Pāli Suttās in Tipiṭaka – Direct Translations are Wrong

Pāli suttās in the Tipiṭaka are commonly in the “brief” or “uddesa” version. Many suttās should not be translated directly from that uddesa version because that leads to confusion. They must be translated to provide the “hidden meanings” by providing sufficiently detailed explanations.

March 20, 2024

    Many Pāli Words in Suttās Are Abbreviated

    1. Many Pāli words like cetanā, phassa, vedanā, saṅkhāra,  and viññāna must be understood based on the context. In MOST sutta verses, they mean sañcetanā (sañ cetanā), samphassa (sañ phassa), samphassa-jā-vedanā, abhisaṅkhāra, and kamma viññāna (which is more than “consciousness” or “vipāka viññāna.“)

    • This becomes clear looking at the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda in the frequently encountered uddesa version”:avijjā paccayā saṅkhāra; saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna; viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa, nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana, salāyatana paccayā phassō, phassa paccayā vēdanā, vēdanā paccayā taṇhā, taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhavō, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.” 
    • The Buddha taught that to attain Arahanthood, ALL the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda must be stopped from arising. The meaning of the word “nirodha” means “to stop from arising” and NOT “destroy or end what is existing.” The verse “dukkha nirodha” does not mean you can stop existing cancer or an injury from causing suffering; that requires medical treatment. Dukkha nirodha” means to “stop future suffering from arising.” It is critical to understand that. Please ask questions at the forum if this is not clear.
    • With the complete cessation of avijjā, all the rest of the terms MUST not arise. None of those terms arise for an ArahantHowever, an Arahant can feel, think, take actions, etc. Thus, for example, vedanā arises for an Arahant but not samphassa-jā-vedanā; see below.
    • Many online discussions illustrate this confusion: “Do Arhats experience contact with their sixfold sense media? What about vedanā?” “Cessation of DO?” and “Vedanā” are just a few examples. 

    2. I have emphasized that in previous posts, as summarized below. However, I think it is necessary to emphasize this point again because many are still unaware of this problem.

    • If written explicitly, the terms convey the meaning better and that is called the niddesa version.” Here, the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda are: “avijjā paccayā abhisaṅkhāra; abhisaṅkhāra paccayā kamma viññāna; kamma viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa, nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana, salāyatana paccayā samphassō, samphassa paccayā samphassa-jā-vēdanā, samphassa-jā-vēdanā paccayā taṇhā, taṇhā paccayā upādāna, upādāna paccayā bhavō, bhava paccayā jāti, jāti paccayā jarā, marana, soka-paridēva-dukkha-dōmanassupāyasā sambhavan’ti.” 
    • When the Tipiṭaka was written for the first time 2000 years ago, preparing ola leaves and writing each word by hand was extremely laborious. Imagine writing all 57 books in the Tipiṭaka that way! See “Preservation of the Dhamma.” The writing was minimized using two techniques: (i) frequently use the “uddesa” version, and (ii) Words are combined to minimize the number of ola leaves used. For example, “cakkhuviññāṇaṁ” appears instead of “cakkhu viññāṇaṁ.
    • Therefore, it is critical to be able to interpret a term’s meaning depending on the context. That holds for most suttās in the Sutta Piṭaka. In many cases, cetanā, phassa, vedanā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna REFER TO sañcetanā, samphassa (sañ phassa), samphassa-jā-vedanā, abhisaṅkhāra, and kamma viññāna. (Note: This confusion is absent with the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, where everything is discussed in detail, but only a few read or can understand Abhidhamma.)
    Cetanā, Kamma, and Saṅkhāra

    3. Cetanā means “intention.” However, all intentions are not bad. Only “defiled intentions” or “sañcetanā” need to be avoided.

    • Nibbedhika Sutta (AN 6.63)” defines kamma as “Cetanāhaṁ, bhikkhave, kammaṁ vadāmi. Cetayitvā kammaṁ karoti—kāyena vācāya manasā.” Cetanā is a “universal cetasika,” meaning it is in every citta. This is a critical observation because an Arahant would also have the “intention of doing something.”
    • However, an Arahant would not intend to act with rāga, dosa, or moha (or defilements). There is a specific word that indicates defiled intentions: sañcetanā, i.e., those with “sañ” (rāga, dosa, moha). Thus, an Arahant generates cetanā but not sañcetanā.
    • Thus, an Arahant can generate kāya, vaci, mano kamma with kāya, vaci, and mano saṅkhāra with cetanā. But an Arahant would NOT do immoral/unwise kamma with kāya, vaci, mano abhisaṅkhāra with sañcetanā. Note that some types of abhisaṅkhāra (see #11 of “Kamma, Saṅkhāra, and Abhisaṅkhāra – What Is “Intention”?) do not lead to immoral kamma but still are unwise because they move a mind away from the “pabhassara mind.” 
    • However, since most suttās describe the mindset of those striving to attain Arahanthood, most suttās use the words cetanā and saṅkhāra to indicate sañcetanā and abhisaṅkhāra. Furthermore, kamma means “defiled kamma” done with sañcetanā. Thus, “avijjā nirodhā kamma nirodho” refers only to immoral/unwise kamma. 
    • Understanding the relationships among sañcetanā, abhisaṅkhāra, and immoral/unwise kamma is critical. See “Kamma and Saṅkhāra, Cetanā and Sañcetanā.”
    Phassa and Samphassa

    4. Phassa is a universal cetasika that makes the “contact” between a rupa with an internal āyatana leading to the corresponding viññāṇa; for example, “cakkhuñca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjāti cakkhu viññāṇaṃ.” That viññāṇa becomes a “defiled viññāṇa” or a “kamma viññāṇa” only if the mind generates an attachment to it with “sañ,” i.e., if sañcetanā arises making it a “defiled contact” or a “samphassa.”

    • An Arahant can see the external rupa like anyone else; that is only a “vipāka viññāṇa” that does not involve sañcetanā and abhisaṅkhāra.
    •  Details in the post “Difference between Phassa and Samphassa
    Kamma Viññāna and Vipaka Viññāna

    5. In the suttās, the terms “vipāka viññāna” and “kamma viññāna” do not appear. Following Waharaka Thero, I adopted those terms to explain the usage of “viññāna” in different situations. This became necessary because almost all English translations translate “viññāna” as “consciousness,” which leads to much confusion. Only “vipāka viññāna” can be translated as “consciousness” because “kamma viññāna” is more than consciousness. I explained this critical problem (in #2 and #3) in “Niddesa (Brief Description) of Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

    • Further details in “Viññāṇa – What It Really Means
    • However, at a deeper level, we can see that entirely defilement-free viññāna does not arise in a puthujjana. As we have discussed recently, even at the beginning of the “purāna kamma” stage, it is already defiled to some extent. However, that level of defilement cannot bring future vipāka, especially rebirths. Strong defilement occurs only in the “nava kamma” stage after “upādāna” takes place; see the chart discussed in #7 of “Ārammaṇa (Sensory Input) Initiates Critical Processes.”
    Vedanā and Samphassa-jā-Vedanā

    6. A sensory input (ārammaṇa) is necessary to initiate kamma generation via Paṭicca Samuppāda and to contribute to pañcupādānakkhandha (“five grasping aggregates.”) We discussed that in the recent post “Ārammaṇa (Sensory Input) Initiates Critical Processes.”

    • That should be clear, especially in the chart in #10 of that post: The left side of the chart explains how the Paṭicca Samuppāda process proceeds, and the right side explains the “build-up” of the pañcupādānakkhandha via the “purāna kamma” and “nava kamma” stages. The latter is further explained in the chart of #7.
    • Vedanā” is the “neutral awareness” of the object in the early “purāna kamma” stage. Within a split second, the mind of a puthujjana attaches to the sensory input with rāga, dosa, or moha, and it evolves into “samphassa-jā-vedanā.” We cannot stop the initial “vedanā” from arising, but we can stop it from evolving into “samphassa-jā-vedanā.
    • For details, see “Vēdanā and Samphassa-Jā-Vēdanā – More Than Just Feelings.”
    Uddesa, Niddesa, and Paṭiniddesa

    7. We briefly discussed the “uddesa” and “niddesa” versions of Paṭicca Samuppāda in #1 and #2 above.

    • It is necessary to explain the “uddesa version” in the Tipiṭaka not only with the “niddesa version” but also in detail with the “paṭiniddesa version.” In the old days, bhikkhus delivered discourses to provide detailed explanations. I have tried to do that (i.e., close to the “paṭiniddesa version”) with posts like those mentioned above. There are more posts on each topic on the website because explaining everything in a single 2000-word post is difficult.
    • More posts on each word can be found using the “Search box” on the top right.
    • For another discussion on the subject, see “Sutta Interpretation – Uddēsa, Niddēsa, Paṭiniddēsa.
    Paṭicca Samuppāda and Pañcakkhandha – Only Mental Entities Involved

    8. All the terms in Paṭicca Samuppāda, pañcakkhandha, and pañcupādānakkhandha involve only “mental entities.” They all describe what happens in the mind. 

    • Furthermore, most suttās in the Sutta Piṭaka discuss pañcupādānakkhandha and not pañcakkhandha. That is because it is the pañcupādānakkhandha that we need to worry about.
    • As the Buddha pointed out in his first discourse (“Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)”), “In brief, Dukkha is pañcupādānakkhandha” OR “saṅkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā.” 
    • Please think carefully: Pañcupādānakkhandha is a MENTAL PROCESS in the mind. All five terms involved are MENTAL entities. It is obvious that the “mental entities” of vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna are “mental.” 
    • Thus, it must be emphasized that “rupa” in connection to Paṭicca Samuppāda, pañcakkhandha, and pañcupādānakkhandha involve only “mental impressions of external rupa.”
    • Furthermore, “rupa” refers not only to visuals but also to sounds, smell, taste, touch, and dhammā (that can be detected only by the mind.)
    Rupa” Does Not Mean “External Rupa

    9. With the recent deeper analyses (“Sotapanna Stage via Understanding Perception (Saññā)“), we can see that the rupa involved in this process are not external rupa and a mental impression of that external rupa. We can summarize the steps as follows:

    (i) An “altered version” of the external object (whether sight, sound, etc.) is prepared by the brain and is presented to the mind via the cakkhu pasāda rupa. This happens because our physical bodies have been designed by kammic energy (via Paṭicca Samuppāda) to provide a “distorted saññā” about that rupa. The basic idea is discussed in “Mūlapariyāya Sutta – The Root of All Things” and “Fooled by Distorted Saññā (Sañjānāti) – Origin of Attachment (Taṇhā).” This is why different species have cravings for different foods, for example. Brahmas are not even interested in food or sex because their births originated from attachment to “jhānic pleasures.”

    (ii) Consider a puthujjana (an average human) taking a mouthful of a tasty meal. In this case, the “rupa” is not the meal but the “impression of that food created by the brain.” In Pāli, it is a “rasa rupa.” Within a split second, the mind would attach to that “rasa rupa” since a puthujjana has kāma rāga. This step does not involve conscious thinking but is automatic. 

    (iii) Then the mind goes through a few more steps to get to the “upādāna” stage, where one may or may not “consciously attach” to that “rupa.” That process is discussed in #7 through #9 through the rest of the post “Ārammaṇa (Sensory Input) Initiates Critical Processes.”

    • Therefore, it should be clear that a “rupa” mentioned in a sutta mainly refers to such a “mind-made version of the external rupa.” 
    Nirodha – Misunderstood Word

    10. “Nirodha” is commonly translated to English as “cessation.” That implies the cessation or destruction of an existing entity.

    • However, “nirodha” means to “stop the arising of an entity.” 
    • The verse “Rūpaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ, rūpa samudayaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ, rūpa nirodhaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ, rūpa nirodhagāminiṁ paṭipadaṁ abbhaññāsiṁ” appears in the “Upādānaparipavatta Sutta (SN 22.56)” and in that link it is translated as “I directly knew form, its origin, its cessation, and the practice that leads to its cessation.”
    • However, it is impossible to make an existing external rupa “cease to exist”! Also, the use of the word “form” does not convey that it could be a sound, taste, etc.
    • It is possible to stop “mind-made rupa” from arising in a mind. That holds for all Arahants at their death, i.e., at Parinibbāna. But it can happen in a living Arahant who can get into “nirodha samāpatti” while living. Both pañcakkhandha and pañcupādānakkhandha cease arising while in “nirodha samāpatti.” Thus, “rupa nirodha” can be experienced even during a life!
    • That is why Nibbāna is also called “loka nirodha.” Even external rupa (including stars and planets) cease to exist for that mind! (while in nirodha samāpatti” or after Parinibbāna.)
    • See “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna).”
    Rupa, Vedanā, Saññā, Saṅkhāra,  and Viññāna Arise Simultaneously

    11. An easy way to grasp what we discussed above is as follows. In a sensory event, all five entities, rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāna, arise simultaneously. 

    • None of them will arise in nirodha samāpatti (or after Parinibbāna).
    • In the “Upaya Sutta (SN 22.53)” (among several others), the Buddha stated that viññāna cannot arise without rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra. 
    • They all arise simultaneously in the mind!

    Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the forum. Some of these concepts are new and may need clarification.

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