Comparing Tipitaka Versions

Generally, I prefer the translations prepared by Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi over those by Venerable Thanissaro Bhikkhu, available on Access to Insight. Sometimes, this comes down to a preference for translating technical terms such as pa~n~naa as either ‘wisdom’ or ‘discernment’. Nevertheless, I have found that reading Ven. Thanissaro’s translations with their varient technical terms, sometimes provokes a new insight that might have been passed over where I to simply read Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation once again. The different translations can sometimes highlight something subtle. So I recommend students of the Dhamma reading English translations, to read several different translations in order to maximise their possibility for deeper understanding. Even better would be if students could study Paali and learn to translate some of their favourite discourses themselves. In this way students begin to understand the nuances of Paali and grow in appreciation of the profoundity of the Suttas.

In an ideal world perhaps there might be some way to switch back and forth between the Paali, the English and other languages. I have seen some discourses translated by Piya Tan on Dharma Farer. where he has prepared multilinear translations. He has the Paali on one line, the verbatim English translation on the next line and idiomatic English on the third line. This sort of translation text is very useful for students learning Paali. Maybe, it would be even better to conveniently consult Paali, several variant English translations and several variant Thai translations and even Chinese Agamas with their specific English translations for comparison. I imagine several computer screens side by side or even one very large screen with all these windows showing the various versions. Maybe I could click on one or two versions to show three or four versions with its own line one above the other as they go through the discourse I am studying. An option to be able to listen to excerpts of the text being studied in the relevant language (Paali, Mandarin, English, Thai, Burmese, Singhalese, Sanskrit, Hindi etc.).

I don’t have resources or even the various electronic versions of the above texts to achieve that vision. I sometimes read an online Thai translation of the Buddhist Paali Canon – Tipitaka. This is excellent because it also has Thai translations of the commentary text – Atthakatha ready for reading too. The commentaries are not conveniently available in reliable English translations.

I can’t read Myanmar/Burmese, Singhalese, Vietnamese, Lao, Cambodian, Mon, Lanna etc. so translations into these languages are inaccessible to me. I studied Mandarin Chinese at university but that was twenty years ago and I’ve hardly used it in the meantime. I hope one day, Buddhist scholars may have access to tools like this in the near future.

All of the above could be seen as unweildly and perhaps as academic overload. Buddhism is not merely an intellectual or philosophical exercise. Study should definitely be balanced with practical application of the Dhamma though daily mindfulness and intense meditation practice.


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