Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

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Tiago Simões
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Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Tiago Simões » Wed May 09, 2018 10:53 am

Quick question, is it possible to translate nirvāṇa as ataraxia? Are they the same concept?
Ataraxia (ἀταραξία, literally, "not perturbed", generally translated as "imperturbability", "equanimity", or "tranquillity") is a Greek philosophy term used to describe a lucid state of robust equanimity that was characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.

Achieving the state of ataraxia was a common goal for many Ancient Greek philosophies. As a result, the term plays an important role in many different Ancient Greek philosophical schools. The use of the term ataraxia to describe a state free from mental distress is similar throughout these different schools, but the role of the state of ataraxia within a philosophical school varied depending on the school's own philosophical theory. The mental disturbances that prevented one from achieving ataraxia often varied between schools, and each school often had a different understanding as to how to achieve ataraxia. Some schools valued ataraxia more highly than others. Three schools that often employed the term ataraxia within their philosophies were Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism, and Stoicism.
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti spoke to the elder Śāriputra and the great disciples: “Reverends, eat of the food of the Tathāgata! It is ambrosia perfumed by the great compassion. But do not fix your minds in narrow-minded attitudes, lest you be unable to receive its gift.”

- Chapter 9, The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
The Noble Mahāyāna Sūtra “The Teaching of Vimalakīrti”

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Wayfarer
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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Wayfarer » Wed May 09, 2018 12:20 pm

There is a school of thought that Pyrrho of Elis, a Greek philosopher, travelled to India (actually, ancient Gandhara, which is nowadays the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan) and there studied with Buddhists. It is thought he brought back some of these ideas to ancient Greece, where he formed the school of 'Pyrrhonian scepticism' that remained influential albeit fairly obscure in Western philosophy.

Some references on that idea: Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism (Studies in Comparative Philosophy and Religion), Adrian Kuzminski

Pyrrho in India, Edward Flintoff

The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, Thomas C. McEvilly.

Actually, the comparison that is usually made with ataraxia is not Nirvāṇa, but 'nirodha', meaning 'cessation'. Nirodha is certainly a key aspect of the Buddhist path, but it is not the final aim.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

Tiago Simões
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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Tiago Simões » Wed May 09, 2018 7:14 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 12:20 pm
Actually, the comparison that is usually made with ataraxia is not Nirvāṇa, but 'nirodha', meaning 'cessation'. Nirodha is certainly a key aspect of the Buddhist path, but it is not the final aim.
I think those are synonyms, no? nirodha and Nirvāṇa?
Then, the Licchavi Vimalakīrti spoke to the elder Śāriputra and the great disciples: “Reverends, eat of the food of the Tathāgata! It is ambrosia perfumed by the great compassion. But do not fix your minds in narrow-minded attitudes, lest you be unable to receive its gift.”

- Chapter 9, The Feast Brought by the Emanated Incarnation
The Noble Mahāyāna Sūtra “The Teaching of Vimalakīrti”

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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Wayfarer » Wed May 09, 2018 9:39 pm

Not sure - perhaps. It’s not as well-known a term, but it might have the same meaning.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Supramundane
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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Supramundane » Wed Oct 03, 2018 3:18 am

Tiago Simões wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 10:53 am
Quick question, is it possible to translate nirvāṇa as ataraxia? Are they the same concept?
Ataraxia (ἀταραξία, literally, "not perturbed", generally translated as "imperturbability", "equanimity", or "tranquillity") is a Greek philosophy term used to describe a lucid state of robust equanimity that was characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry.

Achieving the state of ataraxia was a common goal for many Ancient Greek philosophies. As a result, the term plays an important role in many different Ancient Greek philosophical schools. The use of the term ataraxia to describe a state free from mental distress is similar throughout these different schools, but the role of the state of ataraxia within a philosophical school varied depending on the school's own philosophical theory. The mental disturbances that prevented one from achieving ataraxia often varied between schools, and each school often had a different understanding as to how to achieve ataraxia. Some schools valued ataraxia more highly than others. Three schools that often employed the term ataraxia within their philosophies were Epicureanism, Pyrrhonism, and Stoicism.
short answer: No.

even if they have common traits, it would be misleading to translate them for various reasons. number one, they both come from different traditions and only exist in the framework of that tradition. it would be like translating 'epiphany' for 'enlightenment'. each finds its meaning in a specific context and they cannot be interchanged because of the linguistic 'baggage' attached to each.

second, you always translate for a specific reader in mind. who is your reader? would he be familiar with the term "ataraxia"? if not, you are not helping him out much with such a 'translation', from Sanskrit to Ancient Greek!

Ataraxia and Apatheia are terms from various Greek philosophical traditions, stoicism in particular. it is interesting that you bring this up because Stoicism and Buddhism share similar traits. However, the grim fatalism of stoicism doesn't resonate well with Buddhism, in my view. it teaches detachment, even to the point of apatheia. if you were to draw a Venn diagram, you would see that Stoicism and Buddhism would not be a perfect match, far from it. there would be some overlap, however.

for the translator, the challenge is to find synonymous terms. but for concepts such as Ataraxia and Nirvana, the best solution is to retain the original word and explain in a footnote or in square brackets. imagine if a translator preferred the term 'extinguishing' to 'nirvana' in a book; it would cause great confusion.

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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Simon E. » Wed Oct 03, 2018 9:26 am

Another 'no' here.

But there might be mileage in comparing the meanings of 'ataraxia' and 'upeksha'.
Gone fishin' :smile:

Knotty Veneer
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Re: Nirvāṇa and Ataraxia

Post by Knotty Veneer » Wed Oct 03, 2018 9:47 am

No I'd agree - ataraxia is not nirvana. Although the tranquillity that the Greek term suggests is certainly related to the enlightened experience.

I think that the Stoic term eudaimonia or "flourishing" is closer to describing the state of an awakened person but not having reached neither buddhahood nor attained the level of the stoic Sage, my answer is tentative only.
“Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.” - James S. Gordon.

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