Translations and Resources for non-Pali Bhikkhuni Patimokkhas

Continuing the discussion from The Validity of bhikkhunī Ordination by bhikkhus Only, According to the Pāli Vinaya:

I feel this discussion has made it evident that the current situation is unsatisfactory for Bhikkhunis. The Patimokkhas are comparatively less well preserved than the Bhikkhus’, and bhikkhunis should therefore have access to all the available Patimokkhas in English translation to at least have a broader basis to make informed decisions. The only translation so far - of Chatsumarn Kabilsingh (Ven. Dhammananda) - is unreliable. So this thread has two purposes: 1) Explore the possibilities of making new translations, and 2) collect resources of already existing translations and similar Patimokkha-related material.

  1. I am exploring the possibility of making translations from the Chinese texts.
    I am not sure what exactly would be involved, so I’d be very grateful for input from more experienced translators.
    Recently someone mentioned on another thread that translators of EBTs need to have a thorough grounding in translation theory. In the translations I have done so far - non-EBT material between various Western languages - I just did the translation without considering much theoretical background. I only noticed that there seems to be a wide range of opinions on how literal the translation should be vs. readability in the target language. Maybe Bhante @Sujato can comment on this. I’d also be grateful for any best practices in doing the actual translation, such as software tools, useful methods etc. Maybe Ajahn @Brahmali has some input especially on translating Vinaya texts? :anjal:
    I studied Mandarin at university and have some familiarity with traditional Chinese characters as well, but I never actually learned Classical Chinese and I only recently started to study Chinese Buddhist texts in more detail. I’d be very grateful if the more experienced Chinese speakers, such as @coemgenu would share their knowledge about online resources (websites, dictionaries, etc.) and anything else they think would be helpful.
    I also noticed that Patimokkhas of some schools exist in Chinese and Sanskrit/Tibetan versions. Have there been any studies to compare the versions? Can it be assumed that they are pretty much the same?

  2. I believe that there must be more material on the non-Pali Patimokkhas in Western languages out there, at least from the schools that still exist today. So a good starting point would be to collect what we have so far. This is what I came up with:

  • Kabilsingh’s The Bhikkhuni Patimokkha of the six schools: Useful overview, but contains too many mistakes to be used as a guide for monastics.
  • Pachow’s A comparative study of the Pratimoksha: Contains only Bhikkhu rules, but since there is considerable overlap between Bhikkhu and Bhikkhuni rules, it may be useful as a starting point for translations. Bhantes @sujato or @Brahmali: Are these translations considered reliable? (I don’t have access to that book.)
  • Ven Wu Yin’s Choosing simplicity: Contains some rules of the Dharmaguptaka school, but not all. I don’t have access to the book either, and am not sure if the rules are actual translations or just paraphrases.
  • The monastics at Plum Village have a rule in their revised Pratimoksha that they have to study the original one, too. Since they have so many Western monastics who surely don’t all speak Chinese or Vietnamese, I assume that they must have translations. Bhante @sujato, have we ever tried to approach them to ask if they would share their material for SC? If not, should we try that?
  • The Bhikkhunis (and Bhikkhus) at Sravasti Abbey also take the Vinaya quite seriously, so I assume they must have translations. I’m not sure if they follow a Dharmaguptaka or a Mulasarvastivada Vinaya. Anyway, have we / should we ask them for their materials?
  • Have any translations been made for the 2007 Hamburg conference that explored the Bhikkhuni ordination issue?
    If you know of any more resources, please add to this list!

Hi, Ayya, this sounds like a fantastic project. We would of course be delighted to support this through SC.

I honestly don’t know a single translator, including myself, who can be said to have a thorough grounding in translation theory. Since I have an interest in such matters, I did do some reading in preparation for my work, but it was far from a thorough study. But in any case, it is good to get acquainted with the field.

The single most important advice I received was from Ven Brahmali, who said that the text should mean something. Even if we’re not sure of what that is, we should translate it according to our best sense. If we’re wrong, fine, we can correct it.

Well, I would encourage you to do it based on our Pootle software: Ayya Vimala, of course, can explain how that works. But the basic idea is that the text is broken into segments, and text and translation are matched segment by segment, and can be displayed segment by segment, too.

For the Pali texts, Blake has hacked Pootle to display the Pali lookup, and we could do the same for the Chinese.

I think the linguistic issues per se should be simple enough, the main problem is with usage and terminology. I would encourage you to study the ongoing translations of MA and SA, as these will give the state of the art for Chinese translations.

One possibility you might consider is to begin by adapting Ven Analayo’s SA translation for Pootle (similar to how Vimala is doing Brahmali’s Vinaya translation.) This would give you a chance to work in detail with these texts, as well as getting familiar with how Pootle works.

However, the vocabulary of the patimokkha is quite different from that of the suttas, and in my experience it will vary a lot between the various translations. A close study of the Pali and/or Sanskrit is essential to sort out these issues.

There has been some work, but not hugely detailed or reliable. The best work here is in Japanese. Generally speaking, the patimokkhas are quite similar, and differ mainly in minor details of wording.

In several cases, the Sanskritic original of the Chinese texts exists, or at least something quite close to it. For the Mahasanghika Vinaya in Chinese, we have the hybrid Sanskrit Lokuttarava Vinaya. In several other cases we have corresponding patimokkhas for the bhikkhus, which will at least cover the rules held in common. Note that even in alternate texts of the same school, they are not going to be 100% identical, but they will be pretty close.

Of course for the Mulasarvastivada we have the Tibetan version, too.

Pachow’s work is good, you should get a copy. When compiling the lists of Vinaya parallels for SC, I used several sources, including Pachow, and tried to correct and reconcile them as best I could.

You could try, but they are not known for their scholarship. I wouldn’t hold out too much hope.

I have no idea what they use. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

Nothing substantial.

There are more comprehensive bibliographies elsewhere, but you have omitted the prime source work: Ann Heirman’s masterful translation of the Dharmagupta Bhikkhuni Vinaya. A close study of this should be the basis for any serious work in the field. I would recommend contacting her: she lives not far away from you, I think, so you can probably arrange to visit. In fact, if you do make contact, you might ask her whether we could extract the patimokkha rules from her translation to use for SC.

I have a bunch of other resources that I can share with you at some point.


Yes, I noticed that there is quite a significant difference, and being acquainted with the Sutta vocabulary doesn’t help that much for translating Vinaya. But in general, I had the impression that translating Vinaya would be somewhat easier than translating Suttas. As you know, I have some knowledge of Pali, and I have studied the Pali Bhikkhuni Patimokkha in some detail. I never tried to learn Sanskrit, though. Anyway, I’m just trying to see what’s possible. It might well turn out not to be feasible at the moment.

Thanks for pointing this out. Very useful indeed, and thus there is no need to contact Plum Village or rely on Ven Wu Yin’s book. I’ll write to her and ask about the Patimokkha rules for SC.
Here’s the link to the book if someone is interested.

Yes, please do.

I’ll explore your other suggestions with Ayya @vimala when she has time after Ajahn Brahmali’s retreat, end of June.


[quote=“vimalanyani, post:1, topic:5559”]
I studied Mandarin at university and have some familiarity with traditional Chinese characters as well, but I never actually learned Classical Chinese and I only recently started to study Chinese Buddhist texts in more detail. I’d be very grateful if the more experienced Chinese speakers, such as @coemgenu would share their knowledge about online resources (websites, dictionaries, etc.)
[/quote] The Nan Tien Institute (NTI) Buddhist Text Reader (NTI Reader) is a good one, but it is primarily designed for assistance in navigating Chinese Mahāyāna materials.

You won’t believe how in-depth wiktionary is on terms of historical and etymological data, as well as being an ok dictionary.

Other than that there is a famous Chinese dictionary (you probably already know it) online but I need time to find it.

Also: Paul Rouzer’s A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese, my recommendation!


I wouldn’t bet on it!

That’s not such a big deal. If you know Pali, the Sanskrit is usually comprehensible. The bigger problem is that in some places, especially the sekhiyas, there’s a bunch of words that are found in no dictionary, or if they are, they only refer to that passage. Anyway, that’s all part of the fun!

Oh, I’m sure it’s feasible. It’s just a matter of time and effort.

If you need any books, computer, or other resources, SC would be happy to sponsor them for you.

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To me readability is by far the most important criterion. We are supposed to live these texts and to do so we need clarity about what they say. We have to assume that the original text had/has a very specific meaning, and it is our job as translators to try to figure it out, even with difficult passages. If we get it wrong, so be it. At least we have created a basis for discussion. Literal translations, which often tend to be obscure, are not very helpful. It is even hard to have a proper discussion if the text is not clear.

The classic study is by Pachow, "A Comparative Study of the Pratimoksa Sutra,” but it only concerns the bhikkhu pātimokkha. This work shows that it cannot be assumed that they are the same.

Depending a bit on what you are trying to achieve, much of the time you don’t even need an accurate translation; all you need is to be able to identify rules to see if they exist across the different traditions. Once a rule is identified as existing fairly consistently in the various pātimokkhas, you can rely on the Pali and its existing translations. In any case, I have not heard that Pachow’s translations are especially unreliable, and so I assume that they are reasonable. But you would be better off asking someone like Ven. Analayo about this.

You really should consult Ven. Nyanatusita’s word-for-word translation of the bhikkhu pātimokkha, Analysis of the Bhikkhu Patimokkha.

There are some important differences, but mostly they are very similar. Knowing the suttas is a great help in translating the Vinaya.


Sorry, I think I didn’t formulate my question clearly. Of course there are differences between the (Bhikkhuni) patimokkhas of the various schools. But I was wondering if there are differences between the texts of the same school in cases where we have them in different languages, such as Sanskrit and Chinese, or Tibetan and Chinese. I am not sure if Pachow looked into this. Anyway, Bhante Sujato has already answered that there are differences. :anjal:

I had a look at the Sanskrit text you sent (thank you for sending those files! :anjal:) and it definitely seems like it would be comprehensible without too much further effort. The beauty of the sekhiyas is that afaik they are shared with the Bhikkhus, so I think Pachow already translated them and I can safely leave them aside for my project. :slight_smile:

:smiley: I might get back to you on this.
When I was wondering about feasibility, one of the main problems is that there is no proper location to undertake the project. As you know, I live in a tent at the moment, which doesn’t have a desk or electricity. Anyway, I would need the next few months (roughly the Vassa time) to read up on a few things (translation theory, Buddhist Chinese texts, introduction to Sanskrit, some of the texts and books you mentioned/sent me), so the tent would be great for that. After the Vassa, when it would be time to get started, I can no longer stay there, because it will be too cold. I have no idea yet where I’ll go from Oct-Dec, but options are very limited. These places will either not have internet access, and/or will require so many hours of community activities per day that I can’t focus on a translation project.


Just to add to that, in the sources I used, these differences were not always noted. Also not noted in the sources, in most cases in the Chinese, there are small differences between the patimokkha and Vibhanga, mostly in the sekhiyas. (I am not sure why this is so, as the patimokkhas appear to have been extracted from the Vibhangas; presumably it is just editorial mistakes) This is why, on SC, the Vinaya parallels treat the Vibhanga and patimokkha separately. Since we actually link to each rule, we need to be precise. This was by far the hardest part of the job, as in some cases a rule is literally just a single character in Chinese.

They are the same, at least in principle. However, to be clear, pachow only actually translated one text, the sarvastivada I believe, and for the rest noted differences.[quote=“vimalanyani, post:7, topic:5559”]
I might get back to you on this.

Please do, any time.

Okay, well, stay in touch.