Chinese language and Buddhism

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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Sep 02, 2012 4:45 pm

mutsuk wrote:
Sanskrit or whatever, it does not change the fact that the chinese "method" was not that of translations but adaptations to the chinese mind. It's no wonder one cannot re-construct an original from the chinese, in particular because of their so-called editorial committees. Please read Jungnok's book, this will enlighten your week-end.



As I said, the point of translations is to make the meaning and intent comprehensible to readers in the target language. Most translators did that job well enough to permit Buddhism to take root in China and for their own acclimatized species of Buddhadharma to flourish as a result. The function of translation was served. It did not parallel developments of India, but that was never the point, and in any case it would have proved impossible.


This is not the problem. The problem is the method used in order to sinicize materials. THis is also the reason why, when one reads an original indian text (no matter its language) and its chinese translation one has the feeling of reading two different texts. This is not the case with tibetan translations though.


Sinicization of Buddhism was not inappropriate or wrong. To translate Indic texts so that they could be readily understood by native Chinese readers was the whole purpose of translation projects, not to rigidly reproduce Indic Buddhist developments in a foreign land.


This is not the case as you would know if you had attended the past ten years courses at CdeF. And this does not change anything: if you look at probable original candidates for chinese translations, these are simply "renderings" not translations faithful to the letter and the spirit. The chinese language is responsible of that, not to mention the methods of translations which are pretty weird to say the least. The best you can say is that these are "adaptations".


Which ones? The Chinese Buddhist canon just to around 1000CE is vast in size. The Taisho has 32 volumes the size of phone books with small print which deal with translations of Indic texts. Are you saying all such items included therein are simply "renderings" because the Chinese language, as you have stated, are incapable and not up to the task?

Again, this kind of thinking is reflective of old orientalist notions rooted in archaic racist perceptions of Asians and darwinistic hierarchies of races, cultures and languages. These same ideas suggest Chinese was incapable of producing science or that the Chinese were very incompetent with rhetoric by virtue of their language (all being viewed from the perspective of European philosophy of course). Even today you have European scholars saying "Chinese philosophy is not really philosophy."



No, it isn't because I am male,

I sincerly doubt it. You had to bring bullocks into the discourse, that's typically a male-threatened reaction...Mods or not...


It was to express my sheer shock.



My issues are more with your gross generalizations of the Chinese language, which strike me as oldschool orientalist.

My issues are more with your patriotic defense of a language which most buddhologists recognized as deficient and inadequate for carrying the subtleties of buddhist thought.


We must be living in different worlds because in the Chinese, Japanese and English speaking Buddhist academic worlds I don't hear about this kind of thing.

A lot of the subtleties of Indian Buddhist thought in any case were relevant at the time to Indians, but not necessarily to Chinese on the other far side of the Himalayas.

The select favouritism you show for Sanskritic Buddhism and the later evolution of it through Tibetan neglects the fact that Buddhism is largely an oral tradition based on real life experience and human interactions, not the fine semantics and syllables in texts (this of course occupies a few Buddhist scholars' time, but does not reflect how Buddhists historically in any culture or time period have conducted themselves). The Buddha himself encouraged teachings to be given in local languages. The Buddhist translations into Chinese did this well enough. Hence superior and inferiority of canons is to be gauged by how well Buddhadharma, not Sanskrit semantics, were conveyed.


Your belief in the reliability of chinese translation is not a gross generalization, it's a ridicule one.


While I'm no Sanskrit scholar, I've compared the Sanskrit versions of various texts like the Abhidharma-kośa against Classical Chinese versions and never came to the conclusions you are pushing here.

..."deficient and inadequate"



it's not a question of literal translations, it's a question of respecting the message and the words in which it was conveyed. Both these requirements are deficient in chinese translations of buddhist texts.


All of them?



Nope, that's your bias. THis is not the opinion of sanskritists and tibetologists working in the field of buddhology (especially those, probably younger than you, who know all the concerned lanugages and are in a better position than you to formulate educated opinions. Read Jungnok's book, you are probably going to have some surprises...



For non-native readers it takes many many years to become fully literate in Classical Chinese and able to instinctively understand and feel the text. You can "know" Classical Chinese, but there is "knowing it" and actually grasping it. The former takes a few courses and a lot of heavy dictionary usage, the latter is not so readily attained.

I reckon very few western scholars are actually really capable readers of Classical Chinese (again there is "knowing" and then there is "really grasping fluently the language"), so few are in a position to size up the language. If a Chinese scholar with decades of experience reading Sanskrit and Classical Chinese comes out and says Chinese is "deficient and inadequate" for conveying Buddhadharma, I'll listen attentively.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Sherlock » Sun Sep 02, 2012 4:52 pm

Maybe I should wait until I read the book first, but I have some questions.

Many of the early translators were Central Asians rather than Chinese, how does Park account for this as relates to their knowledge of the language?

Is this a posthumous publication?

I don't think the Chinese language itself is innately unsuitable to convey Indic language translations since many of its grammatical features are also shared by Tibetan, but it seems that the cultural conventions behind their theory of translation were less strict compared to the Tibetan ones. This could be due to many factors such as Chinese already having a strong cultural identity and literary tradition while the Tibetans were still starting to establish their own as well as lack of official patronage for translations.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun Sep 02, 2012 5:06 pm

Sherlock wrote:I don't think the Chinese language itself is innately unsuitable to convey Indic language translations since many of its grammatical features are also shared by Tibetan, but it seems that the cultural conventions behind their theory of translation were less strict compared to the Tibetan ones.


A lot of classical Chinese translations don't try to reproduce case, number and declensions, but from greater context a lot of this understood instinctively (high context versus low context). If you read one sentence you might be puzzled, but if you read the whole paragraph it is usually clear. In some cases translators did try to mechanically reproduce cases and number (which makes it easier for an Anglophone to translate), though it resulted in awkward reading for the natives.

Things of course got lost and the subtleties might not have come through, but then they might not have been seen as relevant (especially when Chinese itself doesn't normally account for number unless it is emphasize something). I know a lot of the fine subtle points of Vimalakīrti Sūtra (the subtle humour) are lost in translation, but it would have been irrelevant anyway to Chinese readers.

The other thing is that Chinese had no formal prescribed grammar (quite unlike Sanskrit which followed Panini's manual), which I wrote about here:

http://wenyanwen.blogspot.tw/2011/06/li ... t-and.html

Classical Chinese was not a spoken language, but a written language based on convention and emulation with no formal prescribed grammar. That is a different cultural realm altogether, though not incapable of transmitting Buddhadharma. Trying to force Chinese readers into a Sanskritic mindset would have been problematic (and unfair). Buddhism was also a minority religion and secondary to Confucian literature in terms of literacy education. Most Chinese readers learnt Confucian texts long before they were able to read Buddhist texts. The translators had to accommodate all these preconditions in order to convey the purport and function of texts.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby mutsuk » Sun Sep 02, 2012 6:06 pm

Sherlock wrote:Maybe I should wait until I read the book first, but I have some questions.

You won't regret reading this book a single second. I'am reading it for a third time now...

Many of the early translators were Central Asians rather than Chinese, how does Park account for this as relates to their knowledge of the language?

Well in some of the cases discussed by Park, you'd have a pandit, then some interpreter with a basic knowledge of the idiom of the indian/central asian whatever pandit. Then you'll have someone who would reformulate that in proper chinese.Then you'll have some copyists who would transcribe that into chinese, sometime several copyist transcribing the same thing which is then edited. Then you'd have a committee that would rephrase everything so that it would fit the understanding and taste of the chinese audience. After that there are still some people who think that what the pandit said is exactly what the chinese could read in the end. I sincerely doubt this and Park gives several examples which exemplify the problem.

Is this a posthumous publication?

Yes it is.

but it seems that the cultural conventions behind their theory of translation were less strict compared to the Tibetan ones.

Then reading Park will be the shock of your life (I mean a big shock at least...).
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby mutsuk » Sun Sep 02, 2012 6:18 pm

Huseng wrote:Again, this kind of thinking is reflective of old orientalist notions rooted in archaic racist perceptions of Asians and darwinistic hierarchies of races, cultures and languages.

Nonsense. Read Park before judging. His work is great, deep and intelligent. period. And he does not resort to bullocks, which says a lot by itself.

It was to express my sheer shock.

Then get some control.

We must be living in different worlds because in the Chinese, Japanese and English speaking Buddhist academic worlds I don't hear about this kind of thing.

You should open your world to sanskritists and tibetologists then because sure, the Park book is like the shit hitting the fan for sinologists specialized in Buddhist Studies. But it's a surprise to them, not to sanskritists who have a general despise for the chinese unfaithful renderings or to tibetologists, especially for those knowing the 3 languages (and there are some, get your head out of the US or anywhere you live, there are scholars in Europe you know...)

The select favouritism you show for Sanskritic Buddhism and the later evolution of it through Tibetan neglects the fact that Buddhism is largely an oral tradition based on real life experience and human interactions,

This does not change a single thing to the fact that chinese works are renderings not translations.

The Buddha himself encouraged teachings to be given in local languages.

But he certainly did not encourage patriotism altering the message of his teachings.
The Buddhist translations into Chinese did this well enough.

Not a single minute. They sinicize everything.

Hence superior and inferiority of canons is to be gauged by how well Buddhadharma, not Sanskrit semantics, were conveyed.

Well, that's why you can read translation of Dayunman texts advocating the superiority of Chan over Dayunman itself! This is totall nonsense. It comes from a lack of capacity to understand buddhadharma properly.

While I'm no Sanskrit scholar, I've compared the Sanskrit versions of various texts like the Abhidharma-kośa against Classical Chinese versions and never came to the conclusions you are pushing here.

Enlarge your scope.

I reckon very few western scholars are actually really capable readers of Classical Chinese (again there is "knowing" and then there is "really grasping fluently the language"),

You should go out more often or get some invitations from european universities. You'd be surprised.

so few are in a position to size up the language.

Wrong.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Malcolm » Sun Sep 02, 2012 6:25 pm

Huseng wrote:The translators had to accommodate all these preconditions in order to convey the purport and function of texts.



I think you have an obligation to read the guy's book before you comment much further.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sun Sep 02, 2012 8:43 pm

mutsuk wrote:The point is that the chinese language lacks subtleties for carrying the teachings.


I don't really see how that can happen. I mean, on one hand, languages are different and there's nothing new about that. There are things impossible to translate because of such differences, but explanation is still possible. On the other, languages work perfectly well for all human cultures to express whatever is experienced, felt, thought. I haven't yet heard that translating from Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese, Mongolian, or any other language to English is not possible to be done accurately, despite the huge differences. So what makes Chinese language itself inferior? What subtlety exists in Sanskrit and English that is missing from Chinese?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
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"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
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“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 03, 2012 12:57 am

Malcolm wrote:
Huseng wrote:The translators had to accommodate all these preconditions in order to convey the purport and function of texts.



I think you have an obligation to read the guy's book before you comment much further.


My statement wasn't in reference to the book.

In any case you cannot say the Chinese language itself is an inadequate vessel to transmit dharma.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:34 am

mutsuk wrote:
We must be living in different worlds because in the Chinese, Japanese and English speaking Buddhist academic worlds I don't hear about this kind of thing.


You should open your world to sanskritists and tibetologists then because sure, the Park book is like the shit hitting the fan for sinologists specialized in Buddhist Studies. But it's a surprise to them, not to sanskritists who have a general despise for the chinese unfaithful renderings or to tibetologists, especially for those knowing the 3 languages (and there are some, get your head out of the US or anywhere you live, there are scholars in Europe you know...)


I doubt it. Plenty of eminent scholars, Asian and Western, have not come to such conclusions.

Incidentally, if you despise Chinese then you'll probably never really understand Classical Chinese. Like I said, plenty of scholars "know" Classical Chinese and can read it, but there is a difference between really understanding it competently (and not jumping to conclusions about its purported inability to convey dharmic ideas) and just being able to discern the meaning. This is why if an Indologist wants to say Chinese is inferior or inept as a language I'll take it with a grain of salt.

Also, I'm not in the US. I live in Taiwan and did my graduate studies in Japan.

The select favouritism you show for Sanskritic Buddhism and the later evolution of it through Tibetan neglects the fact that Buddhism is largely an oral tradition based on real life experience and human interactions,

This does not change a single thing to the fact that chinese works are renderings not translations.


Your definition, not mine.


The Buddha himself encouraged teachings to be given in local languages.

But he certainly did not encourage patriotism altering the message of his teachings.


There are examples of this in the Chinese canon and I'm well aware of them, but this does not render the WHOLE THING warped and an aberration of Buddhadharma.

The Buddhist translations into Chinese did this well enough.

Not a single minute. They sinicize everything.


This "they" you refer to seems to mean all tens of thousands of Buddhist authors in China. Such a grand overarching generalization is neither academic nor correct.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:26 pm

Huseng wrote:
mutsuk wrote:
Huseng wrote:The Buddhist translations into Chinese did this well enough.

Not a single minute. They sinicize everything.


This "they" you refer to seems to mean all tens of thousands of Buddhist authors in China. Such a grand overarching generalization is neither academic nor correct.

Indeed.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Mon Sep 03, 2012 5:33 pm

mutsuk wrote:You should open your world to sanskritists and tibetologists then because sure, the Park book is like the shit hitting the fan for sinologists specialized in Buddhist Studies.

You should broaden your horizons.

mutsuk wrote:But it's a surprise to them, not to sanskritists who have a general despise for the chinese unfaithful renderings or to tibetologists, especially for those knowing the 3 languages....

Another gross over-generalization.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby mutsuk » Tue Sep 04, 2012 9:55 pm

Jnana wrote:You should broaden your horizons.

You have no idea how my horizons are broad... Really, you don't have single inch of an idea about that. You should read more before formulating judgments. This is a sign of ignorance only.

Another gross over-generalization.

Of course, and as a specialist your opinion is both educated and valuable, right? Again stop judging constantly without knowing...
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Re: Chinese practice and Buddhism

Postby Will » Tue Sep 04, 2012 10:12 pm

I suppose the scores of Chinese Arhats & Bodhisattvas and the hundreds of Chinese Buddhist Sages became such in spite of the allegedly rotten Dharma they had.

Hooey and nonsense is this notion of any fatally flawed language for the Buddhadharma!
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Wed Sep 05, 2012 12:37 am

mutsuk wrote:Of course, and as a specialist your opinion is both educated and valuable, right?

I know enough about all of the languages in question as well as the history of Chinese and Tibetan translation to have an informed opinion, yes. Moreover, I know specialists working with all of these languages who I am quite sure would not agree with your gross over-generalizations.
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Re: Chinese practice and Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Wed Sep 05, 2012 12:38 am

Will wrote:I suppose the scores of Chinese Arhats & Bodhisattvas and the hundreds of Chinese Buddhist Sages became such in spite of the allegedly rotten Dharma they had.

Hooey and nonsense is this notion of any fatally flawed language for the Buddhadharma!

Indeed.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Greg » Tue Dec 04, 2012 7:31 pm

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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Wed Dec 05, 2012 1:05 am




I didn't think his premature death was a suicide.

That's quite unfortunate.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:56 am

I have no dog in this fight, but the conversation reminds me of how many people say Japanese is vague.
I believe this is due to the tendency to drop off the subject or object of a sentence, due to it being implied.
In thousands of years of usage, Japanese people generally know what each other are talking about.
Wondering if this situation with Classical Chinese is very similar - ie. things that seem vague or inexact, aren't so to a native speaker.

EDIT: RIP to Mr Park. Very sad to hear, especially when he probably had all the tools in the box to get through that, but couldn't see clearly enough to apply them. Worst-case-scenario, I hope Ksitigarbha's keeping an eye out for him.
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby cdpatton » Sat Jun 15, 2013 2:55 pm

mutsuk wrote:This was sent in an announcement when the book was issued :


Why did some Buddhist translators in China interpolate terms designating an agent which did not appear in the original texts?

The Chinese made use of raw material imported from India; however, they added some “seasonings” peculiar to China and developed their own “recipes” about how to construct the ideas of Buddhism. While Indian Buddhists constructed their ideas of self by means of empiricism, anti-Brahmanism and analytic reasoning, the Chinese Buddhists constructed their ideas of self by means of non-analytic insights, utilising pre-established epistemology and cosmogony. Furthermore, many of the basic renderings had specific implications that were peculiar to China. For example, while shen in philosophical Daoism originally signified an agent of thought, which disintegrates after bodily death, Buddhists added to it the property of permanent existence. Since many Buddhists in China read the reinterpreted term shen with the implications of the established epistemology and cosmogony, they came to develop their own ideas of self.

After the late 6C, highly educated Buddhist theorists came to avoid including the idea of an imperishable soul in their doctrinal system. However, the idea of a permanent agent of perception remained vividly alive even during the development of Chinese Buddhism after the 7C.


I suppose I will need to read the book - but this synopsis seems to imply that the translators were Chinese. Most of them were Gandhari or Silk Road Buddhists or Kashmiri, etc. It is not as though someone just dumped loads of Gandhari texts in China and walked away to leave them to figure it out on their own. Texts like the Mahaparinirvana-sutra clearly had the ideas of a permanent, transcendent self - styled as the dharmakaya - in them prior to arriving in China. Which by itself bent the philosophical development of Chinese Buddhism towards using that sort of Self-talk in their thinking and discourse. This, added to the pre-existing neo-Daoist thinking, etc is what made Chinese Buddhist what it became, IMO - it hasn't much to do with some poor early translations or the lack of a highly structured grammar akin to Indic languages ...
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Re: Chinese language and Buddhism

Postby Zhen Li » Sun Jun 16, 2013 3:41 am

Texts like the Mahaparinirvana-sutra clearly had the ideas of a permanent, transcendent self - styled as the dharmakaya - in them prior to arriving in China.

Dharmakāya is not an agent, thus it is also not an underlying perceiver.

A transcendent self has no aggregates, including consciousness.

It is an ocean, not a stream.

It is a description of the ends, which can't be retroactively applied to all consciousness or perception without also stating that there is no consciousness or perception anymore, i.e. cleansed. This is not what Park is discussing, though certainly "consciousness" as the subject of rebirth 'did' exist in Indian thought - albeit to a lesser extent in Buddhism than one finds in Chinese translations.
it hasn't much to do with some poor early translations or the lack of a highly structured grammar akin to Indic languages ...

It seems obvious that you would have to lose a lot of subtleties and the majesty and beauty when you translate from Sanskrit into Chinese, perhaps to a lesser extent when you translate into English also.

Thus, the question of the existence of the self, in terms of translations, is not the biggest issue. Which, due to Chinese grammar, is more or less inherent to the nature of the task itself, when, as Malcolm and others point out, is less evident in translation to Tibetan or English. This is broader than what Park was discussing however, as far as I can see.
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