exposing translator bias

Author: vanna-sami

Post on 10-Apr-2018




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    [Great Western Vehicle ] [ Events ] [ Supporting the GWV ]

    [Pali & Buddhist Studies ] [ Tipitaka Index ] [ Buddhist Timeline ] [ Pali-English Dictionary ] [ Sanskrit & Vedic

    Studies ] [ Ecstatic Meditation Archive ]

    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 authors editorial efforts in regards to translations of the Pali canon have often been met with a highdegree of criticism from people who are incensed that someone would consider making any alteration to thosetranslations, as if the translation itself is the blessed words of the Buddha. What these amateur critics donot know is there is no word-for-word comparison between ancient Pali and the present English language. Infact every translation between any two languages, even contemporary Romance language, let alone a 2,600year 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 translatingthe Pali canon into English, for the most part the Pali-English dictionaries and translations of the canon thatwe have available to us were most probably rendered by scholars, few of whom (if any) actually engaged inthe contemplative practices of Buddhism. And, since the Buddha was a contemplative and he was speakingto 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. Scholarswho 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 thosenative speakers of English who are contemplatives, when rendering a translation of the sutras/suttas intoEnglish. The Nikayas in translation at present seem to have some serious failings in either an understandingof the subjective experiences of the contemplative, or there is a lack of understanding of the English languageof cognition and gnosis, which has resulted in an English canon of Buddhist literature that is rather weak tosay the least.

    One of the nave errors made by many translators is assuming there is a single word in the English languagethat applies in all cases to a given Pali or Sanskrit term. Translators must understand that within every wordchoice in translation there is a value judgment based upon interpretation. And, there can be many

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    interpretations acquired through translation. It is the shades of meaning that pervade each word-choice intranslation that can lead one in one direction, verses another. If a translator has a bias for dry insight, forinstance, then he or she is likely to make different choices in the shades of meaning in his/her translation thana moist ecstatic is going to make. The same is true if the translator happens to be a follower of one of thedevotional forms of Buddhism, such as Pure Land, or one of the intensely ritual forms such as the manyTibetan schools of Buddhism.

    Every word for an abstract concept, such as ecstasy, has an arc of meaning that it scribes through the

    understanding of native speakers of that language. The best a translator can hope to do is match the intendedmeaning of a word in one language with the intersecting arc of a word in translation. This means it is veryunlikely that any word in a language is going to have a static relationship with a language it is being translatedinto. This is especially true of intangible concepts surrounding gnosis, such as ecstasy, which I have found isnot well understood by most people in any language or culture, because so few have had the experience. Thiswould explain why in this culture ecstasy is thought to be an illicit street drug, not the consequence of askillful executed contemplative life.

    Unfortunately to make a change in the world of Pali and Sanskrit translation might require an accomplishedmystic in the Buddhist tradition to then go out and get academic credentials to support his or her more precisetranslations. But, the academic journey is not conducive to a contemplative life so we are not likely to ever

    acquire someone with both achievements, unless an individual first receives a Ph.D. in Asian or Buddhiststudies, then engages in a rigorous meditation practice for10 or more years.

    Since there is no word-for-word translation that is absolutely accurate under all uses of a term for abstractconcepts between any two languages then a translator must be sensitive to the subtle shades of the intendedcontext for every term because every word has shades of meaning, thus requiring interpretation in alltranslation. This is especially true when a single word is used in a large document, like the Pali canon, whereits meaning moves throughout the various shades of its meaning within its cultural context.

    As an example of how variable a single abstract concept can be let us look at the Pali term nimitta.Unfortunately this word is almost always translated as sign. Its meaning however is more like the

    characteristics of any given object or experience. Even though sign and characteristics have similarmeaning, this contemplative finds the English term characteristics to be closer to the mark to fill the neededtranslation in almost every case, but not all.

    In the suttas/sutras nimitta is most often used for the characteristics of a sense object that makes it appealingto the ego. However nimitta has also been used as the characteristics of absorption. In this case the wordwould best be rendered as charism, than sign or characteristics, although the word characteristics is certainlyacceptable.

    We must also realize that as much as we want to believe that we can penetrate the Pali canon to discover themeaning of the Buddhas discourses, Pali is a dead language. The context for it was 2,600 years ago,

    therefore the context and the shades of meaning are no doubt long lost as well. We can only do our best atresurrecting that language from the dead through following the Noble Eightfold Path as best as we can andthrough that process hope that we gain the necessary insight (vipassana) that reveals to us the originalmeaning and intent that Sidharta is said to have had when he supposedly used that term.

    We could certainly point to the body of English literature as an example of how language changes, even in aliterate society, and in a rather short period of time. Today the English language is so variable throughout itsdomain that few North Americans can understand the English of the English. Now, if we look back atShakespeares (1564-1616) English, his Elizabethan English is difficult for many North Americans topenetrate, and he was only writing 400 years ago. Chaucer (1340-1400), the author of The CanterburyTales, was writing only 200 years earlier than Shakespeare, but his English is so radically different than our

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    present day English that few native speakers of English can read it without translation.

    Thus, who is to say what the shades of meaning were intended by Sidharta Gotama, when he is said to haveuttered them 300 years before they were even written down? Certainly a scholar, who rarely meditates if ever, could not be expected to penetrate the meaning of the writing of any mystic, such as Sidharta Gotama.Only an accomplished contemplative, who through a rigorous contemplative practice regimen, can beexpected to penetrate the meaning of the literature of the mystic. A contemplative, who has successfullypenetrated the meaning of the teachings of a mystic, 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. Only such aone can speak authoritatively on those attainments.

    For the purpose of comparison this author has chosen the Dhammapada for discovering this variability intranslation because it is the most commonly translated document within the Pali canon. In fact theDhammapada, which was rendered into Danish in 1855 is the first Pali text ever critically edited in Europe(Conze). It was translated by the Danish pioneer of Pali Studies, Viggo Fausboll (1821-1908). You will behappy to find an English translation of Fausbolls Danish version on this list.

    A classic example, of the variability in translation, can be revealed by examining the various translations of the Dhammapada. The Dhammapada has probably been translated by more translators than any Pali text,

    therefore we have many examples of attempts to get at what the Buddha had to say in the many translationsof this document. In fact this author was able to find 20 different translations of the Dhammapada on thestacks of the library of the University of Arizona, where this essay was prepared.

    Stanza 372 was chosen specifically because it is an often quoted stanza that is used to support a belief thatSidharta Gotama taught a practice strategy called vipassana, and that he proposed this practice strategy as ameans of avoiding the ecstasies (jhanas). This is in fact an ancient conflict within the various vehicles andtraditions of Buddhism, which has been summarized in the wet verses dry controversy. The wets proposethat the cultivation of the ecstasies (jhanas) is essential to following the Noble Eightfold Path. They argueecstasy (jhana) was the Buddhas very definition of the Eighth fold of the Noble Eightfold Path (DN 22.21).The drys, on the other hand, claim ecstasy (jhana) is not needed. 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 Dhammapadain support of their claim. Thus much for the drys hinges upon this one small stanza.

    Let us simply take this single verse, 372, and examine how the four key Pali-to-English dictionaries render it.We will begin with the Pali first for comparison and follow it with a rough dictionary translation.

    Dhammapada Verse 372, (Pali)"Natthi jhanam apaassapaa natthi ajhayatoyamhi jhanan ca paa casa ve nibbanasantike."


    The four Pali-to-English dictionaries consulted for this project are the primary Pali-to-English dictionaries tohave emerged in the last 150, or so, years of European scholarship of the Pali language. Using this highlyscholarly venture perhaps we can penetrate the meaning of this Pali stanza and discover whether this stanzasupports the claims of either the wets or the drys, or both. For this study this author used these fourPali-to-English dictionaries: The first ever published, Robert Childers (1838-1876) A Dictionary of the Palilanguage, first published in 1876; the second dictionary consulted was the Pali Text Societys Pali-EnglishDictionary edited by T.W. Rhys Davids and William Stede and published in 1921; the third dictionary usedin this study was Nyanatilokas Buddhist Dictionary, first published in 1946, the third edition edited byNyanaponika and published 1970; And finally, A.P. Buddhadattas (1887-1962) Concise Pali-English

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Dictionary; published in 1957.

    What we get from the dictionaries in order of appearance of the term is as follows. (Please note that inseveral 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), Meditation, contemplation, religious meditation orabstraction of mind, mystic or abstract meditation, ecstasy, trance (Childers).

    Jhana (nt) from jhayati BSk. Dhyana, from meditation on objects and burning up anythingadverse. Literally meditation. It is a technical term for a special religious experience. Reached ina certain order of mental statesIt will be seen that there is no suggestion of trance, but rather of an enhanced vitality. In the descriptions of the crises in the religious experiences of the Christiansaints and mystics, expressions similar to those used in the jhanas are frequent (Rhys Davids).

    Jhana - nt. Concentration of mind; meditation; a constituent of meditation (Buddhadatta).

    Jhana Absorption (trance, meditation), refers chiefly to the four meditative absorptions. Theyare achieved through full ecstatic concentration (appana, s. samadhi), during which there is acomplete, though temporary, suspension of fivefold sense-activity and of the five hindrances (s.nirvana). The state of consciousness, however, is one of full alertness and lucidity (Nyanatiloka).

    In the case of the term jhana it is often translated as meditation or concentration, however SidhartaGotama interpreted it as characterized by bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) (DN 22.21), so for him this must havebeen some kind of subjective state that lay beyond the simple exercise of meditation and concentration. Infact he said it was a desirable pleasure to be cultivated (MN 139), which was "Di.t.thadhammasukhavihaaraa"a "pleasant abiding in the here and now" (MN 8). With this kind of description I am inclined to agree withRhys Davids, when he says In the descriptions of the crises in the religious experiences of the Christiansaints and mystics, expressions similar to those used in the jhanas are frequent. Thus Childers maybe correctwhen he suggested ecstasy as a translation for jhana. And, since this writers contemplative practice hasevolved to a very pleasant stage, then this seems like further support for the term ecstasy as a more true anddescriptive translation for jhana than does either meditation or concentration.

    Apanno -is a compound word made up of a and panna. The Pali prefix a is a negative, sowithout Paa or without wisdom or foolish (Childers).

    Apanna ignorant (Rhys Davids).

    The Pali term Apannassa is not mentioned in the four dictionaries, however related terms are. It is acompound word made up of a and Paa. Since the Pali prefix a is a negative, then Apannassa is

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    without Paa or wisdom, which could be rendered as foolish or ignorant however since both panna andapaa are used in this stanza, then it would seem without wisdom is the implied use.

    Paa - wisdom; intellect, reason, through or by or with wisdom, wisely, wisdom obtained bythought, wisdom obtained by study, wisdom obtained by meditation (Childers).

    Paa (adj.) of wisdom, endowed with knowledge or insight, possessed of the highest cognition(Rhys Davids).

    Paa - wisdom; knowledge; insight. The code of intellectual duties; practice for the attainmentof highest knowledge (Buddhadatta).

    Paa Understanding, knowledge, Wisdom, insight, comprises a very wide field. The specificBuddhist knowledge or wisdom, however, as part of the Noble Eightfold Path to deliverance, isinsight, i.e. That initiative knowledge which brings about the 4 stages of Holiness and therealization of Nibbana and which comprises penetration of Impermanence (anicca), Misery(dhukka) and Impersonality (anatta) of all forms of existence (Nyanatiloka).

    The translations for paa suggest understanding, knowledge, wisdom, insight, intellect, reason. Childerssays the Pali cannon mentions there are three kinds of paa or wisdom, which suggests the Pali languagemay not be sophisticated enough to distinguish between these three kinds, even though they do sointellectually: These three kinds of Paa (wisdom) are: wisdom obtained by thought; wisdom obtained bystudy; and wisdom obtained by meditation.

    In our language we tend to call wisdom obtained by thought reasoning or understanding. And, we tendto call wisdom obtained by study intellect or knowledge. Since meditative absorption, or ecstasy, isclearly mentioned in this stanza, not just the practice of meditation (sati), then it seems reasonable to rejectboth reasoning and intellect as possible choices in this translation. We also know that there is a Pali termfor insight, which is vipassana, thus it seems we can reject insight as well as a possible choice intranslation. We can then conclude that wisdom is probably the best choice.

    Jhayati - is related to the term jhana and means to shine, perceive, to meditate, contemplate,think upon, brood over, search for or hunt after (Rhys Davids).

    Ajhayato -is not mentioned in the four dictionaries consulted, however it seems clearly to beanother compound made up of the negative a prefix this time with Jhayati as its suffix, whichis related again to the term jhana thus it would seem to mean without jhana or ecstasy.

    Yamhi -yo- Who, what, which, he who, whoever (Childers).

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Yamhi -to be combined with (Rhys Davids)

    Jhanan -this word is most certainly derived from jhana, but none of the dictionaries offered aspecific meaning for it.

    Ca (copulative, or disjunctive particle), and, then, now (Buddhadatta).

    Ca -and, but even (Childers).

    Ca -what about? How is it? ever, whoever, what-ever (Rhys Davids).

    Sa -ones own, through ones actions (Buddhadatta).

    Sa -possessed of, having (Rhys Davids).

    Ve particle of affirmation, indeed, truly, surely. (Buddhadatta).

    Ve -part, of affirmation, emphasizing the preceding word: indeed, truly; his own (Rhys Davids).

    The Pali term nibbanasantike is not translated by the four dictionaries, but it seems to be a compound wordmade up of nibbana and Santiko, please see below:

    Nibbanam extinction, destruction, annihilation, annihilation of being, annihilation of humanpassion, Arahantship or final sanctification (Childers).

    Nibbana (BSk nirvana) to blow, [the extinguishing of fire, which is the prevailing Buddhistconcept of the term]. To exhaust the fuel of burning, to blow out a lamp, 2. health, in the senseof bodily well-being, such as the passing away of feverishness and restlessness, 3. The dying outin the heart of the threefold fire of raga, dosa, & moha: lust, ill-will, & stupidity (Buddhisticmeaning). 4. the sense of spiritual well-being, of security, emancipation, victory and peace,salvation, bliss (Rhys Davids).

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Nibbana Skr. Nirvana; lit. Extinction (nir + va, to cease blowing, to become extinquished);according to the commentaries; Freedom from desire (nir + vana). Nibbana constitutes thehighest and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations, i.e. absolute extinction of that life-affirmingwill manifested as Greed, Hatred, and Delusion, and convulsively clinging to existence; andtherewith also the ultimate and absolute deliverance from all future rebirth, old age, disease, anddeath, from all suffering and misery. Cf. Paranibbana (Nyanatiloka).

    Nibbana cooling, extinction (of a fire), emancipation, the final bliss, destruction(Buddhadatta).

    Santiko -adj. Vicinity, keeping near, in the presence of, towards (Childers)

    Santika -vicinity, presence, in the presence of, towards, with, by or along with (Rhys Davids).

    Oddly none of the four dictionaries offered a simple single word translation for nibbana as if the Englishlanguage had never considered the ideas behind nibbana prior to the arrival of Buddhism. Of course this isuntrue. One need only read the rich literature of religious aspiration from the Gnostics to the present toreveal the idea of a highest and ultimate goal of religious aspiration that is often described as extinction,annihilation, destruction, emancipation, a final bliss, which is often further described as a freedom from theseven deadly sins, which should be reasonably equivalent to the Buddhist concept of being free of thehindrances of Greed, Hatred, and Delusion. That one word is often referred to as enlightenment.

    When we look at the suffix of the compound Pali term nibbanasantike, which is Santike, we have near toor in the presence of (Childers/ Rhys Davids). Thus it seems reasonable to translate nibbanasantike aseither in the presence of, or near to enlightenment.

    We can now put all of this together as below:

    "There is no ecstasy without wisdom,There is no wisdom without ecstasy.Whoever has both wisdom and ecstasyIs truly close to enlightenment.(provisional, Brooks)

    Now, let us examine how this stanza is revealed by 23 different translators. Let us see how true to themeaning of the stanza they remain.

    23 Translations of Dhammapada Verse 372

    Bancroft, AnneIf you do not meditate, how will you gain insight?And if you have no insight, how will you concentrate?But if you concentrate with insight,

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    You will come near Nirvana.

    Here Bancroft has chosen to translate the Pali term jhana as both meditate and concentrate. Consideringthat jhana is defined in terms of bliss (piiti) and joy (sukha) in the Discourse of the Buddha (MN 22.21) thenwe can conclude this translation seems to want to diminish the importance of the ecstatic component of jhana.

    This translator has also chosen to translate the Pali term paa as insight. While the Pali-to-Englishdictionaries suggest insight as an optional translation for paa the original Pali actually used paa, which

    means more precisely wisdom not insight and if the Buddha wanted to use the term insight he wouldmost likely have used the term vipassana not paa.

    In her third line this translator implies that it is possible to have wisdom without ecstasy (jhana). While thiscontemplative is aware that this is a common belief among dry insight believers it does not seem to be a belief that Sidharta Gotama shared. If we examine the Fruits of the Contemplative Life Samaaphala Sutta(DN 2)

    Then we can see that Sidharta Gotama considered both absorption (jhana) and insight (vipassana) as fruitsof the contemplative life, not practice strategies or fruits that are developed through separate practicestrategies.

    Through her diminishment of the subjective quality of jhana, which is ecstatic, and her choice of insight forpaa, which is really best translated as wisdom and finally her belief in multiple practice strategies, asevident in the dry insight dogma, then we can conclude that this translator has been most influenced by thedry insight school.

    Banerjee, Nikunja Vihari,There is no meditation without knowledgeand there is no knowledge without meditationHe who has both knowledge and meditation,Is close to nirvana.

    In this version, Banerjee, chooses meditation to translate jhana and knowledge to translate panna.While knowledge is one of the choices in the Pali dictionaries for translation of panna, it seems like a fairlyunsuccessful choice. The term knowledge implies that the path to enlightenment is an intellectual one, not acontemplative one. We can thus conclude that this translator is probably not a contemplative but a simplescholar who does not understand the subtleties of the contemplative life.

    Brahmavamso, Ajahn

    There is no jhana without wisdomThere is no wisdom without jhana

    But for one with both jhana and wisdomThey are in the presence of Nibbana

    In his translation Brahmavamso has chosen not to translate the Pali terms jhana or Nibbana. It is certainlya safe choice however, his choice certainly does not contributed to an understanding of what these Pali termsmean in English. His choice presumably assumes there is no adequate translation for them, but thiscontemplative disagrees and believes that his choice not to translate these terms only reveals either a lack of understanding of these Pali terms, and/or their English equivalents.

    Even though in his first and second lines he says, There is no jhana without wisdom in his third line heimplies that it is possible to have one without the other. While I favor his choice in the first two lines in

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    suggesting that one comes with the other, it seems like his third line is inconsistent with his first and secondlines.

    In his fourth and last line, Brahmavamso, chooses to say one with both jhana and wisdom (panna) hasactually arrived at enlightenment. I believe his choice is as valid as any other translators, except that the lineseems to indicate nearness, not complete success with attaining enlightenment (nibbana). After all there areeight stages of absorption that lead to enlightenment (nibbana). Thus this contemplative believes it isreasonable to say that the intended meaning of this line is to say the eight absorption states (jhanas) lead to, or

    bring one close to, enlightenment (nibbana).

    Bryom, Thomas"If you are not wise,How can you steady the mind?If you cannot quieten yourself,What will you ever learn?How will you become free?"

    Thomas Bryoms offering seems to fall so far from the mark that it was rather difficult to even find where inhis 25 th chapter he even rendered a translation of stanza 372. However, this stanza plus one line seems to bethe closest he got to the original. As a poet, this author is all for poetic and personal interpretations that areinspired by Asian literature, however, to call his book a translation of the Dhammapada seems misleading. Itis a wonder that his translation got through the editors, and they even had a second printing! It must havebeen the pretty pictures.

    Buddhadatta, A.P."There is no concentration for him who lacks wisdom,Nor is there wisdom for him who lacks concentration.In whom are found both concentration and wisdom--He, indeed, is in the presence of Nibbana."

    In his translation, Buddhadatta, chose to translate the Pali term jhana as concentration it seems he doesnot favor the subjective quality of absorption or ecstasy that jhana has, but at least he also does not seem tosubscribe to the dry insight school either, because he faithfully translated paa as wisdom. He does,however, appear to believe wisdom and absorption are faculties that must be cultivated separately. Ittherefore is possible to suggest that Buddhadatta was most probably a scholar not a contemplative.

    Buddharakkhita, Acharya :"There is no meditative concentration for him who lacks insight,and no insight for him who lacks meditative concentration.He in whom are found both meditative concentration and insight,indeed, is close to Nibbana."

    In this translation, Buddharakkhita, attempts to give us more in his translation of the Pali term jhana. And,meditative concentration is certainly well within the suggested translations in the various dictionaries,however, this word combination seems to fail at revealing the subjective quality of jhana that either ecstasy orabsorption seems better at revealing.

    We can see also in the first line that this translator has chosen insight as a translation for the Pali termpanna. This choice is indicative of the dry insight dogma, and along with his rejection of the subjectivenature of jhana, and his third line implying wisdom and absorption do not come together hand-in-handsuggests that Buddharakkhita is most probably under the sway of the dry insight dogma.

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    6 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Burma Pitaka Association :"There can be no concentration in one who lacks wisdom;there can be no wisdom in one who lacks concentration.He who has concentration as well as wisdomis, indeed, close to Nibbana."

    Here the consortium Burma Pitaka Association has chosen concentration for a rendering of jhana. Doesthat mean when we really concentrate on our homework we are going to get the kind of wisdom that leads to

    enlightenment? Hardly. They did however successfully render paa as wisdom. But, they imply in the firstthree stanzas that it is possible to develop one without the other. Since Burma is the home of the mostoutspoken dry insight schools we can assume that the Burma Pitaka Association is a dry insight school.

    Carter, John Ross and Palihawadana, Mahinda,"There is no meditative absorption for one who lacks insight,There is no insight for one who is not meditating.In whom there is meditative absorption and insight,Truly, he is in Nibbanas presence."

    Remarkably, Carter and Palihawadana are among the very few translators, who seem to recognize the

    subjective quality of jhana in their choice to translate it as meditative absorption. They did howevertranslate the Pali term panna as insight, which reveals some dry insight influence. They also imply thatthere are two practice paths in their word choices for the first three lines. We can thus conclude that thesetranslators may fall on the line between the wet and dry camps.

    Dharma Publishing StaffWithout wisdom there is no meditation;Without meditation there is no wisdom;Whoever is endowed with both meditation and wisdom,Abides very near to nirvana.

    In their rather circuitous rout of translating the Dhammapada from the Pali to Tibetan, then into English, theDharma Publishing Staff arrived at a translation that is not apparently under the sway of dry insight. Intheir choice to translate the Pali term jhana as meditation seems to reduce the significance of jhana downto anyone who meditates, skillfully or not, and in their third line they reveal a belief that absorption andwisdom do not come hand-in-hand.

    Fausbll, V. :"Without knowledge there is no meditation,without meditation there is no knowledge:he who has knowledge and meditationis near unto Nirvana"

    Here Fausbll, the first European scholar to render a translation of the Dhammapada chose to render paa asknowledge, but knowledge is the storing up of information, which never seemed to be the Buddhas intention,so this author finds it a poor choice. And, he also chose to render jhana as meditation, again this is a weak choice of words. As has already been said, absorption or ecstasy is really a more accurate rendering.

    Kaviratna, Harischandra :"There is no perfect contemplation for him who is not wise,and no wisdom for him who does not concentrate.He in whom there is both perfect contemplation and wisdomis, indeed, close to nirvana."

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    In this rendering Kaviratna has made a bold effort to render a unique and refreshing translation, however itdoes not seem anymore successful at getting the message across. Perfect contemplation does not seem tobe a successful rendering of ecstasy or absorption, but one could certainly argue the point. In his third line hedoes, however, imply that perfect contemplation can occur in the absence of wisdom.

    Lal, P.,How can one without wisdom meditate?How can one without meditation be wise?

    Both together, meditation and wisdom, lead to Nirvana.

    Here Lal, has arrived at a rather unique and intriguing solution to translation with only three lines. Bravo! Hehas, however, neglected to recognize the ecstatic quality of the term jhana.

    Muller , F. Max :"Without knowledge there is no meditation,Without meditation there is no knowledge:He who has knowledge and meditationIs near unto Nirvana."

    Here Max Muller has rendered an identical translation to Fausbll, can we assume he was either the studentof Fausbll or the source of Fausblls work being translated into German, and perhaps English as well?

    Radhakrishnan, S."There is no meditation for one who is without wisdom;No wisdom for one without meditation.He in whom there are meditation and wisdom,he indeed is close to nirvana."

    Here Radhakrishnan, has chosen a fairly common method of translation, where the subjective quality of absorption and ecstasy is ignored. However, he does suggest that it takes wisdom to choose to engage in acontemplative life, and instead of implying there are two practice paths, he simply expresses in the third linethat a contemplative life and the presence of wisdom are indicators of nibbana, which he neglected totranslate.

    Raja, Kunhan, C. Dr."There is no meditation for one who has no understanding;there is no understanding for one who does not meditate.He in whom there is both meditation and understanding,he verily is in the vicinity of nirvana (Beautitude)."

    Here Raja, has chosen to ignore the subjective qualities of absorption and ecstasy within jhana, and he hasalso reduced wisdom to mere understanding, as if the path to enlightenment was simply a subject like automechanics. It is however refreshing to see Beautitude suggested for nirvana, even if he did place it withinbrackets.

    Ramacandrudu, Pullela, Dr. Sri,"There is no meditation for him who is without wisdom;there is no wisdom for him who is without meditation.Nearer to Nibbana is he, in whom meditation and wisdom meet."

    While Ramacandrudu, chose to neglect the subjective qualities of jhana he did recognize that it takes wisdomto engage in a contemplative life. And, he, he recognized that both meditation and wisdom are indicators of

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Nibbana, however he did neglect to translate the term Nibbana, as if English does not have an adequateconcept.

    Richards, John :"There is no meditation without wisdom,and there is no wisdom without meditation.When a man has both meditation and wisdom,he is indeed close to nirvana."

    While it is possible to argue that meditation is the over arching concept that embraces ecstasy or absorption, ithowever lacks precision. The word is jhana and jhana means ecstasy or absorption. Certainly plenty of unwise people engage in meditation that does not mean that they have arrived at skillful meditation, which isimplied when the term jhana was used in the original Pali.

    Sarada, Wergoda,"No concentration wisdom lacks,No wisdom concentration lacksIn whom are both these qualitiesNear to Nibbana is that one."

    Saradas rather terse choice reveals the interrelatedness of concentration and wisdom, however when theterm concentration is used as a translation for jhana one implies that jhana is simply a cognitive process,much like doing ones homework, which is simply directing ones attention to any subject, whether that bechemistry or a meditation subject. This however is not at all what jhana means.

    Sparham, Gareth,"Without stability there is no wisdom,Without wisdom, no stability.The ones who have stabilityAnd wisdom are to be called monks."

    The choice of stability for jhana is most certainly refreshing and different, however Mr. Sparham certainlyhas not revealed the unique subjective qualities of absorption and ecstasy in that word choice. And, finally heeven disposes with enlightenment as the goal of the Noble Eightfold Path, and brings it down to meremonasticism. These two choices probably are the most anemic of all the renderings so far examined here.

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff):"There's no jhana for one with no discernment,no discernment for one with no jhana.But one with both jhana & discernment:he's on the verge of Unbinding."

    Here the first word in the line Natthi means the absence of something, according to the four Palidictionaries, so Thanissaro Bhikkhus translation no jhana seems reasonable. However, his choice not totranslate the Pali term jhana, while he chose to translate all of the other Pali terms in this stanza, seems oddthat he would do so. Many translators do choose to maintain some of the commonly known Pali terminology,such as dhamma, kamma, and nibbana. Jhana, however, is not well understood, and so his choice to leave itun-translated seems like a copout. Jhana is correctly translated as absorption or ecstasy.

    In this stanza Thanissaro also chose to translate the third Pali term apannassa as no discernment. While Ienjoy Thanissaros willingness to broadly translate Pali, thus keeping his translations fresh, most translatorsrender paa, which is the derivative word for apannassa, as wisdom, thus more commonly apannassa

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    would be rendered as no wisdom because the prefix a means the negative condition, therefore withoutwisdom is probably a better rendering than no discernment. One who has wisdom no doubt hasdiscernment, but the word discernment does not seem at all a synonym for wisdom, thus Thanissaroschoice here leaves us lacking for meaning.

    The third line begins with yamhi which means with or in addition to, so it seems Thanissaro has rendered theline successfully as, But one with both jhana & discernment with the exception of discernment forwisdom. 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." Since nibbana literally means to stop rotation, thenunbinding is a reasonable choice, however enlightenment is the more common English translation fornibbana. Why not use it?

    U Pannadipa, Sayadaw :"There is no concentration in him who lacks wisdom;nor is there wisdom in him who lacks concentration.In whom are found both concentration and wisdom,... he indeed, is in the presence of Nibbana."

    Here U Pannadipa has joined the Burma Pitaka Association in rendering almost an identical translation.

    Could he be responsible for the Burma Pitaka Associations translation, or perhaps he was the student of thetranslator, much like the possible relationship between Max Muller and Viggo Fausbll.

    Wagiswara, W.D.C

    There is no meditation apart from wisdom;there is no wisdom apart from meditation;Those in whom wisdom and meditation meetare not far from Nirvana.

    Here Wagiswara seems to recognize the intimate connection between meditation and wisdom, however in his

    choice of meditation as a translation for jhana it seems he has left us lacking for meaning.

    Brooks, Jeffrey S. (Jhanananda):"There is no ecstasy without wisdom,There is no wisdom without ecstasy.Whoever is close to enlightenmenttruly has both wisdom and ecstasy.

    Thus this contemplative has rendered what he believes is a more accurate rendering of Dhammapada Verse372 as above. Let us not be squeamish in our translations. Jhana means absorption or ecstasy. Paa doesnot mean insight it means wisdom. And, since this contemplative has found that insight is the source of

    wisdom and that insight does not arrive without absorption (ecstasy), then he has concluded that one who isclose to enlightenment most assuredly has arrived at wisdom, insight and ecstasy. He has not found thateither wisdom or insight can arise without ecstasy nor that ecstasy arises without insight or wisdom. This alsoexplains why the fourth line was moved into the third position. If switching the third and fourth lines was notdone, then the conclusion would have been that wisdom and ecstasy are optional instead of the two sides of the same coin, meaning one comes with the other.

    Let us now summarize this effort. Three of the four dictionaries consulted (Childers, Nyanatiloka and RhysDavids) recognized the ecstatic quality of jhana, however only this authors translation of this stanza took thatsignificance into account. Only three of the 23 translators used insight to translate paa whereas 13translated it as wisdom. This effort suggests that translation is highly variable due to the subjective quality

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    of translation. This suggests also that if we were so fortunate to have 23 translations of the Pali Canon thenwe would have 23 remarkably different renderings of the Buddhas words. Hopefully at least one of thosetranslations would fall close to the mark.

    European scholarship of Buddhism and the Pali language has gone through several generations of development in its 150 years. Fausbll, Max Muller, Childers and the Rhys Davids, as scholars who were notcontemplatives nor Buddhists, represented that first generation of enquiry.

    The Europeans who converted to Buddhism and took up monasticism, such as Buddhadatta, Buddhaghosa,Nyanatiloka, Nyanaponika, Bodhi and Thanissaro, represent the second generation of Buddhist enquiry, inwhich thankfully we have scholar-monks who actually engaged in the lifestyle and practice of traditionalBuddhism, however, they apparently did not engage in the contemplative practice skillfully, because theirtranslations do not tend to reveal the ecstatic component of Buddhism.

    The third generation of European enquiry is revealed in the Asians who learned the European languages andacquired some level of scholarship sufficient to gain publication. Banerjee, Kaviratna, Raja and D.T. Sazukirepresent that effort. However, their translations tend to be no better than the Europeans who converted toBuddhist monasticism.

    The fourth generation of Buddhist enquiry is represented by Brahmavamso and this author, who not onlyengaged in the lifestyle and contemplative practices, but they have revealed in their writing evidence toindicate that they have arrived at some level of attainment through skillful practice. For Europeans toarrive at making the dhamma their own they must not only engage in the lifestyle, as well as thecontemplative life, and do that skillfully, but they must also engage in penetrating the scholarship inBuddhism to search out the truth, while exposing the myths. As is revealed in this simple analysis of a singlestanza of the Dhammapada. We cannot assume that just because someone has a Ph.D. in Asian studies orBuddhism, or that someone is an Asian monk, that they necessarily have arrived at clear understanding(vipassana) of the way of life (dhamma), or can articulate it effectively in any of the European languages.

    May you be enlightened in this very lifetime,

    Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)


    Bancroft, Anne, The Dhammapada, Element, Massachusetts, 1997

    Banerjee, Nikunja Vihari, The Dhammapada, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi, 1989

    Brahmavamso, Ajahn, The Jhanas, Buddhist Fellowship, Singapore

    Brooks, Jeffrey S. (Jhanananda), Great Western Vehicle website:

    Bryom, Thomas, The Dhammapada, Wildwood House, London, 1976, 1979

    Buddhadatta, A.P. (Ambalangoda Polvatte, (1887-1962), Dhammapadam: an anthology of sayings of theBuddha, The Colombo Apothecaries Co, Ltd, Colombo, Ceylon,

    Buddhadatta, A.P. 1887-1962, Concise Pali-English Dictionary, U. Chandradasa De Silva of Ahangama,Colombo Apothecaries Co. Ltd. 1957

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias


    Buddhaghosa, Buddhist Legends, Pali Text Society, London, 1969 [c. 1921]

    Carter, John Ross and Palihawadana, Mahinda,The Dhammapada, Oxford University Press, New York,1987

    Childers, Robert Caesar, 1838-1876, A Dictionary of the Pali language, Rinsen Book Co., 1976, Kyoto,reprint of 1875 ed. Trubner, London

    Conze, Edward, Buddhist Scriptures, A Bibliography, Edited and revised by Lewis Lancaster, Garland

    Publishing, Inc. New York & London 1982The Dhammapada, translated from the Pali to Tibetan by dGedun Chos-phel, then from Tibetan to English,Dharma Publishing, 1985

    Fausbll, V. (Viggo), 1821-1908, Tipitaka. Suttapitaka. Khuddakanik_aya. Dhammapada. English, Selections,Havniae, 1855; 2 nd ed. London: Luzac, 1900.

    Kaviratna, Harischandra, Tipitaka. Suttapitaka. Khuddakanik_aya. Dhammapada. English & Pali,Theosophical University Press, 1980, Pasadena, CA

    Lal, P., The Dhammapada, translated from the Pali, Farrar, Straus & Groux, New York, 1967

    Muller, F. Max : (1823-1900) PTS "Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 10 , Oxford, the Clarendon Press [1881]

    Neuman, Karl Eugene, Der Wahrheitspfad. Leipzig: Verlag von Veit, 1893; 2 nd ed. Dhammapadam. Munich,1921; 3 rd ed.,1949.

    Nyanatiloka edited by Nyanaponika, Buddhist Dictionary, third revision, Buddhist Meditation Centre,Singapore. 1991

    Radhakrishnan, S. (Sarvepalli), 1888-1975, Tipitaka. Suttapitaka. Khuddakanik_aya. Dhammapada. English& Pali, Oxford University Press, 1996, c1950, Reader in Sanskrit, Osmania University, Hyderabad India,1976

    Raja, Kunhan, C. Dr., Dhammapada Pali text in Devanagari with English Translation, The TheosophicalPublishing House, Adyar, Madras 20, India, 1956, 1984

    Rhys Davids, T.W., FBA, D. Sc., Ph.D.,L.L.D., D. Litt. And William Stede, Ph.D. editors, The Pali TextSocietys Pali-English Dictionary, Published by the Pali Text Society, By Luzac & Company 1966, London

    Sarada, Wergoda, Treasury of Truth, Illustrated Dhammapada, Buddha Educational Foundation, Taipei,Taiwan, 1993

    Sparham, Gareth, The Tibetan Dhammapada, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, India 1983

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff):

    Tin, Daw Mya, the Dhammapada, A reprint of Burma Pitaka Association Publication 1986, Central Instituteof Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, 1990

    Wagiswara, W.D.C and Saunders K.J., The Buddhas Way of Virtue A translation of the Dhammapadafrom the Pali Text. John Murray, London, 1912, 1920, 1927

    This document (updated 11-19-04) can be retrieved at this URL:

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm

    16 5/9/2010 10:

  • 8/8/2019 Exposing Translator Bias



    [Great Western Vehicle ] [ Events ] [ Supporting the GWV ]

    [Pali & Buddhist Studies ] [ Tipitaka Index ] [ Buddhist Timeline ] [ Pali-English Dictionary ] [ Sanskrit & Vedic

    Studies ] [ Ecstatic Meditation Archive ]

    sing translator bias http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/criticism/translation.htm