Translating titles into original languages

The current SuttaCentral system is based on the idea of root text vs. translation. In the upcoming release, we show these together as titles for texts and collections. This works well for Indic texts, but what of texts in Tibetan and Chinese?

There are a lot of complicating factors.

  • Sometimes the same Indic term is translated into Chinese in different ways; for example Vinaya rules.
  • Often we are unsure what the original Indic dialect was.
  • Sometimes, however, we can make an educated guess: (Mula)-Sarv is Sanskrit, Mahasanghika/Lokuttaravada is BHS, Dharmagutpaka is Gandhari.
  • Sometimes we’re not sure what Indic term the Chinese translator is trying to represent.
  • In Tibetan, the Sanskrit titles are much better established, as they are usually recorded in the manuscript.

Nevertheless, it is really handy to show an Indic original. Even if the exact form is not known 100%, we usually know it well enough to be handy. Again, Vinaya rules are a good example of this: it’s hard to find a translation that will convey the different rule names very clearly, but the Indic form is familiar to any Vinaya student.

What I’d like to propose is for Tibetan and Chinese, we have a threefold system: root, indic_root, translation.

  • root: whatever form is in the original Chinese or Tibetan text.
  • indic_root: a hypothesized Indic form
  • translation: the translated term

So my question here is, what should we do for the Indic root?

  • The most common convention would be to use Sanskrit. But this is an ideological choice, muddied by the aggressive attempts by Hindutva activists to push the idea of Sanskrit as a universal Indic language.
  • Sanskrit is also not unproblematic, as it is common for Vinaya rules to have multiple different Sanskrit spellings, sometimes even in the same text. Pali terms are much better established and more consistent.
  • On the plus side, though, Sanskrit is the language of the Indic titles in Tibetan, and many EBTs were in fact translated from something Sanskrit-ish.
  • I tend to use Pali, since I am familiar with it, and I assume most students of EBTs are coming from a Pali background.
  • Possibly we could use the spelling appropriate for the school where known, and fall back to Pali or Sanskrit.

Currently we’re a bit inconsistent, and maybe that’s okay. For example, I tend to use the Sanskritic form for school names, as it is more familiar, but Pali for rule names, as they are better known and better established. See for example the “Dharmaguptaka” Vinaya. The rule names are in Pali. But I find it weird to call the school “Dhammaguttaka”.

My tendency would be to use the Pali form, unless the Sanskrit seemed better. Is that good enough? Or should we strive for more consistency?


I like the idea of Pali forms just because they seem to be more standardised. :anjal: