Filed in Theravada

Found in Translation

How do you take an ancient text written in a dead language and reveal its wisdom to the English-speaking world? Pali Scholar Dr. Peter Masefield discusses the toil and exhilaration of translating the Buddha's words with Stephen A. Evans.

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But this seems to beg the question. If you go to the commentaries to find out what a word means, and that commentary is itself written in Pali, how do you understand the commentaries? The role of the commentaries is often that of supplying a more well-known synonym for a word that is not easily understood. Also, a word in the canon might have two or more possible interpretations. This occurs because Pali is to some extent a simplified form of Sanskrit, and two or more Sanskrit terms may have the same simplified form in Pali. In such cases, the commentary will cover all possible options, as the word of the Buddha is so important. The Pali satta, for example, is the Pali form of four different Sanskrit words: sakta, sattva, shapta, or sapta, meaning, respectively, "holding to," "being," "cursed," and "seven." The commentaries will give alternate interpretations of a passage for each alternate meaning.

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