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The verses on One Fine Night

One of the most powerful and popular sets of verses on practice are those taught in a series of texts on One Fine Night (MN 131. MN 132, MN 133, MN 134 and their various parallels). As usual, while the overall sense of the verses is clear, there are a number of textual problems when you get down to details.

Now, normally this is where I point out the problems, show what previous translators have done, and explain if I have taken a different tack. But how about we do something different?

Here’s the verses. Compare it to previous translations (unfortunately, Ven Bodhi’s version is locked under copyright), then tell me, why have I done it this way? And is there anything I could do better?

Atītaṃ nānvāgameyya,
Don’t run back to the past,
nappaṭikaṅkhe anāgataṃ;
don’t hope for the future.

Yadatītaṃ pahīnaṃ taṃ,
What’s past is left behind;
appattañca anāgataṃ.
the future’s not arrived;
Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ,
and phenomena in the present
Tattha tattha vipassati;
are clearly seen in every case.

Asaṃhīraṃ asaṃkuppaṃ,
Knowing this, foster it—
Taṃ vidvā manubrūhaye.
immovable, unshakable.

Ajjeva kiccamātappaṃ,
Today’s the day to do the work—
ko jaññā maraṇaṃ suve;
who knows, tomorrow may bring death!
Na hi no saṅgaraṃ tena,
For there is no bargain to be struck
mahāsenena maccunā.
with Death and his mighty hordes.

Evaṃvihāriṃ ātāpiṃ,
The peaceful sage explained it’s those
ahorattamatanditaṃ;
who keenly meditate like this,
Taṃ ve bhaddekarattoti,
not slacking off by night or day,
santo ācikkhate muni.
who truly have that one fine night.

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That sent a shiver up my spine!

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is ātappaṃ the same as ardency (ātāpi )?
For consistency, I think it would be good to use the same translation as you do for ātāpi. “Doing” work seems a little understated, whereas “ardency” or “diligence” has a little more emphasis.

Unless you’re going for kind of a humorous angle intentionally understating it, since the next line, “I might die tomorrow” makes the point clear.

edit (addition):
Were you trying to match syllable counts on the meter? I didn’t pay attention to that, I was just assuming you were going for pure ease of comprehension. As a general rule, do you ever try to match syllable counts on verses from any suttas?

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Compared to B. Bodhi/B. Ñāṇamoli and B. Ñanananda’s translations what sticks out the most to me in your translation is that you use direct call to action:

quite similar to B. Thanissaro’s and Sister Uppavalanna’s translations.

And now I have some questions to that :wink:
Where does it come from?

Isn’t the Pali here optative?
nānvāgameyya -> na anvāgameyya
anvāgameyya opt. of anvāgameti
anvāgameti caus. of anu + āgacchati

nappaṭikaṅkhe -> na paṭikaṅkhe
paṭikaṅkhe opt. of paṭikaṅkhati

something like

  • I’m not sure if ‘might not’ doesn’t sound more like prohibition? It’s hard to translate from one non-native language to another non-native one. :wink: What I intend here is that not longing for past / future is optional for the one to whom this is said, he might choose to not long for it.
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Yes, that is how I felt too.
I have read this Sutta many times and I did not feel that I learned anything new.
However, I think your translation is more flowing and simple to understand.
Perhaps, advanced practitioners may find even deeper meaning in this verse.
:anjal:

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Thanks everyone for your good points!

Indeed it is.[quote=“frankk, post:3, topic:5257”]
it would be good to use the same translation as you do for ātāpi
[/quote]

Usually I use “keen”. But i couldn’t get it to work well here. I try to keep the terminology consistent even in verse, but it is not always possible; and even in the Pali, normally so very consistent in such matters, we find substitutions of terms in verse contexts.

But yes, it would be good to be consistent here, I’ll see if anything comes up.[quote=“frankk, post:3, topic:5257”]
“I might die tomorrow” makes the point clear.
[/quote]

Maybe, yes.[quote=“frankk, post:3, topic:5257”]
Were you trying to match syllable counts on the meter?
[/quote]

Not trying to match the Pali metre, but I was trying to make if flow smoothly. Normally I don’t worry too much about metre in verse, but in a few cases like this, I can’t help myself![quote=“tuvok, post:4, topic:5257”]
you use direct call to action
[/quote]

Yes, this is a common problem in Pali translation. Pali often has sentences with no subject; the subject is inferred from the verb. In translation, we have to supply a subject, and this is often done by adding “one”. The problem is that while “one” is linguistically neutral, it is decidedly not neutral in colloquial usage: it carries a strong connotation of a formal, aloof, distant voice. Miriam-Webster makes a great point about this (emphasis mine):

Sense 2a is usually a sign of a formal style. A formal style excludes the participation of the reader or hearer; thus one is used where a less formal style might address the reader directly. ⟨for the consequences of such choices, one has only oneself to thank — Walker Gibson⟩ This generic one has never been common in informal use in either British or American English, and people who start sentences with one often shift to another pronoun more natural to casual discourse. ⟨when one is learning the river, he is not allowed to do or think about anything else — Mark Twain⟩

I use a number of strategies to avoid this as much as possible.

The optative carries a range of senses from “might” to “would” to “should”, maybe even “must”. In this case, it is clearly an injunction. I phrase it as a native English speaker might if conveying the same message to an audience. Another approach would be to use the generic “you”:

You shouldn’t run back to the past …

Or:

You mustn’t run back to the past …

But I prefer the more brief and to-the-point phrasing.


Okay, so no-one has anything to say about the way it’s broken into verses?

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Alternate translation, I used to chant.

Atītaṃ nānvāgameyya,
Don’t run back to the past,

One ought not to long for what has passed away,

nappaṭikaṅkhe anāgataṃ;
don’t hope for the future.

Nor be anxious over things which are yet to come.

Yadatītaṃ pahīnaṃ taṃ,
What’s past is left behind;

The past has left us,

appattañca anāgataṃ.
the future’s not arrived;

the future has not arrived.

Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ,
and phenomena in the present

Whoever sees the present dhammas

Tattha tattha vipassati;
are clearly seen in every case.

direct and clear just as they are,

Taṃ vidvā manubrūhaye.
immovable, unshakable.

Is unshakeable, immovable, secure.

Asaṃhīraṃ asaṃkuppaṃ,
Knowing this, foster it—

One should accumulate such moments

Ajjeva kiccamātappaṃ,
Today’s the day to do the work—

Effort is the duty of today,

ko jaññā maraṇaṃ suve;
who knows, tomorrow may bring death!

even tomorrow death may come,

Na hi no saṅgaraṃ tena,
For there is no bargain to be struck
mahāsenena maccunā.
with Death and his mighty hordes.

We are powerless to fend off Death and his great armies.

Evaṃvihāriṃ ātāpiṃ,
The peaceful sage explained it’s those
ahorattamatanditaṃ;
who keenly meditate like this,

The Sages of Peace speak of that one who strives

Taṃ ve bhaddekarattoti,
not slacking off by night or day,

Never lazy throughout the entire day and night:

santo ācikkhate muni.
who truly have that one fine night.

“Praise the one who truly lives for even a single night.”

:seedling:

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@sujato
Well, I don’t know if this is what you have in mind with the question but here’s what I noticed right away and appreciate about the way it’s broken into verses:

  1. the fact that it is–makes it more readable, and to me, more powerful

  2. 1st and 3rd vereses are explicit about what to do, 2nd and 4th, repectively explain the reason why, the 5th is the result for those “who keenly meditate like this” (i.e. of following these instructions)

Translation is very clear, vivid and direct, adds to it’s power

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Can you explain your question? Like Linda, I’m not sure what aspect of it you’re referring to. Do you mean how the english and pali don’t correspond line by line, but might be 2 or 3 lines off from shuffling the order of the paragraph?

[quote=sujato]Okay, so no-one has anything to say about the way it’s broken into verses?[/quote]I am also wondering what you meant to ask here, were you looking for general feedback on the verses themselves, as in formatting feedback? Is how you have broken up the next into strophes significantly different from what is common?

The strophes reads “naturally” for what is “poemish prose”, which is what happens when poetry gets translated generally, your English rendering also doesn’t seem too “high minded” or difficult to read given this, even if someone was unused to reading ancient literature in prose style, I don’t think they would have any significant difficulties.


Something that stands out, to me at least, is how your rendering seems to avoid artificially “adding pathos”. If I can explain my usage of that, I find myself doing this quite frequently and really only noticing it afterward, and, given past preference for “King James” style translations of Buddhavacana (old Mahāyāna translations in English are especially prone to this, I find), I suspect that this is a common trap for most translators, even when they are aware of it.

I am an amateur translator, of course, engaged in translation for my own hobby and for learning purposes, and thus I cannot really compare directly, but once I found myself writing “placid occultation” for what was clearly supposed to be “calm and hidden”, if that better communicates what I meant by the trap of “adding pathos”, which has been neatly sidestepped here, and this I suspect is a text where that trap is especially well camouflaged.

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:clap: Excellent Bhanthe!

The original Pali had 4 verses in each paragraph. You have arranged it so that the verses are grouped according to meaning so that each paragraph finishes commenting on its particular topic.

With metta

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Thanks once more, I see I have satisfactorily confused everyone! Putting into practice the Buddha’s strategy of making some enigmatic remarks and then disappearing. :smile:

Many of your remarks were very kind, and you’ve rightly pointed out many of the features I was aiming at in the translation. But let’s have a slightly closer look at the verses.

Now, as a bit of background, Pali verse is typically organized in terms of four-line stanzas. This is an extremely common form. So much so, in fact, that it sometimes gets imposed as a default in cases where it is not strictly warranted.

Consider how recitation is done. When you’re chanting verses, you don’t necessarily indicate the end of a four-line section. Maybe you’ll pause or emphasize it, but it is not really definitive. In some cases, of course, the break point is clear, for example some verses will contain a “refrain” in the final line that definitely indicates the end of the verse. But in many cases it’s somewhat arbitrary. And while the four-line stanza is the most common unit, we also fairly commonly find verse copied or repeated in different places as a group of two, or even one line. So the “unity” of the four-line stanza is fluid, and may be imposed inappropriately.

Now, to return to our verses, if you check Ven Bodhi’s translation, you’ll see that he, like most translators, implicitly accept the division into sets of four-line stanzas. In addition, check out his notes on these verses. The nature of the text is such that it attracted a deal of attention from the commentaries, which read them according to their own ideas, not all of which are justifiable. Ven Bodhi rightly rejects some of their readings, but I am not sure he goes far enough.

If you look at the first two verses, I’ve divided the first couple of lines off. Now, see the way these lines, with their invocation of “past” and “future”, echo the next couple of lines? This lends a unity to these lines, and gives the impression that they belong together. But here’s the catch: such similarities can just as easily be a reason for stitching lines together. That is to say, the similarity might be a sign of them belonging together, or it might be a cause for them belonging together. Tricky, right?

But check line number five:

Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ

The key here, I think, is the little ca. This means “and”, and it is an enclitic, i.e. it is usually used after each item in a list (like a comma). Now, this is not completely consistent, especially in verse, where the constraints of meter often dictate that a ca will be lost. I’m not aware, however, of cases where a ca is superfluously added just to make up the meter: there are other particles for that.

So the ca co-ordinates with other items in a list, and here that is defined in the previous line:

appattañca anāgataṃ

This suggests that these two items, and by inference the previous line, form a unit. The first two and last two lines are less strongly connected. This might be a sign that they were added later, but I wouldn’t think so. More likely, it seems to me, is that the verses were simply construed in this way. There’s no reason to think that the Buddha was incapable of playing with literary forms! So regardless of whether we think these lines in literary historical terms belong in the same stanza, they clearly form a semantic unit, which is why I translate them together.

This doesn’t necessarily change the reading of the text, but it does shift it slightly. In my reading, the line “having known this, foster it” clearly applies to the whole of the preceding verse. That is, the process of insight involves understanding, by inference, the present in its context. Past, future, and present are all, by either inference or direct observation, part of the scope of insight.

However, if we take this line to belong only with the “present” couplet, it appears that “having known this, foster it” applies only to observation of present phenomena. Or at least, that’s how I understood the translation before going into the Pali. This suggests that giving up past and future is merely a precursor, and that the fostering of insight is solely grounded on observation of present phenomena.

While this is not definitive, it does agree with the long-term trend in the Theravadin abhidhamma tradition, which strongly emphasized the reality of the present moment. This emphasis, of course, when applied to meditation led directly to the modern vipassana movement.

So there you go, that’s why I divided the verses up like this, and how it relates to the development of Theravada doctrine and meditation!

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True. Other places that mention seeing arising and passing away doesn’t explicitly mention the present moment, but the idea is implicit in them.

I wonder what your idea of the term vipassati is? I noticed you use ‘clearly seeing’. Others have rendered it as seeing with discernment.

with metta

Actually, usually I use “discernment”. Here, clear seeing seemed to fit better.

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Hi Bhante, this thread is from a few years ago, but I used your translation in a teaching today, and got stumped by word choice. See the bolded text:

“Instead within insight let him see / each presently arisen state/ Let him know that and be sure of it, / Invincibly, unshakeably” is the translation given by both Bhante G and Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi, and fits there nicely.

Contrary to your translation’s assertion that present phenomena are clearly seen in every case, they’re not seen clearly in any case by regular people, let alone every case. Delusional self-referencing prevents that. [Edit: Please explain.]

Also I would have placed the 1st 4 lines about past & future together, and connected the line about the present with the advice to foster it.

About “fostering”, what exactly is to be fostered? The advice is clear in other translations but seems to be missing something here.

Thanks!!

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By the way, I used your translation anyway because the very direct commands of “Don’t”, instead of “Let one not”, go straight to the heart.

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Greetings Ayya :slight_smile:

Thanks for drawing attention to this thread. It’s so nice to have an opportunity to see something that one didn’t see previously :slight_smile:

I wonder if Bhante Sujatos supplementary explanation above doesn’t address your question

With much metta :slightly_smiling_face: :sunflower:

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Hi Viveka, thanks. I was patiently writing a reply that Bhante’s comment posted a few years ago clarified only that he had divvied up the stanzas that way deliberately (the “ca” indicating to him that they belong that way), without explaining the new meaning. It slowly dawned on me you’re right, he did indeed explain the new meaning - I’m just resisting because I don’t agree with his reasoning. Lol.

(Still, he didn’t address my perplexity about present phenomena described as being seen in every case, and what, logically, is fostered about the present if it’s already seen in every case.)

I believe Bhante has advised that in translating, simpler is more likely to be accurate than complex (hope I’m not making that up). The more straightforward reading and usual breakdown of stanzas would be

  • 1st 2 lines of 8(ish) syllables each: advice to abandon past & future; next 2 lines of 8 syllables: reasons to do so;

  • 3rd 2 lines of 8 syllables: advice/ description re the present; next 2 lines of 8 syllables: further advice re present.

He’s hung too much weight upon the ca, I think.

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This brought to mind the counterpoint of “rage, rage against the dying of the light”. The had wavying “it” drifts a bit aimlessly. Perhaps one might simply say…“engage” as Picard said.

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I’m not sure that I fully understand your question, but perhaps it has to do with the reading of the repeated pronoun tattha tattha. In Pali, such repetition is quite common, and it can have a number of senses. However, a prominent is the distributive sense: if tattha is “where”, then tattha tattha is “wherever”. As it is the locative case, I take it in the sense of “in every case”.

This is quite a common idiom, and I tend to read it as having a stronger distributive sense than does Ven Bodhi. Some examples.

an3.26:3.5

Iti aparipūraṁ vā sīlakkhandhaṁ paripūressāmi, paripūraṁ vā sīlakkhandhaṁ tattha tattha paññāya anuggahessāmi
Thinking, ‘I’ll fulfill the entire spectrum of ethical conduct I haven’t yet fulfilled, or support with wisdom in every situation the ethical conduct I’ve already fulfilled.

Ven Bodhi has “in various respects” here, but I think that is too weak.

iti109:

Sammappajāno suvimuttacitto, Vimuttiyā phassaye tattha tattha;
With deep understanding and heart well-freed, they’d experience universal liberation.

Here I render “universal”, surely it cannot mean “in various cases”.

sn1.26:

Divā tapati ādicco, rattimābhāti candimā.
The sun blazes by day, the moon glows at night,
Atha aggi divārattiṁ, tattha tattha pakāsati;
while a fire lights up both by day and by night.

Here it obviously must have a distributive sense.

See also SN 17.8, Thag 1.1, Thag 2.32.

Again, these kinds of idioms have various senses, so it is not always 100% clear which applies in a particular case.

Another issue here is the verb tense. It is vipassati, i.e. first person present indicative. yet the Bodhi/Nyanamoli translation has “let him see”, which implies an optative.

I’m not sure that there is a grammatical justification for this, however it is worth bearing in mind that in MN, Ven Bodhi was inclined to accept Nyanamoli’s poetic renderings more so than his prose, and for good reason: Nyanamoli remains the best translator of Pali verse. However, he achieved his beauty of phrasing through relaxing the consistency and precision of the rendering. In other words, I suspect that the phrasing “let him see” is simply there to sound nice. The commentary doesn’t gloss the term, implying it was meant in the ordinary sense.

The optative sense is conveyed in the following verse. That is to say, the form of the advice is: “This is the practice (indicative). When you understand that, do it! (optative)”. The Bodhi translation reads the former as if it were also optative, whereas I keep the tenses more literal. Again, it’s not a matter of right or wrong. I just felt that in this instance, the very specific form of these verses was better conveyed by adhering more closely to the linguistic form.

As for “foster”, it simply means to “develop, cultivate, grow” (the practice previously described). The verb in Pali is an unusual poetic form (anubrūhaye).

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