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How does translation impact learning the dharma?

KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSUAch-To Veteran

With consideration to the Dhammapada, some of the earliest Buddhist scripture, how important is translation? I have a copy translated by Ananda Maitreya and edited by Rose Kraner. It's a very simple and easy to understand wording. I was shocked to look up the Dhammapada online. The more "historical" wording was a lot longer and hard to understand. I wouldnt have gleamed the same understanding, insights, and peace as easily without the modern translation

Some say translation, not just from language but from time with modernization and updates, puts scripture further and further away from accuracy and authenticity. Others say it is necessary for a changing world

Is scripture more meaningful when you can easily access and understand it, or if you learned Sanskrit or Japanese or Latin and read convoluted texts with rich content?

Who knows? Not me... :p

Comments

  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    Yes, translation is often a rather subjective process. I've found it helpful to compare different translations of the same text, it can be quite revealing to see the similarities and differences. Also to return to texts after a period of time. I've also found it helpful to focus on understanding a few key terms from the suttas.

    lobsterFosdickShoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Contextual understanding is important. So for example the sing song repetitions of early sutras reflect the oral nature of the initial transfer. Good points from @SpinyNorman about different translations, time between readings etc.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    With the more important teachings (which depends on you, I guess) I usually look for multiple translations and inputs. I don't much care for the HHDL's writing style, but he is incredibly well schooled in this and I appreciate his input on things like the Heart Sutra, and the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. TNH as well, but he of course takes a much more modern approach (even changing how he views the precepts) while HHDL is more traditional. There is value to both but I think caution is warranted in some things. One of the people I've been on retreat with is a translator and he has said that some of the stuff that is out there about more advanced teachings is almost dangerous in the way it is explained and "taught" in books. How one would discern that I guess depends on a lot of things, but I personally wouldn't go to experimenting with advanced practices without the guidance of a trained teacher for that reason. Dangerous meaning the way they impact us and the potential that exists to mess us up in some way, psychologically.

    I am a huge fan of getting information to people but fear was a big part in some stuff being put out there too early - fear of that information disappearing due to culture shifts and wars etc-stuff that was previously passed teacher to student and not in writing.

    Anyhow, it is a fine line between cherry picking what we like the best (which we all do to an extent but I think it's important to note what we are rejecting, and why) and discerning what is a valuable teaching.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    My take on one facet of the translation discussion is that it really doesn't matter. Anyway you slice it, it is up to the student to verify statements made in translation. Nothing else will work. Is it true? Fine. Is it false? Fine. Is it exact? Fine. Is it flummoxed? Fine. Will people be led astray? Of course they will -- how else could they find a truth they could live with in peace?

    I have a friend who is well-versed and prickly as a porcupine about the translations that have helped to concoct the "unbroken lineage" from Gautama to present teachers. Of that unbroken lineage he says, in shorter language, "nonsense!" Is it nonsense? Your call... just be sure to verify your 'profound understanding.'

    So ... if the intellectual format is the basis of discussion, translation counts. But if verification is the focus, better get to work.

    Put in another, less-genteel fashion: Screw it; do it!

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    How does translation impact learning the dharma?

    I've found that......
    "The proof of the curry is in the eating"

    In other words, if the "translation" that one happens to hear/read holds water, it will show when put into practice, ie, an experiential understanding will arise that brings one more confidence and a trust that ones Dharma practice (and the translation) is on the right track/path ...

    lobstermosquitoupekka
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Exactly so @Shoshin
    Experiential verification, not lineage, not scripture, not reputation.

    Part of the verification is through feedback that deepens our understanding. We are not trying to reinforce our ignorance but ...

    • Increase understanding.
    • Change our mind/body/emotions into a tool rather than a run away train wreck.
    • Improve our existence, happiness and the lives of those we interact with ...

    That is dharma. That is the plan. Practice the Way.

    Still trying :3

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Um.... Even since we humans first learnt how to think, we haven't been able to stop ;)

    I've found the intellect can be both a blessing and a burden

    It's useful for kick-starting ones experiential knowledge, pointing the mind in the right direction so to speak, but if over-used (over intellectualising) it can block ones experiential knowledge/understanding by filling the mind with the continuous Yes buts questions that more often then not take one further away from the truth........So to quote a friend's Dharma teacher......

    "Beware of unhappy Buddhists, they are not really practising...just being intellectual !"

    There's only one butt that the mind truly needs.... ;)

    @eggsavior "Alan Watts" is a good source for when one wants to eff the ineffable, ie, get a mental grip on the Dharma text... However he's style of discourse is not for everyone...

    lobsterFosdickDhammaDragon
  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    I am very fond of rare books on Buddhism and have some beautiful late 19th century / early 20th century editions.
    There are considerable differences with modern translations, and I can't say I always prefer the modern ones, lol.
    I still have problems accepting Thanissaro Bhikkhu's translation of Dukkha as "stress," for instance.

    I am very fond of Nyanatiloka Thero's "The word of the Buddha," Henry Clarke Warren's "Buddhism in Translations," translations by T.W. Rhys-Davids, and the pocket F.L. Woodward's "Some Sayings of the Buddha."
    I carry the latter with me everywhere, even if I don't quite digest his referring to the 4NT as the Four Aryan Truths.

  • KannonKannon NAMU AMIDA BUTSU Ach-To Veteran

    Thanks for sharing some titles. I will look them up and maybe buy some later.

    I carry my copy of the Dhammapada! It can fit in most if my jacket pockets. I've been reading it every day. Sometimes simple and short truths are the most profound :)

  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    @DhammaDragon. I find the older translations more satisfying than the modern. They certainly require an attention to detail. Seldom practiced today. I share your appreciation of FL Woodward and the other old timers you often mention. The modernists have much too answer for ordained or not.

    DhammaDragon
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran

    @grackle said:
    @DhammaDragon. I find the older translations more satisfying than the modern. They certainly require an attention to detail. Seldom practiced today. I share your appreciation of FL Woodward and the other old timers you often mention. The modernists have much too answer for ordained or not.

    The problem is that some of the older translations have an old-fashioned Biblical style, which seems incongruous. For me Bhikkhu Bodhi is the gold standard for sutta translation.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Older translations have also been 'called to task' because many were done, with every best intention, I am sure, by those whose primary connection to Religion, ws Christian, and apprently some translations have been found to be from mildly slanted, to downright influenced by Western Christian perception.

    I'm afraid I'd rather rely on more modern, better 'educated' and less...'biased' scholarly interpretations....

  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    The problem is that some of the older translations have an old-fashioned Biblical style, which seems incongruous. For me Bhikkhu Bodhi is the gold standard for sutta translation.

    I like Bikkhu Bodhi too.
    He has taken Nyanatiloka Thero's "The Word of the Buddha" as model for a couple of books on sutta compilations.
    Another translator of old whose translations garnered much respect was I.B. Horner, a woman whose work appears in a biography of the Buddha by Coomaraswamy and Edward Conze's anthology of suttas.

  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    Isaline Blew Horner was a well known Indologist,Pali Scholar and for quite awhile President of the Pali Text Society. Sadly no longer with us. Bhikkhu Bodhi was one time the head of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy,SL. A favorite hangout of mine.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    @genkaku said:
    Put in another, less-genteel fashion: Screw it; do it!

    =)
    Indeed. Read and read again. Sit and sit again. Be humble and humbler still. Find the Buddha and wipe out the whole family ...
    http://www.kwanumzen.org/?teaching=kill-the-buddha

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