The oft repeated knowledge about Buddhist Studies is that the earliest western translators were Sanskritists well versed in the Veda and Hindu lore, instructed as they were by an impressive list of Indian Sanskritists-cum-religionists who had a propound knowledge of the main religion on the continent. Both the knowledge of Sanskrit and a background the Greco-Christian culture contributed to an interpretation of the Indian Buddhist scriptures that — if the word is in both Sanskrit and Pali identical the meaning and purpose of the word is equally identical — lead to translations that on significant points did not convey the intrinsic meaning of the text. Here were no ill-intentioned people who were set to lead the Buddhists astray, but individuals who could not yet have the deeper understanding of Buddha’s words. This would have to wait until at least the second part of the 20th century. By that time many of the non-Indian scholars and practitioners of Buddhism had more often then not embarked on the wrong path, and since they had worked hard on canonical texts that were new to them, fought tooth and nail to maintain their position that was based on translations that were wanting.
Among the earliest, well-intended, translators we come across names as Cecil Bendall, trained in the Sanskrit of the (pré-Hindu) Veda and the religion of Zend (Avesta), and the Latinist and scholar of Greek W.H.D. Rouse. Together they translated/edited the “Siksā-samuccaya; a compendium of buddhist doctrine”, compiled by the Indian saint Sāntideva who by the Himalayan Mahāyānist traditions is regarded as one of them. The “Siksā” is Sāntideva’s compendium gleaned from earlier mahāyāna sūtras. Bendall’s and Rouse’s translation appeared in 1922 in Delhi.
To give an example of the thinking and interpreting rooted in European philosophy and
religious thought we may give an example in which the word “sin” appears.
“And when we see creatures of evil nature, abiding in desire and greed, we shall shed tears
and say, Whither is the blind sinner going?
 So soon as we have beheld the transgressor of the Good Law, from afar we shall show
loving-kindness to him that he show no anger towards us. We will be on our guard as far as in us lies, restrained in word and deed; not too suddenly addressing such as abide in their sin: Yet with gifts and deference we will here ripen those men, and afterwards exhort them so that they may in very truth be beyond the sphere of sin.”
Although this translation of the Siksā has no section in which the Sanskrit original is given, some of the footnotes clarify the translator’s choice or dilemma. Sin here, is a translation of pāpa (not papa). The footnote says: “(1) Reading – āpāpa- … . With text, it would be: reading – āpāya-, “when they are in very truth in the sphere of perdition.”
We should not forget that in the early canonical texts Buddha speaks of his Enlightenment, during this particular night under the Bodhi tree, as having to deal with The Wicked (pāpam) who tried to keep him away from reaching his goal by conjuring up all the joys that sensuality can bring. Of course, The Wicked (pāpam) is often translated with “The Devil”, but considering the text we must acknowledge that pāpam were all, and nothing more than one’s own clinging, thirst for enjoyment etcetera.
The question whether Bendall’s and Rouse’s translation of pāpa as sin is correct can hardly be solved without the help of the translations and dictionary of the Pali Text Society (Oxford) where we both find the right word ánd faulty or lacking translations-interpretations — one wished to deliver texts that were pleasing to the eye and ear.
If we would consider the Srilankan (theravāda) interpretation of technical terms such as
pāpa as being the correct one — and there is no reason not to do so, the PTS Dictionary
rightly gives pāpa as “wicked” as in the sentence karanīya in yathā pāpimato: the puppet of the wicked (lit. one with whom one can do as one likes) [M i.173].
The Pali Buddhist Dictionary, a stand-alone created by Paul Trafford on the basis of Buddhist writings and anthologies in Thai, his mother’s native language, and inspired by the Dhammakaya’s dharma-interpretation translates pāpa with “evil, wrong action, demerit, bad, wicked.” Here, although the rest of the theravāda-world is utterly weary of the Dhammakaya’s publications, the Srilankan monks would agree with Paul’s choice.
In the above Buddhist translations of pāpa we don’t find the word “sin”. The traditional
instruction is that Buddhism does not speak of sin but rather of ignorance: someone who acts stupidly is not a sinner but downright stupid. Hence s/he is not entirely lost since stupidity can be cured by aquiring wisdom.
We might therefore retranslate-reïnterpretate Bendall’s and Rouse’s text as follows:
“And when we see creatures of unmeritorious nature, abiding in desire and greed, we shall shed
tears and say, Whither is the blind fool going?
 So soon as we have beheld the transgressor of the Good Law [the Dharma, Buddha’s
Teachings], from afar we shall show loving-kindness to him that he show no anger towards us.
We will be on our guard as far as in us lies, restrained in word and deed; not too suddenly
addressing such as abide in their evil [propensities]: Yet with gifts and deference we will here ripen those men, and afterwards exhort them so that they may in very truth be beyond the sphere of evil [pāpa].”
There is nevertheless another concept that is easily translated with “sin”. In the Sutta dictionary, a compendium of terminology occuring in the Pali canon, we find the word “anela“. Anela is readily translated with “sin”. However, one of the Pali Text Society scholars gives anela both as “sin” and as “fault”. The latter interpretation would be more correct. A more literal translation of anela, keeping in mind the above-mentioned philosophy about ignorance, would be “impure”, “unclean”.
The positive of anela is nela. A “nelamandalam“, says the Jātaka (V,418) is given as “a group (mandalam) of clean (nela) ones”, being a bunch of beauties: big cats.