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05/20/18
Filed under: General
Posted by: site admin @ 11:01 am

https://www.quora.com/Theravada-Buddhism-Why-has-the-Tipitaka-not-been-fully-translated

https://www.quora.com/Theravada-Buddhism-Why-has-the-Tipitaka-not-been-fully-translated

It has taken awhile to complete an English translation of the Tipitaka because it’s a massive collection, approximately 11 times larger than the Bible, and written in the ancient Pali language that only a handful of people know how to translate well.

Some progress has been made in recent years in making the entire Tipitaka available for English speaking people. A complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya was released late last year.

4 of the other 5 nikayas are also available in their entirety:
Translation of the Digha Nikaya
Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya
Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya
Translation of the Anguttara Nikaya

But you don’t need to spend $160+ to get an overview of what the Buddha taught. Many of the lessons in the Tipitaka overlap between nikayas, and a general understanding of Buddhism can be obtained by purchasing just one of these books, or by getting an anthology like In the Buddha’s Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

In the Buddha’s Words is, arguably, the best anthology of the Tipitaka available. It features lucid translations of the most important suttas needed for enlightenment.

But if you’re a stickler like me, and would rather read a nikaya from beginning to end, with only some of the repetitions removed, I suggest purchasing The Majjhima Nikaya. In my opinion, it’s the most balanced of the 5 nikayas. The suttas aren’t too short or too long, and most of the Buddha’s principal teachings on loving-kindness, meditation, and nibanna can be found here. The online audio series A Systematic Study of the Majjhima Nikaya compliments this book well.

But be warned: Nikayas aren’t easy to get through. If you’re new to the Tipitaka, I suggest purchasing an anthology first, or reading through the suttas that are freely available on Access to Insight.
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Wow can I ever relate to what youโ€™re saying there. I set out on that very journey myself about ten years ago, and am still on it.

There are three baskets, and a great deal has been translated into English.

If you start with the suttas โ€” when you get through all of those , the second basket is the monastic code (the Vinaya) and it is already fully translated into English, so you can work through that. Then at least the major works of the third basket, the commentaries, have also been translated so you can work on those. If you still want all the rest, youโ€™ll be well-prepared to translate them yourself. But I suspect youโ€™ll find most of what you need within the suttas.

What others on this page have said about doing translations is more-than-true. If you want to come to an understanding of what the Buddha of the Pali canon taught, you can do no better than having at least a look at the Pali that underlies the translations. You are unlikely to need to do complete translations yourself, just focus on words that you question. You donโ€™t even have to โ€œlearnโ€ Pali in the traditional sense of memorizing word lists and conjugations, and so on. There is a terrific free tool out there โ€” the Digital Pali Reader (SourceForge has a copy) โ€” that has the entire canon in Pali. Load it up, load up a sutta, click on a word, and it will offer definitions and a tiny little โ€œcโ€ near the word will provide conjugations. I recommend this more than I can express. If you really want to dig into the Tipitaka, there is no better way than comparing translations, and checking out the various meanings of the words you question in the Pali.

One thing about the use of language in the Buddhaโ€™s time (maybe it is even still true in India) is that his culture accepted that any single word could have many meanings and rather than doing as we do and confining meaning to one โ€” saying โ€œbut I only meant definition #3โ€ โ€” they tend to work with all the meanings simultaneously. It provides quite a workout for the mind! This is why looking up the words provides a richness youโ€™ll never get from reading translations.

Wow can I ever relate to what youโ€™re saying there. I set out on that very journey myself about ten years ago, and am still on it.

There are three baskets, and a great deal has been translated into English.

If you start with the suttas โ€” when you get through all of those , the second basket is the monastic code (the Vinaya) and it is already fully translated into English, so you can work through that. Then at least the major works of the third basket, the commentaries, have also been translated so you can work on those. If you still want all the rest, youโ€™ll be well-prepared to translate them yourself. But I suspect youโ€™ll find most of what you need within the suttas.

What others on this page have said about doing translations is more-than-true. If you want to come to an understanding of what the Buddha of the Pali canon taught, you can do no better than having at least a look at the Pali that underlies the translations. You are unlikely to need to do complete translations yourself, just focus on words that you question. You donโ€™t even have to โ€œlearnโ€ Pali in the traditional sense of memorizing word lists and conjugations, and so on. There is a terrific free tool out there โ€” the Digital Pali Reader (SourceForge has a copy) โ€” that has the entire canon in Pali. Load it up, load up a sutta, click on a word, and it will offer definitions and a tiny little โ€œcโ€ near the word will provide conjugations. I recommend this more than I can express. If you really want to dig into the Tipitaka, there is no better way than comparing translations, and checking out the various meanings of the words you question in the Pali.

One thing about the use of language in the Buddhaโ€™s time (maybe it is even still true in India) is that his culture accepted that any single word could have many meanings and rather than doing as we do and confining meaning to one โ€” saying โ€œbut I only meant definition #3โ€ โ€” they tend to work with all the meanings simultaneously. It provides quite a workout for the mind! This is why looking up the words provides a richness youโ€™ll never get from reading translations.
299 Views ยทy
As others have pointed out, the Pali Canon is huge. And since itโ€™s a language which has not been in active use for centuries itโ€™s hard to determine the exact meaning of some words. The interest of western academics in the Pali Canon is relatively recent and does not date some 2000 years back to the times of the much more investigated Greek scriptures. There are some places, suttacentral.net being one of them, which cover many suttas.

However, I would like to address something thatโ€™s mentioned in the details:

that there is no single, uniting book that I read and check to view the Buddha’s opinions on matters

This is a common view from people coming from a background where belief in a holy book is a huge part of the belief system. When you get a little knowledgeable about the Buddhist suttas you find that Gautama Buddha very often referred to common knowledge and the natural way of things. Since we are born we are subject to illness, ageing, old age and death. Thatโ€™s something we can all observe in our life.
Or he would point to a fire and ask: where does the flame go when it goes out? Does it go west, east, south, north? Or maybe up or down? With such a statement he would indicate that a question with the wrong formulation would not give the desired answer.

If you get to know Buddhist culture and background you will find that there is not a single person claiming enlightenment based only on reading the Pali Canon. Sometimes insight might rise while reading in it, yet the core of Buddhism is practice, doing. And this is a frequently recurring theme in the suttas. We see Gautama Buddha stressing time after time to stop certain lifestyles, to cultivate other lifestyles, to stop bad behaviour, to start good behaviour. And once doing this results in a less stressful life, he would provide basic instructions into meditation.

Yet this meditation, often thought to be meditation on the breath, is something which is less explained in the suttas. This is not because itโ€™s very obvious, itโ€™s because there are several ways of meditating and each has different benefits. The core meditation is body contemplation, the instructions given to monks who are send of on their own: hair on the head, hair on the body, teeth, nails and skin. Yet unfortunate events showed that not all monks could handle the mental pressure thatโ€™s involved in such meditation and to counter the disturbance it caused instructions on meditation on the breath were given because of itโ€™s calming effects.

In the end, all knowledge you need to acquire is already inside you, in this body, in this mind, in the thoughts that rise, in the feelings that keep appearing. Itโ€™s the same story over and over: something starts and with that the process of ending starts. When we breath in, we cannot breath out at the same time. The start of one means that the other one has to end. And when we breath in, we know we have to breath out at a certain point. Without the process of breathing in followed by breathing out, over and over, we cannot survive. And we can find this process all over in our body and mind.

Itโ€™s because of this that there is less emphasis in Buddhism on the Pali Canon than that there is on the Bible in Christianity or the Quran in Islam.
The Pali Canon does not provide the answer, the answer is found in practice and focus on the components of self. And you carry these along your entire life.
The โ€˜opinionโ€™ of the Buddha is not important, one of his close followers remarks in a sutta when asked about his viewpoint that he knows that viewpoints are stressful and that this knowledge is sufficient for him. We find something similar with certain teachings, one person asking questions is not answered, another asking a slightly different question receives a detailed explanation. The skill and knowledge of the questioner is taken into consideration while answering.

Decades ago I learned something thatโ€™s still of great value to me: you cannot trust a single translation of โ€˜holy scripturesโ€™. Either you learn the language yourself and dig in (I did that with biblical greek) or you take several translations which will show you the similarities and differences in the translation of the word, indicating that on some words there is agreement and on other there is none. It will also show you a bit of the dogmatic interpretations of some translators. Being bi-langual is an even greater advantage, you can read the interpretation in two languages which might reveal nuances not present in a single language.
Doing this with the Pali Canon is almost madness. Remember, itโ€™s huge.
But itโ€™s not needed. Take one or two suttas, get to understand them in any way and see if they point to the body or mind. If so, the sutta can be used as a guide in practice, which has the highest priority.

As last remark: there is a firefox (browser) plugin that offers the Pali canon with a huge dictionary. Youโ€™d have to translate yourself, yet itโ€™s one of the closest ways you can get to the actual words in the Pali Canon. Yet without understanding context on living conditions and religious beliefs some 2500 years ago in Nepal and India you are bound to make mistakes on interpretation.
358 Views ยท

Modern Western culture’s interest in the Pali canon only goes back to the late 19th century. Recall that it took hundreds of years for the transmission of Buddhism into China; consider Xuanzang’s efforts at translation - it took him the rest of his life and continued on with his disciples. Good translation requires a rare combination of rigorous scholarship, strong grasp of Pali, ability to write well in English, and time.

Consider the size of of the Tipitaka - several bookshelves!!! Consider the obstacles in publishing something that, especially before computers.

From the addition text in your question, I think you’re less interested in the Vinaya (rules for monastics) or the Abidharma (commentaries). That leaves the Suttas (sutra). Various sutras, including multiple English translations of the same text in Pali, are on Access to Insight. For published books, I’d go with works by @Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Where to start? I highly recommend Bhikkhu Bodhi’s anthology In the Buddha’s Words, and then choose a translation of the Dhammapada. Once you’ve got a good grasp on Buddhist concepts and terminology, get Bhikkhu Bodhi’s other translations (with his associated lectures available online as audio or video) or get another anthology, Handful of Leaves by Thannisaro Bhikkhu.

I’ll end with this quote:

So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical deduction, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’

- from Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas, with translator’s associated essay at http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/lostinquotation.html
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There are a couple of considerations here.

First, if you are really seriously concerned with the quality of the translations, you should learn Pali. Otherwise, just as you did with the Bible, go with the translations you have available. Seriously, without the necessary cultural and historical context, it is a foolโ€™s errand to think you can interpret the Pali Canon on your own.

Second, living well, day to day, according to Buddhism, does not require intimate knowledge of the Tipitaka. Follow the first five precepts, and obey Jesusโ€™ second commandment (Love your neighbor as yourself.), and you are covered from a behavioral standpoint.

All the rest isnโ€™t anything more than a dry intellectual exercise unless you meditate. And there are online and remote resources available for training in meditation.

Third point, there is a lot of repetition in the Pali Canon. By the time you have exhausted the parts of the Canon that have already been translated, if you are still into it, I expect you will be good and ready to learn Pali for yourself.
Itโ€™s as simple as reading everything you can find. Apply analytical meditation and debate. Decide for yourself.

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