THE NUMBERED DISCOURSES OF THE BUDDHA – A NEW UNABRIDGED RECORDING
By Nicolas Soames
With the first three volumes of the Nikāyas released, it was ordained that Dharma Audiobooks and Taradasa would undertake the fourth – The Numbered Discourses of the Buddha (Aṅguttara Nikāya). And, like The Long Discourses, we have used the contemporary and very accessible translation by the Australian-born monk, Bhikkhu Sujato. Though, of course, his motivation to undertake the task comes from years of committed and formal practice, he has diverged from traditional paths of Pāli translation having made certain particular choices. Most immediately apparent are individual terms. For example, though samādhi has often been left untranslated, or termed ‘concentration’ Sujato uses ‘immersion’. Similarly, for nibbāna he offers ‘extinguishment’. Both are certainly justifiable. But perhaps most reflective of the tone of his translation is his choice for bhikkhu or monk – he chooses mendicant. This may have been because it presents, in English, a vivid image of those figures who appear in the Pāli Canon, the wanderer committed to the spiritual life who lives on alms. But I suspect Sujato also chose it because it has a neutral gender. Of course, it is true that the Nikāyas are dominated by bhikkhus, and bhikkhunis make fewer observable appearances. And the bhikkhuni tradition died out, so it is not surprising that female practitioners with any kind of full-time role in the Theravadin tradition are far fewer in numbers. But times are changing. Sujato’s teacher Aajan Brahm has been expelled from the Thai Forest Lineage of Aajan Chah for taking the bold step of re-instituting the bhikkhuni tradition. This brought the old school more in line with Mahayana practice, and also reflected the increasingly active and fully committed presence of women in full-time dharma life. It was a significant step, and one which is reflected in Bhikkhu Sujato’s translations.
In The Numbered Discourses, the use of the gender neutral ‘they’, even in singular terms, is common place. Initially, to traditionalists, this may come as a bit of a jolt, though it is increasingly in everyday usage. But it does make these big edifices of the Nikāyas more approachable to those who read it for personal practice and elucidation. It also redresses, somewhat, the shock of encountering, in bald terms the restrictions the Buddha put upon bhikkhunis. It was a different time! So, Bhikkhu Sujato can be applauded in offering a translation for our time. I, too, have a continuing admiration and love for the words and cadence of the King James Bible and I can’t quite get the same feel from modern versions. But then I approach that work more as a literary document, not a training text. When Taradasa and I were in our little studio in Cambridge recording The Numbered Discourses, we did have Bhikkhu Bodhi’s exceptional and scholarly text by our side and referred to it from time to time. After all, Bhikkhu Sujato, in his introduction to The Numbered Discourses, salutes Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translation and exemplary, fulsome explanatory notes (published in a handsome and MASSIVE volume by Wisdom). Furthermore, very unusually (and generously) Sujato makes his translations free for all use; and he even declares that any individual using his translations can make changes without consultation. There’s confidence for you! In fact, the only real changes we made during the weeks of recording were when it was necessary to adapt the text to make the immense amount of repetition (endemic to the form!) work for audio. Thank you, Bhikkhu Sujato!
In the end, Dharma Audiobooks is extremely pleased to make available these four great monuments to the Buddha – in the modern AND ancient medium of the spoken word.
Csoma de Kőrös on a yak! A commemorative statue in Budapest.
I would not like this final update to Dharma Audiobooks recordings of 2021 to go without mentioning the little gem of The Hungarian Who Walked To Heaven. This has the subtitle of The Remarkable Story of Csoma de Kőrös. But who was he? In Hungary, everyone knows him, even though he died, alone, in Darjeeling. Elsewhere, few do. Csoma (1784-1842) was an exceptional linguist who endured trials and overcame harsh obstacles. In an ascetic life spent on the road from Hungary to the Himalayas, often on foot, his endeavours culminated in the production of the first Tibetan-English dictionary. It can be said that he was the father of Western Tibetan Studies. Though not a Buddhist, he put his outstanding talents at the service of work, despite great hardship. The English writer Edward Fox has written the first English account of this singular man. Even set against the many fascinating biographies of Westerners who travelled East, the story of Csoma de Kőrös is extraordinary.