Translating "evaṁbhūto"

Let me just compare among translations of one sutta where this phrase occurs: Venāgapura Sutta (AN3.63).

  • Bhikkhu Bodhi: when I am in such a state (SuttaCentral)
  • Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu: having become like this (Aṅguttara 3:64)
  • Sujato Bhikkhu: when I’m practicing like this (AN3.63)

Literally, evaṁbhūto is “thus become”. So, of the above, the second is most literal. Another way to translate it to English literally (without sounding un-English) is having become thus.


It’s curious that such a generic-sounding phrase is, so far as I know, only used in this specific context. Given that it follows jhana, perhaps we should read it alongside such phrases as cakkhubhūto ñāṇabhūto dhammabhūto brahmabhūto.

Less literal but perhaps more comprehensible: “after attaining such a state”.


Do cakkhubhūto ñāṇabhūto dhammabhūto brahmabhūto convey the sense of “after”?

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Well, ‘bhūto’ is a past participle, so there is sense of referring to the past built into the word.
‘Has become’ vs. ‘is’. So the present would be after the event.

Regarding the interesting passage in MN 18, Madhupindika Sutta, ‘he is’… ‘having become vision, knowledge’ etc sounds strange, so probably ‘he is knowledge’ etc sounds a bit better.

It certainly seems awkward when trying to render into idiomatic English.
I see Horner has, “he has become vision, become knowledge, become Dhamma, become Brahma…”

The sense of which, as I see it, is ‘you should really be asking this to the Buddha as he has (at a time before now) come to an understanding of all of this.’

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It has a present perfect sense, “has been completed”. So you could translate, “after becoming vision” although idiomatically, “has become vision” would be probably better, or just “is vision”.


So, still vision, right?

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Well he still has vision, sure. But the grammatical meaning depends on context. If I say “I have completed the process of eating a meal” it’s not the same as saying “I have completed the process of extracting a tooth”. In one, the state of “eating a meal” is in the past while in the other, the state of “not having a tooth” is very much in the present.

Coming back to the passage, basically it says that having practiced jhana then his walking etc. is “divine”. It seems to me there are three possible readings of this, all of which are allowed by the grammar.

  • He is still in jhana, gets up and walks around. Seems unlikely, especially given that suttas constantly talk about sitting to get into jhana.
  • He gets into jhana, and from that point on walking is divine. Also seems unlikely, given that the effects of jhana are temporary.
  • During a period when practicing jhana, the effects of jhana create a lasting impression, suppressing hindrances even outside of meditation so that the mind continues to be bright and “divine” even in different postures.

It reminds me of what I once heard from an experienced meditator. He said he was on a day retreat, where the retreatants kept telling the teacher during about the jhanas they’d get into. And then they’d go home, or gossip over coffee about the show they’d just watched. He said he found this so weird, because one time, after being on retreat in a monastery in Burma for many months, he had had such powerful experience, afterwards he felt like he was walking on air for days. Just everything was in this space of clarity and peace, with no sign of hindrances.

My teacher Ajahn Mahachatchai goes on an unusually long almsround, usually 90 minutes or so. When I asked him why, he just laughed and said he counts every step and walks around as if floating so it seems like nothing.

That’s what I think this passage is talking about.


Bhante, we can always say what we think a sutta says, but to add what we think it says into our translation is overstepping the translator’s job.

It’s like the Burmese translating ekāyano maggo as “the one and only way”.

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evambhuto means “(one) who has developed such qualities/attributes” - it is a masc. adjective and is therefore referring to a person who embodies the aforesaid descriptions - and is not referring to a verbal activity. “thus become” is also acceptable but too literal.


It’s impossible to translate even a basic phrase in Pali without incorporating what we “think” it says. The Buddha “was staying at Savatthi”? No! It’s present tense: “the Buddha is staying at Savatthi”! It’s just, I think he was there so I assume the present tense in Pali can cover such situations. That’s how language works. We do this kind of thing all the time. A linguist is simply someone who collects and organizes such observations about language into an abstract set of axioms.

We can disagree whether a particular interpretation is justified in a specific case, but everyone makes interpretations.

Indeed, I agree. I’ll look at revisiting my translation.


Yes. Translating is decision making, deciding what a passage means.


Indeed. When you see translations made by a great linguist such as KR Norman, he not infrequently renders things in a way that just … don’t make sense. The words and relations are there but it’s all bottom up: take a bunch of elements and combine them. Language also works top down and inside out, it engages creativity, imagination, and empathy.

My favorite example is Snp 2.11:

Uṭṭhahatha nisīdatha
Get up! Sit down!

Purely linguistically it sounds weird. But to a meditator it’s obvious:

Get up and meditate!


Venerable, I find that these anecdotes you’ve shared with us are really very useful for better understanding the reasons for your translations, and also the meaning you attribute to the translation of the sutta, thank you very much!

I assume that for other sutta you also have relevant anecdotes. Perhaps even putting the anecdotes in the sidenote (*) of the suttas might be a good idea? In any case, these anecdotes have helped me a lot, thank you.

It seems possible to me that any translator - no matter how literalist - is obliged to interpret a minimum, is obliged to make a minimum of interpretative speculations. I may be wrong, but I suppose that if the translator didn’t speculate a minimum, the translations wouldn’t make sense.

However, even in this case, it seems to me that interpretive speculation can be minimized, so as to minimize the introduction of artificial off-the-wall elements to the suttas. This means that a translator could set very strict limits to his speculations (to minimize them), so that a literalist translator - even if he has to speculate a little - can still remain very literal in his translations, thus attributing very few artificial meanings to the suttas.

I should point out that I know absolutely nothing about Pali, so I have nothing to say about how evaṁbhūto should be translated; I don’t know what the right translation is.
But do you think that regarding this sutta, you can still make your translation more literal by minimizing speculation (while still making the sutta make sense)? Or do you think you’ve already reached the maximum literalness of the translation, so that if you remove your interpretative speculation the sutta will no longer make sense? Or perhaps you have a different methodology altogether?

Venerable, I hope I’m not bothering you with these questions.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank you very much for the work you and your team do for the good of all beings, especially through your conferences and… I’m enormously grateful to you, and I find you prodigious in offering so many people access to the Dhamma, to liberation. I think you’re a very great monk of this century, Venerable, thank you very much…

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Venerable, I agree with you, I immensely prefer literal translations over more speculative ones, as I’m very wary of artificial, indirect and intellectual interpretations. I find them too dangerous and uncertain. So I support a thousand times your effort and your intention to translate literally, I find it extremely noble and appreciable to want to avoid as much as possible introducing foreign ideas into the suttas, and to only want to propose to people the sole meaning of the sutta. Thank you very much, I sincerely hope you will continue this work, Venerable!

Pretty much confirmed also by the commentary, which says the following about the phrase in the context at issue: evaṃbhūtoti evaṃ paṭhamajjhānādīsu aññatarasamaṅgī hutvā. :pray:


Yes, but Aj Sujato doesn’t quite follow the commentaries. He prefers to trust the Suttas when there are contradictions.

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That’s right, and sometimes “mininize” means adding nothing.

For me, having “when I’m practicing like this” as a translation for evaṁbhūto is pretty loaded.

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For what it’s worth, I refer to the commentaries pretty much every day. But you’re right, I take them as only one criterion, not as authoritative. In this case, however, I think I arrived at the same sense independently. Or maybe not, it was a long time ago and I can’t always remember why I translated something that way.

You’re not wrong. I’ll review my translation when I get the chance.


I think -bhuto can also refer to the past. AN6.55 for example says, Soṇa, kusalo tvaṁ pubbe agāriyabhūto vīṇāya tantissare”ti?, "Soṇa, in the past, when you were a layperson, were you skilled at playing the lute?”

If the adverb pubbe wouldn’t be there, it seems to me the sense of this sentence would still be the same, just like we can leave ‘in the past’ out of the English translation and the meaning wouldn’t really change.

We also wouldn’t translate this literally as “having become a layperson”. That is not the idea, because Soṇa was a layperson from the moment of birth until he ordained. Literalism isn’t the answer here, and it almost never is. Usually it’s the worst approach imo. It’s the context that tells us what is going on, not the literal words themselves.

Of course, when the context is meditation, the problem is that it is very subjective to the translator. In the case of evaṃbhūto both interpretations seem grammatically possible. That might well be on purpose, for the same “refrain” also has to work for the reflection on enlightenment (the third celestial bed), which seems possible to do while walking. Either way, to insist the grammar has to be interpreted one way or the other just to make a point about what jhānas are like, feels to me like clutching at the tiniest straw. Even more so because in the very sutta itself the Buddha says he sits down before he attains jhāna.

We can interpret evaṃbhūto literally it as “become thus”, with the implication being that he has exited jhana before he “became thus”. This exiting jhana is implied all the time in the suttas without being explicitly mentioned, e.g. SN28.1:

“Reverend Sāriputta, your faculties are so very clear, and your complexion is pure and bright. What meditation were you practicing today?”

“Reverend, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, I entered and remained in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. But it didn’t occur to me: ‘I am entering the first absorption’ or ‘I have entered the first absorption’ or ‘I am emerging from the first absorption’.”

The implication is that Sariputta had this conversation after coming out of jhana, but that is never mentioned explicitly.

The same thing is going on with the Buddha walking after “becoming thus”. That’s how I see it.

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