Searching for the Sound

Recently I had the opportunity to look over a manuscript of a collection of Buddhist parables that was going through the editing process. I was reading a plain spoken rendition of the Sutra to Vacchagotta on Fire, when something just didn’t seem right.

One thing I noticed is that the story from the manuscript I was reading used the Sanskrit rendering, Vacagotra, instead of the Pali which I am more used to. But that wasn’t it. There was something more.

The Buddha didn’t sound quite right.

It is a funny thing to think, because to even make that sort of assumption, one would have to have the borderline arrogant idea of what the Buddha should sound like. Yet I found that I did have certain expectations, and this translation of a loose and lucid retelling didn’t carry the same firm but compassionate nobility that I had become used to.

This string of wonderings made me realize that the Buddha has many voices folded into one in the Sutras. The Buddha is caring without being syrupy. He speaks with a seriousness that comes through even in his humor, when we laugh because something has been described so accurately, not because reason and expectations have been bent here and there. But more than anything, the Buddha is apt- he speaks what is beautiful, what is beneficial, at the right time with the right phrasing.

I’m not sure that I would have been able to notice these elements so much if I did not encounter a portion in which they were lacking. That voice, that cadence, is such a comfort to me that I feel it very much when it is not there, and it is a comfort to be able to know it.

What is the Buddha’s voice to you?

One Reply to “Searching for the Sound”

  1. I had a friend in college who once suggested some books to me. ‘These are really good,’ he said, ‘because you know, the sutras actually can be pretty boring.’

    The Buddha’s words are always somewhat distant for me, especially since I don’t understand Pali all that well. Maybe I should start reading them on a more daily basis 🙂

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