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Make it Make Sense!

On translating 'Pi'
and on
translating similies so that they parallel in construction
the thing they are supposed to be illustrating
and
on translating the Simile in
SN 5.51.61

 

Here is the Pali:

Seyyatha pi bhikkhave, akase vividha vata vayanti,||
puratthima pi vata vayanti,||
pacchima pi vata vayanti,||
uttara pi vata vayanti,||
dakkhina pi vata vayanti,||
saraja pi vata vayanti,||
araja pi vata vayanti,||
sita pi vata vayanti,||
unha pi vata vayanti,||
paritta pi vata vayanti,||
adhimatta pi vata vayanti.|| ||

Evam eva kho bhikkhave, bhikkhuno,||
cattaro iddhipade bhavento,||
cattaro iddhipade bahulikaronto,||
cattaro pi satipatthana bhavana paripurim gacchanti,||
cattaro pi sammappadhana bhavana paripurim gacchanti,||
ariyam atthangikam maggam bhavana paripurim gacchanti,||
panca pi indriyani bhavana paripurim gacchanti,||
panca pi balani bhavana paripurim gacchanti,||
satta pi bojjhanga bhavana paripurim gacchanti.|| ||

Here is the structure of Bhk. Bodhi's translation:

Bhikkhus, just as various winds blow in the sky - easterly winds, westerly winds, ...
- so too, when a bhikkhu develops and cultivates ...
then for him the four establishments of mindfulness go to fulfilment by development ...

Here is the structure of Woodward's translation:

Just as, monks, divers winds blow in the sky, - some winds blow from the east, some from the west ...
even so, monks, when a monk cultivates ... then in him the four stations of mindfulness by culture reach fulfilment ...

What the sutta is saying is that in the same way that there are various winds in the sky but all of them are simply winds - in the same way a beggar that cultivates the four power-paths is also simultaneously cultivating a number of other Dhamma practices - that the cultivation of the one is the cultivation of the others. That they develop the same attributes and achieve the same purpose if fully developed. That they are essentially only different ways of stating the same thing.

What both Bhikkhu Bodhi and Woodward's translations are saying is that in the same way as there is A, B, and C - when one cultivates X, that cultivated 'X' also involves developing (not 'is the same thing as developing') Y and Z.

The relationship between the simile and the thing it is supposed to be illustrating is not parallel.

It says 'there are various things here' and
'there are various things there that each depend on the others to reach full development'.

The lesson itself is very important, the simile is made so as to be less than helpful. That is, if one relies on the simile for understanding one comes to exactly the wrong conclusion: that is that these various practices are just various practices.

The understanding that the various 'Dhammas' in the Dhamma are just various approaches to teaching the one goal is important for a variety of reasons:
it stretches the mind,
it provides a check on one's understanding - if one cannot see that the paticca samuppada is another expression of the Cattari Ariya Saccani, then one knows one does not have a fully developed understanding to that point,
it opens up aspects of the teaching by providing windows on the same thing from various perspectives.

Without understanding that the various 'Dhammas' encompass each other, and relying on this faulty translation of the simile, one would not be able to figure out that where the 'cattari iddhipada' occurs in the list of Dhammas in this sutta in the Magga Samyutta, 'Ariya Atthangika Magga' should appear in the Iddhipada Samyutta. And the case is similar for the many other places this sutta is repeated.

That this is a difficult idea to grasp goes without saying - I say. A simile that illustrated the idea would be a very useful tool for undertanding. That is one obvious purpose of this set of similies.

The error could have been avoided by making sure, in the translation that the simile fit, was constructed in parallel with, the thing it was supposed to be illustrating. Or, approaching it from another angle: by precisely following the Pali rather than trying to make the Pali fit one's pre-conceived notions.

The proper way this should have been set up is according to the following scheme:

Just as when speaking of letters of the alphabet, A, B, and C are all considered as just letters of the alphabet, are encompassed by the concept 'alphabet' -
when one cultivates X, that cultivated 'X' amounts to the same thing (involves developing the same attributes and achieves the same purpose) as Y and Z when they are cultivated.

My translation:

In the same way, beggars, as the various winds blowing in space,
are just winds blowing eastward,
just winds blowing westward,
just winds blowing northward,
just winds blowing southward,
just winds blowing dust,
just winds blowing dustless,
just winds blowing cool,
just winds blowing hot,
just winds blowing lightly,
just winds blowing wildly.

Even so, beggars, a beggar developing the four power-paths,
making a big thing of the four power-paths,
also develops, brings to culmination the four settings up of memory,
also develops, brings to culmination the four consummate efforts,
also develops, brings to culmiation the Aristocratic Multi-dimensional Way,
also develops, brings to culmination the five forces,
also develops, brings to culmination the five powers,
also develops, brings to culmination the seven dimensions of awakening.

Pi. PED: - 1. also, and also, even so D I.1; Vin IV.139 (cara pi re get away with you: see re); J I.151, 278. - 2. even, just so; with numbers or num. expressions "altogether, in all, just that many" J I.151; III.275; IV.142. - cattaro pi J III.51; ubho pi J I.223; sabbe pi Sn 52; J I.280. 3. but, however, on the other hand, now (continuing a story) J I.208; IV.2. - 4. although, even if J II.110 (ciram pi kho ... ca although for a long time ... yet). - 5. perhaps, it is time that, probably Sn 43; J I.151; II.103. - 6. pi ... pi in correlation (like api ... api): (a) both ... and; very often untranslatable Sn 681 (yada pi ... tada pi when ... then), 808 (dittha pi suta pi); J I.222 (jale pi thale pi); (b) either ... or J I.150; II.102.


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