Yinshun’s Samyukta Agama & New Translations Uploaded

This week I implemented Yinshun’s divisions of the Samyukta Agama, which divided the sutra collection into 51 groups (samyuktas) that are similar to the thematic groups in the Pali Samyutta Nikaya.

English translations of the first four sutras from the Aggregates Group have also been added, which define the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, intention, and consciousness as impermanent, painful, empty, and not self.

Over the next couple weeks I’ll be adding several more sutras from the Aggregates group and the Noble Path group of the Samyuka Agama. Once all the sutras that are currently drafted are edited and published, I’ll be switching to translating the Ekottarika Agama‘s Introduction.

New Dharma Pearls Website Is Live

A quick note for those checking in for updates on my translation projects: I’ve created a website at Github Pages to serve as the central repository for my English translations. Going forwards, the translations that have been published here at WordPress will be moved over to the new website and removed from the blog. However, I’ll continue blogging news, updates, and occasional essays. I’ll also provide links to my translations on my other website in the menu and post announcements here when new translations are released.

The new website will make it possible add more advanced features like side-by-side comparisons of the Chinese and English, tables of correspondence to Pali texts, and more. Using Github’s Jekyll and a little IT know-how, I’ll be adding new features gradually as I add translations.

The only new translation added with the initial launch of the Github site is a sutra from the Dirgha Agama, No. 29 titled Lohitya (parallel to Pali Digha Nikaya 12: Lohicca). The seven Madhyama Agama sutras have been moved, and I’ll be moving the Samyukta Agama sutras over to the new site in the next week or two.

 

T212. Producing Light: (C1:3) The Four Brahmins

Four brahmins want to be born in heaven, but the Buddha find a way to liberate them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

3. The Four Brahmins

Once, there were four brahmins who had attained the supernormal powers. They could fly and travel with the miraculous ability of non-obstruction. These four brahmins said to each other: “There are people who give fine meals to the mendicant Gautama. They readily attain birth as gods and aren’t estranged from their halls of merit. Those who hear his teaching enter the door of liberation. Today, we aim for and covet the merits of heaven. We don’t want liberation, so hearing his teaching isn’t necessary.”

These four men then each took four portions of sweet rock honey, and one of them went to the Tathāgata first to present it to the Bhagavān. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he addressed that brahmin, reciting this line of verse:

“What’s formed is impermanent.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the second man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. The Tathāgata again spoke this line of verse:

“It’s the law of arising and fading away.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the third man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accepted it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“Men are born and quickly die.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands.

Next, the fourth man went to the Tathāgata and offered up his rock honey. Once the Tathāgata had accept it, he again spoke a line of verse:

“The cessation of this is happiness.”

After the brahmin heard it, he covered his ears with his hands, and they each took their leave. The Tathāgata had examined their minds, intent, and thoughts, and he knew that they could attain liberation. So, he employed a device, an obscure form that wasn’t obvious.

The four men gathered somewhere and discussed it with each other: “Although we gave alms to the mendicant Gautama, our aim wasn’t decided. What words did the mendicant Gautama teach us?”

They asked the first one, “When you presented your rock honey, did you get some words, or did you not hear the teaching?”

He responded, “I heard a single line of doctrine from the Tathāgata. ‘What’s formed is impermanent.’ After I heard this doctrine, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the second man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man also related what happened, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘It is the law of arising and fading away.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the third man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man again related what happened. “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘Men are born and quickly die.’ After I heard this, I covered my ears with my hands and didn’t accept it.”

Next, they asked the fourth man, “What words did you get when you went to the Tathāgata?”

That man responded, “I went to the Tathāgata and offered up the rock honey. While I was with the Tathāgata, he spoke this verse: ‘The cessation of this is happiness.’”
After the four men had recited these lines, their minds were opened, and they understood his intent, attaining the fruit of non-returners.

At that time, the four men knew they each had realized that fruit and went back, reproaching themselves. They went to the Tathāgata, prostrated their heads to his feet, and then stood to one side. After a moment, they retreated to sit and said to the Bhagavān, “Tathāgata, please permit us to be on the path and attain what’s next for a mendicant.”

The Bhagavān told them, “Welcome, monks. You’ve chosen to cultivate the religious practice.”

At that time, these four men’s hair fell from their heads by itself, and their bodies were miraculously clothed in reddish brown robes. They immediately attained the fruit of arhats there in the presence of the Buddha.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (August 12, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:2) Impermanence

In story 2 of Chapter 1, the Buddha tells the monks that a group of colorfully dressed youths look just like the gods. Beings who hear this decide to be born in heaven or among humans and purse nirvana later. He speaks the first verse on impermanence to dissuade them.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(2) Impermanence

The Bhagavān then traveled to the great meeting hall at Markaṭahrada (Monkey Lake) near Vaiśālī.

At that time, there were many youths of Vaiśālī assembled there, and they each had this thought, “We ought to go together as a group to question the Bhagavān and pay homage to him.” Some of those youths had chariots with blue horses and blue coverings, and they were wearing blue. Others had chariots that were blue, yellow, red, and white, and they wore all white. Drummers played as they followed in front and behind the chariots as they went to the Bhagavān.

The Bhagavān then addressed the monks, “All of you should know, if some of you haven’t seen the gods sight-seeing in gardens and ponds, you should look now at these youths. The Dharma clothes they wear and the chariots they ride are no different than those gods. The reason for that is there’s no difference between the clothing of gods and their own.”

At that moment, many hundreds of thousands of sentient beings were seated, and they each thought, “We ought to make a solemn pledge: After we are born in the heavens or among humans, we’ll always wear this Dharma clothing and never be separated from it. In a future era, a buddha will arise, and then we’ll hear the profound teaching. We’ll be forever separated from suffering and enter the realm of nirvāṇa.”

The Tathāgata knew this thought that the sentient beings were thinking to seek birth in the three existences and not part with suffering. He then spoke this verse with the great assembly:

  • “What’s formed is impermanent;
  • It’s something that’s worn away.
  • Not being dependable,
  • It changes and doesn’t stay.”

At the time, the sentient beings who heard this single verse were indescribable hundreds of thousands of sentient beings. Here in the present, they ended their contaminants, were mentally freed, and attained the fruit of the path.

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

T212. Producing Light: (C1:1) Maitreya

In the opening story of Chu Fonian’s “Producing Light,” one of two Chinese Udana collections, the Buddha describes the future era when Maitreya will be born.

Chapter 1: Impermanence

(1) Maitreya

Once, the Buddha was in Vārāṇasī.

The Buddha addressed the monks, “In a future era, sentient beings will live for 84,000 years. In that time, those sentient beings with a life span of 84,000 years here in Jambudvīpa will dwell together in a single place. The rice and grain they harvest will be abundant and the people will flourish. It will be common to hear the sounds of chickens crowing and dogs barking.”

The Buddha also told the monks, “You should know that the women of those people will go out to marry at the age of 500. In that time, there will be a king named Śaṅkha who’ll be followed by the seven treasures. He will rule with the Dharma and without any crookedness.

“He will have a treasure chariot that flies by itself a thousand cubits high and sixteen cubits wide. It’ll be built and designed with many precious jewel strings. When it’s in a large assembly, the people will be generous without reservation and establish virtues to become myriad leaders. Accompanied by śramaṇas, brāhmaṇas, and awakened people, he will travel great distances. Wherever they stop to rest or pass through, they’ll be provided with whatever they require without any miserliness.

“In that time when sentient beings will live for 84,000 years, there will be a Tathāgata who’ll appear in the world named Maitreya. He will be an Arhat, Completely Awakened One, Accomplished in Wisdom and Action, Well Gone, Understander of the World, an Unsurpassed Man, a Dharma Trainer, and Teacher of Devas and Humans. He’ll be called the Buddha and Bhagavān. Just like myself today, he will achieve the unsurpassed, correct, and perfect awakening and perfect the ten epithets.

“He will always lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks, just as I today lead and protect numberless hundreds of thousands of monks. Accompanied by these great assemblies, he will widely teach the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which will be the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. It’ll be like myself today being accompanied by these great assemblies and widely teaching the profound Dharma that’s good in the beginning, middle, and end, has a meaning that’s sublime, and which is the perfect and pure cultivation of the religious practice. I widely teach like Maitreya will when he comes down to be born.

“As the buddhas teach, there is a sūtra named ‘The Path of Six Sensory Contacts.’ Suppose there are sentient beings who are born around him. If their eyes see forms, everything they see will be pleasant forms and not detestable forms. They’ll see what’s lovely and not what is unlovely. They’ll see what’s respectable and not what’s disrespectful. They’ll see what’s memorable and not what’s not memorable. They’ll see beautiful forms and not see forms that aren’t beautiful.

“The sentient beings that have ears to hear sounds, noses to smell odors, tongues to taste flavors, bodies to perceive what’s fine and smooth, and minds to know phenomena will be likewise, even Īśvara.”

Translated to Chinese by Śramaṇa Chu Fonian
Translated to English by Charles D. Patton, II

First Edition (July 29, 2019)

Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts (Conze)

511SBDJ6EXL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_Edward Conze spent his academic career studying and translating the Sanskrit Perfection of Wisdom literature, and his work continues to be the standard for the English-speaking audience. Paired with his other major work (The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom), Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts serves as a broad survey of these texts in English.

This book begins with the smallest of the multi-chapter Perfection of Wisdom texts, the Questions of Suvikrāntavikrāmin, and continues with translations of the Teaching of Mañjuśrī, an excerpt from the Questions of Nāgaśrī, the Diamond and Heart sutras, and many other lesser known texts. Most of the translations represent the Sanskrit versions. Conze also worked with Lewis Lancaster and R. Robinson to include the Nāgaśrī and Humane King sutras from Chinese sources in the collection.

At this point, this book is the best reference work available for reading and comparing these smaller texts. Conze did much of the foundational scholarship to bring these texts to light in the English world, and his translations remain in print thanks to that. My own ability to understand them (to the extent they can be understood) is owed largely to Conze’s translations, which have been available since the 1970s.

Outer Freedom and Inner Bondage

In America and much of the West, the common understanding of the word “freedom” is something I might call “outer” freedom: Freedom from outside control and persecution, especially from government or religious institutions. The religious wars of post-Catholic Europe and the immorality of the medieval aristocracy shaped the concepts of rights and democracy in England, France, and the United States. When we talk about freedom, it’s traditionally a narrow subject that centers around government abuses and the legal system designed to bridle them.

That concept has grown to include other forms of persecution or control, perceived and real, such as social pressures and obligations. Traditional religious institutions have atrophied in western societies, partly because the faiths they advocate are a form of social control. For many people, the word “religion” is a now a pejorative, the opposite of which is “spirituality” or perhaps “philosophy.” The “better” words describe individual activities that a person can freely explore; the “worse” words describe communal values and social expectations. (I put these common judgements in scare quotes because they can be good or bad.)

Poverty continues to be a major problem, but the emphasis on individualism has led to its exacerbation. Government policies have shifted steadily away from social goods and towards the maximization of individual and corporate wealth. Of course, that means wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer people in practice because those already wealthy (people and corporations) can leverage the power of that wealth to an even greater extent to protect and expand their sources of income. The turn away from generosity this financial individualism produces causes the inequality to grow further. Individual people and corporations with more wealth than they could possibly use or need continue to amass more of it.

Many other forms of destructive ideology have rushed into the vacuum left by the collapse of communal values. Political ideologies, for example, appear very much like religious faiths, and they even form the basis of organizations that ostensibly are political parties but talk and behave like churches run by religious zealots. Propaganda weaves mythologies to explain events and motives, creating distorted world views designed to incite destructive passions and reinforce loyalties. In recent years, in America’s two-party system, we’ve begun to see the disintegration of the political system because these trends amplify irrationality and conflict.

I would argue that these disheartening social trends result from a kind of inner bondage. The human spirit been going fallow; like a plot of land, it naturally grows weeds rather than grains and fruit. Our much sought-after outer freedoms enable bad behavior and social disorder because people are controlled by their baser passions when left undeveloped. We depend on each other whether we think we do or not.

When human civilizations first developed in the ancient world, they realized the necessity of cultivating the human spirit to keep their civilizations stable from one generation to the next. They learned these lessons after experiencing bloody periods of civil and feudal warfare. Emerging from those disorders, they found ways to solve a central paradox of human society: For society to be free of barbarism, individuals must free themselves of their inner demons, which is accomplished through personal cultivation, education, and communal values.

In Buddhism, these inner demons are called bonds because they limit a person’s inner freedom by determining his thoughts, feelings, and actions in reactive and self-afflicting ways. The Buddha grouped these bonds into three basic categories: Desire, hate, and delusion.

The bonds of desire create emotional obsessions to obtain things we find attractive or pleasurable. When it becomes extreme, it causes us to lose control of our lives, such as the case with addictions and greed. The bonds of hate cause anger, discrimination, and violence. The bonds of delusion cause people to become confused about what is real and what is moral. All three of these bonds exist in the human mind because of a fundamental ignorance that creates this system of control: A Buddhist practitioner works to be free of this root ignorance and take control of their destiny.

If Western civilization is to halt the on-going devolution, I think it will need to return to these ancient lessons like those taught by the Buddha, Confucius, and the other great thinkers who helped to stabilize their civilizations in times of turmoil. With the global population and environmental crisis unfolding, we have a responsibility that goes far beyond each individual country or person.

An Introduction to the Middle-Length Agama

The Middle-Length Agama (MA) is Taisho No. 26, which spans 60 fascicles and 388 pages of the Taisho Daizokyo, Vol. 1. To put this in perspective, a page of Taisho prose typically translates to 1,500 words of English, so a complete translation of MA will probably be 600,000-700,000 words in length. In addition to this complete translation, there are over 70 individual translations of sutras found in MA that still survive as Taisho Nos. 27-98.

History of Chinese Translations

The history of the Chinese translation of MA is well documented in BDK English Tripiṭaka Series’s volume 1, which was published in 2013. It appears that MA, as it survives today, was actually the second complete translation to Chinese. The first was a collaboration between an Indian bhiksu named Dharmanandin and Zhu Fonian in the 384-5 CE. A second translation was produced by a team headed by Gautama Samghadeva only a decade later in 397-8 CE. Chinese records suggest both translations existed for several centuries before the first was lost.

As late as the 4th c. CE, Indian Buddhist texts were still preserved in memory rather than in writing, and we see direct evidence of this in the Chinese descriptions of translation teams. Typically, a bhiksu who had a text memorized recited it in the original language, a bilingual bhiksu then provided a Chinese translation verbally, and scribes wrote down the translation. Thus, the lingual and writing skills were typically divided between two or more people, which makes sense given the difficulty involved. Literacy in Chinese, for example, was a skill separate from the spoken language given that writing was  ideographic rather than phonetic.

Comparing the Agama to the Nikaya

The Middle-Length Agama is organized in a similar way as the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) in the Pali canon, but it contains more texts arranged in a different order. MA is a collection of 222 sutras in five divisions, while MN contains 152 suttas in three divisions. Each division is subdivided into thematic chapters that typically consist of 10 texts each, though MA has a couple larger chapters ranging from 15 to 25 texts.

It’s clear that MA was recited in a program that lasted five days because its divisions are called Recitations titled “First Day Recitation” and so on. These recitations appear to divide the collection into roughly equal segments (60-100 pages), and they sometimes split chapters for this purpose.

When we compare the texts in MA to MN, it quickly becomes clear that the two collections substantially overlap, but about 65% of MA’s texts either have no equivalent in the Pali Canon or they are found in a different Pali collection. Unlike MN, which doesn’t contain brief suttas, MA has many sutras that correspond to texts in the Anguttara Nikaya. Scholars have made efforts to index the parallels between the Agamas and the Nikayas, but it becomes a complex task when we also consider Sanskrit and other Chinese sources. Indexing the major parallels is complete, but the indices aren’t 100% comprehensive yet. At this point, it appears that 10% (23 sutras) of MA is unique, lacking any surviving parallels in other Agamas or the Pali canon.

Actual side-by-side comparisons of MA and its Pali parallels are difficult to generalize beyond the fact that many are clearly variations of the same text. In some cases, one text seems stripped down and simple compared to the other; or they only share certain sections and not others. Numerical lists usually differ only in order, but the actual definitions can be quite different.

Thoughts about the Origin of Variant Sutras

Most of the texts in MA are single topic presentations that center around a parable or numerical list of ideas. Originally, they were lectures given as part of the Buddha’s attempt to educate his students from day to day. These lectures were memorized by bhiksus in attendance and recited regularly to preserve them, becoming a canonical oral tradition after his death. It seems reasonable to assume a couple things about these original lectures during the Buddha’s time.

The Buddha himself probably repeated some lectures more than once to different audiences, and he may well have varied the presentations from one occasion to the next. He traveled from place to place in a repeated circuit for several decades. Thus, some of the variations we see were likely different versions of the same lecture from the beginning. Two variant sutras that claim to have been taught at the same location may have been taught there during different visits, possibly years apart.

As the Buddha gained followers, they spread out across ancient India. Some traveled with him, but more and more probably did not. Lectures that had been memorized at a given teaching were recited in his absence and “copied” into the memories of other bhiksus. Different versions of the same lecture likely were created when recitations weren’t exact or portions of a lecture were forgotten and recreated. This might account for slight differences and texts with the same structure but very different content.

Evidence of Recall Errors and Correction in Early Sutras

One of the common differences I see between versions for a sutra are numerical lists that differ in order. The beginning and end of a list will usually be the same in each version, but the items in the middle of the list will be jumbled. This to me is evidence of recall errors. The beginning and end of lists or narratives are easier to recall than the order of items or events in the middle of them.

Indeed, some texts are structured in a way to make these kinds of recall errors less likely. As written documents, they read in a repetitive and stilted way, but the purpose was to provide error detection. An example is a list that incrementally adds more detail to each item. It resembles a common way to memorize a long series of numbers:

  • 56
  • 56-87
  • 56-87-90
  • 56-87-90-34
  • 56-87-90-34-76

When we recite this series, it’s easy to realize where something was forgotten, and we can reconstruct a forgotten portion by going back to an earlier item. The Water Parable Sutra is a good example of this method of building error correction into a text. Its items are recited like this (to paraphrase):

  • A person lays in water
  • A person comes up and looks around
  • A person comes up, looks around, and stands
  • A person comes up, looks around, stands, and wades across
  • A person comes up, looks around, stands, wades across, and reaches the other shore
  • etc.

Conclusion

The upshot is that when we take all of these early texts in Pali and Chinese as a whole, we get a sum total of surviving lectures by the Buddha, however much they had evolved over the centuries before they were codified as written canons. I don’t think we can know for certain which are more original than the others when we group the parallels together. In some cases, a larger version might have been an amplification; in another case a smaller version might have been restored from an incomplete memory. In still other cases, we get two or more opinions about what something means.

As I continue my translation efforts, I intend to collect the versions of each sutra into a single document as individual studies. I plan begin working out a good format for this next month.

Book Review: The Dharma of Dragons and Demons (David Loy & Linda Goodhew)

513sYP2FlEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living.

– Ursula Le Guin

The tension between western Buddhists who embrace the traditional forms of the religion and those who blend it with modern culture is palpable at times. In some cases the friction is caused by literalism (from either perspective), and sometimes its source is cultural.

My own path has hewed a route that refuses to separate the modern and the traditional, holding both as equally important. The modern world is the one we live in every day, and the traditional world is an endless source of insight and inspiration. I can’t see a reason to abandon either, and my hope is that the two can be blended into something healthier. That hope has always been the driver of my interest, practice, and study of Buddhism.

David Loy is a contemporary writer who builds bridges on which modern culture and traditional Buddhism can consider each other. The Dharma of Dragons and Demons is a short collection of essays published in periodicals like The Journal of the Faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University (Japan) and Nihon Jidoubungaku. Each article selects a number of western fantasies and draws out principles and themes they have in common with Buddhism. He and his wife edited five of these cross-cultural articles and republished them in this book.

Loy bases each article on a major theme of Buddhist thought: Social engagement, time, nonviolence, death and life. In each, he examines the stories that have captured Western imaginations: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Ende’s Momo, Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke, Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and Le Guin’s Earthsea books.

What led me to this book a few years ago was my interest in Miyazaki’s films as well as Le Guin’s books. I’ve been particularly fascinated with Princess Mononoke because of the way Miyazaki creates a story about a three-sided conflict: Two warring factions with a third character who comes with wisdom to try to make a peace between them. This was so different from the typical western drama in which a hero simply destroys the “bad” people. Myazaki paints a more realistic story. Both sides have their virtues and their faults, yet one side is indeed the more dangerous one. Still, to make peace and stop the destruction, someone has to form a bridge between the two.

Loy relates this story to an incident in the Buddhist canon when the Buddha intervenes to stop a conflict between two cities. As Loy writes:

… the peoples of Kapilavastu and Koliya were about to battle over water rights to the Rohini River, which meandered its way between them. Due to a drought the river did not have enough water to irrigate fields on both sides. Instead of working out a way to share what was available, the two clans had an argument that led to name-calling and then appeals to both kings, who took up arms to settle the issue.

Using his siddhi (supernatural powers), the Buddha observed from afar that the two cities were about to fight, and that this would lead to widespread misery … [A]s the two kings approached the riverbanks, he appeared between them over the water, hovering cross-legged in midair, and spoke to the astonished combatants: “Is this water more valuable than all of the blood about to be spilled because of it?” His words brought both sides to their senses, and the two kings agreed to settle their differences nonviolently.

Buddhist scriptures often relate fantastic stories that involve miracles, supernatural beings, rebirth, and even beings traveling from one galaxy to the next. These elements make them very similar to modern fantasy and fairy tales in that they use these events that are not found in our common reality of everyday life. People can react violently to questioning these elements in scripture while dismissing children’s stories that include the same devices. In both cases, though, wisdom and truth can be represented without the rigid box of normal life. The point is not whether a story is 100% factually true, but that it communicates something we need to learn today.

Writers like Loy are what we need if we are to escape the literalism of scripture and science and rediscover the path of wisdom that we’ve wandered away from.

 

Book Review: The Diamond Sutra (Red Pine)

41NW5VQVYQL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_Red Pine’s The Diamond Sutra: Text and Commentaries Translated from Sanskrit and Chinese is a book that I recommend to readers who want  to explore the various Diamond Sutra translations and exegesis that remains untranslated today.

In this book, Red Pine presents a translation of the sutra based on his studies of the Sanskrit and Chinese editions and then treats the reader to a tour of the various commentaries as he explores the meaning of each passage.

For those of us who can read classical Chinese and/or Sanskrit, many Buddhist sutras appear more like kaleidoscopic visions than they do single, authoritative texts. Red Pine attempts to communicate that vision to English readers by noting the variations between at least seven different editions of the sutra preserved  in Chinese and Sanskrit.

The English-speaking world is most familiar with two editions of this sutra: Kumarajiva’s Chinese translation and the extant Sanskrit edition. These two versions have served as historical bookends: Kumarajiva’s version was translated in 403 CE, and the Sanskrit version represents a final form reached sometime around 700 CE.

In between those two points, however, are five Chinese translations by Bodhiruci (509 CE), Paramartha (562 CE), Dharmagupta (605 CE), Xuanzang (648 CE), and Yijing (703 CE). We’ve also discovered Sanskrit texts of the Diamond Sutra in recent years that are dated around the time of Dharmagupta’s translation. This is an academic topic because the differences are largely amplifications or minor edits of dialogue.

What’s more interesting in Red Pine’s book is his copious quotation of East Asian and Indian commentaries, giving the reader a sense of the conversation that took place in China about this text. Weaved in between these quotations, Red Pine documents his own journey as he reads and meditates on the sutra himself in modern America. The fact that he avoids the rabbit hole of academic analysis and debate is remarkable given the material that he works with.

Red Pine’s translations are free and meaningful, and the format he uses is reminiscent of exegetical texts in ancient China that collated the comments of various authors. If you’re looking for accessible books that explore the Diamond Sutra‘s place in classical China, this a good place to start.