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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.



In SN 2.12.53] The Buddha likens the yokes to rebirth as the maintenance necessary to keep an oil lamp burning.
Very similar to the previous sutta, the distinction to be drawn from the similes is that while upādāna is strictly 'fueling', the saṅyojana involves other maintenance tasks. One does not just add more oil, one must also trim the wick. That's the wiki-wacki-wiki.


The Andrews Sisters – The Carioca

Say, have you seen a Carioca?
It's not a foxtrot or a polka
It has a little bit of new rhythm, a blue rhythm that sighs

It has a meter that is tricky
A bit of wicked wacky-wicky
But when you dance it with a new love, there's a true love in her eye ...

"The Carioca" as written by Edward Eliscu, Gus Kahn and Vincent Youmans. Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., THE SONGWRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA


The contimplation of the pleasures to be found in sense experience is the fuel or underlying motivation,
the yokes to rebirth (viewpoints concerning self, doubts, trust in good works and ethical conduct, wanting pleasure, deviance, lust for material things, lust for immaterial things, pride, fear and blindness) are the mechanisms, the means of maintenance, the actions of fueling, that are used by the individual to keep the flame burning. One needs to eliminate both, but the elimination of one eliminates the other. An important distinction that is the explanation I was looking for to point out why ideas such as 'grasping' are not a good translation for 'upādāna'. And if you will permit I will suggest also that this is the real meaning of Dhamma Research. Bear down on what is actually being said by Gotama, and even the sequences of the suttas, and it will be seen that the questions that arise in one's mind have been anticipated and answered by The Buddha. The Dhamma teaches the translator how to translate.

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