Translation Variations

This isn’t not a huge issue, but it’s definitely something I’d say around a water cooler.

I spend all day going over the the 37 Factors of Wakening, only to notice with the all the various different English translations that my research swells to deal with more vocabulary and definitions then much of anything else. I guess that is kind of the work that needs to be done, but it was not something I foresaw. I’m kind of seeing now why people start preferring the Pali because in english it could take 3-9 words to mean the same thing.

I’m still having fun, enjoying the effort. I have always leaned on Sujato’s translations and have developed a preference for them. Sometimes using Bodhi for variations. Now though I am relying more on Geoff’s work and the word preferences are kind of messing with me.

Anyone dealt with this? Come across anything that helped? Magic science digital tool perhaps ? Advice?


I regard Bhikkhu Bodhi as the most reliable translator.
Comparing different translations and commentaries is always useful, but I don’t think there’s a shortcut to arriving at the “true” meaning.
Becoming familiar with some important Pali terms is also useful, with the caveat that meaning might vary with context.
Actually I’ve found the most useful thing is to study a sutta in detail, and get a sense of what it is really saying.
And of course discussions in forums like this can be revealing.


I’m pretty sure everyone has dealt with this :blush:

Yes, but it costs $3999.99 so not the best solution for everyone. “Refurbished” ones on ebay tend to be fakes or riddled with bugs. Sometimes software bugs, sometimes literal bugs.

There’s no one thing, but looking out for red flags in translators helps me. For example:

:triangular_flag_on_post:They present their interpretation as a groundbreaking revelation. “Everyone has been wrong this whole time, but IIIIIII have figured it out!”

:triangular_flag_on_post:Their translation is incompatible with the characteristics of the Dhamma listed in the suttas

:triangular_flag_on_post:They pick one word/sutta and interpret something major through that narrow lens instead of looking at what the suttas say as a whole

:triangular_flag_on_post:They explain their choices relying on unexplained assertions instead of cross-examining the canon

:triangular_flag_on_post:They get emotional and accusatory when criticised

:triangular_flag_on_post:They go against core elements of the Dhamma. Like downplaying rebirth/anatta/dukkha/Jhanas etc

:triangular_flag_on_post:Going with rather than against the flow of delusion. Like bending over backwards to reach for eternalist interpretations

:triangular_flag_on_post:Going completely against mainstream interpretations without good reason

:triangular_flag_on_post:They explain their choices relying on the (often poorly recorded/translated) words of a contemporary teacher