Pamāda

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Jechbi
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Pamāda

Post by Jechbi » Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:14 am

In some recent threads, I've seen translations of the 5th precept that contradict each other with regard to whether the precept calls for abstaining from intoxicants or from intoxication. My knowledge of Pali is ridiculously inadequate to sort out which translation is accurate and which one is inaccurate, so can someone provide an authoritative answer and explanation?

Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

Here's one translation: I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.

Here's another: I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

And there are lots of similar translations to be found.

But here's a detailed rebuttal to those types of translations, along with an alternative translation that supports moderate drinking:
Kare wrote:The best way of translating this sentence, is to start from the end.

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

Now for the long compound:
suramerayamajjappamadatthana

This is a compound made up from sura + meraya + majja + pamada + thana

sura and meraya are two different alcoholic drinks. Sura may be a kind of beer, and meraya maybe some kind of cider. Anyway, both are alcoholic.

majja = either intoxication or intoxicant drink
pamada = indolence, carelessness, negligence, intoxication

majja and pamada are practically synonyms here

now for the last member of the compound: thana. This word means "condition".

So, suramerayamajjappamadatthana is literally "beer-cider-carelessness-intoxication-condition".

In order to make this into a more idiomatic English, we have to start from the end: "the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider"

So what then does the precept say? It says: I undertake the training precept of abstaining from the condition of intoxication and carelessness caused by beer and cider (or, alcoholic drinks).

This is the literal meaning of the precept. Not to abstain from the drinks, but to abstain from the condition of intoxication.
So which is it? To abstain from the action of drinking these intoxicants? Or to abstain from the condition of being intoxicated?

Or is it impossible to know for certain? Is anyone's Pali good enough to answer with authority?

:thanks:
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Re: Pamāda

Post by Ben » Fri Nov 06, 2009 6:37 am

Hi Jechbi
I am no authority on Pali but I would argue that one (indulging in intoxicating drinks) begets the other (intoxication).
Kare's observation on another thread which stated the wise thing to do is to refrain from intoxicants and thereby not become intoxicated seems to be a good rule of thumb.
Metta

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Re: Pamāda

Post by Jechbi » Fri Nov 06, 2009 7:40 am

Thanks, Ben. My question is actually narrower than that. I'm wondering if someone can authoritatively respond on the question of which translation is accurate.

It might be that the Pali language is so lacking in nuance that it's impossible to say with certainty, I don't know.

I'm really just interested in what the precept wording says, regardless of what opinions we all might share regarding taking intoxicants.

Metta
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Re: Pamāda

Post by Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 12:36 pm

Since English is not my native language, I feel that I sometimes express myself a little clumsily. Maybe this gives a somewhat better description of my analysis:

... surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānaṃ pahāya surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā paṭivirato hoti

In the composite word surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā the last element, -ṭhānā, "condition", is the main element. We can ask: "Which condition?", and then we find that -majjapamāda- is a qualifying element which describes the condition. "majjapamāda" consists of two synonyms (the heaping up of synonyms is very common in the Pali texts) saying approximately the same: "intoxication". We can then go further and ask: "What kind of intoxication?", and find that surāmeraya- (two alcoholic drinks) describe what kind of intoxication is meant. So the expression talks about the condition of intoxication from alcoholic drinks.
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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 06, 2009 3:22 pm

The translation at the Concise Pali-English Dictionary
A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera:

pamāda (m.) negligence; indolence; remissness; carelessness.

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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 06, 2009 3:28 pm

From the same dictionary as I quoted above:

majja : [nt.] an intoxicant.

If this is a correct translation, then the precept is to be against intoxicants, which cause carelessness and heedlessness. The trouble with that is that it is sort of vague as someone could say that one drink does not make them careless or heedless.

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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:51 pm

From the dictionary above:

veramaṇī : [f.] abstinence.

Thus, we have the full precept translated word-for-word:

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

suramerayamajja-pamadatthana
beer-cider-carelessness-intoxicants-condition

which would then seem to be: "I undertake the training precept of abstaining from intoxicants which cause carelessness."

Again, still a little vague, but if we see majja as an intoxicant and not intoxication, then we have further evidence that this was meant to be the complete non-use of alcohol.

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Re: Pamāda

Post by Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 9:58 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:From the dictionary above:

veramaṇī : [f.] abstinence.

Thus, we have the full precept translated word-for-word:

samadiyami = I undertake
sikkhapadam = the training precept
veramani = of abstaining from

suramerayamajja-pamadatthana
beer-cider-carelessness-intoxicants-condition

which would then seem to be: "I undertake the training precept of abstaining from intoxicants which cause carelessness."

Again, still a little vague, but if we see majja as an intoxicant and not intoxication, then we have further evidence that this was meant to be the complete non-use of alcohol.
PLEASE! Do not commit the error of "translating" from the dictionary without considering the grammar! If you wish to defend one specific translation, you just HAVE to take the grammar into consideration! The grammar specifies the relationship between the words that you find in the dictionary.

In English one important grammatical feature is the place the words have in the sentence.

So see the difference the grammar makes:

The cat eats the mouse.
The mouse eats the cat.

If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:
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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 06, 2009 10:08 pm

Kare wrote: If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:
Hi Kare,

Okay, thanks. Then if we see majja as 'intoxicant' is it the grammar / structure of the sentence that makes it become "intoxication" or is it the translation itself that is "intoxication" ?

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Re: Pamāda

Post by Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:24 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
Kare wrote: If you misunderstand Pali grammar, you will end up with lots of mice feasting on cats. :mrgreen:
Hi Kare,

Okay, thanks. Then if we see majja as 'intoxicant' is it the grammar / structure of the sentence that makes it become "intoxication" or is it the translation itself that is "intoxication" ?
Let's have a closer look at the compound surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā.

Pali grammarians have classified six types of compounds, and sometimes it can be a little difficult to analyze the different kinds, especially in long and nested compounds of compounds. The normal situation is that the last element in a compound takes priority, and the other elements qualify the main element. Here the last element is -ṭhānā, "condition", and so this has priority of meaning. All the remaining elements of the compound are subordinate to this main element, describing and qualifying it. This makes the compound a so called tappurisa compound, where there is a case relation between surāmerayamajjapamāda- and -ṭhānā. Therefore, the precept is about abstaining from a certain condition.

As for the remaining part of the compound, surāmerayamajjapamāda-, this clearly consists of two main parts, surāmeraya- and -majjapamāda-.
The first part here, surāmeraya-, is clearly a dvanda compound with two elements of equal weight, the two near-synonyms surā- and -meraya-. The second part is a little more problematic. I have taken -majjapamāda- to be another dvanda, seeing -majjapamāda- as two other synonyms. But this may be wrong. We may in fact have more nested tappurisa compounds here, with surāmeraya- qualifying -majja- (one tappurisa), then again surāmerayamajja- qualifying -pamāda- (another tappurisa), and finally surāmerayamajjapamāda- qualifying -ṭhānā (a third tappurisa). This may be a better analysis than my first one.

Let's try to resolve this mess by writing it as a mathematical formula:

{[(surā/meraya) majja] pamāda} ṭṭhānā

{[(beer/cider) intoxicant] carelessness} /from the/ condition (here /from the/ is necessary because -ṭhānā is in the ablative case)

A dvanda compound needs an "and". The tappurisa compounds express case relationships which in English are expressed by prepositions. In order to make this compound into idiomatic English we need to start from the end:

from the condition {of carelessness [(caused) by the intoxicants (beer /and cider)]}

This should come fairly close to a precise translation. But it might perhaps be better to take "carelessness (caused) by intoxicants" as just "intoxication".
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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:35 pm

Okay, thanks for that detailed analysis! Especially with Bhante Dhammanando away, it is good to see this analysis from someone proficient in Pali.

So we have: "Abstention from the condition {of carelessness [(caused) by the intoxicants (beer /and cider)]} "

So, then the next question, perhaps not related to this thread, would be does one drink cause the condition of carelessness?

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Re: Pamāda

Post by notself » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:38 pm

One drink? I would think it depends on body size, general hydration, whether one's stomach is empty and many other factors. If I had one drink on an empty stomach, I would not get behind the wheel.
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Re: Pamāda

Post by Kare » Fri Nov 06, 2009 11:58 pm

One drink? As I have said earlier, and as notself just said, this depends on a lot of factors. My general advice would be: If in doubt, don't take that drink. But this is something that each and everyone must decide for themselves - and of course take the responsibility for their decisions.
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Re: Pamāda

Post by DNS » Sat Nov 07, 2009 3:24 am

Kare wrote:One drink? As I have said earlier, and as notself just said, this depends on a lot of factors. My general advice would be: If in doubt, don't take that drink. But this is something that each and everyone must decide for themselves - and of course take the responsibility for their decisions.
:thumbsup: Yes, definitely. I would never recommend anyone to take up drinking alcohol. If anyone has not started or experimented yet, best to leave it alone. Every alcohol addiction had to start with one drink (not that all who drink become addicted, but every alcoholic had to start with one).

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Re: Pamāda

Post by Jechbi » Sat Nov 07, 2009 4:14 pm

Hi Kare,

I certainly appreciate all your efforts here. Thanks! :thumbsup:

For the sake of discussion, I'd like to take a closer look at how the root word "thana" is used in other words, because that might help inform how we interpret it here.

Generally speaking, I've noticed that root words take on subtly different meanings and nuances when they are put together with other words, because the root-word meaning becomes flavored with the other words connected to it. Based on what I've seen, it doesn't make sense to say that one root word has complete primacy over the others in terms of emphasis of meaning.

For example, the most common "thana" word I know is "satipatthana," which has the roots:

sati: presence of mind, to remember

pa: intense, or going beyond

thana: a state or condition, standing still

Please note that "thana" has both a being definition as well as a doing definition. I don't think we can ignore that.

If we were to analyze the word "satipatthana" in the same manner that you have analyzed the word "suramerayamajjapadamatthana," then we'd have to conclude that satipatthana is some kind of condition caused by sati. But in practical usage, the word "satipatthana" is much more than just that. The meaning of the word is not just some condition, but also a practice, an activity. I think this is crucial for understanding the word "satipatthana" (and also the way "thana" fits into this word): It is a practice, and it is flavored with sati.

Another example might be "thirasanna padatthana," or strong perception, which is one of the causes for the arising of sati. Again, it has the root word "thana." But does that mean it's just a condition? Or it is also a practice, an activity?

By the same token, "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" strikes me as a word that describes not just a condition, but also a practice, in this case an activity flavored with alcohol and heedlessness, all blended together in a unified concept. One stumbling block for me in your translation, Kare, is your use of the phrase "caused by" to separate alcohol away from what you perceive as the more important root words. You attribute this separation to grammar, but your selection of "caused by" does not appear to me to be a function of grammar. Rather, it appears to be a function of your interpretation.

So in trying to understand the Pali, I would be inclined to look at "satipatthana" and "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" in the same way. If "satipatthana" is a word for a kind of practice, then that means "suramerayamajjapadamatthana" also is a word for a kind of practice.

Which means that the 5th precept (as enunciated in Pali) is best understood as abstention from a certain practice.

I stand to be corrected. Thanks for your willingness to discuss.

:anjali:
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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