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What happens in Thig 2.3?

Bhante Sujato has explained on several occasions that one of the principles he uses for translation is one he learned from Ajahn Brahmali: Our source texts do have a meaning! Even if the translator does not fully understand it, they should translate according to what they think is the most likely meaning, even if later on this turns out to be wrong. Giving the reader a potentially wrong meaning is always better than giving some vague translation that doesn’t make sense.

One of the rare examples where I don’t really see this principle applied is in Thig 2.3. Or at least, I wasn’t able to decipher the meaning.

“Sumuttikā sumuttikā,
I’m well freed, well freed,

Sādhumuttikāmhi musalassa;
so very well freed!

Ahiriko me chattakaṁ vāpi
My pestle’s shameless wind was wafting;

Ukkhalikā me deḍḍubhaṁ vāti.
my little pot wafted like an eel.

Rāgañca ahaṁ dosañca,
Now, as for greed and hate:

Cicciṭi cicciṭīti vihanāmi;
I sear them and sizzle them up.

Sā rukkhamūlamupagamma,
Having gone to the root of a tree,

Aho sukhanti sukhato jhāyāmī”ti.
I meditate happily, thinking, “Oh, what bliss!”

My problem is mostly about these two lines:

My pestle’s shameless wind was wafting;
my little pot wafted like an eel.

I really can’t imagine how it would look like if a pestle’s shameless wind is wafting, nor do I see a pot wafting like an eel. What does it mean?

Ven. Thanissaro has a totally different take on it:

So freed! So freed!
So thoroughly freed am I —
from my pestle,
my shameless husband
& his sun-shade making,
my moldy old pot
with its water-snake smell.

Aversion & passion
I cut with a chop.
Having come to the foot of a tree,
I meditate, absorbed in the bliss:
“What bliss!”

Ekkehard Saß’ German translation says:

So gut befreit bin ich nun frei,
frei bin ich von dem Stößelwerk!
Der Schamlose lockt nicht mehr in den Sonnenschatten,
mein Reistopf ist nun leer geworden.

Den Lustreiz und das Hassen auch
ich spalte weiter eifrig auf,—
geh unter eine Baumeswurzel:
„Ach, welch ein Glück!“—ich glücklich mich vertiefe.

Roughly translated this means:

So well freed, I am free now,
free from the pestle!
The shameless one doesn’t entice me into the shade any longer,
my pot of rice has now become empty.

(Leaving out the second verse because the most relevant here is the first one.)

Looking at these three translations, they could hardly be more different.

Bhante @sujato, it would be helpful if you could explain your translation choice. Thank you!

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Ummmm…
This might just be my imagination, but the mortar and pestle imagery (along with the smells) seems highly suggestive of the home life/ woman’s duties/ reproductive organs/ fertility… perhaps a proto shiva lingam reference?

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What word is translated as “pestle” here?

I’m a bit confused. The PTS dictionary says…

  1. Chattaka (p. 274) Chattaka Chattaka (m. nt.) 1. a sun – shade J vi.252; Th 2, 23 (=ThA 29 as nickname of sun – shade makers). See also paṇṇa˚. – 2. ahi˚ “snake’s sun – shade,” N. for a mushroom: toadstool D iii.87; J ii.95; a mushroom, toadstool J ii.95.
    The Pali Text Society's Pali-English dictionary
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Go one line up: musalassa

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Ahhh… thank you :pray:t4:

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There are two types of thought, word thought and visualization. Word thought is the commonly experienced ‘inner dialogue,’ while visualization is when pictures are formed in the mind.

Imagery is language used by poets, novelists and other writers to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to improve the reader’s experience through their senses.
It is also used to communicate subjects which cannot be expressed in words such as the higher states in Buddhism, or on the other hand are indelicate.

I’m going to comment on this in detail, but I’m looking for a couple of resources, if anyone has them to hand:

  • the notes by KR Norman on these verses
  • the translation by Hallisey (and notes if he made any.)
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Here they are Bhante.



I pm’d you the introductory notes on the translations as well, in case it could be helpful

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Thanks @ficus and @snowbird for help with materials!

Alright, here we go! I translated this verse many years ago, and I didn’t make any notes as to my thought process, alas. So this is a good chance for me to go back over it and reassess.


The second couplet is a specially tricky one, as evidenced by the range of translations. This uncertainty extends as far back as the commentary, which offers a range of opinions.

I believe it is playing with innuendos, and thus hinting or winking at meanings that we can only guess. I think it’s quite likely that these were allusions that women of the time would have got, but which were designed to sneak under the radar of the menfolk, including quite possibly the monks who were gatekeepers of the texts. This is pure supposition, of course, but it’s a recurring theme in women’s literature.

In addition, several of the words have multiple possible readings or meanings. And most important of all, there is no obvious way to resolve the issues. Normally in a sentence, the sense of an uncertain word is clarified by its context. Here that is not the case.

Relevant context is supplied by Thig 1.1 Muttā, which shares a similar opening (“well freed!”), similar imagery (the mortar and pestle), and a similar theme: freedom from domestic life. I think the mortar and pestle allude to both kitchen drudgery and sex.

I’ll begin by discussing each of the terms and their possible readings.

  • The opening phrase is printed in the PTS and Sinhalese editions as a vocative (“O one who is well freed!”) and in Burmese editions and apparently the commentary as nominative (“I am well freed!”).
    • I follow Norman in taking it as nominative. As he says, if it had been vocative, it would have been used as the name of the nun.
  • musalassa: “of the pestle”. Glossed by the commentary as musalato (“from the pestle”) (i.e. genitive glossed as ablative). Norman’s updated edition prefers to read as genitive.
    • all other translators follow the commentary here.
  • ahiriko is ascribed a number of meanings:
    • from hiri as an adjective, the commentary says it refers to her “shameless [husband]” (mama sāmiko ahiriko nillajjo). Note that hiri is commonly used in hirikopina “private parts” i.e. genitals.
    • Norman prefers the variant ahitako which he relates to the (otherwise unattested in Pali) ahita in the sense of “noxious, hostile”.
    • Another possible derivation is from ahi “snake”, which is visually similar to the pestle, and chimes with “eel” in the next line.
  • Most translators connect ahiriko with the husband, but Norman connects it with the pestle.
  • chattakaṁ means “sun-shade, parasol”. Chatta can also mean “student” (“one who carries the parasol”?).
    • In dn27:14.2, ahicchattaka has the sense of a plant called “snake-parasol” i.e. a cobra’s hood, i.e. a mushroom, which Norman relies on for his “fungus”. This sense is well established for chattraka in Sanskrit. Given the domestic context, I suspect this is the likely meaning.
  • The commentary explains that she didn’t like the fact that he made his living by making parasols, which seems a little small-minded. And the verse itself doesn’t hint at “making” parasols. Perhaps the sense is rather, “I couldn’t even bear to fall under his shadow”?
  • The terms vāpi and vāti can be read a number of ways. The commentary mentions a variant for vāpi as vāti. So we could have any combination of the following.
    • vā api: “or”, perhaps in the sense of “and also”.
    • vā iti: “or” (close quote, i.e. the original ending of an independent verse?)
    • vāti: “to blow, emit a smell” (or conceivably, “weave”?).
    • iva iti or iva api: in the sense of “like”, “just as”.
    • eva iti or eva api: “just”, “indeed”, “only”.
  • ukkhalikā is “pot” or “mortar”, the latter fitting well with “pestle”.
  • deḍḍubhaṁ is glossed in the commentary as udakasappa “water-snake” i.e. “eel”. The PTS edition reads rather daḷiddabhāvā (“state of poverty”).

Still with me? :exploding_head:

Now let’s look more closely at the commentary. This is a very quick and probably wrong rendering, may those of better Pali correct me!

Musalassāti musalato.
“of a pestle” means “from a pestle”.
Ayaṃ kira daliddabhāvena gihikāle sayameva musalakammaṃ karoti, tasmā evamāha.
She says this, it seems, because when she was living at home, due to her state of poverty, her chore was grinding with a pestle.
Ahiriko meti mama sāmiko ahiriko nillajjo, so mama na ruccatīti vacanaseso. Pakatiyāva kāmesu virattacittatāya kāmādhimuttānaṃ pavattiṃ jigucchantī vadati.
“My shameless [one]” means my husband who was shameless and unscrupulous, he was disliked by me (is what the rest of the words mean?). Since her mind was naturally inclined to dispassion regarding sensual pleasures, she speaks in disgust of an event leading to freedom from sensual desires.
Chattakaṃ vāpīti jīvitahetukena karīyamānaṃ chattakampi me na ruccatīti attho.
“And also making parasols” means: I did not like it that he was making parasols for a living.
Vā-saddo avuttasamuccayattho, tena peḷācaṅkoṭakādiṃ saṅgaṇhāti.
[Sorry, no idea!]
Veḷudaṇḍādīni gahetvā divase divase chattādīnaṃ karaṇavasena dukkhajīvitaṃ jigucchantī vadati.
Picking up bamboo sticks day in day out is a painful livelihood, she speaks in disgust at that.
‘‘Ahitako me vāto vātī’’ti keci vatvā ahitako jarāvaho gihikāle mama sarīre vāto vāyatīti atthaṃ vadanti.
Some adopt the reading “My bad (unbeneficial or “noxious”) wind blows”. The meaning is, “when living a home, my body emitted a bad, old (?) wind.”
Apare pana ‘‘ahitako paresaṃ duggandhataro ca mama sarīrato vāto vāyatī’’ti atthaṃ vadanti.
But some say the meaning is: “my body emitted a bad wind, smellier than others”.
Ukkhalikā me deḍḍubhaṃ vātīti me mama bhattapacanabhājanaṃ cirapārivāsikabhāvena aparisuddhatāya udakasappagandhaṃ vāyati, tato ahaṃ sādhumuttikāmhīti yojanā.
“my mortar wafts like an eel”: my rice-pot due to long disuse (?) and uncleanliness wafts like the smell of a water-snake. From that yoke I am well-freed.


Now are you still with me? Safe to say, no translation is very sure, and likely any translation will omit something and maybe miss the point entirely.

If you look for it, phallic or sexual imagery is everywhere here: the mortar and pestle, the snake and eel, the mushroom. I assume double-meanings are meant throughout.

There are a couple of details from the Vinaya that give us some background as to the beliefs about genitals that were prevalent in the day. According to the Vinaya (pli-tv-bu-vb-pj1:10.21.7) one of the causes of erections is wind. This could apply to the images of parasol being blown open or a mushroom sprouting. The Vinaya also has Mahapajapati complain about women’s genital odors, occasioning a rule about washing (Pacittiya 5).

Looking at the lines afresh, I am struck by the parallelism in the second couplet. Let’s assume that is the poetic intent.

Here’s a revised translation, but it is very much a sketch.

I’m well freed, well freed,
so very well-freed from the pestle!
My disgusting husband blew up like a mushroom,
my mortar blew like an eel.

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Thank you for your detailed comment, Bhante, and everybody else too for resources and comments. So it seems we are all in good company if we find these verses difficult to translate. I am not sure yet what I will come up with, but it will be something. :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

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I’m totally unqualified to speak to this, but here’s my two cents. I get a very strong, “I’m glad I’m free of my husband’s oppressive sexuality” vibe. I wonder if the parasol image is something like the modern “tent pole” euphemism. Or if the “shade” reference is something similar to “lie back and think of England”? The smelly pot might be an asubha reference? So she’s saying she’s free of dealing with her husband’s sexuality, and free from dealing with her own because she’s seen the body as asubha?

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I still found my old copy of Neumann’s translation which obviously escaped the clearing up when I gave up my old dwelling (most other books didn’t).

He seems to rely on this explanation of the commentary when he interprets her husband to make money selling her to other men. That’s not quite “living by making parasols”, but you could say “making ‘parasols’ his livelihood”, if that is a metaphor for genitals.

I’d find it understandable that she didn’t like that.

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Indeed!

Hmm, it makes sense as a story, but I can’t discern that in the commentary.

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The point of the OP quote is a contrast between a gross form of pleasure and a refined one, as explained in these two suttas:

"Both now & before is it painful to the touch, very hot & scorching, master Gotama. It’s just that when the man was a leper covered with sores and infections, devoured by worms, picking the scabs off the openings of his wounds with his nails, his faculties were impaired, which was why, even though the fire was actually painful to the touch, he had the skewed perception of ‘pleasant.’”—MN 75

"There are five strands of sense desire. What are these five? Forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for, desirable, agreeable and endearing, bound up with sensual desire and tempting to lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear… odors cognizable by the nose… flavors cognizable by the tongue… tangibles cognizable by the body, that are wished for, desirable, agreeable and endearing, bound up with sense desire, and tempting to lust. These are the five strands of sense desire. The pleasure and joy arising dependent on these five strands of sense desire, that is called sensual pleasure.

"Now, if someone were to say: ‘This is the highest pleasure and joy that can be experienced,’ I would not concede that. And why not? Because there is another kind of pleasure which surpasses that pleasure and is more sublime. And what is this pleasure? Here, quite secluded from sensual desires, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, a monk enters upon and abides in the first meditative absorption (jhana), which is accompanied by thought conception and discursive thinking and has in it joy and pleasure born of seclusion. This is the other kind of pleasure which surpasses that (sense) pleasure and is more sublime.”—-SN 36.19

These perceptions rely on holding a particular contrast in mind (SN 14.11), and result in a feeling of joy or freedom, which is the beginning point for meditation as Hallisey says.

Might make people thing of mushroom clouds from explosions! How about ‘inflated’? It carried the meaning of blowing air, doesn’t have the double meaning of explosions, and, seems more understandable sexually than blowing up maybe?

Or… how about something like:

’So freed! So freed!
I’m thoroughly freed from the pestle:
[changing ‘my’ to ‘the’ makes the ‘home life’/‘sex life’ inuendo work better maybe? His penis was not ‘hers’, in English.]
My shameless husband’s inflating mushroom,
My eel-smelling mortar

Or… since the wind thing doesn’t really work with modern culture, perhaps even ‘growing mushroom’? Or ‘enlarging mushroom’?

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