Lost in Translation 2

As various religions and philosophies spread outside their place of origin, people attempt to translate the teachings into a new language. Some of the most difficult words to translate are those that deal with ideas not found in the new culture. Such is the case with the following two words.

DUKKHA. The underlying teaching in Buddhism is The Four Noble Truths. The usual English translation of the First Noble Truth is, “All life has suffering.” The Second Noble Truth is, “The cause of our suffering is our ignorance.” The problem here is the word “suffering.”

The original Pali word is “dukkha.” I often joke that the problem with translations of Buddhist teachings is that old, dead Englishmen did them. What I mean is that a Victorian mentality guides the word selection. Dukkha encompasses all the things that are not quite right in our lives; the sense of discomfort and disquietude we often feel. Our unfulfilled desires, the petty annoyances we deal with every day, the loss of loved ones, these are all sources of dukkha. How we react to these events in our ego-based outlook on life determines the level and duration of dukkha. This is the ignorance spoken of in The Second Noble Truth. A Buddhist monk participating in a panel discussion, responding to the assertion that Buddhists think life is nothing but suffering, replied, “Suffering (dukkha) is inevitable, misery is optional”

KARMA. “She has good karma.” “He has bad karma.” “Karma will get him for doing that.” How often in today’s world, have we heard these phrases? This way of thinking describes one understanding of karma; however, it is the Hindu belief, not the Buddhist one. In fact, Shakyamuni Buddha rejected the idea that your actions in the previous life determined your current life condition. He felt this was the basis of the justification for the caste system; with the repression and discrimination it created.

The most accurate translation of karma is “action.” The Buddhadharma teaches that every event in our lives is the result of that which has come before. This is an obvious truth. However, Buddhism is dynamic. The actions, words and thoughts of this moment, shape the future. I attended a seminar given by the Dalai Lama. In it he stated, “Karma is the intentional actions of human beings.” Buddhism does not have a belief in divine power. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, floods and all natural disasters are the result of scientifically explained conditions. The degree of impact they have on the inhabitants is the result of prior human actions. On a personal level, the actions we take either cause or help alleviate suffering. Karma is universal. Our actions now will have an impact far beyond our own life. For this reason, the Buddhadharma teaches that we must always be aware in this moment, for this moment is the basis of all to come.

For more information about Buddhism, and meditation in Kenosha, contact me at BASEWI@aol.com.