A good day for fans of the Suttas

Two great pieces of news for all of you sutta fans out there.

First, the first part the long-awaited translation of the Madhyama Agama has been released. This translation was sponsored by the Numata Foundation, with principle translators Ven Analayo and Rod Bucknell, and also Marcus Bingenheimer. It consists of the first 71 suttas (out of 222). This is a historic event, and constitutes the first ever translation of a major early Buddhist collection from Chinese into English.

Moreover, the translation has been done by a highly qualified team, and I have no doubt it will serve to establish a “canonical” method of translation of early Buddhist texts from Chinese, much as the work of Venerables Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi has with the Pali texts.

As a monk I am not supposed to tell people what to do with their money, but I can drop hints. So here’s a hint: go here and buy this book. Is that subtle enough? We’ve ordered some copies for Bodhinyana, and can’t wait to see them. So far the book is released in hard copy only; but this is one book you will want to have on your shelves. Numata does a nice hardback, clean and well-produced. Typically they release their translations in pdf form a few years after the original publication.

The second great news: Wisdom Publications has launched their new website. This includes selections from Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations. You can access them through here. If you haven’t started with the suttas yet, this is your best introduction.

20 thoughts on “A good day for fans of the Suttas

    • Dear Ven,

      It’s nice to meet you, even if only in cyberspace! I’ve popped over to your blog, and I see you’re working with Ven Analayo on the Samyukta Agama translations. I hope that’s all going well, and we are eagerly looking forward to the next installment! As you probably know, we are publishing the translations on Suttacentral as they appear. We really are living in a watershed time, I believe. From now on, future generations will never be able to see Buddhism solely through the lens of one tradition or other, but must take into account the shared heritage of all Buddhists.

    • Thank you, Bhante. Yes, it is great to “meet” you as well….:) I’ve not only had the chance to become familiar with your good works, efforts, and publications, but also have heard high remarks regarding you from Ven. Dhammadinnā (and others). I hope we have the chance to meet some day in the near future…in person, no less…! I’m especially grateful for your work on Suttacentral.net; I use it very regularly in my studies here in Taiwan. A tremendous resource, and one that gets better and better.

      I’ve been very pleased (and very humbled) to play a very small part in Venerable Analayo’s important work, especially with the SA. I fully concur with your comments about the paradigm shift we are experiencing regarding our understanding Buddhism and our common heritage. In the US, as well as here in Taiwan, too, I’ve been very fortunate to be associated with the disciples, students, and admirers of Master Yinshun (印順導師), who’s contribution to this shifting of paradigms beyond school affiliations cannot be overstated, as I’m sure you know. Buddhism here in Taiwan, too it seems, is experiencing a fairly profound and important evolution in this regard. (Of course, with any paradigm shift comes a the relative resistance as well.) This is a very important time for Buddhism.

      Regarding the SA, I just emailed Ven. Analayo yesterday to inquire about the release of the PDF of the second fascicle, as it was published in DDBC’s journal back in May. It hasn’t been released yet, but we will distribute it far and wide as soon as it is. We, too, are eagerly awaiting subsequent releases. We’ve completed through the third fascicle, and he just emailed me the fourth a few days ago. Slow but steady progress.

      Again, with much mettā and gratitude for your work and all your efforts….

  1. My Dhamma, My Business and where ever is market I can live. Come and walk with me!
    😉

    How ever, may you also gain insight and wisdom for the work. It would be sad if it would be just a perishables. So much suffering behind. Sure we can feed children (kamma) with our suffering if we develop a good marked.

  2. Your hint doesn not seem to be enough of one to actually purchase the book… so you’re safe😉

    There doesn’t seem to be a way to add it to a ‘shopping cart and it’s not listed among the ‘Print Publications.’

    • Oh I see it now, thank you…the button and label blend in with the text. So this new translation differs in the number of suttas from extant English translations from Pali? According to The ‘Pedia, there are more suttas in the Chinese from the Sarvastivadins, correct?

      Is there a common character or characteristic among the suttas that are not in the other lot?

    • Hi N0jO,

      In most cases the suttas that are not held in common in one collection are found in other collections. For example, many of the suttas that are found in the Sarvastivada Madhyama Agama but not in the Pali Majjhima Nikaya are found instead in the Anguttara Nikaya. In this case the difference is jst a m atter of the choices of the redactors.

      In some cases, however, there are suttas that are actually found in only one place. Due to the massive redundancy and repetition in the texts, it is almost always the case that even such “new” suttas merely give variations on teachings well known from other contexts.

      Having said that, there may be some overall differences. In my A History of Mindfulness I suggested that there seems to be a slight shift of emphasis in favor of samatha in the Sarvastivada texts. One of the supports for this idea was that there are a series of suttas in the Sarvastivada Madhyama Agama that present Venerable Anuruddha teaching on the sequence known as “dependent liberation” or “transcendantal dependent origination”. This teaching framework strongly emphasizes the samatha qualities of bliss, tranquility and so on as the cause for liberation. While the same teaching is found in several places in the Pali texts, these particular suttas are absent, and overall it seems that this framework was somewhat de-emphasized in the Pali texts.

      Nevertheless, this difference is no more than a slight shift in emphasis, if that. It may well be possible to come up with examples where the emphasis shifts the other way (although I don’t think this is the case on the whole). As to whether the shift is a result of mere redactor’s choices or an emerging divergence in doctrinal perspectives, I suspect the latter, but it is hard to know for sure.

  3. I’m very grateful for your work Bhante! I do want to offer one tangential comment on Bhikkhu Bodhi’s great translations published by Wisdom, and that is to warn that the digital (Kindle) editions of these have no index or search functions, which makes them essentially useless. One only learns this AFTER buying, and of course the temptation to do so is great since the physical books are such huge tomes. It’s really a shame and highlights the huge gulf between what you are doing with Suttacentral and older approaches. I hope Wisdom gets this fixed.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the heads up. I have heard other complaints about the quality of the Wisdom’s Kindle editions, so you are not alone. They have very much a print-based culture, just stepping gingerly into digital waters.

      In my opinion, having not used Kindles all that much, they are much better suited for a novel or something that you basically just read from cover to cover. Sure, there is search and so on, but jumping around from sutta to sutta is a clumsy experience.

      Anyway, we do hope to learn more about this and one day, produce an best-of-breed edition of SuttaCentral for all your devices! I want to be the first to put the suttas on Google Glasses…

    • Hi there Kevin;

      Just a quick comment about using Kindle Dharma books. I find that I actually use them quite frequently, especially Wisdom’s Teachings of the Buddha series (the Nikaya translations by Bhikkhu Bodhi and Maurice Walshe), as well as a few others. I mostly use them on the computer and an iPad, both of which do have excellent searching capabilities. The Kindle reader, while not as convenient, also has a searching function.

      I will concur with your lament about the lack of a hyperlinked index, as it would be super helpful to have; but the searching capabilities I find to be nearly as helpful.

      With much mettā…..

      –Kongmu

  4. Related good news: mp3s and PDFs of Ven. Analayo’s 2013 online course on suttas 72-86 of the Madhyama Agama are now online: http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/pdf/analayo/lectures.htm

    mp3s and PDFs of previous years’ courses covering suttas 1-41 of the Madhyama Agama are also avaliable there. Perhaps something worth recommending to those dissappointed that your Early Buddhism course will not run next year.

    I listened to both your Early Buddhism Course and Analayo’s Agama courses on mp3 long after they finished. In both cases I’m sure I missed out by not taking part in the real time discussions (listening passively it’s all too easy to let information flow past you without taking it seriously), but I still feel that I’ve learnt a huge amout.

  5. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s translations are clearly of very high scholarly standard, and will clearly be the norm for most people for the next 50 to 100 years at least. Since Buddhism is often based on translations, Ms I B Horner once told me that 50 years would be a good duration for looking into a new translation of such texts. However, I’m mystified that Bodhi does not use the Thai Tipitaka at all, in any of his works, almost as a rule. If had done so, his translations would have been even more valuable. Anyway, a big sadhu to his efforts and may he be blessed with good health and long life, perhaps to work on a new annotated translation of the Digha Nikaya.

    • Hi Piya,

      In a digital era, I wonder whether we need to rethink the “50” years? With a freely available digital text, it is possible to evolve and grow a translation incrementally, with many hands. It is also possible to raise standards of consistency, for example by aiming at a canon that is consistent, not just within a Nikaya, but through the whole canon. It is, or could be possible to personalize translations, for example by replacing technical terms with their Pali equivalents, or by disseminating consciously developed “styles” of translation, much as is done with the Bible (where you have the traditional King James, modern “Plain English”, scholarly “literal” translations, and so on.)

      Regarding the Thai editions, I also don’t know why BB doesn’t use them. Anyway, FYI, there is a new Thai edition just completed by Mahacula. Due to the intercession of our good friend Dheerayupa (Ping Pong), they have agreed to let us host the text on SuttaCentral. It includes both text and translation; apparently this is an all new Thai translation, designed to update and modernize the traditional one. I haven’t seen it yet, but we hope to have it online, perhaps early next year.

    • Bhante,

      S: In a digital era, I wonder whether we need to rethink the “50″ years? With a freely available digital text, it is possible to evolve and grow a translation incrementally, with many hands. It is also possible to raise standards of consistency, for example by aiming at a canon that is consistent, not just within a Nikaya, but through the whole canon.

      P: This is a great idea, if it does happen, knowing how idiosyncratic Buddhist scholars and workers can be. Again maybe not, as things change. This is exactly a problem with Bodhi’s translation. It’s done by one person, so is its strength. In fact, I notice that the Anguttara translation, for example, could have more notes and cross-references, as in his earlier translations. Anyway, we understand that he is working against his own his famous karmic headache. A sutta translation committee does not have headaches (right?).

      On the other hand, we need to remember that there a number of tricky passages, almost like “Buddha codes.” and the Buddha, or the sutta compilers were adept in wordplay and humour. For example, the Eka,muula Sutta (S 1.44) = SD 2.23(1.2) [sorry, not all the diacritics show here]

      Eka,mūlaṁ dvi-r-āvaṭṭaṁ With its one root, two whirlpools,
      timalaṁ pañca,pattharaṁ its leviathan [timala], five rocks,
      samuddaṁ dvā,das’āvaṭṭaṁ the ocean with its twelve currents—
      pātālam atarī isi the sage has crossed over the abyss.

      In the second line, all the translators I have consulted take it as ti,mala (three stains), which is of course correct in Dharma discourse, But here the context is an ocean imagery. In the footnote, I explain why “timala” should be “leviathan” or some sea-monster, as obvious from the translation above.

      S: It is, or could be possible to personalize translations, for example by replacing technical terms with their Pali equivalents, or by disseminating consciously developed “styles” of translation, much as is done with the Bible (where you have the traditional King James, modern “Plain English”, scholarly “literal” translations, and so on.)

      Not many Christians would quote the King James Bible today. In fact there is a revised version of it. Yes, of course, we need different types of translations that are properly done.

      Still, I think we are comparing kangaroos to mousedeer. The Bible is a heavily edited literary texts while the early Buddhist texts are more like instructional and inspirational texts (I’m thinking of the suttas).

      To me, the suttas are like a classical musical score. I often spend some quiet time before teaching, simply reflecting on the text (esp a long one), before teaching them. So we become like performers or conductors performing a classic piece.

      The suttas are also like computer programmes, we need to reflectively listen to the text in full (without any peyyaalaa) to calm our minds, and then perhaps go on to meditate. Like a computer programme, if we miss out any lines or shorten them, the programme would not work.

      Bodhi’s translation necessarily omits peyyalas (as crititicised by L S Cousins on his Middle Length Discourses translation). Anyway, it would be difficult for the ordinary person to read a full sutta text. But if we are to use the suttas as meditative texts, the texts should be laid out in full, at least those that are Buddha Word..

      S: the Thai editions…

      P: Yes, I have been waiting for this for some years now. For some inexplicable reason, the “World Tipitaka” is long out of operation. I know my Pali friends in Singapore and Malaysia, too, will be delighted to know of the MCR Tipitaka, MCR was also my alma mater when I was a monk in Wat Srakes decades back. Happy memories.

      When will this be available, as my translation work is almost a daily exercise. I’m now completing SD vol 43 (theme: Healing).

      With metta and mudita,.

      Piya

      Piya

  6. Just got my copy thanks for the heads up bhante! I urge everyone to get the hard back copy it is excellent quality the paper is as thick as Walshes Digha translation and the binding is smith sewn. cant wait to delve into it. just read the Chinese version of the Kalama sutta im thinking the Pali version is more accurate. The Buddha encouraging blind faith? I dont think so.

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