Pali/Buddhist non-translatables

Explore the ancient language of the Tipitaka and Theravāda commentaries

Moderator: Mahavihara moderator

User avatar
Ajatashatru
Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:35 pm
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1001

Pali/Buddhist non-translatables

Postby Ajatashatru » Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:09 pm

As some of you have seen in my earlier posts, I have been reading a book called "Being Different" by Rajiv Malhotra which is an analysis of Western civilization. In it he coins the term "digestion" where a powerful civilization data mines a weaker civilization before destroying it in a variety of means (note this is not necessarily violent). In this book, Malhotra dedicates a whole chapter to Sanskrit "non-translatables" which when "translated" into English distorts the original meaning of the word. This is what he has to say about the matter:

Many westerners assume that the dharmic wisdom embodied in the Sanskrit language can be translated into other languages and imported into other religious and/or scientific paradigms without loss of meaning. "Aum" can be "Amen", "Shantih" can be "peace", "Brahma" can be "God", etc......, I argue that this is not the case.

Ancient as it is, Sanskrit remains important for its profound creative potential. The richness of the meaning of a word is often deeply embedded in its cultural context,....Many cultural artifacts have no equivalent in other cultures, and to force such artifacts into the moulds that the West finds acceptable or familiar-- to appropriate them-- is to distort them. This too is a form of colonization and cultural conquest.


He then devotes several more pages explaining his thesis before delving into thoroughly explaining the profound deeper meaning of terms such as "Brahman, Shiva, Atman", etc. The terms that he explained that are relevant for Buddhists aree "Dharma", "Karma", and "Dukkha".

You can see his explanation of "Dharma", which was pasted verbatim on Huffington Post.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-mal ... 75314.html

His explanation of "Dukkha" which he says is not the same as "suffering", I am quoting next.

"Dukkha is a psychological condition in which the more forcefully the self asserts itself, the more it senses the lack of what it does not possess. By its very nature, it is not self-sufficient, and its craving for external things produces its sense of lack. Conversely, the greater the dukkha, the more powerful the self becomes as the agent in charge of dealing with the problem."


What do you guys think about this? Does Malhotra's argument hold water, and if so are there other Pali non-translatables we can come up with and thus explain better? "Nibbana" comes to my mind immediately as well as "Anatta". What is your opinion on this matter.

:anjali:

User avatar
Bhikkhu Pesala
Posts: 2101
Joined: Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:17 pm

Re: Pali/Buddhist non-translatables

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Jul 23, 2013 7:04 pm

Words are just concepts. Translating a Sanskrit or Pāḷi term is just swapping one concept for another.

Knowing the Pāḷi word for not-self (anatta), doesn't mean that we understand what not-self or anatta really is. At least we need to attain the stage of knowledge by comprehension (sammasana-ñāṇa), to get some direct personal experience of it.

We can translate "nibbāna" simply as "cessation" or "the cessation of suffering" but does that get us any closer to understanding what it is?

When translating profound Pāḷi terms like "dukkha," we have to translate according to context — sometimes as "suffering," or sometimes as "unsatisfactoriness." Nevertheless, no one really understands the truth of suffering until they have realised at least the first path of Stream-winning.

To refuse to translate some terms may suit those who want to maintain an esoteric teaching, but for teaching the Dhamma, which is not a secret, we should translate and explain with notes if necessary. What I usually do, is give the Pāḷi word in brackets, so that knowledgeable readers can be sure what the original word was, and less knowledgeable readers can learn some new terms.

Teachings are just the finger pointing to the moon. It doesn't matter whether you call it "moon" or "candā" — there it is.
AIM WebsitePāli FontsIn This Very LifeBuddhist ChroniclesSoftware (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)

User avatar
Ajatashatru
Posts: 32
Joined: Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:35 pm
Which number is larger than 1000 and less than 1002: 1001

Re: Pali/Buddhist non-translatables

Postby Ajatashatru » Tue Jul 23, 2013 8:52 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Words are just concepts. Translating a Sanskrit or Pāḷi term is just swapping one concept for another.

Knowing the Pāḷi word for not-self (anatta), doesn't mean that we understand what not-self or anatta really is. At least we need to attain the stage of knowledge by comprehension (sammasana-ñāṇa), to get some direct personal experience of it.

We can translate "nibbāna" simply as "cessation" or "the cessation of suffering" but does that get us any closer to understanding what it is?

When translating profound Pāḷi terms like "dukkha," we have to translate according to context — sometimes as "suffering," or sometimes as "unsatisfactoriness." Nevertheless, no one really understands the truth of suffering until they have realised at least the first path of Stream-winning.

To refuse to translate some terms may suit those who want to maintain an esoteric teaching, but for teaching the Dhamma, which is not a secret, we should translate and explain with notes if necessary. What I usually do, is give the Pāḷi word in brackets, so that knowledgeable readers can be sure what the original word was, and less knowledgeable readers can learn some new terms.

Teachings are just the finger pointing to the moon. It doesn't matter whether you call it "moon" or "candā" — there it is.


Thanks for the input Bhante.


Return to “Pali”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests