Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Thu Dec 12, 2013 9:49 pm

Hi everyone,

Apologies if this is a silly question, but something I've been slightly puzzled about: I've noticed that a lot of kyobon don't have any annotation whatsoever, if I wanted to learn to read and at least mostly understand that type of document, exactly what language should I be studying besides modern Japanese? Are most kyobon in Japan "just" Classical Chinese with technical vocabulary unique to Buddhism?
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Seishin » Thu Dec 12, 2013 10:17 pm

Hi HRazan and welcome to the forum :smile:

Is your question to Shingon specifically?

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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Thu Dec 12, 2013 10:29 pm

Oh sorry, I should've specified: my question pertains to Japanese Buddhism in general, but I posted specifically in the Shingon forum because that's the tradition I'm have the most academic interest in. Since the question is linguistic and not philosophical or religious though, please feel free to move it if there's a more appropriate forum :)
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Seishin » Thu Dec 12, 2013 10:58 pm

Ok no worries.

I'd think that if you're wanting to learn Japanese Buddhism in Japanese you'd need to learn Kanji. Buddhism came to Japan via Korea and China and most works are in Kanji or old Chinese. Sutras are often chanted in Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters. In someways it's a bit like how, in the west, are use Pali and Sanskrit terms in Buddhist books and dharmatalks etc. English translations exist for most sutras, is there anything in particular you are looking for?

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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:04 pm

Well I mainly asked because I speak some (bad) modern Japanese, and while I recognize enough kanji to intuit part of the meaning I find it surprisingly challenging to parse out the entire text, so I was mainly wondering if this was an issue of my modern language being weak, or if there was a specific register like kanbun or classical chinese being used that I don't have any background at all in.

It's mainly a matter of academic curiosity, but (knowing that what I'm discussing takes years of extremely difficult language study) I'm basically asking after a dummy's guide to Japanese buddhist terminology: is mastery of the modern language sufficient to read kyobon, or is proficiency in classical chinese and/or kanbun also a prerequisite?
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Seishin » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:08 pm

I guess that depends how far you willing to go. If you want to read the Heart Sutra, I think it won't be too difficult to learn. However, if you're wanting to read a large variety of texts I would say learning Kanji and having a decent knowledge of Classical Chinese is a must.

However, I can't read either :tongue:
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:19 pm

I'm hoping eventually to cultivate the background to sight-read texts extemporaneously with minimum reliance on references- for some reason Classical Chinese scares the heck out of me, even though there are massively more resources for it now than even 15 years ago.
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Seishin » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:25 pm

I wish you the best of luck with your studies :smile:

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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Thu Dec 12, 2013 11:25 pm

Thank you very much for your well wishes :)
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 13, 2013 1:25 am

HRazan wrote:Hi everyone,

Apologies if this is a silly question, but something I've been slightly puzzled about: I've noticed that a lot of kyobon don't have any annotation whatsoever, if I wanted to learn to read and at least mostly understand that type of document, exactly what language should I be studying besides modern Japanese? Are most kyobon in Japan "just" Classical Chinese with technical vocabulary unique to Buddhism?



You need to learn to read Classical Chinese, and then Buddhist Classical Chinese.

Classical Chinese as a written common language is based loosely on the grammar of canonical Chinese classics:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Books ... e_Classics

Essentially during the Han Dynasty the written language became divorced from the spoken language, but writing still tended to use archaic forms of grammar, though not always so. In any case, for the last twenty centuries and up until recently a standard education in East Asia meant studying the classics and through them gaining an understanding of characters and grammatical patterns (there was no prescribed grammar in Chinese until the 19th century under western influences). Buddhist texts in Classical Chinese have their own unique standards, grammar and vocabulary. They are easier to read generally in my opinion that secular literary works once you understand all the vocabulary.

If you read modern Japanese, you can find annotated editions of most Chinese Buddhist texts. They basically have this method of rendering Classical Chinese into Classical Japanese. It is awkward and often problematic, but this is how the Japanese do it. They don't read Classical Chinese using Mandarin pronunciation. They try to read things like they would have been read in Medieval Japan including the time period specific pronunciations of the kanji of which there are normally three:


    Go 吳 – Readings from before the 7th / 8th centuries. Possibly from the Korean peninsula or southern China. Often used in Buddhist texts.



    Kan 漢 – Readings from the mid Tang Dynasty (618-907). Generally reflect the pronunciation of Chang'an 長安.



    Tō 唐 – Readings from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Often used in the Zen school. Here tō 唐 refers to China rather than the Tang Dynasty.


It might sound rather daunting, but it actually does make sense after you study it all for awhile, especially with a capable Japanese scholar.

To read Buddhist material requires extensive vocabulary acquisition. A good dictionary is essential. In Japanese there are many. In English we also have resources like this:

www.buddhism-dict.net/ddb/


My suggestion would to become literate in Japanese first and then proceed to Classical Chinese. You don't need to learn Mandarin, though it wouldn't hurt. Japanese scholars read Classical Chinese without knowing a word of modern Chinese.


By the way, this article on my blog might be of interest:

http://wenyanwen.blogspot.com/2013/06/m ... erary.html
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby DrLang » Fri Dec 13, 2013 2:32 am

Indrajala wrote:My suggestion would to become literate in Japanese first and then proceed to Classical Chinese. You don't need to learn Mandarin, though it wouldn't hurt. Japanese scholars read Classical Chinese without knowing a word of modern Chinese.

Some food for thought regarding this, as I've done some probing into what it will take to learn Classical Chinese. From what I understand, as you advance in reading of Classical Chinese, there is a wall at which knowing Mandarin will greatly ease learning more. This is simply because the resources available in Mandarin for understanding Classical Chinese are far more plentiful and advanced than anything available in English. I suppose the same might also hold true for resources available in Japanese, I just don't personally know.
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Fri Dec 13, 2013 3:19 am

Oh this is exactly what I was wondering, thank you both for the information! One clarification regarding the Japanese readings of Classical Chinese texts- once I start getting marginally competent in Classical Chinese, how large of a hurdle is becoming proficient in the Japanese rendering thereof? Is it like learning another language entirely, or more a matter of exposing myself to a lot of documents and getting used to the eccentricity of the system?
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:44 am

DrLang wrote:\
From what I understand, as you advance in reading of Classical Chinese, there is a wall at which knowing Mandarin will greatly ease learning more. This is simply because the resources available in Mandarin for understanding Classical Chinese are far more plentiful and advanced than anything available in English. I suppose the same might also hold true for resources available in Japanese, I just don't personally know.


There are a lot of resources for Classical Chinese in both languages. I think knowing Mandarin helps as you're speaking a modern form of Chinese. It isn't absolutely essential however. Japanese scholars read Classical Chinese without knowing any Mandarin at all.

If you're really serious about Classical Chinese, you should probably read slowly through some of the classics with annotated guides, or just comparing the original against translations. There is also Pulleyblank's grammar of Cl. Chinese, which is worth investing in.
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:52 am

HRazan wrote:Oh this is exactly what I was wondering, thank you both for the information! One clarification regarding the Japanese readings of Classical Chinese texts- once I start getting marginally competent in Classical Chinese, how large of a hurdle is becoming proficient in the Japanese rendering thereof? Is it like learning another language entirely, or more a matter of exposing myself to a lot of documents and getting used to the eccentricity of the system?


To read Japanese kundoku renderings of Cl. Chinese requires that you are literate in modern Japanese plus the relevant archaic declensions and particle usages.

There's really no need for kundoku reading of Cl. Chinese if you can just read it in the original, unless you're at a Japanese university where that's just how it is done. I often found it dreadful having to render everything into Classical Japanese forms and then modern Japanese when I could read everything in Chinese and then translate directly into Modern Japanese.

If you just want to read Cl. Chinese, then study the characters, grammar and relevant classical texts. At that point Buddhist texts are a matter of vocabulary acquisition.
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby HRazan » Fri Dec 13, 2013 4:57 am

Thank you for the clarification! This sounds like fun-I'm looking forward to getting started on it, thank you again for all of your kind help :)
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Re: Classical Chinese and Buddhist texts in Japan

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 13, 2013 5:01 am

Also invest in graph paper.

Write out the characters dozens of times. This is how kids learn them. You just rewrite them continually from memory.
Flower Ornament Depository (Blog)
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