hear I’m not the only one. When reading the suttas from a practice-point of view, I find it invaluable.

I like to think of it as heaps (of fuel/that we’ve taken up).

I also like ‘heaps’. It has a very tangible quality…I think of the burden of heaps of stuff :slight_smile:


#8

Aggregates is an interesting puzzle. I’ve always thought of the aggregates as just a method of analysis. One can slice all experience in terms of the aggregate classification, or, alternatively, the sense-base classification, etc.

What worries me about translations like “heaps” is that it makes them sound like “things”, rather then “properties”. Then there is a tendency to think that we are “constructed” from these “things”, which I don’t think it the intention, any more than that we are constructed from the sense bases.

I like the say Nyanatiloka puts it:
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Buddhist.Dictionary/dic3_k.htm#khandha

Some writers on Buddhism who have not understood that the five khandha are just classificatory groupings, have conceived them as compact entities ‘heaps’, ‘bundles’, while actually, as stated above, the groups never exist as such, i.e. they never occur in a simultaneous totality of all their constituents. Also those single constituents of a group which are present in any given body-and-mind process, are of an evanescent nature, and so also their varying combinations. Feeling, perception and mental constructions are only different aspects and functions of a single unit of consciousness. They are to consciousness what redness, softness, sweetness, etc. are to an apple and have as little separate existence as those qualities.