The Dhamma in Language!

Some of those who are unfamiliar with the linguistic situation in the time and place of Buddha’s rising, fail to attribute the multiplicity of expressions, appellations, and terms which describe more or less the exact same idea, across the Pali texts - to the fact that so many languages and even several varieties of the same language existed and coexisted then and there in the sphere of Buddha’s activity. An expression which may effectively convey an idea or phenomenon which the Buddha or his disciples were teaching in one locality, may fail completely to convey the same idea in another locality which may be even adjacent to it! An expression which may effectively convey an idea in one time, may fail completely to convey the same idea in another time which may be even close to it! An expression which may effectively convey an idea in one situation, may fail completely to convey the same idea in another situation which may be even similar to it! And so forth!

Though there is in the Dhamma to which the Buddha had awakened an incredibly unbreakable intrinsic logic and consistency (dhamma­su­dhamma­ta), the Buddha was not constructing an edifice of abstract philosophical thought; but any reader of suttas will immediately discern what kind of teacher, and proclaimer of truth, the Buddha was. He attends to the person(s) and situation(s) at hand, and responds with owe-inspiring intuitive fitness and malleability to each according to its unique needs; seeking the benefit of listeners, seeking to be convincing, seeking to arouse admiration, inspiration, and faith in them, and in the best possible way which will work out for them – he speaks that which is appealing, inviting, and intriguing to their ears, to their unique ears, rather than give a standard answer with a standard language.

It means that this is what the Buddha believed to be the best way to learn the Dhamma too! That is to say, I believe that the Buddha would want us to understand and teach Dhamma with the same intuitive fitness and malleability he once clearly employed; and that he would not want us to relate to his recorded teachings in such a way as to endeavour to hammer home every expression and term we find in Pali as if it retained some extra-specific hidden meaning that is now lost and that we can uncover only through the exercise of rational tricks! The text itself describes Dhamma as something that is “self-evident” (sanditthika) and “experienceable” (vedita) right here and right now; but to whom is it so?


Very good points, venerable. When we deal in translations, people think of putting ideas in different languages. But we’re also translating contexts and media, and these have a no less powerful impact on how a message is received.

We might, for example, think that samādhi is inadequately translated as “concentration”. Fair enough. So we can leave samādhi in our translation, and we know what it means. We think this is a more accurate and authentic representation of this idea. But, no matter how good our translation is, we’re still reading it on the internet!

Now imagine you’re sitting in a forest monastery, surrounded by quiet and devoted practitioners, on a clear moonlit night, in the still of the jungle. In deep peace, following a day of of quiet meditation, you have gathered to hear a talk on Dhamma. A teacher speaks, in English—and says “concentration”!

Which is a more “authentic” experience?


Thank you for your teachings _/_
It’s understood.

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Sadhu sadhu sadhu

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