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This blog is devoted to the propagation of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, a 750-year-old Buddhist tradition.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

How to Read the Pure Land Sutras: Translation (Part 2)

Shinran Shonin recognized three specific sutras on the Pure Land as primary: these are The Larger Pure Land Sutra, the Contemplation Sutra, and the Smaller Sutra (or Amida Sutra). Several different English translations exist of these sutras. These sutras are physically placed within the Shinshu onaijin, or alter space, in the form of scrolls with text in the classical Japanese format. They become part of the ritual element during a Shin service, although these are rarely chanted in American temples (with exception of the Amida Sutra for memorial services, and the others only for certain services in Japan.

These three sutras have also been translated by both Japanese and American Shin ministers and priests. Other translations may be authored by scholars unaffiliated with the Jodo Shinshu. The early Buddhist scholar Max Mueller made a translation which was published in the "Sacred Books of the East" series and is available in reprint. Dr. Luis O. Gomez also made a translation of the Sanskrit and Chinese Larger Sutra, published as The Land of Bliss. There are also other translations by scholars affiliated with other Buddhist or Pure Land traditions like the Buddha's Light Publishing Amitabha Sutra Chinese/English edition, which is affiliated with the Fo Guang Shan school and available at their temples at no cost.

For those wishing to study these sutras, I would recommend that the student study all the sutras one can to further their understanding of Buddhist sacred texts, although with an eye to understanding how the translations may differ due to the author's intent. Not all of these translations will necessarily translate the meaning of the sutra as we would understand in the Shin tradition. A translation made by Shinshu scholars, such as Hisao Inagaki or others, will use the accepted Chinese text (translated by Samghavarman) as contained in the Taisho Tripitaka, and the translation will be directed at the Shinshu audience with the objective of making the sutra understandable to Shin followers or those interested in Shin Buddhism.

Other translators, like Mueller and Gomez, aimed to make their translations available to a wider audience, not necessarily only for the Shinshu, or Buddhist, follower, but also for other scholars. Therefore the translators may place different emphasis on some passages, or use different English words for certain concepts, such as saying the Name of Amida. For a Shin follower, reading a text that is translated with the intent of making the Vow of Amida clear and comprehensible is the primary importance. This is not to claim other translations are incorrect, but only that the intent of translation is not directed at the Shinshu Sangha audience. As with any translation of a religious text, it is also left to the individual reader to accept that translation as his or her one for devotional use, similar to how a Christian may prefer a KJV over an NIV translated Bible.

Next, will be a post on how one should read a sutra with the goal of understanding the overall meaning for the Shin follower.

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