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A Sharing on the Methodological Approach to Textual Translation in Buddhism 

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After reading Collett Cox’s chapter on many initial problems in methodological approach to Buddhist textual translation, I have recognized that I had been in her ‘position’ of thought very often when I started to learn and practice Buddhism, especially for getting on a further step of academic studies with ‘original’ textual studies and their various works of translation. So, there are many questions coming in mind that “What exactly is a translation?”, “How stable are those sources of translation?”, “How precise are those translations?”, “What should we do our best to fill this ‘sensitive’ gap between the ‘original’ sources and their translations?”… Dealing with those questions is not a piece of cake, is it?  

As Buddhist monks in Mahāyāna tradition originally from Chinese Buddhism, we have approached many Buddhist texts in Classical Chinese which were translated from some Middle Indian languages. We have also found some different translations amongst those famous translators such as Kumārajāva, Xuanzang, Dao’an, … This has led us to both manners of curiosity and doubt on the preciseness of those different translations and the authenticity of their ‘original’ sources. Why is there some much difference? Were those translation worked in different methods of translation? Or were there of some different versions of the ‘original’ sources? There are many other related questions coming in our mind without any satisfactory answers. That is why on one hand we have to work a lot on the various translations to understand their ‘beyond word’ meaning to support our studies and practices. On another hand, we try our best to approach the ‘original’ sources in some languages of Middle Indian time. However, as what we have known that most of the ‘original’ texts were lost or just in broken pieces. So, how could we find the best answers for those questions above?  

Now, getting on further Buddhist studies with some wishes to ‘re-take’ some translations from the remaining ‘original’ sources, those matters in the methodological approach to translation are brought up again, especially for some ‘sensitive’ issues on the historical sites in related with the contextual perspectives as what Collett Cox has shared in her chapter. This encourages us to make more efforts on our studies from the beginning as ‘novice’ translators and take more experiences to be able to become ‘master’ translators in the future. Specially, it requires us to be ‘super’ careful in each step of our translation work and to try as our best to acquire much knowledge in both Buddhist teachings and their related historical and contextual perspectives. Of course, this task is also not easy at all but it is what we should do for the ‘best’ of our translation. Finally, do not forget that there is one ‘supreme’ tool to support us on this ‘great’ task of Buddhist studies and translation. It is our own ‘actual’ practices. The more we study and reflect Buddhist teachings into our ‘actual’ practices, the more we could approach to that kind of ‘beyond word’ translation.  

Reference source: 

Cox, Collett. “Translation in Search of a Text: The Craving for Stability.” In Translating Buddhism: Historical and Contextual Perspectives, 19–47. New York: State University of New York Press, 2021. 

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