English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Discuss and learn about the traditional Mahayana scriptures, without assuming that any one school ‘owns’ the only correct interpretation.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Queequeg wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 6:51 pm
sphairos wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 4:58 pm
Queequeg wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 1:41 pm They're ancient texts. That's how they were written. I'm afraid when you read ancient literature, you have to accept what they are.

I believe you want the cliff notes version.

Here it is -

A lot of people and various beings gathered on Vulture Peak with the Buddha. The Buddha told all the arhats that everything he taught them about arhats and nirvana wasn't the whole story and that they're all bodhisattva destined for Buddhahood. Then a giant tower rises up out of the Earth into the sky and inside is a mummy Buddha who invites Shakyamuni to sit with him. Then trillions of Buddhas come from all over the universe. The Buddha levitates everyone into space and then says, I'm going to tell you a secret. My life span is actually immeasurable and all this stuff I've been teaching you about enlightenment is not the whole story. I've been your teacher for immeasurable eons. And all these Buddhas who gathered her are my emanations. We all tell you stories to get you to unwind yourself. They're not literally true. (Ahem.) All the Buddhas say, it's true. Then Shakyamuni says, Now who will accept this teaching and pass it down? The crowd says I will I will. And he says, ok, it's yours. Now everyone can go home. The end.

It's of course much more profound than that but you have to wrestle with the text to get that benefit.

In giving you that synopsis, I made a lot of choices to leave out details. Translators dk the same, and if someone were to edit the text for modern attention spans, theyd inevitably be making choices about what the reader ought to get. So you'd actually be getting their take. As in a game of telephone, the farther from the source more likely you will get a distorted message.

Do your best to read the text. Accept this was written for a different audience. You might come to appreciate it for what it is.
This was fire :twothumbsup: :bow:
Synopsis of one of my favorite sutras - The Vimalakirtinirdesa

Vimalakirti was a cool dude. Women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. He was rich and powerful, but he was also a genuinely nice guy. He was like Keanu Reeves, except a business man. Every deal he made was win-win and prosperity rained down wherever he went. He hung around at all the hippest spots, talked to the coolest people, danced and sung like an angel, did anything and everything he wanted with unmatched style and skill. He could walk through a pig sty and come out spotless and smelling like a flower.

One day, he got sick. The Buddha really like Vimalakirti and asked all his bodhisattva and arhat attendants to go check on him. They all had an excuse because he had a way of exposing their deep hidden conceits and they didn't want to get punked. Finally, Shakyamuni instructs Manjusri, the king of wisdom, to go. Reluctantly he agrees, and everyone gleefully followed along to see how this goes down.

Then the mushrooms kick in.

Millions upon millions of beings, arrive at Vimalakirti's shoe box size bedroom, distressing Shariputra. Wringing his hands he worries, "How can we all fit in that room?" "Oh, silly Shariputra, you have too many hangups. Of course we can all fit." and they do. Inside, each person is offered a chair as tall as the distance to the moon. Again Shariputra is distressed, "I can't possibly sit up there!" Again, "Silly Shariputra, you have too many hang ups." At some point, beautiful flower offerings are made to Vimalakirti and Shariputra freaks out because he has flowers stuck to his robes, and such dainty beauty is not becoming for an Arhat. The goddess who lives in the room starts teasing him and he lets his misogyny slip, denying her ability to attain bodhi. In a flash, Shariputra is transformed into a woman, and the goddess asks him, "So are you no longer an arhat?" Shariputra freaks out that he had become a woman and demands to be turned back. Again, Shariputra is told, "Dude, you have way too many hangups. You need to chill out. You know, get with sunyata."

After the fun with Shariputra, the main event starts, with Manjushri conversing with Vimalakirti about non-duality. Vimalakirti leaves Manjusri stumped and speechless. Then Vimalakirti delivers an eloquent sermon on non-duality, buddhas, and then ends with a poignant silence. The Buddha nods his approval. The teaching is transmitted. The end.

___

Its sometimes hard to discern, but there's quite a lot of hollywood drama and comedy in those old Mahayana texts. Back when there was no TV, the bards would make these stories dance out of the flames of a camp fire. This stuff was must watch TV.
I treat all those beginnings of texts naming 100’s of Bodhisattvas etc. like a movie, visualizing them according to description or imagination depending on the text. I go epic.

I think part of the problem is that modern people are not used to reading in this way, and have expectations of sutras that really are based on the kind of reading they are used to, which is either pure-entertainment (some of which can be worked with here, really) or they are just in information gathering or philosophy mode, neither of which totally fit.
Meditate upon Bodhicitta when afflicted by disease

Meditate upon Bodhicitta when sad

Meditate upon Bodhicitta when suffering occurs

Meditate upon Bodhicitta when you are scared

-Khunu Lama
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Queequeg
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Queequeg »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 6:59 pm I treat all those beginnings of texts naming 100’s of Bodhisattvas etc. like a movie, visualizing them according to description or imagination depending on the text. I go epic.

I think part of the problem is that modern people are not used to reading in this way, and have expectations of sutras that really are based on the kind of reading they are used to, which is either pure-entertainment (some of which can be worked with here, really) or they are just in information gathering or philosophy mode, neither of which totally fit.
Me, too. I have distinct memories of instances where the story literally jumps out of the book at me - like those kids books that you open with 3D dioramas emerging out of the pages. I was heartened to hear my son the other day tell me he couldn't put his kindle down because he was one of the villagers in the story. I thought - "The hook of reading GOT HIM!"

Along the lines of your observation, I suggest to people when they read Sutras and Suttas to just let the stories take them away as though its literature for entertainment purposes. Don't worry if you're getting everything, just follow the story. You can go back and mine for details later, but first get a sense of the context of the specific teachings and maybe catch a glimpse of how they relate to real life by letting the stories come to life. And enjoy the literature - the people who composed the sutras were in many instances brilliant story tellers.

Someone a while back on these boards I recall relating the composition of Mahayana sutras to a golden age of Indian storytelling. I'm not knowledgeable about that but it would be interesting to learn more about that.
There is no suffering to be severed. Ignorance and klesas are indivisible from bodhi. There is no cause of suffering to be abandoned. Since extremes and the false are the Middle and genuine, there is no path to be practiced. Samsara is nirvana. No severance achieved. No suffering nor its cause. No path, no end. There is no transcendent realm; there is only the one true aspect. There is nothing separate from the true aspect.
-Guanding, Perfect and Sudden Contemplation,
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Queequeg »

One thing about the repetitive recounting of attendees... one detail, perhaps, is to recall that these texts are actually meant to be read out loud. Not everyone was literate, and to have a copy of these texts meant someone had to copy it by hand. So, there might only be one copy for everyone to use. The way they are shared, then, was to have them read.

There is a certain hypnotic effect in those long lists. I remember an instructor reading one of those long repetitive chapters in the Avatamsaka, droning for 30 minutes or more, and he still wasn't finished, just to give us a sense of the experience of listening to these kinds of texts. We need to imagine, when these texts were composed, people had nowhere to go, nothing to do, and this was entertainment.
There is no suffering to be severed. Ignorance and klesas are indivisible from bodhi. There is no cause of suffering to be abandoned. Since extremes and the false are the Middle and genuine, there is no path to be practiced. Samsara is nirvana. No severance achieved. No suffering nor its cause. No path, no end. There is no transcendent realm; there is only the one true aspect. There is nothing separate from the true aspect.
-Guanding, Perfect and Sudden Contemplation,
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Kim O'Hara
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Queequeg wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 8:10 pm ... Not everyone was literate ...
You could put that much more strongly: Hardly anyone was literate.

That was true all round the world, right up until the nineteenth century. Literacy was generally limited to the clergy, the aristocracy and (where it existed) the merchant class.
And books (manuscripts, etc) were so expensive that those groups were the only people who could afford them - and even they couldn't afford many.

:coffee:
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Zhen Li »

seeker_of_dharma wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 5:29 pm
sphairos wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 4:50 pm
seeker_of_dharma wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 4:13 pm

What? I actually LOVE studying, especially metaphysics and philosophy (that's why my profile picture is Nagarjuna), I just hate reading weird and boring texts!! It reminds me too much of the Bible like I said (Leviticus and Numbers ahhhhhhh)!!
You contradict yourself. Immanuel Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft is an extremely boring and weird text, nevertheless as students of philosophy we must carefully study and analyse this text. Another long, weird and boring text is Hegel's The phenomenology of spirit. Very difficult to read, especially in original. But a learner of philosophy must read and analyse it.
How am I contradicting myself? I'm just saying that I want sutras to be read more like modern fiction rather than a hard text
You are being a drama queen. It's not a big deal to recognise that this is a historical document not written for modern readers.

Have some patience, sit down for a few hours, and read it like an adult. Use a dictionary and an encyclopedia of Buddhism for words you don't know. Learn and accumulate knowledge.

If you want a collection of modernised/adapted sūtras, the collection "Buddha-Dharma: The Way to Enlightenment" will help.

In any case, Dharma requires effort. If, on the other hand, you do not have the vigorous effort required for the Bodhisattva path, then, as Nagarjuna explains in his commentary on the Ten Stages Sūtra, the Buddhas have provided the method of entrusting to the Buddhas such as Amitābha Buddha. Entrust in a Buddha, recite his name, and aspire to be born in his Pure Land.
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Genjo Conan »

sphairos wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 1:48 pm
For example, in Chan/Zen they have a different attitude towards reading sūtras.
We read and chant sutras in Zen.
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by tingdzin »

There are also those who prefer "To kill myself, or not. that's the decision, I guess," etc. Each to his own.
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

seeker_of_dharma wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 12:27 pm I don't want to cause myself unnecessary pain when studying the sutras.
If you can’t figure out how to navigate on your own whatever it is that you are reading (not just Buddhist texts), then how can you possibly expect anyone else in the world who doesn’t know what your needs are to meet those needs?
In Asia there are some comic book (manga) versions of some of the sutras. If there are not any in English, then it definitely sounds like a worthwhile project.
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Grigoris »

seeker_of_dharma wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 4:13 pm
sphairos wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 1:48 pm Seems like you don't like studying, in which case (Mahāyāna) Buddhism might not be a good choice for you. At least not through the classical sūtras.

For example, in Chan/Zen they have a different attitude towards reading sūtras.
What? I actually LOVE studying, especially metaphysics and philosophy (that's why my profile picture is Nagarjuna), I just hate reading weird and boring texts!! It reminds me too much of the Bible like I said (Leviticus and Numbers ahhhhhhh)!!
Well, you could just watch the movie instead. Apaprently there is remake which hass done in the vein of "sexy action thriller with fast cars".
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"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
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Re: English translation collection of basic sutras that has had its language adapted for modern readers

Post by Soma999 »

All those names are not useless. They carry blessings.

All those complaints belongs to you. You can choose to listen to them, or you can use your reactions as a way to discipline your mind and work through them.

And you can also read little by little, or read something else.

Those sutras produce an alchemy, but you have to be willing to take the medicine for it to work.
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