I have long been puzzled by the fact that arahant is often left untranslated. Superficially it would seem that this should be an easy word to translate, since it simply refers to the highest stage of awakening, and as such it is really equivalent to bodhi, normally rendered as enlightened or awakened. The reluctance of translators to translate this word is perhaps related to the fear of diminishing a very elevated word, which has no direct equivalent in the English language. However, if we wish to create a truly transparent English translation – and I think this is very desirable – then we should try to translate all terms if at all possible. With this in mind I’ve been trying to come up with something that might work. Here are a few suggestions:
Most worthy one: this links in with the literal meaning of arahant, “one who is worthy.” However, there is no need to use literal translations for words that have a clear technical meaning. Moreover, the literal meaning is often wrong, because commonly used words will often have evolved away their original meaning in the course of usage. This is likely to be the case with arahant. So the question really is whether this translation evokes the idea of full awakening.
Supreme sage: this should have the advantage of being clear.
Perfected one: the word perfected is of course qualified, but this may not be obvious to all readers.
Biggest loser: this is a riddle translation, courtesy of Ajahn Brahm! Perhaps this could be used in a future tongue in cheek version of the suttas.
Actually I’ve been using “perfected" or “perfected one” for arahant already. Great minds!
It seems to me that this conveys in a straightforward way the basic point of arahantship, it is the culmination of the path. “Worthy” seems to me to be a little obscure, and is when used of people it is an archaic epithet, so I thought it best to avoid it. “Supreme sage” is a little purple for such a common term, and moreover it competes with some of the more poetic expressions.
I have been able to translate almost everything, including many kinds of things left untranslated by BB including:
Large numbers: I use the actual English terms, calculated from the commentary.
Flora: I’m not sure why, but it seems to be common to leave plant names untranslated, even when there is an English equivalent known. With the help of Dhammika’s dictionary, I’ve been able to translate them all so far.
Social classes: except for “brahmin”, which is quasi-English anyway. I tried using “priest”, but it didn’t work (because brahmins as a caste often don’t act as priests; priestly functions are performed by certain brahmins only. And we have no notion of hereditary priesthood.). I use “aristocrat” for khattiya.
Measurements: “League” for yojana, etc.
Bodhisatta: This has a completely different meaning in modern English than it does in the Pali texts, and should, IMO, definitely be translated. I use “one intent on awakening”. This assumes the reading bodhiśakta, although it still works contextually even if you read bodhisattva.
I prefer perfected one as the ‘middle way’ betwen worthy one and supreme sage . I like worthy one in that it’s more literal but it seem least evocative of full awakening (especially to someone not familiar with the texts). And while
the word perfected is of course qualified
it’s more evocative of the actual meaning. I find supreme sage a little too ‘woo-woo’. Actually I’d really prefer awakened one but that’s already taken! What about realized one or one who is free (neither so good)… Well, you could use the idea of extinguishment and say extinguished one or one who has gone out (I don’t really think either of these work)
You are right that “supreme sage” probably is too much of a good thing. The suttas tend to be understated if anything, and I think it is important to recreate this in English.
As for the yojana, there is an interesting discussion of this term in Rhys Davids’ " On the ancient coins and measures of Ceylon", which is available here. He calculates the actual length of the yojana based on distances between known places in India, as given in ancient texts. I reckon this is as good an approach as you are likely to find.
@Linda I think we are converging (in a non-samādhi sense!) on “perfected one”. I agree about the need to avoid “woo-woo”, and to my mind even “perfected one” is not as understated as arahant, at least in its literal sense. But then again, some compromises are always required …
@LXNDR I did consider saint, but I rejected it because I feel it is too Christian. Some of the early translations of the suttas used “saint”, and lots of other Christian terminology as well. It all sounds a bit weird, in my opinion - you are not really sure what you are reading, since it has a quasi-Christian feel to it. Untranslated is great if you are familiar with Buddhism and especially Pali. But for many people it makes the text much harder to read.
Awakening (bodhi) refers to the actual seeing of things as they really are. The consequence of being awakened is that you are liberated from suffering. So the two always go hand in hand; they are two sides of the same coin.
Since i’m a beginner in Buddhism, in every sense of the word, therefore am very hesitate to voice my opinion.
I think “truly transparent English translation” doesn’t necessary mean you have to translate every single word. For me a few words such as Samadhi, Arahant…are preferably remain untranslated. A few reasons for this: Pali is a “dead” language therefore the meaning will never change over the time, contrary to our living language, in the distant future, 200, 500 years from now, what the word “Convergent” or “Perfected One” would have meant ? And, when people are used to these terms they’ll forget the broaden meaning of the original terms. If you left them untranslated, there’re a chance the serious learner will find out for themselves the “true” meaning of “Samadhi”, “Arahant”. Also, the term “Perfected one” may have a “link” with God of other religion . They used a lot of “God is perfect in His character”, “6. Matthew 5:48 So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”…
When you translate i’m sure your main goal is for people to understand the teaching of the Buddha and use them as guideline for practice. In the case of “Samadhi”, for the one who has not yet experienced it as myself, whether you translate or not does not make much difference . But in a phrase (rather than word), using the translation as “Stillness” does help me understand better the way to meditate. It really conveys the message of “The nature of the human mind is to be still. It only moves because of the wind of wanting”.
Worthy One or Perfected One - Simple and down to earth. Firstly, because he was the first to break through. Secondly, he is worthy and perfected because of his wisdom and compassion in rolling forth the wheel of Dhamma and creating the Sangha (we are greatly benefiting from both to this very day) not to mention he led an exemplary life and had the great ability to impart Dhamma to different kind of audiences.
An astonishing work of scholarship, which actually makes a substantive and lasting contribution to understanding. The idea that scholarship might actually be useful seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Yes, it is variable, but basically a few miles. A league is similar. On average, a league is shorter than a yojana, but given the variation, a long league is about the same as a short yojana, so I think the fit is good enough.
But it isn’t. As I pointed out, bodhisattva means something very different today than it did then. In fact, pretty much every word we use in “everyday” Pali has quite different connotations than we find in the suttas. You know the flashes of light that you sometimes see in digital photos? The ones people get so excited about? A Thai person once told me that’s the “arahants”.
They will I hope have a different translation.
I do leave them untranslated. It’s called the “original text”, and it’s there for anyone who wants to know what the source says.
Yes, I did mean for those terms for the Buddha. I do understand that all awakened beings are arahats and they should be rightly referred to as such. So perhaps, we can come to an agreement that when we use “the Worthy One or the Perfected One” (with uppercase initial letters) they refer to the Lord Buddha? When it comes to later arahats, we can use lower cases. I am willing to call any mendicant a great sage or a great renunciate provided he/she live in an exemplary manner with a life of service just as the Lord Buddha did. He/she deserves it. Why not?
I remember a talk by a Sri Lankan monk (forgot his name already) and he explained that arahat can also mean unbound (as the being is already freed from all entanglements). The monk used the simile of someone being tied to a heavy burden with a rope but then is eventually freed by being completely cut off from her/his binding.