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There seems to be two prominant websites/translations for learning the suttas:

  1. accesstoinsight.org
  2. suttacentral.net

As I was going through DN15 I see that the translations of important words differ in the two, may be in certain context even change the meaning.

So which one is the good translation to follow, read and learn the suttas?

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I mainly use accesstoinsight.org and suttacentral.net. Another good source is themindingcentre.org. For the Dhammapada, tipitaka.net is good. A new website is dhammatalks.org.

SuttaCentral

SuttaCentral has more suttas translated to English compared to any other source, as far as I can see. You can find many uncommon suttas translated.

Both SuttaCentral and AccessToInsight have multiple translations from various translators.

Ven. Sujato's translations are completely on SuttaCentral, but you can also find alternative translations from other translators like Ven. Bodhi, Ven Thanissaro, Ven. Anandajoti etc.

SuttaCentral also has inline Pali with English translations for Ven Sujato's translations - this is the best source to compare Pali sentences with their English translation counterparts. There's also a Pali-English dictionary on the site.

One drawback is that there are no commentaries on SuttaCentral together with the sutta translation, but you may find this indirectly on their discussion site.

AccessToInsight and dhammatalks

AccessToInsight has Ven Thanissaro and other translators like Ven. Nanamoli, Ven. Buddharakkhita, Ven. Anandajoti, Ven. Bodhi, I.B. Horner, Rhys Davids etc. Some sutta translations here have short commentaries either at the top or on the footnotes.

AccessToInsight also has a very nice glossary.

The nice thing about AccessToInsight is that I can search it using Google's "site:" prefix.

Recently, I noticed that there is a new site hosting Ven. Thanissaro's translations - dhammatalks.org.

The Minding Centre

The Minding Centre's Dhammafarers / Sutta Discovery series has translations and commentaries by Piya Tan. These are pretty good. They are in PDF format.

The Minding Centre is a very good source of commentaries. Piya Tan also refers to the traditional commentaries in his research. His research is pretty good.

tipitaka.net

For Dhammapada, you can find translations on AccessToInsight and SuttaCentral, but you won't find the stories of each Dhammapada verse that come from the traditional commentaries.

For Dhammapada stories, tipitaka.net is the best source.

You can also search tipitaka.net using Google's "site:" prefix.

Whose translation is the best?

I tend to use Ven. Bodhi, Ven. Sujato, Ven. Thanissaro and Piya Tan as my preferred translations.

Of these, I usually find Ven. Bodhi using English terms in the most natural way to capture and convey the meaning of Pali sentences. This would be my first choice.

Ven. Sujato tends to be as direct as possible with his choice of words - trying to be word-for-word accurate. This would be my second choice.

Meanwhile Ven. Thanissaro tends to be grand (e.g. using "Lord") and using unusual translations, but they still convey the intended meaning.

Ven. Thanissaro and Piya Tan tie for third place in my opinion.


Below is a list of ten unusual English translations by Ven. Thanissaro, compared to Ven. Bodhi or Ven. Sujato. Ven. Thanissaro tends to use unusual or strange or archaic English words or phrases.

  • "Lord" instead of "venerable sir" (Bodhi) or "sir" (Sujato) for "bhante" (e.g. MN 147)
  • "Stress" instead of "suffering" for "dukkha" (e.g. MN 146)
  • "Inconstant" instead of "impermanent" for "anicca" (e.g. MN 146)
  • "uninstructed run-of-the-mill person" instead of "untaught ordinary person" (e.g. MN 1)
  • "Right discernment" instead of "right wisdom" for "sammappañña" (e.g. MN 146)
  • "Gnosis" instead of "final knowledge" (Bodhi) or "enlightenment" (Sujato) for I think "aññārādhanā" (e.g. MN 70)
  • Translating proper nouns like "LongNails" instead of just stating the original "Dīghanakha" (in MN 74) - this is a person's name
  • "Unbinding" instead of "Nibbāna" (Bodhi) (e.g. MN 75). Ven. Sujato uses "extinguishment" here which is slightly better than "Unbinding" - this is a well-known technical term that need not be translated.
  • "Worthy One" instead "Arahant" (Bodhi) (e.g. MN 1). Ven. Sujato uses "perfected" here which is better. This is a well known technical term that need not be translated.
  • "Seized" instead of "obsessed" for I think "pariyuṭṭhaṭṭhāyī" (e.g. SN 22.1)

For an example of a longer phrase - from MN 19:

  • "his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with sensuality" (Thanissaro)
  • "his mind inclines to thoughts of sensual desire" (Bodhi)
  • "Their mind inclines to sensual thoughts" (Sujato)

You can see Ven. Thanissaro's strange use of "bent" instead of "inclines" above. There are many such examples of strange translations.

Sometimes, Ven. Thanissaro has better translations e.g. "fabrications" instead of "volitional formations" (Bodhi) or "choices" (Sujato) e.g. SN 22.1. But usually it's the other way round.

Rarely, most of them get it completely wrong e.g. viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ - see this question. Here, it was translated as "invisible consciousness" (Sujato) or "consciousness without surface" (Thanissaro). Actually it should be "that which can be known or cognized" i.e. Nibbāna.

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There are a few others that I know of too ...

... see also English (or other European) translations of Pali Canon (plus various books).

IMO the (translated) English words change (from one translation to the next), because a word of Pali might have a (narrow or broad) range of meanings, which might be translated (more or less well) by any of several English words.


I tend to use Ven. Sujato's translations, for example:

  • Go to https://suttacentral.net/sn56.11/en/sujato
  • Click on Setting (the gear-wheel icon) near the top of the page
  • Enable "View original text with translation" (e.g. "Line by line"), and "Activate Pali word lookup"

Then you see the (original) line of Pali next to each (translated) line of English.

enter image description here

You can hover (with the mouse, unless you're using a touch-screen) over a word of Pali, to see a popup translation/definition:

enter image description here

And click on the title word in that popup to go to the dictionary definition:

https://suttacentral.net/define/viharati

Eventually you get to recognise various words of Pali, which then have a meaning of their own to you. You'll notice on this site that people slip words of Pali into their text -- dukkha, dhamma, and so on -- because that's less confusing than using several different English translations for the same thing.


You can see the same happening in http://www.buddha-vacana.org/sutta/samyutta/maha/sn56-011.html -- i.e. the text on the right includes some Pali words untranslated, but you can hover or click on them for dictionary/glossary support.

The "Resources" on this site (see the navigation menu on the left side the home page) are a gentle introduction to some Pali words and phrases.


Piya Tan's (i.e. Dhammafarer) is interesting too what you want to study and not just read a sutta: because for some suttas he has written commentary; and read commentary (traditional and from modern authors) which he might summarise; and cross-references with other suttas, footnotes, etc.


I like the Search function on Access to Insight -- Access to Insight doesn't include all the suttas but it does include:

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  • good and helpful answer & inclusion of instructions for Study – M H Jul 27 at 15:30
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Interesting & good question. Maybe better to read both! Certainly both imply that they're 'correct', yet they differ, so that means one, or both, have errors, even though that's a fairly prolific text. And both sites may have material which isn't avalable on the other site. 'Good' may be somewhat subjective, but neither seem perfect. For example, perhaps to sound unique, both use an English pronoun in first person as Name for The Buddha. Both are incorrect. In that usage, the pronouns are being used as Names: even in business letters Sir & Lord are capitalised! Let alone in person and a conversation transcript. That obviously is ok with those sites, however, this answerer wasnot the editor. Wouldnot recommend Either site. Maybe for a quick reference, but Notfor Study, Notfor Analysis. Zero faith in any veracity for either site based on even 3 pages of cursory reading. Perhaps to learn the material may require learning an additional language or two, at least to the extent where one can actually compare a specific word or phrase, and then the manuscripts or texts may vary. Both sites also use words in English which maybe havenot been specially defined on the sites re the particular books: So even if the translations are correct, maybe the English words selected are used in different ways, and so the material won't be accurately understood. If there are actual nonEnglish texts on the sites (which didn't see) that are attributed, then that would be very good. Both sites may be just fine in the opinion of the Asker, likely both sites are fairly accurate, the words in the translations seem to be fairly ok. It depends on why the Asker wants to 'learn the Suttas'. Little things like notcapitalising etc apparently are acceptable to many, but it reflects a less conscientious translational work. And some words maybe should just be Romamised. Some words maybe neither need to be translated, nor perhaps should they be. That also suggests overtranslation: trying too hard to make it poetic in English, or in current modern English etc. It also may indicate less esteem for the original material, which can make for uncorrect translation. Good conscientious question.

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Of the modern translators Thanissaro's & Bodhi's translations are semantically most accurate but they are both not without mistakes as i see it.

Most peculiar to Thanissaro's translation is;

  • 'Frames of Reference' for 'Satipatthana' is not a good translation. Sati is close to 'to keep in mind'.
  • the occasional use of 'stress' for dukkha.
  • translating bhava as becoming, not sure if consistent at that.
  • somewhat extensive use of [...] to to express or to complement the sutta expression, these are as i see it often meant to explain what the translator thinks the texts mean and are then essentially commentary & a personal interpretation and can [optionally] be ignored.
  • His translations often come with a summary of commentarial interpretation and often his own analysis in the footnotes which is quite informative but can be wrong ofc.

Bodhi's translations are generally alright and have been revised many (3-5) times. Controversial to his translations is the translation of;

  • '..gadha' which he in the later edition occasionally translates as 'culmination' whereas the literal translation is obviously closer to 'gaining a footing'.
  • 'volitional formations' for sankhara. 'Volitional' therein is not necessary as i see it and is clearly not in the text as sankhara is quite literally just formations, whether they are volitional or not is a moot point in as far as a beginner is concerned.
  • Translations also come with a summary of commentary positions and personal interpretation in the footnotes, but these you won't find on the suttacentral.

Sujato's translations are as i see it only useful for their parallel pali reading. Points of controversy include;

  • Generally translating 'lokadhatu' as a 'world system' but occasionally as 'a solar system' and 'cula lokadhatu' as 'galaxy'. 'Loka' is 'a world', 'dhatu' is here semantically close to 'a discernable element' with 'cula' denoting 'a lesser'; this is major point of controversy with significant doctrinal implications. His translations here are, as i see it, indefensible and are at the very least inconsistent.
  • Translating sankhara as 'choices' (!). This is also extremely controversial considering that the semantics of sankhara are close to 'being put together [that which is put together], created[creation], generated[generation] and genesis or synthesis' and is hence consistently translated as 'synthesis' by Rhys Davis and 'formation' by Thanissaro. It is etymologicaly derived from sankhato which is the opposite of Asankhato which translates as 'unmade'. Furthermore sankhara are also defined as 6 classes of intention that sankharate the conditioned.
  • Also follows Bodhi's lead in '..gadha' controversy and has admitted that even tho the literal translation is 'to gain a footing' he sees it to be an idiom and chooses to translate it otherwise. Thus his translations are a representation of what he thinks the Buddha meant rather than what he said.
  • There are other points that i don't recall the particulars of. I think it is fair to say these translations are more like a person's personal interpretation largely based on Bodhi's translations. I don't consider these to be a literal translation of pali discourses but they are useful for studying in pali due to the parallel reading.

For accuracy where it counts id say Thanissaro is sometimes better than Bodhi but Bidhi is likewise better in some spots. It's hard to give weight to their mistakes to say which is better.

There are other translators, some are quite good and id say all the famous translators are better than Sujato.

As for learning the Sutta your best bet is critically analyzing the public discourse on this site and on the sutta central. I would avoid DW because that place the bottom of the barrel but there are some [for the most part retired] users with some expertise that don't post elsewhere, so you could try it if you want to inquire about commentary and abhidhamma expression.

There is also a good facebook group, there are a lot of Sutta excerpts being posted.

In general just stick to places where people recite & post texts held to be true and cross examine what people say based on texts known to be true.

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  • I read your answer and decided to support mine with more evidence. I quoted ten unusual English translations by Ven. Thanissaro. He tends to use archaic or unusual English words or phrases. – ruben2020 Jul 29 at 5:03
  • I see you quoted a few cases. Id say it's all trivial stuff and of no importance. Ie inconstancy is direct synonym of impermanence, discernmenr a direct synonym of wisdom/knowledge, stress is short for distress denoting hardship & oppression and is not always thus translated ie dukkhata sutta he translates as suffering, lord instead of venerable sir is for the lack of direct translation, gnosis is a word for 'to know'. I think these are trivial matters, as for Unbinding i do prefer Extinguishment but Unbinding is semantically similar as they are both denoting a metaphorical cessation. – deadmanposting Jul 29 at 8:17
  • Also metaphors are sutta based Unbinding the tangle is a simile for Nibbana likewise is a fire being extinguished. As i understand it Extinguishment is the lit translation tho. As for 'mind bent by sensuality' idk what the actual pali is but it's not a big deal to me either way. As for Vinnanam Anidassanam inferring that it's meaning is uncognizable is a theory of mine but it's impossible to prove. – deadmanposting Jul 29 at 8:23
  • Taken as a noun with an adjective which does seem to be the most reasonable thing to do then imo vinnanam anidassanam would be something like; ‘Consciousness not-appearing’ and this would make sense given that one is talking about the cessation of consciousness which is explicit in the later lines. It can be summed up that i hold that the compound ‘vinnanam anidassanam’ is probably therein an adjective or descriptive characteristic/factor rather than the referrent, so the meaning when drawn out would read something like (simplified); – deadmanposting Jul 29 at 8:34
  • That [which isn’t included in the allness of the all] where ‘consciousness doesn’t appear’ [It] is luminous and boundless all-around. There name & form gain no footing With the cessation of consciousness All is brought to an end or extinguished – deadmanposting Jul 29 at 8:34

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