Principles and guidelines
that early scribes adopted to translate ideas brought to China by Buddhist
monks from around 200AD have been compiled for posterity in a research
project at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
were made orally and then recorded, or direct from Sanskrit, and written
in ancient Chinese script.
translation theories are important for translation scholars, said
Principal Investigator Dr Chi-yu Chu. Our approach is not from the
theological, ideological, or philosophical perspectives but merely from
how thoughts were translated.
work which covers the selection, compilation, commentary and annotation
of translated text is bound in a 150-page book.
text was succinct, he said, possible because it was recorded on bamboo
sticks. It was also literal, sometimes to the point of unintelligibility
at first glance.
reference to the Buddhas 1,250 bhikkhus (disciples) was recorded
as half thirteen bhikkhus hundred. Said Dr Chu: This
was quite similar to the style of Roman numerals as is iv meaning
was that translation was a collaborative effort with Buddhist monks who
came from India and Central Asia.
Chinese language of the Western monks was not very good, maybe they could
speak a few simple sentences. The Chinese too had little knowledge of
Buddhism and mostly did not speak the foreign language, said Dr
the 900 year history of Buddhist translation, quality improved and there
was an attempt to make the translated text sound more like Chinese.
were no Chinese equivalents for many of the Buddhist ideas, translators
began expressing Buddhist beliefs in native Daoist concepts which everyone
why Chinese Buddhism is different from Indian Buddhism today can be traced
back to this root cause in the first translations, said Dr Chu.
of terms sometimes had interesting results. For example, Parthamasiris
from Persia, the earliest recorded translator of Buddhism attempted to
render the sound and the sense of anapana, a breathing exercise
practised to enter a serene contemplative state of the mind.
Said Dr Chu:
He started with the transliteration, anban, but that was
not enough because in Chinese it doesnt mean anything. So he added
an explanation shouyi, a Daoist concept.
shouyi too refers to a breathing exercise, it also means guarding
the mind or purifying the brain.
in the Buddhist culture, anapana means guarding the mind against
thought. In other words, not thinking anything. So the basic concepts
are totally different, said Dr Chu. Early translators also had a
basic discrepancy in their translation strategy, he added.
word level, they domesticated the translations as in shouyi but
at the sentence level they foreignised the Chinese version by attempting
to retain the original sentence structure, often against rules of Chinese
did this for fear of destroying the sacredness of the Buddhist ideas.
Buddhist translations were completed by bureaux sometimes
with thousands of scribes.
In the introductions
to Buddhist text, ancient monks often recorded their principles and guidelines
for translation from which Dr Chu drew his research.
He said: One
of the fundamental problems faced by early Chinese Buddhist translators
was how to express new phenomena in their language. Inevitably, new words
and new Chinese characters were created, adding to ancient Chinese text.
Dr Chi-yu Chu : email@example.com
|Dr Chu: produced