Translation question related to MN118

I’ve been re-reviewing MN 118, which is one of the canonical texts related to the Anapanasati sutta. There are two translations on SuttaCentral that had a slight difference in wording that impacts practice. Briefly, the 5th and 6th contemplations mention “experiencing rapture” (5th) and “bliss” (6th). The 7th+8th contemplations then mention “experience” (7th) feelings and “calm” (8th) feelings.

In one translation by Bhikkhu Sujato (SuttaCentral), though, it says “experience these emotions” (7th) and “stilling these emotions” (8th). This specifically implies that one is stilling rapture and bliss only.

In another translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi (SuttaCentral), it says instead: “experiencing the mental formations” (i.e., emotions) (7th) and “stilling the mental formations” (i.e., emotions) (8th). This implies stilling any emotion, not just rapture and bliss.

So, in summary, one says “these” which seems to refer to the antecedant joy/bliss, while the other says “the” which implies any mental formation

The relevant pali word appears to be: cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī (I do not know Pali, so I apologize if I am making an error here)

Any thoughts? Should we still only joy/bliss, or any emotion/mental formation in the 8th contemplation?


Hi @ngoonera, while I am not Bhante @sujato and can’t elucidate the meaning of his translation, I think the utilization of “emotions” for cittasaṅkhārapaṭisaṃvedī is probably a simplification of the compound itself. If you’re trying to get at the literal meaning, Bhikkhu Bodhi is a little bit closer. The compound means something like the ‘experience of the conditions of the mind;’ parsed citta-saṅkhāra-paṭisaṃvedī. And thus I would guess that this means to contemplate all conditioned thoughts that arise (but I’m not sure).

Also, Bhante, I’m curious as to why you’ve translated this particular section with “they” when it seems to say something like, “One trains themself, ‘I will breathe in experiencing the conditions of the mind’”?


Thanks both of you for your questions.

The basic translation problem here is that the word saṅkhāra has several different meanings. If we try to translate it the same way everywhere it obscures the sense.

The suttas consistently define cittasaṅkhārā in this context as “feeling and perception” (MN 44:14.2, SN 41.6:1.8). So in any case it is clear that the meaning is limited in this way, and it is not cittasaṅkhārā in a general way as all mental activities, thoughts, and the like.

So to translate it as “mental formations” (which is a dubious rendering anyway, later abandoned by Ven Bodhi), or “conditions of the mind” or “mental processes” or something is rather vague.

In this context, the English concept of “emotion” is probably the closest to the Pali. It includes aspects of “feeling” and “perception” and, if such things matter, the root of “motion” nicely evokes the active sense of saṅkhārā.

It’s really just trying to get the most friendly rendering. As a rule, I tried to avoid the use of the impersonal “one”, as I feel it is a somewhat archaic formalism, which has a distancing effect on the text. It doesn’t sound like someone speaking contemporary English.

The use of the singular “themself” was controversial among my proofreaders, with the consensus being that “themselves” in a singular sense sounded better. Also, in this case, it should either be “one trains oneself” or “They train themself/themselves”.


Bhante, I believe the OP was asking about the word “these”, not the word “emotions” :pray:


Oh. Well then.

The Pali lacks a pronoun here, and the question then is, what’s the implication? Compared to English, Pali is more apt to drop pronouns unless necessary, so a translator must infer as they see fit. Ven Bodhi reads the passage, in his most recent AN translation, as “experiencing the mental activity”, thus seeing it as singular rather than his earlier plural “mental formations”.

Since, however, the passage as a whole is clearly referring to an ongoing process, if we were to ask, “what sankharas?” then I believe it must mean the sankharas referred to previously, i.e. the emotional response generated during the meditation.

One could argue that my rendering violates my “principle of least meaning”; Ven Bodhi’s rendering is less opinionated in this case. But I think the meaning of the text is clear enough that it is justified. I remember when studying this passage it was always a little unclear to me, and it took me quite some time to figure out the sense. Hopefully I can spare my readers the same puzzlement.