A beautiful and very convincing modern rendering of the first discourse given by the Buddha happened to cross my path this
afternoon. If you thought you’d already read the famous “Dhammacakkapavattana” sutta before, think again.
Richard Blumberg’s translation is contemporary while actually staying very close to the spirit of the original Pāli text. While many translations miss the point and are hard to read, his version captures both -the overall “message” as well as the unique ‘voice’ of the source text. Really a nice job. Enough introduction, see for yourself:
A couple of remarks:
Rendering dukkha with “pain and distress” seems an acceptable choice. The pāli word dukkha is used for physical sensations of pain as well as for the opposite of sukha (happiness => ergo unhappiness). Thus dukkha covers the realm between the pain in the body and the pain in the mind, i.e. “pain and distress”.
I also like pathfinder… it has something of the special flair the word “Tathāgata” creates in Pāli.
Just one little caveat. Taṇhā IMHO goes deeper than just hanging on to pleasures or hoping that pain may end. Craving in fact goes so deep that it craves to just “be”. Unfortunately, this watering down of the meaning is such a common place now in modern Buddhist literature that most people would probably not even recognize it.(1)
Therefore a translation Richard’s
You crave sensual pleasures. You crave for pleasure to go on forever. You crave for discomfort to end right now.
In fact, every sensation, every perception, every emotion you feel, every belief you maintain, every thought that arises in you – hanging on to all that just produces more pain and distress.
while incredibly readable – simply just scratches the surface of the what the Buddha alluded to.
Bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā really do mean what they mean: a thirsting for existence (or to be) and for some people even a thirsting to not exist exists ( 🙂 ) – it all is just thirst. Kāmataṇhā, bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā can therefore be easily seen as an ever refining way of clinging or thirsting. So even if you overcame your craving for sensual pleasures tomorrow (kāmataṇhā) you are still NOT done. Then again, even if you overcome your thirst to be (bhavataṇhā) your are STILL not done. Even if, in the meditation battles of the Anagami, he finds himself longing for the non being – he still is trapped by longing (vibhavataṇhā) – see that?
And thus, while the translation of sankhara and viññāṇa as “every belief you maintain” and “every thought that arises in you” at least will make more sense to 90% of the people reading the sutta pointing them rightfully to their own experience of each moment (rather than into some abstract abhidhammic crossword puzzle), please consider this for a moment:
According to the Buddha viññāṇa does not merely occur with thoughts. It occurs with any of the six senses. This is subtler and important at the same time! The most straightforward and non-technical rendering could be “recognition”(2) (consciousness is more or less a meaningless term when all five groups of grasping are supposed to be seen in your meditation and not some empty names on a philosophical list. Can you be aware of the impermanence of your consciousness? Hardly. But could you become aware of the fact that your mind recognizes things. Sure!).
Therefore, this of course is a trap: Our thirst and craving is NOT just targeting the object (thought) itself which we experience, but we also thirst the experiencing of the experience. Gotcha!
That’s why waking up from the 6-D cinema (see last post) is so subtle a matter.
(1) Helpful in this regard is a reading in the Khandha- and Nidāna parts of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Highly recommended.
(2) think: cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā … forms which are recognized by the eye. Also: vi+ñāṇa = apart-knowing, discriminative knowledge. It is that part of our moment to moment experience which distinguishes our experience into names and forms. Thus the triangle between nāma-rūpa and viññāṇa. more another time…