Saturday, 31 July 2010

T224 Chapt 23

Just finished my recent review of Chapt 23. Translating T224 has been a challenge. Apart from the content of the chapter being complex, the use of terms, particularly 生, have been pushed to the full limit of their meanings. Its not sufficient to terms such as 'produce' or 'give rise' during the current, machine age, because production is the associated with process rather than volition. For modern man, it is a cliche. To those living in the past, actions required volution. Nothing made itself, there were no machines, no computers that could 'do things'. Even the forces of nature act because of animistic forces. So, the more organic tones of the term have been preserved.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Hithero I have translated 離本 as 'free from any basic' or 'turning away from roots of' or similar, in which basic or the root is understood as being the cause of something. Karashima notes this as being the construction used in this text for the Sanksrit 'atyanta' which he translates as 'absolute' in the manner of Conze and others. The OED defines 'absolute' as 'Free from dependence'.

Karashima pairs 離本 with antyanta, which is composed of ati (extreme, very) and antaḥ , (end, boundary) (Coulson)

I need to think about this one....

Sunday, 18 July 2010


With so many 無s how is the passage to be interpreted? Sometimes its possible to construct meaningful sentences out of cryptic pieces of Chinese text which are at best, erroneous, at worst totally wrong. Here the balance of meaning lies in the construction 無對. At first glance it looks like the negative of which has a gamut of meanings ranging form 'correct' to 'opposite'. One might suggest then that 無對法 could be 'without any right dharmas', 'without any right method' or even something along the lines 'without opposing any....'  None of these are satisfactory. As can be seen in the corresponding Sanskrit passage Conze has 'isolated dharma' which doesn't make much sense either.

T08n0224_p0466a24 - T08n0224_p0466a29
...須菩提白佛言.設爾般若波羅蜜離本無對法.離本亦無對亦無證.亦無守.亦無行. 亦無有法當有所得.何以故.離般若波羅蜜 本無形故.本無遠離.何因當於般若波羅蜜中得佛.佛者離本無所有.何所本無所有當 得佛者.佛語須菩提.如須菩提所言離.今般
...Subhūti said to the Buddha: ‘If that which is prajñāpāramitā is turning away from that which is basically any isolated method, turning away from parts, there is nothing to see, nothing to take-up, nothing to pursue, there is no method to be found. For what reason? Turning away from prajñāpāramitā basically has no appearance as basically there is no turning far away. How, then, is awakening found within prajñāpāramitā?  If awakening is turning away from that which does not exist, how can that which basically does not exist result in finding awakening?’

Conze (1974,256)
Subhuti: No, Lord, I do not. In consequence, to what dharma could I point, and say that "it is" or "it is not"? But a dharma which is absolutely isolated, to that one cannot attribute that "it is" or that "it is not.' Also an absolutely isolated dharma does not know full enlightenment. Because a dharma which has no existence cannot know full enlightenment.

Vaidya (1960, p.217)
so'haṁ bhagavan anyatra māyāyā māyopamādvā cittāt taṁ dharmasamanuśyan katamaṁ dharmamupadekṣyāmi astīti vā nāstīti vā? yaśca atyantavivikto dharmaḥ, na so'stīti vā nāstīti vā upaiti| yo'pi dharmo'tyantatayā viviktaḥ, nāsāvanuttarāṁ samyaksaṁbodhimabhisaṁbudhyate|

Karashima (2010, p.509) Suggest that 無對 means 'having no counterparts' but does not substantiate the basis of this view. Indeed, the term 'counterpart' which means 'equivalent' is not a tenable alternative. Edgerton (1953, p.500) does not have the term 'atyanta~vivikto' or  'absolutely isolated'  but has 'viveka' -solitude. This too is not satisfactory. Whilst the practice of certain methods may lead to the practice of solitude, the idea in the texts is one of 'particular method or any other particular (method)'.

In the end, I don't that a simple translation is possible. The closest that I can get is without adding more to the text is:

Subhūti said to the Buddha: ‘If prajñāpāramitā is some basic, singular method; that which is basic and singular, there is nothing to see, nothing to take-up, nothing to pursue,...

A real conundrum this one. There is no clear literal interpretation. In essence Subhuti is saying that if prajnaparamita doesn't exist and is itself illusory, then what is the cause of awakening?

得佛 -obtaining the correct idiomatic context.

得佛 can be translated in two ways:

1) find buddhahood
2) become awake (bodhi)

The implication is significant as the former implies a static condition, as buddhahood is a noun, whereas the later implies a process as awake is a verb. The later is the right choice as it is consistent with the purport of the text.

It is unfortunate that these earlier text did not differentiate 佛 and 佛陀


Conze (1974, 256) has the following passage. It is a question Socratic question that the Buddha puts to Subhuti.

The Lord: When you see neither illusion, nor the thought which is like illusion, as a real separate entity, do you then perhaps see that dharma which knows full enlightenment as something other than illusion, or as something other than the thought which is like illusion?

The problem here, as is consistent with many others (including myself) who translate such passages is that the term 'dharma' is translated in a manner implying a substance rather than a method. 'That dharma' implies a thing, rather than what is simply is.

T08n0224_p0466a19  ..幻心雖離.是見異法.當得佛道不須菩提

[The Buddha said:] The illusory heart is to be turned away from, is it seen as a method that finds some buddha path or not?’

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

More on Bodhisattva Bhumis

Hikata(1958) provides a useful comparative study between the various Chinese recessions of the Asta and the larger PP texts in which he substantiates the view that the larger texts revised in the light of developing doctrinal interpretations. He concludes that during the period of the emergence of this text there were simply four stages:

  1. 新發意菩薩  Newly Resolved
  2. 隨次第上菩薩 Gradually progressing  (Kumarajiva describes this as 行六波羅蜜, ṣaṭ-pāramitācāra)
  3. 阿惟越致 avivarti(ka)  (Never Falling Back)
  4. 阿惟顏 abhiṣeka (consecration to Buddhahood)

Karashima (2010) provides more reliable sanskrit equivalents but does not discuss doctrinal issues.

  1. 阿闍浮 ādhibhū(mika)
    新發意菩薩  prtahama-yāna-samprasthita  'those who have newly awakened the mind' (p.544
    隨次第菩薩 caryā-pratipanna 'progress step by step' (p.471)
  2. 阿惟越致 avivarti(ka) 'irreversible' (pp.13-16)
  3. 阿惟顏 abhiṣeka (p.13)
MAHAVASTU bodhisattva bhūmis

1) durārohā     'Difficult to enter'
2) baddhamāna    'Fastening'
3) puṣpamaṇḍitā    'Adorned with Flowers'
4) rucirā    'Beautiful'
5) cittvistarā    'Expansion of the Heart'
6) rūpavatī    'Lovely'
7) durjayā    'Difficult to Conquer'
8) janmanideśa    'Ascertainment of Birth'
9) yauvarājya    'Installation as Crown Prince'
10) abhiṣeka      'Coronation'

阿闍浮 mistranslation

Just noticed an error in my translation. Its useful to have the relevant reference materials to hand to check this out. I originally rendered this as avivartin but it should be ādhibhū(mika) . A nasty mistake. Reference to the Sanskrit identifies that this is a bodhisattva at the outset of his career which is something quite dissimilar to my rendering. I should have spotted this earlier, after all, Lancaster (1968) does list this in Appendix B. Karashima has helped resolve this issue though and I'm now glad to have this really useful book.

Monday, 12 July 2010

歡欣 or 歡喜

Just passed the following comment to the DDB, entry 歡喜.  Interestingly, Karashima doesn't pick this up.

歡欣 found in approx. 40 locations within the T224 also has the meaning of 'joyful'. Although the text does not discuss the bodhisattvabhumi, some differentiation is found. Chapt 23, for instance, discuses the 'joy' of those bodhistattvas new to raising the thought. It could be argued that if the first stage of the bodhisattva path was formally recognised at the time of translation, then the experience would have most likely have been transliterated rather than translated. The other key un-numbered stage in the path within the T224 is that of the Avivartin, which is transliterated.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Chapter 30. Enjoining Others

Completed the synopsis of Chapt 29, now working on Chapt 30. Again, some tricky passages and so Karashima has been useful here. I've not had to revise my interpretation of the text based on his notes but they have confirmed my interpretation. The English text does need some revision.


I was going to add a note into my translation on this phrase which occurs about a dozen times in the Daoxing. It may well be worth comparing passages which contain this phrase in the Daoxing with the extant Sanskrit. My hunch is that it will probably be a short-hand version of 'gods, men and asura' and similar lists of sentients. The term 天下, is well established meaning 'everywhere', in the sense of 'the world'. 天上 does occur in a number of pre-qin texts as denoting something from above, but the compound 天上天下 is not found.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Sarvajna and changing views of the path...

Gombrich (2009) puts forward the view that textutal examination shows that the buddha modified his teaching on a number of occasions. Whilst the fundamental experiences upon which he builds his teaching reamains the same, there are differences in interepretation. This discovery is useful in a number of ways.

1) It helps explain the division in the early sangha as to what the Buddha's teachings actually were.
2) This corresponds to the accounts given in the Mahayana about the the 'turnings of the teachings' ie three fold turn of the 12 spoked wheel.
3) It demonstrates parallels found in the daoxing itself where at the outset of the text the key topic is the acquisition of sarvajna which then becomes tranformed into the quest for prajnaparamita.

Friday, 9 July 2010

T224, Chapter 22 re-worked.

When I took painting classes a long time ago, the tutor at the college told us that a painting is never finished and there are two things to know, how to paint and when to stop. This is how I feel with the translation of this text. Whenever I sit and look at the words, 'more' comes forward. It might be a subtle nuance in the interpretation of a word or phrase which  becomes clearer in one context rather than another. In the Chinese there is one phrase, but in the English it may require more. When a final 'English Only' version of this text appears it will, for necessities sake, have to become increasingly more like a piece of prose writing for silent reading rather than a lyric, odic text for recitation.

Well. Chapt 22 is cleared-up for now. There were a number of sections that were problematic I must admit but I feel that the gist has been correctly extracted and presented. I have noticed one thing that crept in however, and it was the use of pronouns in clauses. That is: 'they..A..., they..B...' rather that 'they..A..., ..B....'

Also, the term 法 has been rendered as 'method' rather than being left simply as 'dharma'. The original translators has a clear idea of what is meant, and that is the 'method' to do something. In retrospect it becomes clearer that 法 and 方邊. dharma and upaya, are closely related. All pursues have a method, which is largely depicted as relating to the paths of the arhat and pratyeka buddha. The Bodhisattva has a 'super-method', the upaya, the special boon that takes him one step beyond.

Tomorow I can complete the few lines or so which are for the chapter synopsis.

Conze's translation of the Asta

When Conze's English translation of the Astasaharika is compared to the Sansrit its quite clear that he did not simply translate the text but provided an edited version of it. Whilst this may have been the fashion of the time, to attempt to render a text which has more incommon with litergy than literature in to a prose form, he did so at the expense of loosing much of the flavour of the text. To my mind a more acceptable route would be to make an English version which is a fair translation of the Sankrit. Translation in the sense of obtaining the semantic meaning signified in the text and presenting that in English. Whilst he has retained the narrative structure of the text, so much become wrapped in philosophic ideas. At times too, he abandons the notion that certain cultural refrences are not easily translated and so must be left intacked. In many ways the outcome of translating such text is one of 'restoration'. The language in its linguistic forms has become extinct and it needs to be re-assembled using moderm, current language. Ideally words free from any existing, specialised implications. Ones derived from the simplest and most basic experiences rather than those which are secondary abstractions. As it stands I can see that various parts of my English rendering can be difficult, but such 'difficulies' are largely inherent in the text itself. I do not mean in terms of conceptual ideas which I believe to be rendered more simplistically, but linguistic ones to do with concept ordering. But, as mentioned about, the text is liturgical, not a piece of prize winning contemporary fiction.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Bodhisattva

Got to a section dealiing with bodhisattva training and the combination of being strong and being fearless together with the act rallying others to action. This context is clearly on e associated with the narrative of the bodhisattva as hero. The Daoxing has already spoken of the bodhisattva girding himself up with the armour of his battle-quest which are the powers derived from the strength of his vows. He has no physical weapon, like the Vajra of Indra, his weapon, his power, is the ability to affect the balance of forces around him. The presence, the darshan, the gaze of the truly divine being is enough to make things change.

If such metanarratives are ignored, in favour of any abstracted, quasi-philosophic interpretation of the text, the most of the core meaning of the text becomes lost. The bodhisattva, as the buddha is the supreme ksatriya. He has not simply set out to subdue to other kings, but to subdue the threat of the greatest kings, Maradevaputra.

Sweet Dew

I'm still pondering over this one. The notions of 'rain and dew' are recurring narrative elements in early Chinese texts. 'Dew' is associated with life, fertility and growth. Whilst the Laozi has subject to a wide range of interpretations typically philosophic or political, the clear associations with the balance nature, of the effects the skies (heaven) upon the soil (earth) are clearly outlined. Man is seen as a microcosm with the parts of the body sharing correspondences with the primary and secondary forces of nature. (Huai-nan-tzu ch. 7).  In the practice of neiye, the ruler (the volitional mind) harmonies earth (lower dantian, yin forces) with heaven (upper dantian, yang forces) then the sublimated procreative forces gather as the 'golden dew' that restores physical and emotional well-being. This is embracing the dao, a state of mind in which names are abandonned and the limitations upon the personal existence vanish, as expressed in imagery given in Chap 32 of the Laozi, of the valley stream merging in the ocean. The creation of 'dew' is the essnetial experience of wholeness.

The occurance of such Cultural References in the Daoxing is by no meand an indicator of the presence of 'daoist ideas' or 'influences'. The use of such of such terms implies that these were familiar to the scribe who was paraphrasing within his own personal lexis those ideas presented to him. It does not imply either that the translator was familiar with the technicalities behind the origins of such terms, they are simply what they are, cultural references. Mythologically, the gods () led by the Jade Emperor (玉皇) are sustained by the peaches of immortality, but this is not consistent with amrta being a liquid.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Working on an interesting phrase 滅神入禪 T08n0224_p0465a10

滅神入禪. This is constructed in an unusual way which does not immediately yield a clear meaning. The wording of the Dàoxíng would suggest: ‘extinguishes those dhyānas that enters into (the realms of the) spirits’. In the corresponding passage in the Sanskrit (Vaidya 1960, p.211) we find ‘ dīrghāyuṣkeṣu deveṣūpapadyate..’ which has been translated by Conze (1974, p.250) as: ‘..does not get reborn among the long-lived Gods’. The expression 長壽天 (Southill & Hodous p.284) for this class of devas is a clearer linguistic correspondence but does not enter the Chinese Buddhist lexis until its usage by Buddhayaśas in the 長阿含經 (T) his translation of the Dīrghâgama; during 5th century CE.

As elsewhere in this text, 入 denotes entrance into a destination, in the sense of future rebirth and arguably corresponds to the Sanskrit bhavati, 'to become, to happen, to come o be'. The implication is not a physical act of translocating from one side of a passageway to another but the change of state that results from such a movement. The choice of the term 神 for dīrgha-ayuṣka deva (Conze 1967, p.200) is an unusual one as the general practice within the Daoxing is to associate the term with one of two ideas: 1)  non-heavenly non-corpreal beings, typically yaksas (eg 鬼神, 火神) or, 2) the possesion of some magical ability as if possessed by a devata or the Buddha (eg 威神). Perhaps the inclusion was to  provide a closer cultural association with the immortal deities of Chinese mythology rather any Indo-European devata. Interestingly, the word 滅 is not a clear equivalence of the sanskrit ‘na’ which would the Chinese 不. The implication necessarily lies in the sense of bringing existing practices to an an end rather than merely not to engage in them from the outset. Whilst a single phrase such as this provides no conclusive proof, one possible explanation for the occurance of such a unique phrase is provide a cultural reference to longevity practices found in the alchemical practices in mystical Daoism.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Half-way through

I expected to have finished Chap 22 before the end of the evening. But, I had a DIY job to do which took up most of the evening. But still, well over half-way through it now. The biggest factor which results in the slowing down of the correction process is ambiguity. Whilst there's a lot of Later Han dynast usage in the T224, there is still an awful lot of simplification. Some parts, I guess, were prone to be more hurridly written down that other so a word or two here is omitted. To resolve the flow, its necessary to read and re-read a passage, looking for patterns and structure. Once identifies its possible to move forwards. The last one was 'entering into hell, beasts and pretas'. What is clearly alluded to are the lower three realms of the Kamadhatu, which are destiinies, hence these are entered into. Like the dharma-gate earlier on. These lead to entrance into buddhaksetra, typically envisioned as a divine palace. Am encloure, urban and civilised, with clear borders. The lower realms, on the other hand, are more like open untamed wastelands.  

Modern scholarship does not necessarily yield new results

Textual studies unlike research into the physical world or even the social sciences does always present new evidence or even provide a framework in which to develop our understanding. At the moment I'm making extensive use of Karashima's 2010 glossary of terms from Lokaksema's Daoxing Banruo Jing. Invaluable a contribution as this remarkable text is, it still draws heavily upon the works of Edward Conze for explanation of terminolgy, works which themselves are quite well established and whose flaws in the interpretation of doctrine are outdated and on numerous occasions mis-placed. I'm revisting the phrase  '甘露法門' in:


I would translate this as the 'amṛta of the dharma gate'. Here's the reasoning:

1) the aim of the Buddha's method is release from birth, old age, sickness and death
2) amṛta is the Buddhist variant of the death-defying nutriment of the Vedic Soma, Olympian Ambrosia or the Golden Apples of the Aesirs, a core theme in Indo-European Religion.

The meaning being that amṛta becomes allegorical, it is the 'stuff' that allows the pursuer to enter the gate which is the 'method' (dharma) that leads to living beings to escape from samsara.

Conze(1974,p.249) gives something extremely unwiedly, '..the door of the deathless element..' It is possible to see the reasoning behind this, but dhatu, in connection to a door would imply a door onto a 'somewhere' and not a 'classification'. Conze (1967, p.69) gives the Sanskrit as: amṛta-dhātu-dvāra. I would translate this as lit: the 'gate to the world of deathlessness'. One thing is for certain, although the passages have much in common interms of general structure, changes in the use of specific terms had resulted in a shift in meaning.

One last word, Conze (1968. p.69) along with Karashima (2010. p.179) give the Tibetan for this phrase as:
bdud-rtsi'i dbyings-kyi sgo. This offers a slightly different meaning, one I am curious enough to want to see the whole passage. Here were have amṛta = bdud-rtsi'i, in an adjectival forms (ie post-fix 'i) and sgo = door. dbyings-kyi, due to the kyi I believe to be be accusative (?) and dbyings which means 'space'. So the overall phrase, I would render as 'the amrta that is the door to space'.

Chapter 22 Training

Completed my synopsis for Chapter 21 and have started to revise Chapter 22 which I can see is really old too! I can't for a moment imagine how some of these rough translations got included. Mind you, at the time I had dozens of files all over the place. You know what that means, I probably deleted them!

As we approach lunchtime I've reviewed/re-written about 15% of this chapter. There are some areas which were quite unintelligible but now I've put that right. As always, I take a peek at Conze's translation from the Sanskrit. The shift in flow corresponds to his Chap. 25 also entitled 'Training'. Just like the preceeding chapter, there are clear areas of ammendments to the sanksrit text from which he worked. Also, he becomes burdened again with the term 'bhutakoti', translated by Lokaksema as '本無', 'basically has no'. Taking this to signify an 'ultimate reality' is not sound as such a meaning is not consistent with the narrative itself.

Well, I'll drink my tea and resume in a about 30mins....

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Daoxing,chaps. 20/21

I was aware that a few of the chapter of my earlier translation of the Daoxing were, lets say, a little shaky. In fact I'd lost track of what they were, that is, until this week. I've been working on writing up a brief synopsis of each chapter, the core ideas discussed, what happens and so on. This week I got up to Chapter 20, Sakrodevanmindra and Chapter 21, Pride. Urgh! Looking at some of the mis-translation there I must have put these together half-dazed at 3 in the morning! It was a few years ago when I tackled these however, and I must admit that since then my understanding of the purport of the text has expanded considerably. I can see why I got to a particulular point at those times however decided to simply move on. One of the issues concerned is perhaps the original team member that worked on the text. Historical accounts explain how a number of translators worked with Lokaksema to produce the Daoxing but, of course, there's no account of who translated what. This can only be guessed at on the basis of changes in translation style. Anyway, I think that the current version is fine and I hope to complete the synopsis tomorrow.

Allegory & Myth

One of the topics arising around the mytheme/narratime of Mara is whether Mara is a allegorical or mythic in function.  Before going further with this discussion it needs to be established that a Buddhist sutra in comparison to a novel, play or film is not a piece of popular fiction, perhaps even crafted according to widely recognised literary structures, but a piece of sacred writing. Consequently then, the motives and circumstances for both the creation and consumption of such works differ enormously. A novel may communicate and explore ideas, but the sacred text is aimed engendering a relgious experience.
Although these distinction exists, the development of modern art, in all cultures is ultimately derived from the expression of sacred and religious ideas. The question is then, are the creators of such works simply recording the ideas of their times or creating pieces of literature with narrative structures more in keeping with modern writers in which personae embody necessary roeke in order to facilitate the development of narrative content?
The development of Buddhist sutras is not restricted to a single period of time, even within Indian history. The earliest text are simple annecdotes, with subsequent works becoming increadingly elaorated descriptive with the final works such as the Mahayana sutra becoming embellished with length litanies and repetitions. Non the less, through all of these texts there are common personae, which integrate in a single overarching metanarrative. Unlike the Mahabharata and other epic texts such as the Illiiad and Odessy and Sagas , these works are not considered to be parts of an ongoing saga,  but snapshots in time. For the creators of these text, the connectively between them was not significant.