Exposing translator bias


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Exposing translator bias in the Translation of the Pali Canon and other Asian literature A comparative analysis of 23 translations of Dhammapada Verse 372
Last updated Novemebr 10, 2004 By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks) (copyright 2004 all rights reserved) This author’s editorial efforts in regards to translations of the Pali canon have often been met with a high degree of criticism from people who are incensed that someone would consider making any alteration to those translations, as if the translation itself is the “blessed words of the Buddha.” What these amateur critics do not know is there is no word-for-word comparison between ancient Pali and the present English language. In fact every translation between any two languages, even contemporary Romance language, let alone a 2,600 year old dead liturgical language, and English often requires a great deal of interpretation to accomplish. While this author honors and respects the translators who have given us the fruits of their labors in translating the Pali canon into English, for the most part the Pali-English dictionaries and translations of the canon that we have available to us were most probably rendered by scholars, few of whom (if any) actually engaged in the contemplative practices of Buddhism. And, since the Buddha was a contemplative and he was speaking to contemplatives, then we should at the very least have skilled contemplatives, who are native speakers of the English language, as participants in the rendering of the Pali canon into our language. Buddhism was first and foremost a contemplative tradition, and it was taught by a contemplative. Scholars who wish to produce a functional understanding of the words of Sidharta Gotama, the historic Buddha, really should either have a rigorous contemplative practice regimen in addition to their scholarship, or look to those native speakers of English who are contemplatives, when rendering a translation of the sutras/suttas into English. The Nikayas in translation at present seem to have some serious failings in either an understanding of the subjective experiences of the contemplative, or there is a lack of understanding of the English language of cognition and gnosis, which has resulted in an English canon of Buddhist literature that is rather weak to say the least. One of the naïve errors made by many translators is assuming there is a single word in the English language that applies in all cases to a given Pali or Sanskrit term. Translators must understand that within every word choice in translation there is a value judgment based upon interpretation. And, there can be many

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the academic journey is not conducive to a contemplative life so we are not likely to ever acquire someone with both achievements. This is especially true of intangible concepts surrounding gnosis. Since there is no word-for-word translation that is absolutely accurate under all uses of a term for abstract concepts between any two languages then a translator must be sensitive to the subtle shades of the intended context for every term because every word has shades of meaning. this contemplative finds the English term ‘characteristics’ to be closer to the mark to fill the needed translation in almost every case. or one of the intensely ritual forms such as the many Tibetan schools of Buddhism.htm interpretations acquired through translation. Chaucer (1340-1400). Unfortunately this word is almost always translated as “sign. for instance. verses another.org/criticism/translation. We must also realize that as much as we want to believe that we can penetrate the Pali canon to discover the meaning of the Buddha’s discourses. Unfortunately to make a change in the world of Pali and Sanskrit translation might require an accomplished mystic in the Buddhist tradition to then go out and get academic credentials to support his or her more precise translations. This would explain why in this culture ecstasy is thought to be an illicit street drug.D. But. This means it is very unlikely that any word in a language is going to have a static relationship with a language it is being translated into. but his English is so radically different than our 2 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . therefore the context and the shades of meaning are no doubt long lost as well.” was writing only 200 years earlier than Shakespeare.Exposing translator bias http://www. Today the English language is so variable throughout its domain that few North Americans can understand the “English” of the English. This is especially true when a single word is used in a large document. thus requiring interpretation in all translation. than sign or characteristics. then he or she is likely to make different choices in the shades of meaning in his/her translation than a moist ecstatic is going to make. Now. Even though ‘sign’ and ‘characteristics’ have similar meaning. the author of “The Canterbury Tales. The same is true if the translator happens to be a follower of one of the devotional forms of Buddhism. because so few have had the experience. and in a rather short period of time.greatwesternvehicle. It is the shades of meaning that pervade each word-choice in translation that can lead one in one direction. Every word for an abstract concept. then engages in a rigorous meditation practice for10 or more years. such as ecstasy.’ In the suttas/sutras ‘nimitta’ is most often used for the characteristics of a sense object that makes it appealing to the ego. such as ecstasy.” Its meaning however is more like the characteristics of any given object or experience. However ’nimitta’ has also been used as the characteristics of absorption. and he was only writing 400 years ago. in Asian or Buddhist studies. like the Pali canon. where its meaning moves throughout the various shades of its meaning within its cultural context. if we look back at Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) English. We can only do our best at resurrecting that language from the dead through following the Noble Eightfold Path as best as we can and through that process hope that we gain the necessary insight (vipassana) that reveals to us the original meaning and intent that Sidharta is said to have had when he supposedly used that term.600 years ago. unless an individual first receives a Ph. which I have found is not well understood by most people in any language or culture. not the consequence of a skillful executed contemplative life. The best a translator can hope to do is match the intended meaning of a word in one language with the intersecting arc of a word in translation. As an example of how variable a single abstract concept can be let us look at the Pali term ‘nimitta’. In this case the word would best be rendered as charism. If a translator has a bias for dry insight. his Elizabethan English is difficult for many North Americans to penetrate. although the word ‘characteristics’ is certainly acceptable. such as Pure Land. We could certainly point to the body of English literature as an example of how language changes. but not all. even in a literate society. Pali is a dead language. has an arc of meaning that it scribes through the understanding of native speakers of that language. The context for it was 2.

therefore we have many examples of attempts to get at what the Buddha had to say in the many translations of this document. when he is said to have uttered them 300 years before they were even written down? Certainly a scholar. And finally. the third edition edited by Nyanaponika and published 1970. on the other hand.org/criticism/translation. The ‘wets’ propose that the cultivation of the ecstasies (jhanas) is essential to following the Noble Eightfold Path. such as Sidharta Gotama. Only an accomplished contemplative. They argue ecstasy (jhana) was the Buddha’s very definition of the Eighth fold of the Noble Eightfold Path (DN 22.htm present day English that few native speakers of English can read it without translation. The Dhammapada has probably been translated by more translators than any Pali text.Exposing translator bias http://www.” first published in 1946. Buddhadatta’s (1887-1962) “Concise Pali-English 3 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM .W. of the variability in translation.” and that he proposed this practice strategy as a means of avoiding the ecstasies (jhanas). In fact this author was able to find 20 different translations of the Dhammapada on the stacks of the library of the University of Arizona. the third dictionary used in this study was Nyanatiloka’s “Buddhist Dictionary. 372. could not be expected to penetrate the meaning of the writing of any mystic. We will begin with the Pali first for comparison and follow it with a rough dictionary translation. where this essay was prepared. which has been summarized in the “wet verses dry” controversy. It was translated by the Danish pioneer of Pali Studies. Let us simply take this single verse. or so. For this study this author used these four Pali-to-English dictionaries: The first ever published. Thus.P. Viggo Fausboll (1821-1908). A contemplative. Using this highly scholarly venture perhaps we can penetrate the meaning of this Pali stanza and discover whether this stanza supports the claims of either the ‘wets’ or the ‘drys’. Dhammapada Verse 372. A classic example.” first published in 1876. can be revealed by examining the various translations of the Dhammapada. Rhys Davids and William Stede and published in 1921. This is in fact an ancient conflict within the various vehicles and traditions of Buddhism. the second dictionary consulted was the Pali Text Society’s “Pali-English Dictionary” edited by T. claim ecstasy (jhana) is not needed. A. Stanza 372 was chosen specifically because it is an often quoted stanza that is used to support a belief that Sidharta Gotama taught a practice strategy called “vipassana. who has successfully penetrated the meaning of the teachings of a mystic. can be expected to penetrate the meaning of the literature of the mystic. and examine how the four key Pali-to-English dictionaries render it. (Pali) "Natthi jhanam apaññassa pañña natthi ajhayato yamhi jhanan ca pañña ca sa ve nibbanasantike. or both. Only such a one can speak authoritatively on those attainments." (Buddhadatta) The four Pali-to-English dictionaries consulted for this project are the primary Pali-to-English dictionaries to have emerged in the last 150. must have meditated until he or she has realized all of the subjective states (attainments) the mystic (in this case Sidharta Gotama) was talking about.greatwesternvehicle. Robert Childers’ (1838-1876) “A Dictionary of the Pali language. who is to say what the shades of meaning were intended by Sidharta Gotama. For the purpose of comparison this author has chosen the Dhammapada for discovering this variability in translation because it is the most commonly translated document within the Pali canon. Thus much for the ‘drys’ hinges upon this one small stanza. years of European scholarship of the Pali language. Unfortunately there is so little support for the dry premise within the Discourse of the Buddha that they tend to site stanza 372 from the Dhammapada in support of their claim.21). which was rendered into Danish in 1855 is “the first Pali text ever critically edited in Europe” (Conze). The ‘drys’. who rarely meditates if ever. In fact the Dhammapada. You will be happy to find an English translation of Fausboll’s Danish version on this list. who through a rigorous contemplative practice regimen.

In the descriptions of the crises in the religious experiences of the Christian saints and mystics. In fact he said it was a desirable pleasure to be cultivated (MN 139). expressions similar to those used in the jhanas are frequent. religious meditation or abstraction of mind. Concentration of mind. though temporary. then this seems like further support for the term ‘ecstasy’ as a more true and descriptive translation for ‘jhana’ than does either ‘meditation’ or ‘concentration’. however related terms are. Since the Pali prefix ‘a’ is a negative.” Thus Childers maybe correct when he suggested ‘ecstasy’ as a translation for ‘jhana’. but rather of an enhanced vitality. Apanno-is a compound word made up of ‘a’ and ‘panna. mystic or abstract meditation. Meditation. They are achieved through full ecstatic concentration (appana. when he says “In the descriptions of the crises in the religious experiences of the Christian saints and mystics. What we get from the dictionaries in order of appearance of the term is as follows.Exposing translator bias http://www. Jhana. It is a technical term for a special religious experience. In the case of the term ‘jhana’ it is often translated as ‘meditation’ or ‘concentration’. refers chiefly to the four meditative absorptions. contemplation. is one of full alertness and lucidity (Nyanatiloka). meditation). Dhyana. The Pali term ‘Apannassa’ is not mentioned in the four dictionaries.org/criticism/translation. nirvana). ecstasy. so for him this must have been some kind of subjective state that lay beyond the simple exercise of meditation and concentration. then ‘Apannassa’ is 4 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM .” published in 1957. however Sidharta Gotama interpreted it as characterized by bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) (DN 22. Literally meditation.htm Dictionary. trance (Childers). during which there is a complete. (Please note that in several cases the Pali term is rendered in only one or two of the dictionaries consulted): Natthi -there is not (Childers) Jhanam –(this word is derived from ‘jhana’). which was "Di.thadhammasukhavihaaraa" a "pleasant abiding in the here and now" (MN 8). a constituent of meditation (Buddhadatta). since this writer’s contemplative practice has evolved to a very pleasant stage. And. meditation.’ The Pali prefix ‘a’ is a negative. expressions similar to those used in the jhanas are frequent (Rhys Davids).t. The state of consciousness.21). Reached in a certain order of mental states…It will be seen that there is no suggestion of trance. suspension of fivefold sense-activity and of the five hindrances (s. Jhana –Absorption (trance. It is a compound word made up of ‘a’ and ‘Pañña. With this kind of description I am inclined to agree with Rhys Davids.greatwesternvehicle. from meditation on objects and burning up anything adverse. so without ‘Pañña’ or without wisdom or foolish (Childers). however.nt. Jhana (nt) from jhayati BSk. samadhi). s. Apanna –ignorant (Rhys Davids).

wisdom.Who. knowledge. Pañña –Understanding.wisdom. thus it seems we can reject ‘insight’ as well as a possible choice in translation. then it would seem “without wisdom” is the implied use. and wisdom obtained by meditation. intellect. intellect. think upon. Wisdom. then it seems reasonable to reject both ‘reasoning’ and ‘intellect’ as possible choices in this translation. insight. i. In our language we tend to call wisdom “obtained by thought” ‘reasoning’ or’ understanding’. which is ‘vipassana’.greatwesternvehicle. endowed with knowledge or insight. reason. That initiative knowledge which brings about the 4 stages of Holiness and the realization of Nibbana and which comprises penetration of Impermanence (anicca). or ecstasy. wisely.wisdom. however. And.e. Ajhayato -is not mentioned in the four dictionaries consulted. insight. wisdom obtained by study. We also know that there is a Pali term for ‘insight’. wisdom obtained by study. The specific Buddhist knowledge or wisdom. insight.htm without ‘Pañña’ or wisdom. contemplate. Misery (dhukka) and Impersonality (anatta) of all forms of existence (Nyanatiloka). practice for the attainment of highest knowledge (Buddhadatta). we tend to call wisdom “obtained by study ‘intellect’ or ‘knowledge’. The translations for ‘pañña’ suggest understanding. search for or hunt after (Rhys Davids). We can then conclude that ‘wisdom’ is probably the best choice. Childers says the Pali cannon mentions there are three kinds of ‘pañña’ or wisdom. which. Jhayati . wisdom obtained by meditation (Childers). which suggests the Pali language may not be sophisticated enough to distinguish between these three kinds. which is related again to the term ‘jhana’ thus it would seem to mean “without jhana or ecstasy. perceive. to meditate. Pañña (adj. what.Exposing translator bias http://www.org/criticism/translation. The code of intellectual duties.” Yamhi -yo. possessed of the highest cognition (Rhys Davids). Pañña . Pañña . Since meditative absorption. he who. through or by or with wisdom.) of wisdom. reason. wisdom obtained by thought. which could be rendered as ‘foolish’ or ‘ignorant’ however since both panna and apañña are used in this stanza. not just the practice of meditation (sati). knowledge. as part of the Noble Eightfold Path to deliverance.is related to the term ‘jhana’ and means to shine. however it seems clearly to be another compound made up of the negative ‘a’ prefix this time with ‘Jhayati’ as its suffix. brood over. is insight. whoever (Childers). knowledge. is clearly mentioned in this stanza. even though they do so intellectually: These three kinds of Pañña’ (wisdom) are: wisdom obtained by thought. comprises a very wide field. 5 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM .

then. 2. [the extinguishing of fire. Nibbana (BSk nirvana) to blow. truly. annihilation. bliss (Rhys Davids).Exposing translator bias http://www. The dying out in the heart of the threefold fire of raga. ill-will. the sense of spiritual well-being. Ca-what about? How is it? ever. annihilation of being. health. 4. now (Buddhadatta). Ca –(copulative. Ve –particle of affirmation. 3. surely. Ca-and. which is the prevailing Buddhist concept of the term]. The Pali term ‘nibbanasantike’ is not translated by the four dictionaries. and. emphasizing the preceding word: indeed. victory and peace. or disjunctive particle). Sa -possessed of. annihilation of human passion. what-ever (Rhys Davids). To exhaust the fuel of burning. but none of the dictionaries offered a specific meaning for it. truly. Sa -one’s own. & stupidity (Buddhistic meaning). his own (Rhys Davids). & moha: lust. indeed. such as the passing away of feverishness and restlessness. of security. through one’s actions (Buddhadatta). please see below: Nibbanam extinction. salvation. but even (Childers). dosa. having (Rhys Davids). in the sense of bodily well-being. (Buddhadatta). emancipation.org/criticism/translation. whoever. destruction. of affirmation. 6 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . Arahantship or final sanctification (Childers).greatwesternvehicle.htm Yamhi -to be combined with (Rhys Davids) Jhanan -this word is most certainly derived from jhana. Ve -part. to blow out a lamp. but it seems to be a compound word made up of ‘nibbana’ and ‘Santiko’.

Thus it seems reasonable to translate ‘nibbanasantike’ as either “in the presence of. One need only read the rich literature of religious aspiration from the Gnostics to the present to reveal the idea of a “highest and ultimate goal of religious aspiration” that is often described as “extinction. towards. Vicinity. to cease blowing. lit. Santiko -adj. keeping near. disease. ‘Freedom from desire’ (nir + vana). we have “near to” or “in the presence of” (Childers/ Rhys Davids). 23 Translations of Dhammapada Verse 372 Bancroft. i.” which should be reasonably equivalent to the Buddhist concept of being free of the hindrances of “Greed.htm Nibbana –Skr.Exposing translator bias http://www. Hatred. Oddly none of the four dictionaries offered a simple single word translation for ‘nibbana’ as if the English language had never considered the ideas behind nibbana prior to the arrival of Buddhism.’ When we look at the suffix of the compound Pali term ‘nibbanasantike’. the final bliss. Nibbana – cooling. We can now put all of this together as below: "There is no ecstasy without wisdom. Nibbana constitutes the highest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations.” (provisional. by or along with (Rhys Davids). extinction (of a fire). a final bliss. presence. how will you concentrate? But if you concentrate with insight. 7 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM .” That one word is often referred to as ‘enlightenment. and therewith also the ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth. with. to become extinquished). and convulsively clinging to existence. let us examine how this stanza is revealed by 23 different translators. There is no wisdom without ecstasy. destruction. and Delusion. destruction (Buddhadatta). annihilation. Of course this is untrue. according to the commentaries. and Delusion. how will you gain insight? And if you have no insight. emancipation. ‘Extinction’ (nir + va. Nirvana. or near to enlightenment. absolute extinction of that life-affirming will manifested as Greed. Hatred.e. in the presence of. from all suffering and misery. Paranibbana (Nyanatiloka). Let us see how true to the meaning of the stanza they remain. towards (Childers) Santika -vicinity. old age.“ which is often further described as a freedom from the “seven deadly sins. Brooks) Now. in the presence of.org/criticism/translation. which is Santike. Whoever has both wisdom and ecstasy Is truly close to enlightenment.greatwesternvehicle. and death. Anne “If you do not meditate. emancipation. Cf.

“There is no jhana without wisdom” in his third line he implies that it is possible to have one without the other. While this contemplative is aware that this is a common belief among dry insight believers it does not seem to be a belief that Sidharta Gotama shared. This translator has also chosen to translate the Pali term ‘pañña’ as insight.21) then we can conclude this translation seems to want to diminish the importance of the ecstatic component of jhana. and her choice of ‘insight’ for pañña. chooses ‘meditation’ to translate ‘jhana’ and ‘knowledge’ to translate ‘panna’. Nikunja Vihari. and/or their English equivalents.htm You will come near Nirvana. While the Pali-to-English dictionaries suggest ‘insight’ as an optional translation for ‘pañña’ the original Pali actually used pañña. While knowledge is one of the choices in the Pali dictionaries for translation of panna.” Here Bancroft has chosen to translate the Pali term ‘jhana’ as both ‘meditate’ and ‘concentrate’. Banerjee. Is close to nirvana. It is certainly a safe choice however.” In this version. which means more precisely ‘wisdom’ not ‘insight’ and if the Buddha wanted to use the term ‘insight’ he would most likely have used the term ‘vipassana’ not pañña. not practice strategies or “fruits” that are developed through separate practice strategies. Considering that jhana is defined in terms of bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) in the Discourse of the Buddha (MN 22. which is ecstatic. it seems like a fairly unsuccessful choice. then we can conclude that this translator has been most influenced by the ‘dry’ insight school. Even though in his first and second lines he says. not a contemplative one. Banerjee. The term knowledge implies that the path to enlightenment is an intellectual one. which is really best translated as ‘wisdom’ and finally her belief in multiple practice strategies. Through her diminishment of the subjective quality of jhana. but this contemplative disagrees and believes that his choice not to translate these terms only reveals either a lack of understanding of these Pali terms.Exposing translator bias http://www. “There is no meditation without knowledge and there is no knowledge without meditation He who has both knowledge and meditation. Ajahn “There is no jhana without wisdom There is no wisdom without jhana But for one with both jhana and wisdom They are in the presence of Nibbana” In his translation Brahmavamso has chosen not to translate the Pali terms ‘jhana’ or ‘Nibbana’. as evident in the dry insight dogma. his choice certainly does not contributed to an understanding of what these Pali terms mean in English.org/criticism/translation. While I favor his choice in the first two lines in 8 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . We can thus conclude that this translator is probably not a contemplative but a simple scholar who does not understand the subtleties of the contemplative life. His choice presumably assumes there is no adequate translation for them. Brahmavamso.greatwesternvehicle. In her third line this translator implies that it is possible to have wisdom without ecstasy (jhana). If we examine the Fruits of the Contemplative Life Samaññaphala Sutta (DN 2) Then we can see that Sidharta Gotama considered both absorption (jhana) and insight (vipassana) as “fruits” of the contemplative life.

is close to Nibbana. and they even had a second printing! It must have been the pretty pictures. and no insight for him who lacks meditative concentration. this stanza plus one line seems to be the closest he got to the original. this word combination seems to fail at revealing the subjective quality of jhana that either ecstasy or absorption seems better at revealing. but at least he also does not seem to subscribe to the dry insight school either. enlightenment (nibbana). Buddharakkhita. It is a wonder that his translation got through the editors. However.Exposing translator bias http://www. How can you steady the mind? If you cannot quieten yourself. We can see also in the first line that this translator has chosen ‘insight’ as a translation for the Pali term ‘panna. or bring one close to. “meditative concentration” is certainly well within the suggested translations in the various dictionaries. After all there are eight stages of absorption that lead to enlightenment (nibbana). however.’ This choice is indicative of the dry insight dogma. Acharya: "There is no meditative concentration for him who lacks insight. not complete success with attaining enlightenment (nibbana). this author is all for poetic and personal interpretations that are inspired by Asian literature.htm suggesting that one comes with the other. I believe his choice is as valid as any other translator’s. because he faithfully translated ‘pañña’ as wisdom. What will you ever learn? How will you become free?" Thomas Bryom’s offering seems to fall so far from the mark that it was rather difficult to even find where in his 25th chapter he even rendered a translation of stanza 372. "There is no concentration for him who lacks wisdom. to call his book a translation of the Dhammapada seems misleading.greatwesternvehicle. 9 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . Buddhadatta. Buddhadatta. indeed." In this translation. He in whom are found both meditative concentration and insight.P. Thomas "If you are not wise. however. Thus this contemplative believes it is reasonable to say that the intended meaning of this line is to say the eight absorption states (jhanas) lead to. attempts to give us more in his translation of the Pali term ‘jhana’. Buddharakkhita. A. Brahmavamso. and along with his rejection of the subjective nature of jhana. chose to translate the Pali term ‘jhana’ as ‘concentration’ it seems he does not favor the subjective quality of absorption or ecstasy that jhana has. In whom are found both concentration and wisdom-He. appear to believe wisdom and absorption are faculties that must be cultivated separately. Bryom." In his translation. however. it seems like his third line is inconsistent with his first and second lines. Nor is there wisdom for him who lacks concentration. As a poet. In his fourth and last line. And. indeed. is in the presence of Nibbana.org/criticism/translation. He does. It therefore is possible to suggest that Buddhadatta was most probably a scholar not a contemplative. and his third line implying wisdom and absorption do not come together hand-in-hand suggests that Buddharakkhita is most probably under the sway of the dry insight dogma. chooses to say one with both jhana and wisdom (panna) has actually arrived at enlightenment. except that the line seems to indicate nearness.

Exposing translator bias http://www. And. "There is no meditative absorption for one who lacks insight. As has already been said. V. But. they imply in the first three stanzas that it is possible to develop one without the other. the first European scholar to render a translation of the Dhammapada chose to render pañña as knowledge. There is no insight for one who is not meditating. so this author finds it a poor choice. Since Burma is the home of the most outspoken dry insight schools we can assume that the Burma Pitaka Association is a dry insight school. indeed. Kaviratna. which never seemed to be the Buddha’s intention. They did however successfully render pañña as wisdom." Here the consortium “Burma Pitaka Association” has chosen “concentration” for a rendering of jhana. skillfully or not. without meditation there is no knowledge: he who has knowledge and meditation is near unto Nirvana" Here Fausböll. absorption or ecstasy is really a more accurate rendering. but knowledge is the storing up of information. indeed.” They did however translate the Pali term ‘panna’ as insight. which reveals some dry insight influence. Abides very near to nirvana. Whoever is endowed with both meditation and wisdom.” In their rather circuitous rout of translating the Dhammapada from the Pali to Tibetan.: "Without knowledge there is no meditation. who seem to recognize the subjective quality of jhana in their choice to translate it as “meditative absorption.greatwesternvehicle. In their choice to translate the Pali term ‘jhana’ as ‘meditation’ seems to reduce the significance of jhana down to anyone who meditates. he also chose to render ‘jhana’ as meditation. They also imply that there are two practice paths in their word choices for the first three lines. the Dharma Publishing “Staff” arrived at a translation that is not apparently under the sway of dry insight. and in their third line they reveal a belief that absorption and wisdom do not come hand-in-hand. In whom there is meditative absorption and insight. We can thus conclude that these translators may fall on the line between the ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ camps. and no wisdom for him who does not concentrate. He in whom there is both perfect contemplation and wisdom is. Truly. Carter. close to Nibbana. then into English. John Ross and Palihawadana. again this is a weak choice of words.org/criticism/translation. Fausböll. Dharma Publishing “Staff” “Without wisdom there is no meditation. Mahinda. there can be no wisdom in one who lacks concentration. he is in Nibbana’s presence. Carter and Palihawadana are among the very few translators." 10 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM .htm Burma Pitaka Association: "There can be no concentration in one who lacks wisdom. Without meditation there is no wisdom. close to nirvana. Does that mean when we really concentrate on our homework we are going to get the kind of wisdom that leads to enlightenment? Hardly." Remarkably. Harischandra: "There is no perfect contemplation for him who is not wise. He who has concentration as well as wisdom is.

” Here Lal.. S. Nearer to Nibbana is he. there is no understanding for one who does not meditate. Max: "Without knowledge there is no meditation. where the subjective quality of absorption and ecstasy is ignored. in whom meditation and wisdom meet. has arrived at a rather unique and intriguing solution to translation with only three lines. Pullela. meditation and wisdom. even if he did place it within brackets. Ramacandrudu. but one could certainly argue the point. However. No wisdom for one without meditation. "There is no meditation for one who has no understanding. chose to neglect the subjective qualities of jhana he did recognize that it takes wisdom to engage in a contemplative life. however. He in whom there are meditation and wisdom. he indeed is close to nirvana. “Perfect contemplation” does not seem to be a successful rendering of ecstasy or absorption. Bravo! He has. And. “How can one without wisdom meditate? How can one without meditation be wise? Both together. Raja. he does suggest that it takes wisdom to choose to engage in a contemplative life. Sri. "There is no meditation for one who is without wisdom. he recognized that both meditation and wisdom are indicators of 11 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM ." Here Max Muller has rendered an identical translation to Fausböll. neglected to recognize the ecstatic quality of the term ‘jhana’." Here Radhakrishnan. In his third line he does.org/criticism/translation. Without meditation there is no knowledge: He who has knowledge and meditation Is near unto Nirvana. imply that “perfect contemplation” can occur in the absence of wisdom. Lal. and he has also reduced wisdom to mere understanding. Dr." While Ramacandrudu. however it does not seem anymore successful at getting the message across. "There is no meditation for him who is without wisdom. he verily is in the vicinity of nirvana (Beautitude). Dr. It is however refreshing to see Beautitude suggested for nirvana." Here Raja. has chosen to ignore the subjective qualities of absorption and ecstasy within jhana. there is no wisdom for him who is without meditation. can we assume he was either the student of Fausböll or the source of Fausböll’s work being translated into German. and instead of implying there are two practice paths. which he neglected to translate. P. Kunhan. F. he simply expresses in the third line that a contemplative life and the presence of wisdom are indicators of nibbana. Muller.Exposing translator bias http://www. C. has chosen a fairly common method of translation.greatwesternvehicle. lead to Nirvana. he. however. and perhaps English as well? Radhakrishnan. He in whom there is both meditation and understanding.htm In this rendering Kaviratna has made a bold effort to render a unique and refreshing translation. as if the path to enlightenment was simply a subject like auto mechanics.

" While it is possible to argue that meditation is the over arching concept that embraces ecstasy or absorption. and brings it down to mere monasticism. kamma. as if English does not have an adequate concept. Richards.Exposing translator bias http://www. he is indeed close to nirvana. Certainly plenty of unwise people engage in meditation that does not mean that they have arrived at skillful meditation. and nibbana. Jhana. which is the derivative word for ‘apannassa.org/criticism/translation. And. Sarada. The ones who have stability And wisdom are to be called ‘monks. When a man has both meditation and wisdom. which is simply directing one’s attention to any subject. and so his choice to leave it un-translated seems like a copout. so Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation “no jhana” seems reasonable. Jhana is correctly translated as ‘absorption’ or ‘ecstasy. No wisdom concentration lacks In whom are both these qualities Near to Nibbana is that one." Sarada’s rather terse choice reveals the interrelatedness of concentration and wisdom.’ while he chose to translate all of the other Pali terms in this stanza.’ as wisdom. These two choices probably are the most anemic of all the renderings so far examined here. thus more commonly ‘apannassa’ 12 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . such as dhamma. whether that be chemistry or a meditation subject. and there is no wisdom without meditation. however he did neglect to translate the term ‘Nibbana’. Sparham. it however lacks precision. John: "There is no meditation without wisdom. Wergoda. no stability. much like doing ones homework. however when the term concentration is used as a translation for ‘jhana’ one implies that jhana is simply a cognitive process. This however is not at all what jhana means. seems odd that he would do so. "Without stability there is no wisdom. according to the four Pali dictionaries.’ In this stanza Thanissaro also chose to translate the third Pali term ‘apannassa’ as “no discernment. The word is ‘jhana’ and jhana means ecstasy or absorption. Sparham certainly has not revealed the unique subjective qualities of absorption and ecstasy in that word choice. most translators render pañña." Here the first word in the line ‘Natthi’ means the absence of something. Gareth. thus keeping his translations fresh. his choice not to translate the Pali term ‘jhana. which is implied when the term jhana was used in the original Pali. However. Many translators do choose to maintain some of the commonly known Pali terminology.htm Nibbana. finally he even disposes with enlightenment as the goal of the Noble Eightfold Path. "No concentration wisdom lacks. no discernment for one with no jhana. Without wisdom. Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff): "There's no jhana for one with no discernment.” While I enjoy Thanissaro’s willingness to broadly translate Pali. however Mr.greatwesternvehicle. however.’" The choice of ‘stability’ for ‘jhana’ is most certainly refreshing and different. But one with both jhana & discernment: he's on the verge of Unbinding. is not well understood.

Jeffrey S. Brooks. W.. nor is there wisdom in him who lacks concentration. Jhana means absorption or ecstasy. And. so it seems Thanissaro has rendered the line successfully as. Let us now summarize this effort. . (Jhanananda): "There is no ecstasy without wisdom. since this contemplative has found that insight is the source of wisdom and that insight does not arrive without absorption (ecstasy). There is no wisdom without ecstasy. Pañña does not mean ‘insight’ it means wisdom. Could he be responsible for the Burma Pitaka Association’s translation. He has not found that either wisdom or insight can arise without ecstasy nor that ecstasy arises without insight or wisdom. This also explains why the fourth line was moved into the third position." Since nibbana literally means to stop rotation. he indeed..greatwesternvehicle.D. Let us not be squeamish in our translations. Only three of the 23 translators used ‘insight’ to translate ‘pañña’ whereas 13 translated it as ‘wisdom.” Thus this contemplative has rendered what he believes is a more accurate rendering of Dhammapada Verse 372 as above. Nyanatiloka and Rhys Davids) recognized the ecstatic quality of jhana.” Here Wagiswara seems to recognize the intimate connection between meditation and wisdom. therefore “without wisdom” is probably a better rendering than “no discernment. then the conclusion would have been that wisdom and ecstasy are optional instead of the two sides of the same “coin”. however only this author’s translation of this stanza took that significance into account. insight and ecstasy. Why not use it? U Pannadipa. In whom are found both concentration and wisdom. Sayadaw: "There is no concentration in him who lacks wisdom. then he has concluded that one who is close to enlightenment most assuredly has arrived at wisdom. however in his choice of meditation as a translation for ‘jhana’ it seems he has left us lacking for meaning. then “unbinding” is a reasonable choice. Whoever is close to enlightenment truly has both wisdom and ecstasy. Those in whom wisdom and meditation meet are not far from Nirvana. The third line begins with ‘yamhi’ which means with or in addition to. If switching the third and fourth lines was not done. thus Thanissaro’s choice here leaves us lacking for meaning. however ‘enlightenment’ is the more common English translation for nibbana.org/criticism/translation. much like the possible relationship between Max Muller and Viggo Fausböll.” One who has wisdom no doubt has discernment. “But one with both jhana & discernment” with the exception of ‘discernment’ for wisdom. meaning one comes with the other. there is no wisdom apart from meditation.C “There is no meditation apart from wisdom. or perhaps he was the student of the translator.Exposing translator bias http://www.htm would be rendered as “no wisdom” because the prefix ‘a’ means the negative condition. Three of the four dictionaries consulted (Childers.” The fourth line “sa ve nibbanasantike” means “to be near or close to nibbana” and Thanissaro chose to render it as “on the verge of Unbinding.’ This effort suggests that translation is highly variable due to the subjective quality 13 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . is in the presence of Nibbana. but the word ‘discernment’ does not seem at all a synonym for wisdom. Wagiswara." Here U Pannadipa has joined the Burma Pitaka Association in rendering almost an identical translation.

greatwesternvehicle. and do that skillfully. Element. Hopefully at least one of those translations would fall close to the mark.Exposing translator bias http://www. Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Ajahn. Max Muller. but they must also engage in penetrating the scholarship in Buddhism to search out the truth. The Dhammapada. The Colombo Apothecaries Co. Wildwood House. Dhammapadam: an anthology of sayings of the Buddha. 1997 Banerjee. European scholarship of Buddhism and the Pali language has gone through several generations of development in its 150 years. in which thankfully we have scholar-monks who actually engaged in the lifestyle and practice of traditional Buddhism. Nyanaponika. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Colombo. The Dhammapada. For Europeans to “arrive” at making the dhamma “their own” they must not only engage in the lifestyle. 1989 Brahmavamso. Raja and D. because their translations do not tend to reveal the ecstatic component of Buddhism. A. The Europeans who converted to Buddhism and took up monasticism. Singapore Brooks.P. their translations tend to be no better than the Europeans who converted to Buddhist monasticism. 1979 Buddhadatta. Great Western Vehicle website: Bryom. or can articulate it effectively in any of the European languages. Bodhi and Thanissaro. London. represent the second generation of Buddhist enquiry. 1957 14 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . Massachusetts. As is revealed in this simple analysis of a single stanza of the Dhammapada. represented that first generation of enquiry. Buddhaghosa. 1976. Nikunja Vihari. (Jhanananda). as scholars who were not contemplatives nor Buddhists. The third generation of European enquiry is revealed in the Asians who learned the European languages and acquired some level of scholarship sufficient to gain publication. Ltd. Concise Pali-English Dictionary. Buddhadatta. Childers and the Rhys Davids. they apparently did not engage in the contemplative practice skillfully. Ltd. Brooks) Sources: Bancroft. in Asian studies or Buddhism. (Ambalangoda Polvatte. however. Nyanatiloka. Kaviratna.T. However. Ceylon. The fourth generation of Buddhist enquiry is represented by Brahmavamso and this author. Sazuki represent that effort. Ltd. Colombo Apothecaries Co. Buddhist Fellowship. Fausböll. This suggests also that if we were so fortunate to have 23 translations of the Pali Canon then we would have 23 remarkably different renderings of the Buddha’s words. or that someone is an Asian monk. (1887-1962). Banerjee. The Jhanas.htm of translation. while exposing the myths. A.D. but they have revealed in their writing evidence to indicate that they have arrived at some level of attainment through skillful practice. The Dhammapada. Anne. such as Buddhadatta. Chandradasa De Silva of Ahangama. New Delhi. Thomas. Jeffrey S. who not only engaged in the lifestyle and contemplative practices. as well as the contemplative life. We cannot assume that just because someone has a Ph.org/criticism/translation. May you be enlightened in this very lifetime. that they necessarily have arrived at clear understanding (vipassana) of the way of life (dhamma). U.P. 1887-1962.

V. Oxford. London Conze. 1912. Reader in Sanskrit.L. New York. (Sarvepalli). 1927 This document (updated 11-19-04) can be retrieved at this URL: 15 of 16 5/9/2010 10:28 AM . 10.. S. A Bibliography. London. Sarnath. Straus & Groux. India 1983 Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff): Tin. Dharma Publishing. Ph.C and Saunders K.1987 Childers. Illustrated Dhammapada.D. Suttapitaka.Exposing translator bias http://www. Daw Mya. Leipzig: Verlag von Veit. John Murray. Singapore. 1855. Dhammapada. C.greatwesternvehicle. Varanasi. Ph. Wergoda.W. T. Dhammapadam. F.L. D. the Dhammapada. London Sarada. And William Stede. Kunhan. Edited and revised by Lewis Lancaster. Khuddakanik_aya. Dr. 2nd ed. Mahinda. 1976. Sc.org/criticism/translation. 1921] Carter. New Delhi.. Farrar. Theosophical University Press. CA Lal. Oxford University Press. “Dhammapada Pali text in Devanagari with English Translation. 1921.. 1990 Wagiswara. 2nd ed. Pasadena. Suttapitaka. Kaviratna.D. Taiwan. reprint of 1875 ed. The Dhammapada. Khuddakanik_aya. London: Luzac. Hyderabad India. 1956. New York. translated from the Pali. Munich. Rinsen Book Co. 1920. John Ross and Palihawadana. 3rd ed. 1967 Muller. 1969 [c.. c1950. Suttapitaka. New York & London 1982 The Dhammapada. 1838-1876. Tipitaka. Dhammapada. Mahayana Publications. Buddha Educational Foundation. Havniae.htm Buddhaghosa. Buddhist Legends. Dhammapada.D.. India. 1888-1975. Selections. 1993 Sparham. Max: (1823-1900) PTS "Sacred Books of the East. Oxford University Press. Madras 20. editors. 1976 Raja. A Dictionary of the Pali language. Kyoto. then from Tibetan to English.. English & Pali. 1985 Fausböll.J. 1900. Edward. 1821-1908. A reprint of Burma Pitaka Association Publication 1986. Vol. Osmania University. Gareth. Robert Caesar. “Buddhist Dictionary. English. 1984 Rhys Davids. Adyar. Buddhist Scriptures. Tipitaka. Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. By Luzac & Company 1966. Nyanatiloka edited by Nyanaponika. Treasury of Truth. London. 1893.” third revision. 1991 Radhakrishnan. The Tibetan Dhammapada. translated from the Pali to Tibetan by dGe’dun Chos-‘phel.1949. Published by the Pali Text Society’. Garland Publishing. Der Wahrheitspfad. Harischandra. Inc. P. 1980. FBA. the Clarendon Press [1881] Neuman. Buddhist Meditation Centre... Khuddakanik_aya. Karl Eugene.” The Theosophical Publishing House. The Buddha’s “Way of Virtue” A translation of the Dhammapada from the Pali Text.The Dhammapada. W. The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary. Tipitaka.D. 1996. (Viggo). Trubner. Taipei. Litt. Pali Text Society. D.. English & Pali.

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