What Language to learn?

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What Language to learn?

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu May 29, 2014 2:43 am

For someone who wants to study Mahayana, what language would be best to learn? Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean?
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Thu May 29, 2014 3:00 am

I'd say learning to read Classical Chinese might get you the most bang for your buck - because then you'd be able to read the online CBETA (Chinese Tripitaka), Tripitaka Koreana, and the Taisho. Sanskrit's another option that's good, but given the somewhat limited number of sanskrit copies of foundational East Asian Buddhist texts, I'd still probably go with reading Classical Chinese.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Namu Butsu » Thu May 29, 2014 3:40 am

Thanks Porkchop! This is something worth contemplating. I know a guy at my job that speaks fluent Chinese and is versed in classical Chinese. I'm sure he could help me out
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"Just say the nembutsu and be liberated" Shinran Shonin
"However hard it may be to bid farewell to this world, when the conditions that bind us to this saha [samsara] realm run out, we are powerless to do anything as the final hour arrives and we are swept away to that Land." -A Record in Lament of Divergences
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Dodatsu » Thu May 29, 2014 11:28 am

On top of Chinese, learn a bit of Japanese (reading) as a lot of materials are written in Japanese, especially modern commentaries and scholarship.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Thu May 29, 2014 12:58 pm

Dodatsu wrote:On top of Chinese, learn a bit of Japanese (reading) as a lot of materials are written in Japanese, especially modern commentaries and scholarship.


Not to hijack the thread, but are there any you could recommend?
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Caodemarte » Sat Apr 04, 2015 8:34 pm

A Japanese roshi recommended that people learn Tibetan in lieu of Sanskrit to read sutras. He thought Tibetan translations provided the most complete and clear translation of sutras, while the Sanskrit originals were now mostly fragmentary.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Sun Apr 05, 2015 12:02 am

Caodemarte wrote:A Japanese roshi recommended that people learn Tibetan in lieu of Sanskrit to read sutras. He thought Tibetan translations provided the most complete and clear translation of sutras, while the Sanskrit originals were now mostly fragmentary.
The same could be said for Literary Chinese. The decision of which to go with would have to depend on your school though. I can really only speak from experience with Pure Land, but the great commentaries that the east asian schools rely for their doctrines on are preserved in Literary Chinese (not so much in Tibetan), and sometimes the Tibetan (and Sanskrit) version of a text can be quite a bit later and a little different than the Chinese versions that most east asian schools teach from. For example, the Tibetan version of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra only gives 47 different vows made by Dharmakara bodhisattva, whereas the Chinese version has 48. The 18th Vow, viewed with supreme importance by the east asian Pure Land schools, appears as the 19th Vow in Tibetan, where it's been combined with the 20th Vow from the Chinese. Incidentally, the 2 earliest versions translated into Chinese only had 24 Vows and the last version to be translated into Chinese had 36. These changes may seem minor, but they would have some effect on doctrine and practice. Fair warning, I'm somewhat biased on this issue, as all the stuff I really want to read right now hasn't been translated from Chinese.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Sherlock » Sun Apr 05, 2015 12:14 am

PorkChop wrote:
Caodemarte wrote:A Japanese roshi recommended that people learn Tibetan in lieu of Sanskrit to read sutras. He thought Tibetan translations provided the most complete and clear translation of sutras, while the Sanskrit originals were now mostly fragmentary.
The same could be said for Literary Chinese. The decision of which to go with would have to depend on your school though. I can really only speak from experience with Pure Land, but the great commentaries that the east asian schools rely for their doctrines on are preserved in Literary Chinese (not so much in Tibetan), and sometimes the Tibetan (and Sanskrit) version of a text can be quite a bit later and a little different than the Chinese versions that most east asian schools teach from. For example, the Tibetan version of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra only gives 47 different vows made by Dharmakara bodhisattva, whereas the Chinese version has 48. The 18th Vow, viewed with supreme importance by the east asian Pure Land schools, appears as the 19th Vow in Tibetan, where it's been combined with the 20th Vow from the Chinese. Incidentally, the 2 earliest versions translated into Chinese only had 24 Vows and the last version to be translated into Chinese had 36. These changes may seem minor, but they would have some effect on doctrine and practice. Fair warning, I'm somewhat biased on this issue, as all the stuff I really want to read right now hasn't been translated from Chinese.


Indian or Chinese commentaries?

Anyway literary Chinese forces itself to fit the meter, Tibetan when translating Sanskrit loses much less information, although it still leaves out plurals and gender.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Sun Apr 05, 2015 12:28 am

Sherlock wrote:
PorkChop wrote:
Caodemarte wrote:A Japanese roshi recommended that people learn Tibetan in lieu of Sanskrit to read sutras. He thought Tibetan translations provided the most complete and clear translation of sutras, while the Sanskrit originals were now mostly fragmentary.
The same could be said for Literary Chinese. The decision of which to go with would have to depend on your school though. I can really only speak from experience with Pure Land, but the great commentaries that the east asian schools rely for their doctrines on are preserved in Literary Chinese (not so much in Tibetan), and sometimes the Tibetan (and Sanskrit) version of a text can be quite a bit later and a little different than the Chinese versions that most east asian schools teach from. For example, the Tibetan version of the Larger Sukhavati Sutra only gives 47 different vows made by Dharmakara bodhisattva, whereas the Chinese version has 48. The 18th Vow, viewed with supreme importance by the east asian Pure Land schools, appears as the 19th Vow in Tibetan, where it's been combined with the 20th Vow from the Chinese. Incidentally, the 2 earliest versions translated into Chinese only had 24 Vows and the last version to be translated into Chinese had 36. These changes may seem minor, but they would have some effect on doctrine and practice. Fair warning, I'm somewhat biased on this issue, as all the stuff I really want to read right now hasn't been translated from Chinese.


Indian or Chinese commentaries?

Anyway literary Chinese forces itself to fit the meter, Tibetan when translating Sanskrit loses much less information, although it still leaves out plurals and gender.
Both. Chinese version of Vasubandhu's Upadesa on the Larger Sukhavati sutra is apparently a little different than what made it into the Tibetan canon and those differences might have ramifications in regards to certain interpretations. Is there a Tibetan version of Nagarjuna's Dashabhumika-vibhasa? If not, that'd be significant. I'm not sure I've seen the metre thing you're talking about, but I'm far from fluent and can only read small passages. From what I know there have been some reverse translations from Chinese back to Sanskrit that have shown that the Chinese translations were fairly faithful to the original - depending on the original translator of course.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby gloriasteinem » Sun Apr 05, 2015 8:16 am

Namu Butsu wrote:For someone who wants to study Mahayana, what language would be best to learn? Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean?


Bulgarian (ask NSA et al why)
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Indrajala » Sun Apr 05, 2015 8:26 am

If you read modern Japanese, then reading Japanese half-translations of Classical Chinese is quite feasible, and the jump to straight Classical Chinese won't be that difficult once you read several thousand kanji. Mandarin is equally applicable in this regard, but the downside is that modern scholarship on Buddhism in Mandarin is limited and sometimes even highly celebrated scholars end up being quite poor by more international standards, whereas Japanese scholarship on Buddhism is extensive and unparalleled. Modern Chinese scholars will often follow after Japanese scholars as well, whereas the reverse is rare. Even when it comes to Indology and Tibet, there's vast scholarship on all sorts of smaller subjects.

Just be aware that learning to read Japanese takes several years of dedicated study if you don't know the kanji already.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Sun Apr 05, 2015 5:47 pm

Indrajala wrote:Just be aware that learning to read Japanese takes several years of dedicated study if you don't know the kanji already.

This pretty much describes my situation as I've already got several years invested. :) Grammar's not a problem. I've got several hundred kanji down & can recognize several hundred more. I'm slow with remembering them, but I've done a bit of work mastering radicals & primitives (using Heisig, Henshall, Bodnaryk, etc) so recognizing components means I may have a general idea when it comes to more complex characters. I know some folks who've raced to completing the Joyo list (常用漢字) of almost 2000 in a year or two (or less), but they've all used spaced repetition (SRS) and flashcard systems - neither of which match my learning style very well. Until my schedule frees up (probably December) and I can focus more exclusively on Japanese studies, I'm just hoping that by constantly exposing myself to Buddhist writings with Chinese/Kanji that I'll be able to absorb some of the more commonly used characters and gain some familiarity.

For anybody else who is looking to start, the fastest proven way of picking up the recognition & meaning of several thousand kanji is using Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (1 & 2) along with a SRS flashcard system like Anki. Heisig's method has been criticized for not giving the onyomi (Chinese Kanbun reading/pronunciation of a kanji), kunyomi (Japanese native reading/pronunciation of a kanji), and jukugo (compound words made of multiple kanji) up front, focusing on recognition & meanings first while saving pronunciation for later. The thing is, with reading literary Chinese, unless one's trying to recite a service (which will always have furigana pronunciation marks), then these pronunciations aren't so important. These criticisms really only apply if one is hoping to have an immediate grasp of written & spoken Japanese. On the other hand, if you put in the time to master the Joyo first, then mastering the rest of written Japanese should go much more quickly.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby LastLegend » Sun Apr 05, 2015 6:53 pm

I'd stick to Sanskrit: Namo Amitabha.
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Stephen K » Mon Apr 06, 2015 12:45 am

gloriasteinem wrote:
Namu Butsu wrote:For someone who wants to study Mahayana, what language would be best to learn? Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, Korean?


Bulgarian (ask NSA et al why)

There's virtually next-to-nothing about Buddhism in Bulgarian. (I'm Bulgarian so I know)

I know you're (probably) joking.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Mon Apr 06, 2015 1:34 am

LastLegend wrote:I'd stick to Sanskrit: Namo Amitabha.
Not to change the topic, but I can only assume the Vietnamese Mahayana canon is preserved in Vietnamese? Must be a lot of good Dharma resources for Vietnamese speakers.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 06, 2015 8:51 am

PorkChop wrote:I know some folks who've raced to completing the Joyo list (常用漢字) of almost 2000 in a year or two (or less), but they've all used spaced repetition (SRS) and flashcard systems - neither of which match my learning style very well.


I recommend the old fashioned way: graph paper and rewriting them out again and again.

On the other hand, if you put in the time to master the Joyo first, then mastering the rest of written Japanese should go much more quickly.


I recommend after a year or two of study you start reading guided readers or websites with browser add-ons like perapera kun or Lingoes. Textbooks designed for reading newspapers and novels are also available. It might take an hour to go through a single page, but if you do it long enough, making notes and vocabulary sheets along the way, you'll eventually become functionally literate.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:45 pm

Indrajala wrote:I recommend the old fashioned way: graph paper and rewriting them out again and again.
The way that works for me is a combination of this and workbook-like exercises, but it's incredibly time-intensive and at this age if I don't pace myself, the hand cramps can get pretty serious. When it comes to rote-memorization of kanji, I'm just really not that good at it.

Indrajala wrote:I recommend after a year or two of study you start reading guided readers or websites with browser add-ons like perapera kun or Lingoes. Textbooks designed for reading newspapers and novels are also available. It might take an hour to go through a single page, but if you do it long enough, making notes and vocabulary sheets along the way, you'll eventually become functionally literate.
Good advice here! :thumbsup:

Just going to add the resources here:

Perapera Mozilla add-on
Perapera's main website - lots of good info on here
Lingoes Chrome add-on
Rikaikun Chrome add-on - this is the one I use
Gakuu.com's overview of Japanese learning resources - pretty extensive
Textfugu online Japanese textbook
Renshuu.org - SRS quizzing system that uses lessons from a bunch of different textbooks
Tae Kim's Grammar Guide - the definitive online grammar guide
Hiragana Times - lots of learning resources and guided readers.
An Introduction to Newspaper Japanese - textbook from Amazon.
Breaking Into Japanese Literature - small book that helps you get started with reading actual literature, from Amazon.
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby Caodemarte » Thu Apr 09, 2015 2:14 am

PorkChop wrote:
LastLegend wrote:I'd stick to Sanskrit: Namo Amitabha.
Not to change the topic, but I can only assume the Vietnamese Mahayana canon is preserved in Vietnamese? Must be a lot of good Dharma resources for Vietnamese speakers.


I think it is actually in classical Chinese .
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Apr 09, 2015 3:25 am

Caodemarte wrote:
PorkChop wrote:
LastLegend wrote:I'd stick to Sanskrit: Namo Amitabha.
Not to change the topic, but I can only assume the Vietnamese Mahayana canon is preserved in Vietnamese? Must be a lot of good Dharma resources for Vietnamese speakers.


I think it is actually in classical Chinese .
Thanks, yeah I wasn't sure. I knew most of the temple liturgies were in Vietnamese, but I never saw my teacher's sutra texts.
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实是凡夫。
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Re: What Language to learn?

Postby teddy_b » Fri Apr 17, 2015 8:33 am

Is it really hard to learn Chinese for someone from Europe?
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