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.


Weekly Update: Agamas and Dharmapadas

It’s been over a month since my last update on my translation work. I began the year with a general idea of updating my previous translations that needed polishing and correction, and I republished a much improved edition of Kumarajiva’s Diamond Sutra in February.

In March things changed somewhat when I rediscovered some of my translations from the Middle-Length Agama preserved at SuttaCentral. There has been work accomplished in recent years in translating the Chinese Agamas at BDK, which is encouraging. After some thought, I decided to move in a different direction and began work on updating the translations at SuttaCentral to support their open source philosophy. The first three sutras of the Middle-Length Agama have been given a fresh translation, and I have to say that the old translations were less than stellar. The references we have today compared to 2004, in addition to the experience I’ve gained since then, makes quite a difference.

I also experimented with social media over the past month and a half. I drafted translations of the Chinese Dharmapada and posted them in four or five verse segments with illustrations in a photo album on the Dharma Pearls Facebook page.  The English needs polishing, but it’s been an interesting project. It’s unfortunate that Facebook doesn’t make publishing texts in coherent collections very easy. They do provide “Notes,” which are like individual web pages, but there’s no way to organize them. The photo albums are the only way I could find to present a text in a linear fashion.

Of course, all of this has caused multi-tasking overload, as I can only spend 1/3 of my time on these projects. When the middle of April arrived, I took some time to think about an overall strategy going forwards.

What I’ve settled on is to focus on texts in the Agama, Avadana, and Prajna divisions of the Chinese canon that either could use a new translation or aren’t likely to be translated. For the time being, this will mean continuing to work on the Middle-Length Agama, the Dharmapada, and the smaller perfection of wisdom sutras. That’s alot of material for one person working part-time, which means I’ll work on each in a rotating fashion.

I’ve also decided to cease any new translations to polish what’s been completed thus far and work on a publishing process. I’ll be working on publishing PDFs to my Patreon page to make it more valuable to anyone interesting in subscribing to my work. For the general public, I want to publish the translations as eBooks, too. This will be the main goal for May.

I hope everyone is having a good year so far. It’s been an interesting challenge here as I settle into a new home on the west coast and work on creative projects on a shoestring budget. Life is best lived when it’s challenging (in a good way), and we can give something back to the world that’s meaningful.


Progress Report

Things have been busy as I juggle a number of different projects in addition to my translation work. I’m still working on a re-release of Kumārajīva’s Diamond Sutra in English, having taken a break from it to draft an English translation of Mañjuśrī’s Teaching of the Perfection of Wisdom from Xuanzang’s Chinese. I’ve decided that for 2019, my initial goal will be translate the smaller Perfection of Wisdom texts to English. You can see the initial list of texts here.

I’ve also decided that I will publish the translations to this blog and fuller editions with introductions and/or annotations as e-books this year. I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year and for this year to be better than the last.

Progress Report: the Diamond Sūtra

The past two weeks, I’ve been working on my new edition of Kumārajīva’s Diamond Sūtra. This critical translation will be as accurate and readable as I can make it. My concerns as a translator of a text like this are twofold:

  1. It needs to readable, modern English.
  2. It needs to represent as closely as possible what Kumārajīva wrote.

These two concerns clash somewhat, but they aren’t impossible to accomplish. It means that the prose adheres to generally accepted standards of modern English grammar and style. Contractions are fine, sentences should not be complex or long-winded, and clauses should not be convoluted or awkward in order.

One difficulty of goal #2, however, is the need to preserve some of Kumārajīva’s choices as a translator, such as when he chose to transliterate Sanskrit words rather than render them to Chinese. Another is the fact that some of his word choices are ambiguous. He uses the Chinese word 相 in a couple different ways, as an example. Comparing his Chinese to Sanskrit and later translations to Chinese makes these ambiguities easier to manage, even as I attempt to keep the English a translation of his voice and not what I speculate was what he was translating.

Such are the puzzles of translating translations of ancient documents. They guarantee that there will always be judgement calls that others will nitpick, but careful readings and flexible use of modern English idioms can at least ensure that the reader isn’t misled.

As I review and edit my old version of this sūtra, many topics of interpretation have occurred to me. One is Subhūti himself. He’s quite a character: An obscurity in the Pali Canon, yet an imposing standard-bearer in the Prajñā-pāramitā literature. How or why did he get drafted for the role? Another is the role of the Diamond Sūtra in relation to the Aṣṭasāhasrikā, in which Subhūti teaches the bodhisattvas how to practice the prajñā-pāramitā rather than asking the Buddha about it. And, of course, there’s the task of deciphering a text that doesn’t appear to have any rational organization to it as it rambles along reiterating several points in different ways.

I’ll try to take some time in the next week or two to outline some of these topics here on the blog, and I will also expand on them in an introduction to the new translation. Currently, I’ve completed the first pass on the manuscript and have begun the second pass to resolve the more thorny issues of translating this classic of Buddhist literature.

A New Start: 20 Years Later

It’s been a little more than 20 years since I first laid eyes on a volume of the Taisho Daizokyo as a young student at Ohio State University. I had begun to teach myself to read Chinese because of my frustration with how much one translation of the Dao De Jing varied from the next. In those days, circa 1998, the World Wide Web was just beginning, and I was one of many eager experimenters who learned HTML and created free home pages to share with the world. These two interests quickly combined, and I began publishing English translations (albeit novice translations) to my website, which began as the The Gateless Passage and in later years morphed into Dharma Pearls.

Many of my translations from those early days are still circulating. The Diamond Sūtra, in particular, was released to the public and was posted on websites ranging from Buddhist to New Age in interest. You can find a well-preserved example at Buddhism Today. It was my first attempt at translation, and it was a good place to start because of lack of difficult technical terms, transliterations, and Kumārajīva’s easy Chinese prose.

Over the next 10 years, I translated a number of other short texts like Xuanzang’s Smaller Pure Land Sūtra and the Visualization of Amitabha Sūtra. My largest project was an attempt at translating the Great Parinirvāṇa Sūtra from Chinese, but it was about 25% into the draft that I realized my knowledge of Buddhism and Chinese were still too lacking to complete it properly.

However, my studies of Buddhism and classical Chinese continued, and I’ve finally decided it’s time to return to this work. I will be updating my previous translations, editing them both for accuracy and style, and republishing them. I will also be returning to my draft of the Nirvāṇa Sūtra, dusting it off, and continuing the work that I had begun many moons ago.

Stayed tuned for more reflections, articles, excerpts, and news; and thanks for reading!