Mistranslating the Buddha

Based on Neurotic Gradient Descent: (mis)Translating the Buddha, my attempt to render that more legible to myself. I highly advise reading through the linked article several times rather than relying on my rendition of it here, since I've likely misdefined terms out of my own misunderstanding. I've created this to make the material more navigable for myself and perhaps U'll find it helpful too.

It begins by contrasting a prototypical usual translation of the Dharma

Desire is the cause of all suffering. Only by realizing the truth that impermanence and no-self are the fundamental reality can one reside in the boundless freedom by uprooting that which nurtures and maintains the defilements.

with a translation that does not attempt to render Pali terms into English, so that we can define those terms in greater depth.

Tanha​ is the cause of Dukkha​. Understanding Anicca​ and Anatta​ inclines the mind toward Nibbana​ by removing the Updana​ that maintains the creation of Sankhara​.

After defining all the terms:

Let’s take a crack at the entire sentence again. By default, the mind becomes stuck to mental representations that have more to do with our desires than how things really are. This leads to aversive experiences of emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness when we bump into evidence about how confused we are. We come up with plans for avoiding these experiences, but these plans don’t really work, leading us to repeatedly encounter flashes of the undesired experiences. Our response is to try to push on the plans even harder, which doesn’t work. But once we get wise to this process we can incline in the opposite direction, pushing less hard on experience. The relief from doing this wakes us up to the idea that we’ve been fueling the above vicious cycle and live in a house built from these sorts of knots of confusion. Instead of trying to hold the house together with constant maintenance while simultaneously trying to find the exact right decorations, we start tearing down the house. We discover that the very idea that we needed an unchanging, beautiful house that definitely belongs to us was just another of the confused knots. House building, maintenance, and dwelling becomes just another human activity that can be engaged with or not as is convenient. As these activities were previously taking up huge amounts of our attention and resources, we find ourselves much more relaxed and able to enjoy things. Because others still live within the paradigm of seeing everything as related to houses, they are inclined to perceive you as living in a shiny spiritual house, and try to figure out which sets of maintenance activities and decorations will grant them these ‘spiritual’ advantages.