"stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

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"stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Jikan » Fri Mar 04, 2011 2:22 pm

Some time ago I read Thanissaro Bikkhu's book _The Wings to Awakening,_ where, if I remember correctly, he translated the Pali word dukkha as "stress" rather than the more conventional terms "suffering" or "sorrow" or "dissatisfaction." Anyone know if this is isolated, or if other translators particularly in Mahayana use similar diction? (Dharma-as-stress-relief-language, I mean.)
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Mar 05, 2011 5:23 am

Greetings Jikan,

I'd be careful as positing venerable Thanissaro's translation of dukkha as stress as implying that Dharma is for "stress-relief" in the conventional use of this phrase.

To compare to the terms you've used... suffering, sorrow and dissatisfaction are all the stress/tension between what is wanted versus what is.

Maitri,
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Jikan » Sun Mar 06, 2011 3:16 am

Hi Retrofuturist,

Thanks for the word of caution.

It seems to me that Thanissaro Bikkhu chooses his words with great care. His concern for accuracy and his respect for the Canon are obvious and commendable. When he explicitly uses the word stress in its contemporary meaning as a translation for dukkha, he's at least implying that dhamma practice as he understands it is a form of stress relief. He's clearly doing it on purpose.

I'm not saying that Thanissaro Bikkhu understands dhamma practice *only* or *merely* as stress-relief, or that he's reducing dhamma practice to a form of corporate training or whatever, merely that he's invoking a certain discourse in his translations for whatever reason he may have. I'm not interested in making a value judgment on this decision. That would be boring, yes?

I'm simply asking if this is something that is specific to Thanissaro Bikkhu's translations, or if it can be found elsewhere.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Ken1969 » Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:28 am

Walpola Rahula writes in What the Buddha Taught:

---------------------------------------------------------

The First Noble Truth is generally translated by almost all scholars as 'The Noble Truth of Suffering', and it is interpreted to mean that life, according to Buddhism is nothing but suffering and pain. Both translation and interpreation are highly unsatisfactory and misleading. It is because of this limited, free and easy translation, and its superficial interpretation, that many people have been misled into regarding Buddhism as pessimistic.

(Rahula eventually goes on to say:)

It is admitted that the term dukkha in the First Noble Truth contains, quite obviously, the ordinary meaning of 'suffering', but in addition it also includes deeper ideas such as 'imperfection', 'impermanence', 'emptiness', insubstantiality'. It is difficult therefore to find one word to embrace the whole conception of the term dukkha as the First Noble Truth, and so it is better to leave it untranslated, than to give an inadeqate and wrong idea of it by conveniently translating it as 'suffering' or 'pain'.

The Buddha does not deny happiness in life when he says there is suffering...

--------------------------------------------------------------

All typos are mine, and I hope that helped!
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:38 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu has cited three reasons for this translation. This comes from several talks that I remember so I cannot give any reference, but I'm pretty sure they were from audiodharma.

1) It is harder to romanticize. i.e. people will romanticize suffering as if it in itself is something noble. As in "I suffer for my art" or what have you. But he says you will never hear anybody refer to "my noble stress."

2) dukkha applies even to very refined states of concentration, including the higher jhanas/dyanas. Even when there are huge amounts of rapture and joy, there is still dukkha. The word "suffering" doesn't really fit here, so again the word "stress" is more appropriate.

3) I cannot remember the third. I was hoping that by the time I got here I would if I kept typing. :) Maybe there's only two. If anybody remembers please post.

I would say that Buddhism is stress relief. It's just that it's a complete and total relief of any and all threads of stress. Not something you get sitting in a hot tub. (Though I suppose enlightenment can happen anywhere).

EDIT: I found the third reason from another post of mine on one of dhammapal's yahoo groups. Ironically on that post I couldn't remember #1.

If you ask a lot of people if you are suffering, they will many times say "no." In such a case they will not really be interested in any means of ending suffering. But if you ask them if they have stress. "Yes, of course!"


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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Jikan » Tue Mar 08, 2011 3:21 pm

Thanks, M. That's exactly the information I needed.

incidentally, if y'all haven't read _The Wings to Awakening,_ you should consider doing so. I found it helpful.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Aemilius » Wed Mar 09, 2011 3:11 pm

I have read the Wings to Awakening periodically, and I have gone back to it several times. I like his style. I don't think all his inventions are really helpful for better understanding, at times I keep remembering that the older Palitext Society versions were more readable.
Recently I tried to find the Gotami Sutta where Buddha teaches about how to recognize authentic teachings of Dharma, the translation of Thanissaro Bhikkhu is available for free, but the main idea doesn't come across clearly, or not at all.
At present I can't check how it is put in the Pali Text Society version, but I'm sure it is more clear and the main point is plain evident. In the older translation there is "teaching of dharma" ( as far as I remember it), but Thanissaro has "qualities"!? Why on earth!? Is it an accident !? Or is he confusing the issue ?!
In the description of the mentioned sutta Access to Insight says correctly that it is about the criteria how to recognize authentic teachings of Dharma. But how do they know it ?! Through some older catalog maybe ?
Gotami Sutta AN 8.53http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/#an8
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby vinodh » Sun Apr 24, 2011 4:45 am

Most Indian Languages retain the Sanskrit "Duhkha" in their language.

So, its easy for a an Indian to comprehend the entire spectrum of meanings that the word "duhkha" may imply .

One of the advantages of being Indian :namaste:

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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Anders » Sun Apr 24, 2011 6:57 am

Aemilius wrote: At present I can't check how it is put in the Pali Text Society version, but I'm sure it is more clear and the main point is plain evident. In the older translation there is "teaching of dharma" ( as far as I remember it), but Thanissaro has "qualities"!? Why on earth!? Is it an accident !? Or is he confusing the issue ?!


'Dhamma' can be translated as teaching, phenomena, quality, law and probably a host of other meanings I am not thinking of right now. It's usually decided by context.

I guess you could read it either way here. Probably a good case for leaving it untranslated.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Huifeng » Sun Sep 04, 2011 2:35 am

Jikan wrote:Some time ago I read Thanissaro Bikkhu's book _The Wings to Awakening,_ where, if I remember correctly, he translated the Pali word dukkha as "stress" rather than the more conventional terms "suffering" or "sorrow" or "dissatisfaction." Anyone know if this is isolated, or if other translators particularly in Mahayana use similar diction? (Dharma-as-stress-relief-language, I mean.)


Ven Thanissaro is the only translator I know of who uses this term "stress" to translate dukkha (/ duhkha).
And while I'm here, I use two types of terms: suffering / pain for duhkha when it is in the sukha / duhkha paradigm; and dissatisfaction when it is in terms of the arya-satya, or the "dissatisfaction as suffering" duhkha-duhkha, "dissatisfaction as change" viparinama-duhkha and "dissatisfaction as being conditioned" samskara-duhkha system. The point is clearest with translating duhkha-duhkha.

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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Sep 04, 2011 9:27 am

I can't add much to the excellent discussion here, but I will say that the review by Andrew Olendski of Bhikkhu Bodhi's excellent collection "In the Buddha's Words" has some comments on the use of language in English translations of the Pali. It can be read here: http://www.wisdompubs.org/pages/display ... n=&image=1

He discusses three major collections:
The first consists
of the Pali Text Society translations
which have been generated over the past
century by some of Buddhism’s foremost
scholars, including T. W. Rhys Davids
and his wife Caroline Rhys Davids, I. B.
Horner, F. L. Woodward, and E. M. Hare.
There is, however, much diversity in their
rendering of technical vocabulary (e.g.,
are asavas Deadly Floods, cankers, Drugs
or Poisons, intoxicants, influxes, or effluents?),
and an antiquated feel to some of
the English usage (e.g., “Yea, as thou
say’st then wast thou, Bhaggava!”). There
is also some question about whether the
“academic objectivity” of a brilliant,
Christian, nonmeditating linguist is the
best mode in which to attempt to render
material of such subtle interiority as the
Buddha’s dhamma.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is gradually working
towards an alternative English translation
of the Pali Canon, and each new text
he translates is published for free distribution
and placed on the Internet (accesstoinsight.
org) for free downloading. Because
of their preference for working in cyberspace,
the younger generation of dhamma
enthusiasts is widely using this version of
the Tipitaka.
But those more familiar with
the vernacular that is current in dhamma
circles struggle with some of his idiosyncratic
word choices (e.g., “stress” for
dukkha, “frame of reference” for satipatthana,
“Unbinding” for nibbana). It’s not
to say that these are not excellent choices
once one understands the reasoning, but
unless or until his canon becomes more
widely adopted, many readers will tend to
stub their toes upon some of these terms.
Thanissaro clearly knows his tradition
well, and adds to his work the important
dimension of experiential depth.

The third English translation of the Pali
Canon consists largely, but not exclusively,
of the texts put out by Wisdom Publications
in the last decade or so. Walshe’s
Long Discourses, Nanamoli’s Middle
Length Discourses, and Bhikkhu Bodhi’s
Connected Discourses and Numerical
Discourses, along with some freelance
translations from the fifth Nikaya, or
collection, have come to form a coherent
and reasonably consistent body of work
of considerable usefulness to the modern
reader. ...

I thought the bit in red was a hoot!

:anjali:
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Josef » Fri Oct 21, 2011 6:56 pm

Stress is the absolute worst translation of dukkha I have ever seen.
It completely neuters the meaning.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Aemilius » Thu Nov 10, 2011 11:54 am

I have high regard for the work of Thanissaro Bhikkhu, yet I think there are worse things than the stress in his translations. For example he has the word fermentation as a translation of asava or klesha! You can find it in Nimitta sutta: Themes. How does that word sound in your ear ? The ending of fermentations ??
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Malcolm » Thu Nov 10, 2011 3:01 pm

Aemilius wrote:How does that word sound in your ear ?


Stupid. Effluent is better.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby catmoon » Thu Nov 10, 2011 3:16 pm

I think in attempting to choose terms a Western audience can connect with, Thanissaro bhikku went a little too far. I'm no linguist, but I've listened to a few talks on Dukkha, and I think even a relative neophyte can recognize that although the term" stress" is pointedly accurate for many Westerners, it is much too narrow a term to encompass the full scope of dukkha. Maybe his intention was to provide another way of translating it, so as to broaden the meaning for those who read widely, rather than provide a single definitive translation.

And a side issue: is it dhukka or dukkha? I see both spellings all over the net. More dukkha hm?
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Jnana » Thu Nov 10, 2011 5:23 pm

catmoon wrote:And a side issue: is it dhukka or dukkha? I see both spellings all over the net.

Pāli: dukkha
Sanskrit: duḥkha
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby deepbluehum » Thu Nov 10, 2011 5:27 pm

Sometimes it helps to break out of the translation hell to understand what the point is. Dukkha means you can't satisfy your desires.
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Jnana » Thu Nov 10, 2011 5:31 pm

deepbluehum wrote:Sometimes it helps to break out of the translation hell to understand what the point is. Dukkha means you can't satisfy your desires.

In the context of the first noble truth, the term encompasses the following:

The unsatisfactoriness of pain (dukkhadukkhatā):

  • birth (jāti)
  • aging (jarā)
  • illness (byādhi)
  • death (maraṇa)
  • sorrow (soka)
  • lamentation (parideva)
  • pain (dukkha)
  • unhappiness (domanassa)
  • despair (upāyāsā)

The unsatisfactoriness of change (vipariṇāmadukkhatā):

  • association with what is unpleasant (appiyehi sampayogo)
  • separation from what is pleasant (piyehi vippayogo)
  • not getting what is wanted (yampiccha na labhati)

The unsatisfactoriness of fabrications (saṅkhāradukkhatā):

  • the five clinging-aggregates (pañcupādānakkhandhā)


The Abhidharmasamuccaya subdivides the above a bit differently as follows:

The unsatisfactoriness of pain (duḥkhaduḥkhatā):

  • birth (jāti)
  • old age (jarā)
  • sickness (vyādhi)
  • death (maraṇa)
  • association with what is unpleasant (apriyasamprayoga)

The unsatisfactoriness of change (vipariṇāmaduḥkhatā):

  • separation from what is pleasant (priyaviprayoga)
  • not getting what is wanted (yad apīcchhan na labhate)

The unsatisfactoriness of fabrications (saṃskāraduḥkhatā):

  • the five clinging-aggregates (pañchopādānaskandha)
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Aemilius » Fri Nov 11, 2011 11:28 am

Another Thanissaro word is "theme" for nimitta, normally translated as "sign". I think "theme" is misleading, it is not helpful for better understanding. Your opinion ?
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Re: "stress" in translations from Pali & Sanskrit

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Nov 11, 2011 11:47 am

Jikan wrote:Some time ago I read Thanissaro Bikkhu's book _The Wings to Awakening,_ where, if I remember correctly, he translated the Pali word dukkha as "stress" rather than the more conventional terms "suffering" or "sorrow" or "dissatisfaction."


I don't think "stress" is a particularly good translation of dukkha, and IMO "unsatisfactoriness" is better. Though perhaps it's best not to attempt to use a single word to capture the meaning.

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