What's another way of saying "in dependence on"? Translating for written versus oral recitation

In the process of recording audio suttas for many of Ven. Thanissaro’s and Ven. Bodhi’s English suttas, one of the expressions they both use that drives me absolutely bonkers is “in dependence on”.

For example, “in dependence on wood, a wood fire burns.”

When you read it with your eyes, no problem, you comprehend.

When you listen to that though, what it sounds like is “independence on wood.” So you heard the word “independence”, you think of something being isolated and not DEPENDING on anything, when what they’re actually trying to say is the exact opposite, that there IS is dependent condition being stated.

It’s like your brain does a double take, listening along going with what you think is in one direction, but then immediately has to quickly stop, and shoot off in the exact opposite direction. It hurts the brain every time.

So the question is, what are the proper English alternatives for that?

Could I say:
“through dependence on wood, a wood fire burns”?
“by dependence on wood, a wood fire burns”?

I haven’t seen how Bhante Sujato translates that yet, but I swear I am never going to audio record “in dependence on” ever again if I can help it. If I ever come across that during a live recording session, I’m going to read the best English alternative to that. Fortunately Ven. T’s are licensed creative commons, and Bhante Sujato’s translation is even better with a public domain license, and I will make these small alterations for better audio listening comprehension in the future.


In the process of recording for KN Snp, I ran across another ambiguity that was painful, but don’t know how to solve.

The line of verse said something like “know phenomena”,
but in context, you can’t tell if the homonym " no phenomena" or “know phenomena” is meant.

Translating for written text meant to be read versus translating for a speech to be spoken and heard really is a different process. Being an oral tradition, the suttas should be constructed for listening, but it seems like English translations try to restructure it to be more friendly for reading than listening.


It’s rather wordy, but you could say something like,

“Following the logic of dependence, a wood fire depends on wood to burn.”

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“Possess knowledge of phenomena.”

How about “Dependent upon wood, a wood fire burns”?
I have also seen “conditional” used instead of “dependent”.


Here is @Sujato:

“And what, mendicants, is the origin of the world? Eye consciousness arises dependent on the eye and sights. The meeting of the three is contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving. Craving is a condition for grasping. Grasping is a condition for continued existence. Continued existence is a condition for rebirth. Rebirth is a condition for old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress to come to be. This is the origin of the world.
And Bodhi:
“And what, bhikkhus, is the origin of the world? In dependence on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition, feeling comes to be; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, clinging; with clinging as condition, existence; with existence as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. This, bhikkhus, is the origin of the world.


Just throwing this out there. By changing the order of the items you move from ‘is dependent on’ to ‘requires’

In order to burn, a wood fire requires wood.

In order to burn, a wood fire is dependent on wood.

Both the eye, and sights (what is seen) are required for eye consciousness to arise.

Both the eye and (seen) forms are required for eye consciousness to arise.

From the keyboard of a non-translator! :grin:


Requires is quite good here, although you can also say “a wood fire depends on wood to burn”.

As with so many things, it is really just about consistency: we use depend for paṭicca. Mostly it works fine, but there is definitely room for adjustment.

I’m very happy to see these kinds of adjustments suggested for oral texts. @frankk if you want, you can throw up a list of such cases as you encounter them in my translations, and I’ll consider changing the sources.


It’s really “with a prerequisite of wood, a wood fire burns”.


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Wood is a necessary but not sufficient condition for fire?


Thanks Bhante @sujato, I will keep a list of ambiguities I encounter.

From now on, if I ever see “in dependence on” while doing a live recording, I’ll probably just substitute in “dependent on” and just add it to an errata list. Comprehension over absolute adherence to the translator text is worth it IMO. I was hesitant to do it before because I thought the slight difference in grammatical case between “dependent” and “dependence” might cause a more serious problem in some cases.


That’s probably how a lot of transmission errors creep into texts. Particularly if we imagine the Buddhist holy language as English and imagine English-language-learners trying to deduce the meaning of what “independent on” could mean.