How is Translation Possible?
[OG aka: Ol'Geezer] Just finished the family new years dinner.
How can you translate words from hundreds of years ago when I can not understand my grandchildren? This though their vocabulary is half mine? Or; WTF?
You really ask a good question here! I tremble at each ventured translation.
There are two things which make translations into English of the Buddha's suttas less error prone even than trying to understand the latest hip lingo:
The first is that the language the Buddha used was the root language of English, and was being spoken very early on in terms of language development. So it is very often the case that we can still 'hear' what was being said, and also it is often the case that we are still using the old expressions. Syllables still meant what they meant when they were originated, and the original syllables were very simple and almost universally capable of being understood. Bodily functions, hunting, farming, syllables that sounded like what they mean.
Try this one: AKALIKA. The word for Timelessness. A=no We use the same prefix. KA = SHIT. LI=LINE. KA=SHIT. No shit line shit. Now think like a hunter: Here is the shit from a week ago, here is the shit from three days ago, here is the shit from yesterday, and here is the animal I am hunting right here eating. The line of shit marking off time. The whole language is like that. It talks to you in words even a child can understand if they listen with the right understanding.
The second is that Gotama was exceptionally clear in his word use, he used the simplest most universal terms possible in his word selection, and he repeatedly defined his terms in context. So we have contexts we can cross-check with other contexts and come up with a translation we can be fairly confident is correct.
DUKKHA. One of the most important terms in the system. It is the term for what it is we are trying to escape by using the system. Very important to translate correctly. So it is defined this way:
Birth is dukkha.
Aging, sickness, death are dukkha.
Grief and lamentation are dukkha.
Pain (dukkha) and misery are dukkha.
Then the sub-terms are defined and Pain (dukkha) is defined:
Bodily dukkha, the dukkha suffered in the body from some calamity or misfortune. Misery is defined as dukkha experienced in mind from some calamity or misfortune.
So we can see that we need a term that stands for both physical pain and mental pain. And as it turns out 'Pain' is such a term. There are others that serve: 'shit' works and is consistent with the syllables:
Du = shit; ukk=shit; k-kha=shit.
So the translator selects the word best suited to his audience.