Translating feces and dung: would "shit" be more appropriate?

these 2 words occur in MN 62

  1. karīsa (used in 31 body parts)
  2. gūthagatampi - in the “be like earth” meditation, earth does not get upset if you drop a load of dung on it.

The more general question I have is, are we translating true to the spirit of our buddhist meditator forefathers when we use puritanical filters to produce translations like “feces”? What is a meditator on the battlefield with Mara going to be using in his speech when he contemplates 31 body parts? “This is feces”. does he even know what that word means? if they’re not from the brahman caste, or medical profession, why would they know they word? at the very least you think in real life back then, if they were puritanical like westerners, they’d at least use a euphemism like kaka, doodie, hershey-squirt, launching a submarine, pinching a loaf, making some pudding, defcon 5 (a pun a defecate) etc.

I think the meditators would more likely use common language, not clinical scientific terms. language of meditation, when it’s raw, authentic, seems to more easily conjure the the desired emotion we are trying to sublimate or transcend. “feces” just doesn’t evoke the same emotion, as something like, “spraying a stanky shit pile on this earth and see how equanimous it can be”. just thinking those words i can smell the poisonous vapors.

like most of you, i’ll probably keep translating those words as dung and feces, out of fear of scaring away the majority who are faint of heart, unless someone can give me a good evidence and justification that “shit” is the most appropriate translation.

karīsa: dung; excrement; a square measure of land (which may be nearly an acre). (nt.)
Karīsa1 (nt.) a square measure of land, being that space on which a karīsa of seed can be sown (Tamil karīsa) see Rhys Davids, Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon, p. 18; J i.94, 212; iv.233, 276; VvA 64.

Gūtha [Sk. gūtha; probably to Lat. bubino, see Walde, Lat. Wtb. s. v.] excrements, faeces, dung. As food for Petas frequently mentioned in Pv; (cp. Stede, Peta Vatthu 24 sq.), as a decoction of dung also used for medicinal purposes (Vin i.206 e. g.). Often combn with mutta (urine): Pv i.91; PvA 45, 78; DA i.198.
– kaṭāha an iron pot for defecation Vin iv.265. – kalala dung & mire J ;iii.393; – kīḷana playing with excrements Vism 531. – kūpa a privy (cp. karīsa) M i.74; Sn 279 Pv ii.316; Pug 36; J vi.370; Vism 54. – khādaka living on faeces J ii.211 (˚pāṇaka) PvA 266; – gata having turned to dung It 90; – gandhin smelling of excrements Pv ii.315; – ṭṭhāna a place for excrementation Th 1 1153; – naraka=foll. Vism 501; – niraya the mirepurgatory VvA 226; Sdhp 194; – pāṇa an insect living on excrement (=˚khādakapāṇa) J ii.209, 212; – bhakkha feeding on stercus M iii.168; PvA 192; DhA ii.61 – bhānin of foul speech A i.128; Pug 29 (Kern, Toev. s. v. corrects into kūṭa˚?).


I understand where you’re coming from, and I have considered this myself. However, I’m not sure that there’s a case to be be made here, since I don’t think that any of the Pali words for feces are obscene. There’s no sense in any of the Pali texts that such words, or any similar words, were regarded as impolite, offensive, or anything like that. The whole concept of “swear words” appears to be absent.

Whether that was truly a feature of the colloquial Pali language, or whether the texts were cleaned up, is perhaps impossible to say. A study of the Sanskrit secular literature—plays and the like—might help, but they are much later.

In any case, “shit” is clearly regarded as a “rude word”, and as such it carries an emotional charge that’s lacking in the other terms. These days it seems “poop” is the most common neither-obscene-nor-formal term; but it sounds childish.

Thanks for introducing me to “defcon 5” (!) by the way.

Of course, we always have emojis. :poop:

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Thanks for the explanation Bhante. I’m gladdened to know that there are experts who researched into this shit deeply. In my own practice, I recite the 31 body parts in pali and spatially locate the part on my body along with a mental visualisation, bypassing the english translation process. But for the welfare of future generations, it’s important that translations convey the spirit of the practice as much as possible, not sterile. The dhamma is amazing, and it works. You can bliss out walking, sitting, doing metta, washing dishes, contemplating skeletons and corpses, and even a freshly baked loaf of hu-manure can be beautiful and bliss inducing.

People reading this may think I’m joking, I’m not at all. It’s like a pavlovian response. whatever you frequently take up as a sati-sambojjhanga (meditation theme) and ride it all the way to stop #6, samadhi-sambojjhanga, if you know how to bliss out, you can bliss out to anything. Anything that passed the filter of stop #2, dhammavicaya-sambojjhanga, discerning kusula and akusula. you can bliss out the akusula, but then that would be wrong jhana, wrong samadhi.