Pamāda

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Pamāda

Postby Jechbi » Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:14 am

In some recent threads, I've seen translations of the 5th precept that contradict each other with regard to whether the precept calls for abstaining from intoxicants or from intoxication. My knowledge of Pali is ridiculously inadequate to sort out which translation is accurate and which one is inaccurate, so can someone provide an authoritative answer and explanation?

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

Here's one translation: I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.

Here's another: I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

And there are lots of similar translations to be found.

But here's a detailed rebuttal to those types of translations, along with an alternative translation that supports moderate drinking:
Kare wrote:The best way of translating this sentence, is to start from the end.

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

Now for the long compound:
suramerayamajjappamadatthana

This is a compound made up from sura + meraya + majja + pamada + thana

sura and meraya are two different alcoholic drinks. Sura may be a kind of beer, and meraya maybe some kind of cider. Anyway, both are alcoholic.

majja = either intoxication or intoxicant drink
pamada = indolence, carelessness, negligence, intoxication

majja and pamada are practically synonyms here

now for the last member of the compound: thana. This word means "condition".

So, suramerayamajjappamadatthana is literally "beer-cider-carelessness-intoxication-condition".

In order to make this into a more idiomatic English, we have to start from the end: "the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider"

So what then does the precept say? It says: I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider (or, alcoholic drinks).

This is the literal meaning of the precept. Not to abstain from the drinks, but to abstain from the condition of intoxication.


So which is it? To abstain from the action of drinking these intoxicants? Or to abstain from the condition of being intoxicated?

Or is it impossible to know for certain? Is anyone's Pali good enough to answer with authority?

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Re: Pamāda

Postby Ben » Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:37 am

Hi Jechbi
I am no authority on Pali but I would argue that one (indulging in intoxicating drinks) begets the other (intoxication).
Kare's observation on another thread which stated the wise thing to do is to refrain from intoxicants and thereby not become intoxicated seems to be a good rule of thumb.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Jechbi » Fri Nov 06, 2009 7:40 am

Thanks, Ben. My question is actually narrower than that. I'm wondering if someone can authoritatively respond on the question of which translation is accurate.

It might be that the Pali language is so lacking in nuance that it's impossible to say with certainty, I don't know.

I'm really just interested in what the precept wording says, regardless of what opinions we all might share regarding taking intoxicants.

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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 12:36 pm

Since English is not my native language, I feel that I sometimes express myself a little clumsily. Maybe this gives a somewhat better description of my analysis:

... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 06, 2009 3:22 pm

The translation at the Concise Pali-English Dictionary
A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera:

pamāda (m.) negligence; indolence; remissness; carelessness.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 06, 2009 3:28 pm

From the same dictionary as I quoted above:

majja : [nt.] an intoxicant.

If this is a correct translation, then the precept is to be against intoxicants, which cause carelessness and heedlessness. The trouble with that is that it is sort of vague as someone could say that one drink does not make them careless or heedless.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:51 pm

From the dictionary above:

veramaṇī : [f.] abstinence.

Thus, we have the full precept translated word-for-word:

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

suramerayamajja-pamadatthana
beer-cider-carelessness-intoxicants-condition

which would then seem to be: "I undertake the training precept of abstaining from intoxicants which cause carelessness."

Again, still a little vague, but if we see majja as an intoxicant and not intoxication, then we have further evidence that this was meant to be the complete non-use of alcohol.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:58 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:From the dictionary above:

veramaṇī : [f.] abstinence.

Thus, we have the full precept translated word-for-word:

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

suramerayamajja-pamadatthana
beer-cider-carelessness-intoxicants-condition

which would then seem to be: "I undertake the training precept of abstaining from intoxicants which cause carelessness."

Again, still a little vague, but if we see majja as an intoxicant and not intoxication, then we have further evidence that this was meant to be the complete non-use of alcohol.


PLEASE! Do not commit the error of "translating" from the dictionary without considering the grammar! If you wish to defend one specific translation, you just HAVE to take the grammar into consideration! The grammar specifies the relationship between the words that you find in the dictionary.

In English one important grammatical feature is the place the words have in the sentence.

So see the difference the grammar makes:

The cat eats the mouse.
The mouse eats the cat.

If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 06, 2009 10:08 pm

Kare wrote:If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:


Hi Kare,

Okay, thanks. Then if we see majja as 'intoxicant' is it the grammar / structure of the sentence that makes it become "intoxication" or is it the translation itself that is "intoxication" ?
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:24 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
Kare wrote:If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:


Hi Kare,

Okay, thanks. Then if we see majja as 'intoxicant' is it the grammar / structure of the sentence that makes it become "intoxication" or is it the translation itself that is "intoxication" ?


Let's have a closer look at the compound surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā.

Pali grammarians have classified six types of compounds, and sometimes it can be a little difficult to analyze the different kinds, especially in long and nested compounds of compounds. The normal situation is that the last element in a compound takes priority, and the other elements qualify the main element. Here the last element is -ṭhānā, "condition", and so this has priority of meaning. All the remaining elements of the compound are subordinate to this main element, describing and qualifying it. This makes the compound a so called tappurisa compound, where there is a case relation between surāmerayamajjapamāda- and -ṭhānā. Therefore, the precept is about abstaining from a certain condition.

As for the remaining part of the compound, surāmerayamajjapamāda-, this clearly consists of two main parts, surāmeraya- and -majjapamāda-.
The first part here, surāmeraya-, is clearly a dvanda compound with two elements of equal weight, the two near-synonyms surā- and -meraya-. The second part is a little more problematic. I have taken -majjapamāda- to be another dvanda, seeing -majjapamāda- as two other synonyms. But this may be wrong. We may in fact have more nested tappurisa compounds here, with surāmeraya- qualifying -majja- (one tappurisa), then again surāmerayamajja- qualifying -pamāda- (another tappurisa), and finally surāmerayamajjapamāda- qualifying -ṭhānā (a third tappurisa). This may be a better analysis than my first one.

Let's try to resolve this mess by writing it as a mathematical formula:

{[(surā/meraya) majja] pamāda} ṭṭhānā

{[(beer/cider) intoxicant] carelessness} /from the/ condition (here /from the/ is necessary because -ṭhānā is in the ablative case)

A dvanda compound needs an "and". The tappurisa compounds express case relationships which in English are expressed by prepositions. In order to make this compound into idiomatic English we need to start from the end:

from the condition {of carelessness [(caused) by the intoxicants (beer /and cider)]}

This should come fairly close to a precise translation. But it might perhaps be better to take "carelessness (caused) by intoxicants" as just "intoxication".
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:35 pm

Okay, thanks for that detailed analysis! Especially with Bhante Dhammanando away, it is good to see this analysis from someone proficient in Pali.

So we have: "Abstention from the condition {of carelessness [(caused) by the intoxicants (beer /and cider)]} "

So, then the next question, perhaps not related to this thread, would be does one drink cause the condition of carelessness?
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Re: Pamāda

Postby notself » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:38 pm

One drink? I would think it depends on body size, general hydration, whether one's stomach is empty and many other factors. If I had one drink on an empty stomach, I would not get behind the wheel.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:58 pm

One drink? As I have said earlier, and as notself just said, this depends on a lot of factors. My general advice would be: If in doubt, don't take that drink. But this is something that each and everyone must decide for themselves - and of course take the responsibility for their decisions.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Nov 07, 2009 3:24 am

Kare wrote:One drink? As I have said earlier, and as notself just said, this depends on a lot of factors. My general advice would be: If in doubt, don't take that drink. But this is something that each and everyone must decide for themselves - and of course take the responsibility for their decisions.


:thumbsup: Yes, definitely. I would never recommend anyone to take up drinking alcohol. If anyone has not started or experimented yet, best to leave it alone. Every alcohol addiction had to start with one drink (not that all who drink become addicted, but every alcoholic had to start with one).
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Jechbi » Sat Nov 07, 2009 4:14 pm

Hi Kare,

I certainly appreciate all your efforts here. Thanks! :thumbsup:

For the sake of discussion, I'd like to take a closer look at how the root word "thana" is used in other words, because that might help inform how we interpret it here.

Generally speaking, I've noticed that root words take on subtly different meanings and nuances when they are put together with other words, because the root-word meaning becomes flavored with the other words connected to it. Based on what I've seen, it doesn't make sense to say that one root word has complete primacy over the others in terms of emphasis of meaning.

For example, the most common "thana" word I know is "satipatthana," which has the roots:

sati: presence of mind, to remember

pa: intense, or going beyond

thana: a state or condition, standing still

Please note that "thana" has both a being definition as well as a doing definition. I don't think we can ignore that.

If we were to analyze the word "satipatthana" in the same manner that you have analyzed the word "suramerayamajjapadamatthana," then we'd have to conclude that satipatthana is some kind of condition caused by sati. But in practical usage, the word "satipatthana" is much more than just that. The meaning of the word is not just some condition, but also a practice, an activity. I think this is crucial for understanding the word "satipatthana" (and also the way "thana" fits into this word): It is a practice, and it is flavored with sati.

Another example might be "thirasanna padatthana," or strong perception, which is one of the causes for the arising of sati. Again, it has the root word "thana." But does that mean it's just a condition? Or it is also a practice, an activity?

By the same token, "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" strikes me as a word that describes not just a condition, but also a practice, in this case an activity flavored with alcohol and heedlessness, all blended together in a unified concept. One stumbling block for me in your translation, Kare, is your use of the phrase "caused by" to separate alcohol away from what you perceive as the more important root words. You attribute this separation to grammar, but your selection of "caused by" does not appear to me to be a function of grammar. Rather, it appears to be a function of your interpretation.

So in trying to understand the Pali, I would be inclined to look at "satipatthana" and "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" in the same way. If "satipatthana" is a word for a kind of practice, then that means "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" also is a word for a kind of practice.

Which means that the 5th precept (as enunciated in Pali) is best understood as abstention from a certain practice.

I stand to be corrected. Thanks for your willingness to discuss.

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Re: Pamāda

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Nov 07, 2009 4:50 pm

I have found further understanding of this precept by seeing what the buddha said 'pamada' (perhaps carelessly translated as carelessness, heedlessness) was.

"When a monk dwells without restraint over the faculty of the intellect, the mind is stained with ideas cognizable via the intellect. When the mind is stained, there is no joy. There being no joy, there is no rapture. There being no rapture, there is no serenity. There being no serenity, he dwells in suffering. The mind of one who suffers does not become centered. When the mind is uncentered, phenomena (dhammas) don't become manifest. When phenomena aren't manifest, one is classed simply as one who dwells in heedlessness.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

The main effect of alcohol for me is that it dulls my mindfulness and clarity of perception. This immediately (even after one drink) affects my ability to experience phenomena as they really are.

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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Sat Nov 07, 2009 7:22 pm

Hi Jechbi,

You are right that thana is an element in patthana. But there is still a difference between thana and patthana. The difference is the prefix pa-. Prefixes usually have some general meaning, but their meaning is often not so clear and simple that we can deduce the meaning of the resulting word when we add a prefix to a root. So trying to translate pa- and -thana separately, and then hoping that these translations will add up to give the meaning of patthana, is a rather unsafe method. Prefixes do not behave like normal words in a compound do.

This is a general rule that goes for many languages. Let's take one English example. The meaning of "hold" is relatively clear and simple. Now, you can add the prefix be- (and maybe a good dictionary or lexicon can give some kind of meaning to it), but once you add be- and -hold, you get "behold", which means something quite different from the normal meanings of "hold".

Therefore trying to deduce the meaning of thana from patthana is not very relevant. It is possible that patthana really should be upatthana, so that the prefix is upa- and not pa-, but that does not make much difference here.

You then asked about my inserting "caused by". In a tappurisa compound there is a case relationship between the separate elements of the compound. Cases describe relationships that in English mostly are expressed through prepositions, so in order to transfer this case relationship when translating, we just have to insert some prepositions. I chose "caused by" in order to make the meaning clear, but I might also just have used a single word, as for instance "by" or maybe "through".

Since cases in inflected languages (like Pali) carry much of the meaning that prepositions carry in analytical languages (like English), we lose important nuances (and may risk turning the meaning of the expression upside down) if we forget to insert necessary words while translating. Of course there are certain problems involved, as well. In resolving this kind of compound words it is often possible to discuss exactly what case relationships are involved, since the elements of a compound are stripped of case endings or inflections - and if you read the Pali commentaries, you will find that this often is done. The commentator list different alternatives and say that if this case is intended, the meaning will be such and such, but if that case is intended, the meaning will be such and such. Often, but not always, the commentator after giving the alternatives, then says which interpretation is to be preferred.
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Jechbi » Sat Nov 07, 2009 7:44 pm

Thanks, Kare.

Kare wrote:You are right that thana is an element in patthana. But there is still a difference between thana and patthana. The difference is the prefix pa-. Prefixes usually have some general meaning, but their meaning is often not so clear and simple that we can deduce the meaning of the resulting word when we add a prefix to a root. So trying to translate pa- and -thana separately, and then hoping that these translations will add up to give the meaning of patthana, is a rather unsafe method. Prefixes do not behave like normal words in a compound do.

...

Therefore trying to deduce the meaning of thana from patthana is not very relevant. It is possible that patthana really should be upatthana, so that the prefix is upa- and not pa-, but that does not make much difference here.

But this is exactly what scholars do. For example, Ven. Dhammavuddho Thero (will open .pdf document):
Ven. Dhammavuddho Thero wrote:When we investigate the suttas we find
that there is a difference between sati and satipatthana. As explained
earlier, sati means recollection. Now patthana possibly comes from
two words, pa and thana. Pa means ‘setting forth’, and also implies
going beyond. Thus it can also mean extreme, intense. Thana means
standing still, and can also mean a state or condition. Thus
satipatthana probably means an intense state of recollection. This
translation of satipatthana seems to agree with the suttas, to which I
shall now refer.

And Ven. Sayadaw U Pandita (also will launch .pdf document):
Ven. Sayadaw U Pandita wrote:Extraordinary mindfulness

The particle pa of sati-pa-(t)thana specifies that the mindfulness
should be of an extraordinary or outstanding nature (tisittha);
excessive, intensive and persistent (bhusattha).


All still dealing with "thana," which to me makes it seem relevant to the topic of your translation of another word that deals with "thana."

Moreover, this danger that you identify of translating root words separately, and then hoping that these translations will add up to an accurate meaning, appears to be precisely what you are doing in your translation. My point is that in dividing it up the way you have, and in separating these things out, you may be dilluting the meaning of the word you are trying to translate.

Kare wrote:Often, but not always, the commentator after giving the alternatives, then says which interpretation is to be preferred.

Is your translation not also a case of an alternative interpretation?

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Re: Pamāda

Postby Kare » Sat Nov 07, 2009 9:45 pm

Hi again, Jechbi,

Now this is getting interesting.

Jechbi wrote:
Kare wrote:You are right that thana is an element in patthana. But there is still a difference between thana and patthana. The difference is the prefix pa-. Prefixes usually have some general meaning, but their meaning is often not so clear and simple that we can deduce the meaning of the resulting word when we add a prefix to a root. So trying to translate pa- and -thana separately, and then hoping that these translations will add up to give the meaning of patthana, is a rather unsafe method. Prefixes do not behave like normal words in a compound do.

...

Therefore trying to deduce the meaning of thana from patthana is not very relevant. It is possible that patthana really should be upatthana, so that the prefix is upa- and not pa-, but that does not make much difference here.

But this is exactly what scholars do. For example, Ven. Dhammavuddho Thero (will open .pdf document):
Ven. Dhammavuddho Thero wrote:When we investigate the suttas we find
that there is a difference between sati and satipatthana. As explained
earlier, sati means recollection. Now patthana possibly comes from
two words, pa and thana. Pa means ‘setting forth’, and also implies
going beyond. Thus it can also mean extreme, intense. Thana means
standing still, and can also mean a state or condition. Thus
satipatthana probably means an intense state of recollection. This
translation of satipatthana seems to agree with the suttas, to which I
shall now refer.

And Ven. Sayadaw U Pandita (also will launch .pdf document):
Ven. Sayadaw U Pandita wrote:Extraordinary mindfulness

The particle pa of sati-pa-(t)thana specifies that the mindfulness
should be of an extraordinary or outstanding nature (tisittha);
excessive, intensive and persistent (bhusattha).



It might be relevant here to quote Warder (Introduction to Pali, p. 5) here: "The prefixes (upasagga), of which there are about twenty, are regarded as a separate part of speech in Pali (whose characteristic is that it cannot stand alone, but only be prefixed to another word.). The various verbs, consisting of prefix + root, have all to be learned separately as regards meanings. Although the separate prefixes and roots can be assigned meanings - usually rather broad and vague ones - the meaning of a prefix + root cannot usually be accounted for adequately as simply the product of the two separate meanings."

This can further be illustrated by looking at a Sanskrit text that is closely parallell to the Pali texts. In the Arthavinishcayasutra, an early Sanskrit text probably belonging to the Vaibhashika/Sautrantika school, we find the word smrtyupasthana. Here the prefix is not pa-, but upa-. So the Pali satipatthana may just be a sandhi form of sati-upatthana. This goes to show that we should be careful not to put too much weight on the prefix alone, since it may be either pa- or upa-. The prefix modifies the main root, creating a new word with a meaning that may be more or less closely, or more or less loosely, derivable from the constituting elements.

All still dealing with "thana," which to me makes it seem relevant to the topic of your translation of another word that deals with "thana."

Moreover, this danger that you identify of translating root words separately, and then hoping that these translations will add up to an accurate meaning, appears to be precisely what you are doing in your translation. My point is that in dividing it up the way you have, and in separating these things out, you may be dilluting the meaning of the word you are trying to translate.

Kare wrote:Often, but not always, the commentator after giving the alternatives, then says which interpretation is to be preferred.

Is your translation not also a case of an alternative interpretation?



Yes, of course. Every translation is an interpretation. Translation is not, and has never been, an exact science. Knowing this, however, it is important to try to base the translation/interpretation as soundly as possibly on an understanding of the language - grammar, syntax etc., and also on an understanding of the subject of the text. So I am not saying that I am always right. It has happened more than once that I have found convincing arguments for modifying my own translations. But the arguments have to be convincing ... ;)
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Re: Pamāda

Postby Jechbi » Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:23 pm

Thanks, Kare. This is great.

Do you regard it as an error when Ven. Dhammavuddho Thero and Ven. Sayadaw U Pandita break off the prefix and include the root word "thana" as part of their analyses of the word "satipatthana"?

With regard to the difference between patthana and upatthana, this comment strikes me as potentially relevant to our discussion, from here:
Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The four frames of reference (satipatthana) are a set of teachings that show where a meditator should focus attention and how. This dual role — the "where" and the "how" — is reflected in the fact that the term satipatthana can be explained etymologically in two ways. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a compound of sati (mindfulness, reference, the ability to keep something in mind) and patthana (foundation, condition, source), thus referring to the object that is kept in mind as a frame of reference for giving context to one's experience. Alternatively, satipatthana can be seen as a compound of sati and upatthana (establishing near, setting near), thus referring to the approach (the how) of keeping something closely in mind, of maintaining a solid frame of reference. Scholars are divided as to which interpretation is right, but for all practical purposes they both are. The Buddha was more a poet than a strict etymologist, and he may have deliberately chosen an ambiguous term that would have fruitful meanings on more than one level. In the practice of the frames of reference, both the proper object and the proper approach are crucial for getting the proper results.

I like that: "The Buddha was more a poet than a strict etymologist, and he may have deliberately chosen an ambiguous term that would have fruitful meanings on more than one level." And it relates to this (highlight added):
Kare wrote:Translation is not, and has never been, an exact science. Knowing this, however, it is important to try to base the translation/interpretation as soundly as possibly on an understanding of the language - grammar, syntax etc., and also on an understanding of the subject of the text.

... I keep on wondering why the 5th precept so often is presented as an abstention from intoxicants if the language of the precept in Pali does indeed unmistakably call for an abstention from intoxication instead, as your presentation here would seem to indicate. I raised this question in the other thread, and your suggestion was that I ask those individuals directly why they might teach that the precept calls for abstention from intoxicants rather than from intoxication. Since it's not practical for me to do that in this thread, however, can we consider the possibility that other scholarly translations of "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" yield a different interpretation than your own?

On a slightly different topic related to our discussion, with regard to the meaning of "thana," is it correct in your opinion that there is a sense in which "thana" can be understood as a form of activity rather than merely a condition? Or do you feel that "thana" cannot be understood as any form of activity?

Metta
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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