Saturday, November 29, 2014


At our Lotus Sutra class today we were discussing the huge problems associated with the translation of this sutra. We know it was originally written in several versions in Sanskrit, little of which is available to us today. We know it was translated into Chinese over 5 centuries after the Buddha’s passing. This presents several challenges. Sanskrit is a word-based language, grammatically similar to the Romance languages, like Latin, French and Spanish. Chinese relies on less precise ideograms or symbolic images. It is more related to Japanese, Korean and other ideogram languages. We also know that the Chinese translators didn’t approach the task as we would. There concern seems to be to capture the teaching spirit rather than a word-for-word approach we use in the modern West.  Now, it has been translated from that into several generations of English. This means going back from an ideogram language to a word-based language, and where the language references are probably a millennium apart. We have to keep a very flexible and open mind when we study sutra like this. It was never intended to be read as “the word of God”, so we have to have to allow for a range of meanings and form a learning relationship with it, rather than trying to decipher its precise meaning.

By the way, we have really enjoyed the lecture series Zoketsu Norman Fischer did on the Lotus. Its in 5 parts here:

Yours in the Dharma,                          
Innen, doshu
om namo amida butsu     



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