“There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second.”

This quotation, “There is pleasure and there is bliss. Forgo the first to possess the second,” is from Thomas Byrom’s “rendering” of the Dhammapada, which is a classic Buddhist scripture. Since this quote is from a scripture, you might think that it automatically would qualify as a genuine saying from the Buddha. But there’s a problem with the word “rendering.” “Rendering” a text is apparently what you do instead of translating when you don’t know the original language.

And as far as I’m aware, Byrom didn’t know any Pali. I assume that he worked from other translations, from the Pali dictionary, and from his own creative urges. Certainly, his “renderings” often have little to do with the original language of the Dhammapada. And although this particular verse isn’t his worst, it’s certainly not very faithful to the original (which is Dhammapada 290):

If by renouncing a lesser happiness one may realize [lit. “see”] a greater happiness, let the wise man renounce the lesser, having regard for the greater. [Buddharakkhita’s translation]

In Pali this is:

Mattāsukhapariccāgā passe ce vipulaṃ sukhaṃ
Caje mattāsukhaṃ dhīro sampassaṃ vipulaṃ sukhaṃ.

The verse is not split into two declarative sentences, “There is pleasure and there is bliss,” and “Forgo the first to possess the second.” Instead it is a conditional statement. First there’s the setup, “If by giving up a measure of happiness one might see a larger happiness…” followed by the statement of what, having seen this, one should do, i.e. “…the wise one, considering the larger happiness, should renounce the lesser happiness.”

One problem with using “pleasure” and “bliss” is it sounds like two qualitatively different phenomena are being discussed, while the actual Dhammapada verse is quantitative: there are smaller and larger happinesses. There’s nothing in the original about “possessing” bliss. We’ve also lost “the wise.”

I actually like Byrom’s “rendering.” It’s just not in any way an accurate translation.

Even Byrom’s chapter title is rather odd. In the Pali it’s “Pakiṇṇakavaggo” (Miscellaneous Chapter) but Byrom renders this, for some reason, as “Out of the Forest.”

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