[Buddha-l] Oops--Article is from NY Times

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sat Aug 28 18:49:38 MDT 2010

Joanna writes:

> DL: re: śāntam pāpam, "heaven forefend that evil"---
> Better might be: "let [that] evil be pacified."
> Indians don't personify 'heaven' as having agency...agents are
> usually deities or demons.  I think this attempt at trans. fits
> better with Indian notions of the spirit essence/origins of
> evil(s), and their pacification by rituals.

That was Monier-Williams' rendering, not mine. All the pointless Sanskrit 
data (borrowing Richard's term) was directly from Monier-Williams, so that I 
would not be accused of leaving my thumb on the scale.

śāntam pāpam also struck me as capable of a more literal and accurate 
translation than MW provided. My guess is that MW was offering up an English 
exclamation that he thought conveyed the same implication as the Skt, that 
functioned in the same way, rather than going for literal accuracy. One 
doesn't necessarily think of "Heaven" literally, as an agent or otherwise, 
when one utters "Heaven forefend" or "heaven forbid". We just mean it is 
something very undesirable that hopefully will be avoided or will not come 
to pass. Some may take the expression literally, but many, e.g., use the 
phrase "goddamit" without necessarily believing that one has thereby lodged 
a petition with an almighty deity.

We would have to ask a person or text given to such Sanskrit exclamations 
whether a tacit agent is implied (sometimes or always) in this utterance. 
After all, who or what is supposed to quiet or resolve (or pacify) the pāpa? 
Is one just spitting into the wind when uttering it? Filling the air with 
pointless data?


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