Thank you for this article. It is quite beautiful and profound. But I can also understand why Ajahn Brahm and Ajahn Sujato were cautious not to translate it directly as thoughts and evaluation. (again I could be wrong) This method that Ajahn Chah is talking about (according to my experience) is hard to achieve without breaking firm mind frames. You can evaluate thoughts but one’s evaluation method might differ to another and there is a danger of getting stuck or going round and round with false perceptions.
He talks about “wrong samadhi” and “lucid calmness” here which I have seen in “expert” mediators which doesn’t feel right because when you talk to them the peacefulness that have been achieved seems like a facade. I think this false calmness might be when you have a false perception that you have achieved jhana while perceiving the five senses. But I don’t think it relates to everybody. As some people like Ajahn Chah who are virtuous and 100% honest in his evaluation, there is no problem in this method. He also talks about contemplating about virtues of Buddha and dhamma which seems like what VV is all about and not really the random chatter that arise in our mind.
I have gone through both these processes and I know how my mind reacted. Therefore I whole heartedly accept both translations as they both can have a profound effect on the individual. Please don’t for a moment think that it’s misleading. According to my experience it isn’t. We have to open our eyes wider and look at these translations.
All these beings are pretty amazing and I see their work in spreading the truth as calling us to grab their hands and come out of this dark pit we have fallen in without a scratch. That makes my heart swell with happiness.
Seems like one relevant question is, “what did the Buddha actually teach/say?” Even with the best of literary and archeological evidence, how can we ever know for sure exactly what the Buddha said 2,500 years ago?
As others have said, seems like the most important thing is dhamma study coupled with practice to see what works for each of us to reduce and ultimately remove greed, hatred and delusion. Fortunately, the Buddha shows us many paths that lead to the same goal.
Allow me to put my spin on it. We’ll never know what the Buddha actually said. I don’t think that text critical work aims at that. What we can aim at is to approximate a) what the oldest layers of the texts are b) what the meanings of the words and sentences involved are.
Not every eventuality needs to be tested - if we want to practice according to the texts. Some readings are more founded than others. The crux is that in the end the Dhamma is a verbal/literal corpus. It is essential what the Dhamma means literally. If you want to reach Mars you don’t just aim at the sky and hope for the best. You better aim as well as humanly possible so that in space you only have to navigate a little bit for correction.
The cautious thing to do, for a translator whose job is to translate (rather than be consciously or unconsciously influenced by biases and other religious agendas), is to translate the term consistently unless there is compelling reason not to.
For example, B. Sujato translates kāya correctly and consistently as “body” in the 16 APS (anapanasati), and in MN 119. If he didn’t do that, the kāya would be incoherent and inconsistent in those 2 contexts.
V&V (vitakka & vicara) is the same situation, and B. Sujato does not choose the cautious approach on this one, and causes incoherence. There are numerous explicit examples given in my detailed pali+english audit.
I’m all in favor of diversity in various samadhi training systems, and I personally encourage people to experiment with various ones, not just Buddhist methods either. But Suttacentral is purported to be an accurate translation of the EBT and pali suttas, and therefore the translation must be held accountable to EBT standards.
And Bhante Sujato needs to revise his V&V translation to follow his own excellent standard of “principle of least meaning” and “ockhams razor is usually correct.” His published writings on why he translates V&V have been refuted point by point not only by myself and others, with an abundance of explicit evidence in the pali + english audit. He doesn’t have to change his translation, but the mountain of evidence and reason against his translation demands some kind of response. At the very least, a published attempt to justify his translation and understanding of how V&V and EBT jhana works, which would involve a rebuttal and counter argument of at least the major errors pointed out in the pali+english audits.
I have nothing personal against B. Sujato. I’m targeting his translation because I anticipate it will become the most popular and widely read version of the pali suttas, largely because it’s free, complete, available in digital formats, including audio, as well as being written in a plain but eloquent, accessible style of writing.
His English translations are likely affecting how other foreign language sutta translations are being made. I shudder with horror at the thought of the damage to the Buddha’s dispensation being done when important terms are mistranslated.
The preconditions to first jhana clearly stipulate the V&V of first jhana are kusala/wholesome/skillful, not just any kind of random V&V (thinking and pondering). I’ve done a digital search and looked at every single reference to first jhana in the pali suttas. I’d estimate over 95% of them either have abandoning the 5 hindrances, or the supression of the 5 cords of sensual pleasure (which is the first of the 5 hindrances), as the sentence right before the standard first jhana formula.
And in the standard first jhana formula itself, “vivicceva kamehi” and “vivicca akusalehi” would also dictate V&V needs to be free of 5 hindrances.
I don’t get the impression from your response that you actually have a sincere intention to try out EBT jhana meditation, compare it to the sutta passage, and objectively investigate whether Ajahn Brahm’s redefinition of jhana in the EBT is justified.
If I am mistaken, I’ll be happy to point you to specific essays and clarify any points you have doubt on. I will be very busy the next 10 days though, so response may be delayed.
Do you mean this? Why vitakka doesn’t mean ‘thinking’ in jhana | Sujato’s Blog
If so can you send me the posts of your arguments? I’m interested in reading them. Thanks.
I understand. However, I am quite convinced that this translation will not effect dhamma negatively. It depends on the reader and sometimes highly knowledgeable people (I am assuming you are one) would benefit from direct translations where as people with less knowledge might understand and practice better with another. Actually as an inexperienced meditator when I first started meditating I found A. Brahm’s techniques full of freedom, easy to comprehend and not dangerous. But nothing helped me more than investigating my thoughts with open eyes and in the moment. But without the right mindfulness I wouldn’t have been able to achieve it.
Sorry about my ignorance regarding this. Conciously letting go of 5 hindrances was a hard one for me. Because of this I trusted my teacher to guide me and it really helped.
Most in this forum seem like they can totally understand suttas on their own and are highly intelligent. It’s now apparent why the meaning of suttas matter so much to such people.
You could be half right my friend as I think I am slowly understanding this dhamma business. Not much just a little.
But I would like to read about your perspective more and truly understand whether having different interpretations have a big impact. So thanks for the posts. I will let you know if I need more information. Also thank you for this discussion.
Already posted this link several times in this thread already, but once more here for good measure.
As I said earlier in this thread, there’s nothing wrong with Ajahn Brahm’s meditation in itself. The problem is he redefines important fundamental terms like “kāya”, V&V, that confuses and creates havoc with the rest of the world, meditators who follow the EBT jhana system where kāya, V&V, have simple straightforward meanings.
And with Ajahn Brahm’s massive international popularity, it definitely becomes a big problem. For example (real example), and I’m sure this happens frequently for teachers who teach a straightforward EBT jhana, one time B. Thanissaro was giving a talk and Q&A, many people in the audience were trying to clarify why B. Thanisssaro was contradicting what Ajahn Brahm said on what and how jhana works. Finally B. Thanissaro said something to the effect of, “there will be no more questions about Ajahn Brahm’s jhana.”
Ajahn Brahm redefining important jhana terms is like redefining “up” as “down”, “body” as “mind”, “forward” as “backward.” It causes massive confusion, not just for beginners and intermediate meditators, but those trying to read and understand the suttas.
Here’s an analogy. Suppose every country in the world has traffic laws where automobiles drive on the right side of the road, except for England where they drive on the left side. And for traffic lights, red light always means stop and green always means “go”. Then Ajahn Brahm comes along and says, “in the Buddha’s time they always drove on the left side of the road, even though the text look like it says drive on the right side.” And he also adds, “all the time except during jhana, red light means go” and “green light means stop.”
That wouldn’t just cause inconvenience for the rest of the world, it causes fatalities and death on a massive scale. If Dhamma becomes corrupted on important fundamental aspects of the path, it’s far worse than death of a single life. Samsara is a long journey.
There are plenty of ways Ajahn Brahm could teach his meditation method to be in accordance with EBT, in a way that doesn’t have to redefine basic terms, and doesn’t seriously screw up the rest of the world.
If you were to get 1000 non buddhist objective, intelligent translators with integrity, and their job was to translate the EBT texts without bias, I’d bet the farm not a single one would translate the EBT texts on jhana related material anything close to how Ajahn Brahm did. Ajahn Brahm got away with it (so far) because Vism. did the same thing, but they had to invoke the authority of late Abhidhamma texts having primacy over EBT. Ajahn Brahm and B. Sujato do not follow late Abhdhamma, they follow EBT, so they need to translate accordingly.
Well if I were you I would have a discussion with Ajahn Brahm and let him know about the confusion. Maybe you have already , if so I am sorry that you didn’t get an expected response.
Since my experience is quite positive and I haven’t met people who got confused over EBT and Ajahn’s definitions I guess I don’t have the same sense of urgency as you to clarify this.
On a different note can you or someone please post links to suttas where Buddha taught jhanas to lay people? This is for my reference and not to start another discussion.
With Prince Bodhi MN85 may be of interest.
(I searched for “lay absorption” with SuttaCentral Voice)
Translation uninformed by actual practice would have its own problems. It would be like 1000 non-bicycle riders writing a manual on how to ride a bicycle. That said, I agree that the labor of translating the EBTs without idiosyncracies is quite important and will likely involve very many translations over a long time. SuttaCentral itself supports such translation endeavors.
However, compared with 2500 years of Pali, modern translations are still very very young and changing with each translator in multiple languages. It will be a while before we eliminate translation idiosyncracies. Indeed, I suspect that a core value of any contemporary translation will be to guide people right back to the Pali EBTs. And that is why I recite “Nandī dukkhassa mūlan’ti” in my head instead of Bhante Sujato or Bhikkhu Bodhi or Thanissaro Bhikkhu, who all disagree with each other somewhat on MN1. They all brought me to the Pali and for that I am immensely grateful. Without them I would still be splashing and drowning in the sea of Nandī. Contemporary translations take us to the raft.
I’m not following A.Brahm but was early on conditioned by Nyanatiloka, Nyanaponika, and in a way by their successor B.Bhodhi. And yes, it took some years to get that confusion away. For those who don’t know the first two, they were influential editors, early propagators and translators to Europe and the West and were both strongly influenced by Abhidhamma interpretations of the Dhamma.
But if the source material is accurate, it’s very possible the resulting translation by those 1000 non bicycle riders into the target language is just as effective of teaching how to ride the as one done by 1000 bicycle riders.
in fact, I definitely could teach people how to do first jhana EBT using the translations of translators who can’t do jhana but translated V&V correctly. I would have difficulty teaching someone how to do first jhana using B. Sujato’s translation. We could actually do an experiment to prove that, but it would be inhumane.
What you’re saying is true, but for the specific instance of V&V, an unbiased translator would translate the EBT V&V the same inside jhana as outside jhana. There is nothing in the EBT that redefines V&V when it switches into jhana.
The issue is translating EBT with integrity. Vism. redefines V&V and jhana. But Vism. is not EBT. Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahm follow the EBT, not the Vism., so they have no justification whatsoever to translate V&V differently in first jhana than elsewhere.
V&V can be gross when in day to day ‘consciousness’ and very subtle in the first jhana.
You can also look at it in a more compassionate way. Ajahn Brahm’s followers come from all walks of life. Just imagine all of them followed EBT direct translation of VV and falsely thought they had jhanas while perceiving senses, how would that reflect on EBT?
Anyway I read the reasons behind this translations by Ajahn Brahmali and Ajahn Sujato and they makes sense. But I am not a scholar so I can’t dig deep into pali and look for errors in their judgement and also I don’t see a point.
Judging from your early posts, this translation has been an issue for you for a couple of years. I am sorry if it had hindered your practise. I think it’s about time to let it rest if the expected changes are not happening. This dhamma text may need protection by preserving in its “original” condition but saddhamma needs no protection. It will go on as it is supposed to. People with little dust in their eyes will see it even if it’s etched on a complicated rubik’s cube .
I don’t think the Dhamma needs protection either. It’s people that need protection. But what is the ‘abstract’ Dhamma without words? How do you know what Dhamma is if you don’t dig into the Pali? Certainly not by cosmic transmission. It’s through words.
For most people the only Dhamma they know is the Dhamma of translators. They completely depend on the interpretations of translators and only based on that can form their own understanding.
Different words = different practice. Many meditation methods ‘work’, including Abhidhammic, Tibetan, Zen, Christin etc. But if we’re dedicated to EBT then we’re dedicated to excavate what the texts say about the oldest available Buddhist practices. While Buddhist practice is a lot about ‘letting go’ - this thing (accuracy of understanding) we surely should not let go
I agree… This is why one needs a kalyanamitta for guidance.