How Buddhism acquired a Soul on the Way to China

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How Buddhism acquired a Soul on the Way to China

Postby Sherlock » Sat Nov 17, 2012 6:44 pm

There was some discussion of this book a few months ago.

Some took umbrage to the mutsuk's saying that Chinese failed to convey the meaning of dharma; as far as I have read though, (two readings before I had to return it to the library) Park doesn't actually say this. He does critique one notable case of heavy interpolation in an early translation of the Ambattha Sutta, where caste issues which were relevant to Indian culture were replaced with some topics that were more relevant to Chinese society. However, he notes that this was not typical and other interpolations are usually quite minor, and decreased over the different periods of translation.

On the central topic of the book, how Buddhism acquired a "soul", he also notes that while there were issues in the earliest period of translations because the Chinese originally never had a concept of a permanent self to refute in the first place, the later translators did emphasize the central doctrine of anatman. However, already in Indian Buddhism at the time of the translations (and the Chinese translated both sravakayana and mahayana texts simultaneously), the tathagatagarbha already presented a concept that is difficult to distinguish from the Upanishadic Atman.

After knowledge of Sanskrit declined, based on the available translations as well as exchange with Daoist thought, which itself evolved over time to have its own of ideas consciousness, a 道(dao) that basically bears the characteristics of sat, cit and ananda which form the Upanishadic definition of atman emerged in Chinese Buddhism. He notes that Chan took this to its culmination, where dao is the "nature of mind", :rolling: , sounds familiar?

In the conclusion, he certainly acknowledges that Chinese Buddhism has departed very much from early Buddhism, but he ends off in a fairly positive tone.

There are certain limitations of the Chinese translations certainly, such as the whole strict syllabic structure, lack of a formalized descriptive grammar which developed among inflected languages as well as strong reliance on cultural context, but I think mutsuk overstated her some of her claims.

If one's goal is to reconstruct early Buddhism, then the Chinese texts are still invaluable for comparative study, and as for practice, well, the Mahayana sutras on their own already diverge so much from the Sravakayana texts, so I think it is ultimately a personal issue. Tibetans also came up with their own deviations over the centuries and some teachers also teach things that are very hard to distinguish from atman. If we want to have a universal Buddhist dialogue we should certainly base it on the Sravakayana texts, but if the main tradition you follow has its own deviations from the shared canon (as all existing traditions do), then there is no point criticizing other traditions based on that.

I'm not saying anything new here of course, as Geoff and Malcolm have put it across in different ways before. I hope you don't take any offence either mutsuk, thank you very much for this recommendation, I will try to buy a copy. :bow:

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Re: How Buddhism acquired a Soul on the Way to China

Postby Greg » Sun Mar 10, 2013 8:32 pm

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Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2013 7:19 am

Re: How Buddhism acquired a Soul on the Way to China

Postby tingdzin » Fri Apr 05, 2013 3:32 am

Yes, the book was recommended to me on this forum, and I agree with the recommendation.

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