Buddhist Jargon

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Buddhist Jargon

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:51 pm

The following is quote from the Paramādibuddha Tantra:

When one understands the meaning from regional words, what is the use of technical terms?

On the earth, a jewel is called by different names from country to country, but there is no difference in the jewel itself.

Likewise, the various redactors of my pure Dharma use diverse terms in accordance with the dispositions of sentient beings.



Now this begs the question if we should preserve Buddhist jargon. In the English language at the moment translators have the option of using increasingly standardized terms that have been rendered into English like "aggregate" for "skandha" among many others. "Sentient being" for sattva is quite standard while nobody took up Cleary's "enlightening beings" for bodhisattva.

On the other hand, a lot of the technical Buddhist language stems from Indic languages which are generally firstly understood in their Indic form (Sanskrit or Pali) and then as a translated term.

So how many Indic terms transliterated into roman script do you want in an English language translation of a Buddhist text? Do you find it distracting or easier to understand? Moreover, in discussing Buddhism as practical theories, is it better to use the established technical vocabulary from past ages? How much modern western jargon from psychology and philosophy do we adopt (terms like qualia, ego and ontology)?

I think in building a Buddhist lexicon for English we'll probably have to make use of both standardized translated terms and transliterated Indic terms. This seems to be the case already.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Yudron » Tue Oct 23, 2012 6:02 pm

I can't tell whether you are proposing all Mahayana and Vajrayana schools bring the Sanskrit terms into English usage -- as has happened Mandala, Karma and so forth -- versus trying to standardize translations of key terms.

One or the other has to happen over time. Most of the translators of the Tibetan works -- like Tibetans--don't read Sanskrit, and the Tibetan equivalent has it's own shading. I'm sure the same is true for Chinese, Korean, and other Dharma languages. Even apart from individual translators attachment to their own preferred translations, I don't know if all Mahayana groups could harmonize their translations because of the varied cultural "flavors."

That being said, there has been a natural sorting out, where a few terms by-- for example--Guenther, have been retained and the more jargonny and inaccurate stuff discarded.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby tomamundsen » Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:48 pm

The first thing I think of on this topic is Reeves' translation of the Lotus Sura. He uses a lot of new translations for words. I rather liked his version. But I still find it very important to know what the Sanskrit is. If you know the Sanskrit, then understanding parallels between different authors become transparent. I do not think we've reached a point where Dharma has permeated our culture enough to try to create an American Buddhism, be it via translating all terms into English or removing cultural rituals from practice.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:06 am

tomamundsen wrote:The first thing I think of on this topic is Reeves' translation of the Lotus Sura. He uses a lot of new translations for words. I rather liked his version. But I still find it very important to know what the Sanskrit is. If you know the Sanskrit, then understanding parallels between different authors become transparent. I do not think we've reached a point where Dharma has permeated our culture enough to try to create an American Buddhism, be it via translating all terms into English or removing cultural rituals from practice.


I understand your point and I am inclined to it as an English speaking college educated person. Also, as Tibetan Buddhism people it could potentially give us a common point of understanding with all Mahayana/Tantrayana people. Probably great lamas like Lhyentse Rinpoche and the Vidyadhara Trungpa Rinpoche would agree with you. My main root lama, however, feels strongly that Sanskrit is not longer a Buddhist language and has lost it's ability to communicate Dharma because it is no longer spoken by people who practice it. Therefore, he feels we should not spend a of time studying it.

Again, we see the division between the Buddhism of scholars and the Buddhism of faith and devotion.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Konchog1 » Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:28 am

I would like all the translators to use the same terms. I dislike reading Berzin's works for that reason. He's good, but most of his terms are unique to him.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Jnana » Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:07 am

Huseng wrote:So how many Indic terms transliterated into roman script do you want in an English language translation of a Buddhist text?

Depends somewhat on the subject matter. I generally prefer the inclusion of a multilingual glossary of important terms used in the text, i.e. Sanskrit/Tibetan/English or Sanskrit/Chinese/English (if it's a Chinese translation of an Indic text).

Huseng wrote:How much modern western jargon from psychology and philosophy do we adopt (terms like qualia, ego and ontology)?

As little as possible.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:58 am

Yudron wrote:I can't tell whether you are proposing all Mahayana and Vajrayana schools bring the Sanskrit terms into English usage -- as has happened Mandala, Karma and so forth -- versus trying to standardize translations of key terms.


I'm wondering about to what extent do we employ the technical Indic vocabulary. As you say many terms use the Sanskrit, though this is not necessarily always the case. In Tibetan and Chinese texts quite often the translated terms have shifted in meaning away from the original Indic vocabulary.


One or the other has to happen over time. Most of the translators of the Tibetan works -- like Tibetans--don't read Sanskrit, and the Tibetan equivalent has it's own shading. I'm sure the same is true for Chinese, Korean, and other Dharma languages.


There are a lot of Chinese Buddhist terms that don't correspond to anything in Indic languages. This is because these terms came from exegesis literature which then was employed by later generations. A lot of Tiantai, Huayan and Chan vocabulary came about like this.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:02 am

Jnana wrote:
Huseng wrote:How much modern western jargon from psychology and philosophy do we adopt (terms like qualia, ego and ontology)?


As little as possible.


In any case it seems to already have currency, even in works by Buddhist authors for Buddhists. Using such distinctions like ontology and epistemology, or even the mind-matter dichotomy of western philosophy, when interpreting Buddhadharma can be problematic and in the context of commentaries simply anachronistic.

I guess it will just take several generations to really hammer out. The Chinese had the same problem when they used functional equivalents from their own philosophy lexicon when translating Buddhism into Chinese. It took some time for a more accurate lexicon to develop and be standardized.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Yudron » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:54 am

Huseng wrote:
Jnana wrote:
Huseng wrote:How much modern western jargon from psychology and philosophy do we adopt (terms like qualia, ego and ontology)?


As little as possible.


In any case it seems to already have currency, even in works by Buddhist authors for Buddhists. Using such distinctions like ontology and epistemology, or even the mind-matter dichotomy of western philosophy, when interpreting Buddhadharma can be problematic and in the context of commentaries simply anachronistic.

I guess it will just take several generations to really hammer out. The Chinese had the same problem when they used functional equivalents from their own philosophy lexicon when translating Buddhism into Chinese. It took some time for a more accurate lexicon to develop and be standardized.


I don't think most English speakers know what ontology and epistomology mean. I don't know what qualia means, and I have three university degrees. IMHO If you are targeting regular practitioners as the audience, not graduate students, it's pointless to translate a term into another term that they have to look up in a dictionary.
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Re: Buddhist Jargon

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 24, 2012 8:01 am

Yudron wrote:I don't think most English speakers know what ontology and epistomology mean. I don't know what qualia means, and I have three university degrees. IMHO If you are targeting regular practitioners as the audience, not graduate students, it's pointless to translate a term into another term that they have to look up in a dictionary.


It isn't even just about translations, but developing the Buddhist discourse in English. This means treatises written in English about Buddhism not as an academic field, but as Buddhadharma.

In the context of the English language we'll probably have to make use of western philosophical terminology. I think we can throw psychology out the window altogether, though the philosophy lexicon is quite useful for identifying and developing abstract ideas.
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