Translating and commenting on EBT, and dictionaries for posterity

This important insight occurred to me I wanted to share.

For EBT translations, writings, newly written commentaries, and dictionaries to be useful for as long as possible, I think it best to use as simple language as possible, explain in several slightly redundant ways (which seems redundant but serves a strategic purpose), and use as many similes as possible that are timeless basic elements of human experience.

For example, we often consult the Abhidhamma vibhanga for their explanation on a specific term, but much of the explanation is just a list of word synonyms, which isn’t so helpful because you doubt the synonym definitions (translation of them) as well. A good simile, some good descriptive examples, goes a long way, and may be the only way future generations feel certain they understand a translation.

A second problem I see too often, is people try to write well. Those elements that are considered “good, proper, elegant” are a detriment to dictionary definitions and commentary, because they’re too specific to present time, fads that will change, idioms and words that will shift in meaning over the decades, specific meanings that don’t apply globally, etc.

An obvious example would be scholars, academics, and just generally very intelligent people throwing around fifty cent words, technical terms with very specific meaning. Yes, the other scholars will appreciate that, but writing for posterity, future generations won’t be able to understand.

So my suggestion is,
Really dumb down the language, don’t worry about being concise, elegant, fluent. Think in terms of survival of Dhamma. Like you’re teaching the EBT to 5 year olds. Because future generations reading your archaic writings will feel like 5 years olds. You’d have to explain it many times, in many slightly ways, and give examples they can understand.

Write for posterity, not for your English teacher.

edit: I’m not criticizing all the great writers and translators out there! I appreciate great art, great writing like anyone else. I’m just saying that we should be good stewards of Dhamma and also have translations and dictionaries that will stand the test of time.

Uh, this is exactly what Bhikkhu Sujato has done with the new translations.; in the words of the common folk.

PS - I checked out your audio Tipiṭaka site for the first time yesterday, I really like the idea! Just curious why you don’t link to SuttaCentral or Bhante Sujato’s translations?

Bhante is a visionary, and he definitely has thought long and hard about keeping EBT alive. I am often amazed by what he and the suttacentral team have come up with, and have obviously thought through to get to this point.

The problem with translations, everyone’s translations, is they all end up making sacrifices. There’s no way to make perfect translations, you have to make tough choices prioritized according to what your main mission is. Bhante Sujato’s mission was aimed towards drawing in a certain audience. From what I have seen of the draft translations so far, he is doing a great job in accomplishing his mission.

But since every translator may have a different mission, certain translation choices are going to succeed to different degrees when readers with different missions consume them.

So I’m not criticizing any translator in general here, I’m just saying I believe we can all still do a much better job in making sure our translations, commentary, dictionary definitions don’t look like lawyer speak, an academic work, or shakespeare. Styles that have too many location and time dependent words future generations will be totally confused about.

When I start giving specific examples (some other time), it will be more clear what I mean.

For example, "dhamma"

in the wider sense of "phenomena", not "the Buddha's liberative teaching". A 5 year old won't know what "phenomena" is, but he does know "things".

I’m just using the example of “dhamma” to illustrate the thought process of thinking about posterity and future EBT survival, not proposing what the actual best translation is.

Whatever translation someone picks for “dhamma”, it’s going to be a problem reading it from a different perspective and goal.

But in the commentary and dictionary entry for “dhamma”, that’s where I think we can really be kind to future generations and apply what I suggested in the OP. There, we can use simpler language, be (seemingly) redundant in giving many slightly different ways of saying the same idea, using similes and many examples. And not worrying about the rules of good writing, such as being concise, elegant, etc, and instead, really focus on making sure the meaning of “dhamma” doesn’t get lost to future generations.

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All the suttas on audtip.org uses SC sutta numbering. Anyone can go directly to the sutta on SC with “suttacentral.net/AN5.4” for example. Audtip.org is almost all hand coded super simple html, no need to do that extra work to provide a clickable link to SC.

I have just finished to hear you recite SN 36.6 (SA 470 - perfect parallel on that particular matter), which gives the definition of the two types of feeling: bodily & mental.

Nice voice. :+1:t2:

Not sure what you mean here, could you elaborate? My understanding was the translations were for the broadest possible audience.

Looks like it’s made on the “Google Sites” platform, not “hand-coded”, unless I’m missing something?

You have already taken the time to link to AccessToInsight for every single sutta though. Personally, I think SC is just better in many ways, your opinion may differ.

SC isn’t even listed here:
http://wiki.audtip.org/wiki/copyrights-and-licensing/what-s-ok-to-read

The whole site reads as if SuttaCentral doesn’t even exist, given how active you are here it just makes me curious.

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I do.

I think frankk is doing a swell job. And goggle sites let you code htm on the side.

What do you have in “your” stock SCMatt ?

ok, why don’t you explain then?

Ok, either way, it’s a poor excuse as there already are tons of links to ATI at every corner.

What does this mean?

I’m really not getting clear answers from either of you.

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… you know SC and SC D&D are entirely separate, and that D&D participants are not all translators or academic scholars, right? …perhaps one might think it should be?

Statements in this thread which i too do not understand:

“There’s no way to make perfect translations, you have to make tough choices prioritized according to what your main mission is. Bhante Sujato’s mission was aimed towards drawing in a certain audience. From what I have seen of the draft translations so far, he is doing a great job in accomplishing his mission.”

“Think in terms of survival of Dhamma. Like you’re teaching the EBT to 5 year olds. Because future generations reading your archaic writings will feel like 5 years olds. You’d have to explain it many times, in many slightly ways, and give examples they can understand.” {Sounds like a request for commentary, not a translation…}

“Write for posterity, not for your English teacher.” { Again, not sure if you are suggesting study resources or commentary rather than a translation… }

“… we should be good stewards of Dhamma and also have translations and dictionaries that will stand the test of time.”

"I’m just saying I believe we can all still do a much better job in making sure our translations, commentary, dictionary definitions don’t look like lawyer speak, an academic work, or shakespeare. Styles that have too many location and time dependent words future generations will be totally confused about. ". { … what are you expecting for future generations? Some intervening cultural apocalypse? Perhaps you can clarify “we”…?}

There’s a lot of sentences in the thread so far, which are somewhat puzzling, perhaps they need elaboration, or are partly feedback, partly from thesis already stated more fully elsewhere, or still germinating? It’s almost as if OP or parts of thread is in code; are these requests, critique, …?

i am not a translator, but i am enjoying the variety of translations of the EBT suttas on SuttaCentral.net very much. Grateful to all those who have preserved and made/make/will make the Triple Gem accessible. May all beings benefit!

Yes, still germinating. I’ll point out some specific examples as they arise.

Do I owe you something? It feels like you have me on trial, demanding answers, accusing me of things. Why the antagonistic tone?

The audtip.org project is run by volunteers. If you want to volunteer, you’re more than welcome to add suttacentral links to your heart’s content. In the current incarnation of the MN audio (the whole english collection: audtip MN), and DN, the most recent stuff I added, I don’t hyperlink to any sutta text at all.

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Thanks for your reply Frank. No trial, you’re free not to answer any of the questions, I just find it odd thus the curiosity.

On a more constructive note, why don’t you put an embeddable audio player on the site instead of only downloads?

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Here’s an example of what I mean about being kind to future generations. If I wanted to look up niivarana or aavarana in the dictionary, “5 hindrances” and read some commentary on its basic definitions, this is what I would like to see.

No roman numerals in sutta references, hyphens in the pali words so I know how to break down the compounds, and detailed sutta references that are easy to look up and check the context to verify whether the commentary makes sense or not.

Of course fluency and good writing principles are necessary in the translations themselves, but in the dictionary, and commentaries, and an XRAY edition of the translation would be enormously helpful, where the rules of good writing are ignored when they hinder the main objective of conveying meaning that a child or simpleton can easily understand generations from now.

So if I were making a dictionary and commentary for “5 hindrances”, I would want to first of all see the words of the Buddha, and copious and comprehensive references of its usage in the EBT. And in the commentary, I would use redundancy, lots of examples and similes.

STED 5niv clearance before 4j, in 14 suttas

appears in 14 suttas
AN 4.198, 5.75, 9.40, 10.99
DN 2, 10, 25
MN 27 38 39 51 94 101 107

(physical seclusion & posture)

so arañña-gato vā
“He, {Having gone to the}-forest, or
Rukkha-mūla-gato vā
{Having gone to the}-tree-root, or
Suññ-āgāra-gato vā
{Having gone to the}-empty-hut,
nisīdati
(he) sits down,
pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā
Cross-leg-seated-posture (he) bends (into),
ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya
straightening (of his) body (he) aspires (to),
Pari-mukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā.
(in) front (of him), rememberfulness (having been) established.

(1. Lust suppressed)

♦ “so abhijjhaṃ loke pahāya
he, longing (for the) world abandoned
Vigat-ābhijjhena cetasā viharati,
free-(from)-longing (his) mind dwells,
abhijjhāya cittaṃ parisodheti.
(from) longing (his) mind (is) purified.

(2. Ill will suppressed)

byāpāda-pa-dosaṃ pahāya
ill-will-(and)-hatred (having been) abandoned,
a-byāpanna-citto viharati
without-ill-will-(his)-mind dwells,
Sabba-pāṇa-bhūt-ahit-ānukampī,
all-living-beings-(their)-welfare-(he has)-compassion (for),
Byāpāda-pa-dosā cittaṃ parisodheti.
(from) ill-will-and-hatred (his) mind (he) purifies.

(3. sloth-&-torpor suppressed)

thina-middhaṃ pahāya
dullness and drowsiness, (having been) abandoned
vigata-thina-middho viharati
free-(from)-dullness and drowsiness (he) dwells,
āloka-saññī
luminosity-(his is)-percipient (of),
sato sampajāno,
rememberful (and) clearly comprehending;
thina-middhā cittaṃ parisodheti.
dullness and drowsiness (his) mind (he) purifies.

(4. Restlessness-&-remorse suppressed)

uddhacca-kukkuccaṃ pahāya
restlessness and remorse (having been) abandoned,
An-uddhato viharati
Without-agitation (he) dwells.
ajjhattaṃ vūpasanta-citto,
inwardly calmed-mind;
uddhacca-kukkuccā cittaṃ parisodheti.
(from) restlessness and remorse (his) mind (he) purifies.

(5. Skeptical doubt suppressed)

vici-kicchaṃ pahāya
doubt (having been) abandoned,
tiṇṇa-vicikiccho viharati
Gone-beyond-doubt (he) dwells,
A-kathaṃkathī kusalesu dhammesu,
un-perplexed (about) wholesome Dhamma [teachings];
vicikicchāya cittaṃ parisodheti.
(from) doubt (his) mind (he) purifies.

(we’re clear for take off into 4 jhānas)

♦ “so ime pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya
“He, (with) these five hindrances (having been) abandoned,
cetaso upakkilese
mental defilements, [which led to]
paññāya dubbalī-karaṇe,
wisdom {actively}-weakened

compare to PTS dictionary entry

Nīvaraṇa (nt. occasionally m.) [Sk. *nivāraṇa, nis+ varaṇa of vṛ; (vṛṇoti), see nibbuta & cp. nivāraṇa] an obstacle, hindrance, only as tt. applied to obstacles in an ethical sense & usually enum;d or referred to in a set of 5 (as pañca nīvaraṇāni and p. āvaraṇāni), viz. kāmacchanda, (abhijjhā – )vyāpāda, thīna – middha, uddhaccakukkucca vicikicchā i. e. sensuality, ill – will, torpor of mind or body, worry, wavering (cp. Dhs. trsl. p. 310) D i.73 (˚e, acc. pl.), 246; ii.83, 300; iii.49 sq., 101, 234 278; S ii.23; iii.149; v.60, 84 sq., 93 sq., 145, 160, 226 327, 439; M i.60, 144, 276; iii.4, 295; A i.3, 161 iii.16, 63, 230 sq.; 386; iv.457; v.16, 195, 322; Sn 17 Nd1 13; Nd2 379; Ps i.31, 129, 163; Pug 68; Dhs 1059 1136, 1495; Vbh 199, 244, 378; Nett 11, 13, 94; Vism 146, 189; DA i.213; Sdhp 459, 493 and passim. <-> Other enumns are occasionally found e. g. 10 at S v.110 8 at M i.360 sq.; 6 at Dhs 1152.

Back in the old days with printing presses, each page costs money, so there was a practical need to be succinct and format text in a way to save pages and money.

With digital editions of scripture, there’s no reason not to format in a way to make it easy to see the structure of the sutta, and make it easy to read and memorize. Suttas are not prose, I don’t know why so many people format their translations like it is. If there’s 16 steps in 16 APS (anapanasati), I’d like to be able to look up any of the 16 steps quickly and easily, not dig through a maze of prose, sometimes without the 16 steps numbered.

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