Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Textual analysis and comparative discussion on early Buddhist sects and texts.

Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Qianxi » Thu Apr 24, 2014 12:31 pm

It's uncontroversial that the Pali suttas are invaluable for understanding and identifying transmission errors in the early discourses preserved in other languages. However, are there any objections to the idea of using early discourses in other languages to identify transmission errors or relatively late additions in Pali discourses?

In the introduction to Bhikkhu Anālayo's book Madhyama-āgama Studies (Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, 2012, pp.2-3), he says:
The impact of the prolonged period of oral transmission shows itself not only in differences in the distribution of discourses, but also in relation to the content of the discourses found in the Madhayama-agama and the Majjhima-nikaya. Detecting errors that would have occurred at some point during the transmission of the discourses through a comparative study is thus a recurrent theme in the collected papers assembled in the present monograph. Here my emphasis is mainly on the rectification of errors in the much better known Pali version of a discourse. Obviously, the same potential applies to an even greater degree to using Pali discourses as a means to correct errors in their Chinese parallels, which were affected not only by problems in transmission, but also by translation errors. Readers of the Chinese agamas, however, appear to be well aware of this potential, whereas such potential seems to be less known among those who study the Pali discourses. To draw attention to this potential is therefore a central aim of the papers collected here.


The only objection to this I have to hand right now is one in Eisel Mazard's (aka 'Freelance ExBuddhist' of this board) essay 'Problems of “Canon” and “Reason” in Theravāda Studies' (page 10):
..the idea that scholars can compare two texts to reveal a third one that is more ancient than either of the first two is usually a delusion: in comparing the intact Theravāda canon to the fragments of canons from Central Asia, we primarily learn about the languages and cultures of Central Asia in the same era as the unearthed fragments concerned. In other words, when we compare different versions of the canon we do not probe any further backward into the history of the composition of the canon, but instead move forward into the history of its later dissemination.

I find what he says about the Chinese canon full of straw men and mischaracterisations, but I think the quoted objection is something to think about.

Does anyone have any reservations about using non pali early discourses to correct or clarify the Pali? I suppose it's quite complex to discuss in general terms because it all depends on the judgement of the scholar in each individual case. Perhaps the most prominent example of 'correcting the Pali' with practical implications is Analayo's conclusion that mindfulness of breathing is probably a late addition to the contemplation of the body part of the Satipatthana Sutta. See his recent book Perspectives on Satipaṭṭhāna and this recording of a 2011 talk on the subject.

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear any objections or concerns, especially about the work of Analayo who is someone I really get a lot out of reading.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Sokehi » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:10 pm

Bhante Sujato is doing this big time. I'm not an expert but overall I like his studies and explanations on the suttas a lot. So I decided to trust him in his attempt and technique. :anjali:
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What does womanhood matter at all, when the mind is concentrated well, when knowledge flows on steadily as one sees correctly into Dhamma. One to whom it might occur, ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I am a man’ or ‘I’m anything at all’ is fit for Mara to address. – SN 5.2

If they take what's yours, tell yourself that you're making it a gift.
Otherwise there will be no end to the animosity. - Ajahn Fuang Jotiko

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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby santa100 » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:42 pm

Qianxi wrote:Does anyone have any reservations about using non pali early discourses to correct or clarify the Pali?..

Ven. Bodhi always uses various sources like the Agamas, Nikayas, and the Commentaries to make sure he gets the full and accurate analysis for his translation work on the Discourses book series. A few example:
..Mp gives other explanations of samacitta, but all assume the meaning is “with the same mind.” The Chinese parallel (at T I 449b1) reads = “same-minded deities,” thus agreeing with Mp.. (AN 2.36)

or:
..As noted in note above, the repeated use of the word santa here and just below suggests that samacitta, in relation to the deities, could have meant “peaceful minded”—this despite the agreement between Mp and the Chinese translation on “same-minded.”..
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby daverupa » Thu Apr 24, 2014 1:50 pm

Also very useful in this respect, by Anālayo:

A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya
Dharma Drum Buddhist College Research Series 3
Taipei: Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation, 2011
1084 pages (2 vols.)
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Unrul3r » Thu Apr 24, 2014 2:46 pm

I definitely don't object, I think they complement each other. By seeing differences & similarities we can come to understand the Buddha's teaching a bit better. Similarities reinforce what is already there & Differences can clarify or confuse. If differences lead to confusion, this can lead to more study and understanding. As long as there is no attachment & partiality over texts, comparison seems fruitful. A side-benefit of comparisons is the translation of suttas from Chinese into English, which is useful for those who can't read Chinese.

I can say that I benefited from Anālayo's courses, in some points:
- Learned about where the physician analogy possibly comes from. (SĀ 389, which, as far as I know, doesn't appear in Pāḷi.)
- MĀ 21 & AN 2.37 are apparently in contradiction. MĀ 21 seems more coherent by saying that once-returners still have external fetters and non-returners still have internal fetters. (Seems a case where an Āgama corrects the Pāḷi)
- In MĀ 23 Buddha gives a brief synopsis of what Sāriputta said: 'Whatever is felt and acted upon is all dukkha'. In SN 12.32 it is ‘yaṃ kiñci vedayitaṃ taṃ dukkhasmin’: 'Whatever is felt is included within dukkha'. I don't know if this is a translation issue but the additional 'acted' in MĀ 23 makes sense as taṇhā.

These points are those that were more prominent for me at the time I heard the courses. His books & articles also have insightful details.

:namaste:
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby ancientbuddhism » Thu Apr 24, 2014 4:52 pm

Qianxi wrote:...Does anyone have any reservations about using non pali early discourses to correct or clarify the Pali? I suppose it's quite complex to discuss in general terms because it all depends on the judgement of the scholar in each individual case. ...


It at least establishes what consistencies there were in transmission with reference to the bhāṇaka and written systems. This not only helps to connect the EBT's of various disseminations, but also with dating what is earlier and later.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Qianxi » Thu Apr 24, 2014 4:58 pm

Unrul3r wrote:MĀ 21 seems more coherent..


Yes, coherence is the key tool that he uses, and that's why using this technique is more of an art than a science. It's also why it requires a really comprehensive knowledge of the early discourses. It's not too hard to take the first step and pick out similarities and differences, but testing them for comparative coherence is the real skill.

For example, it's easy enough to put three version of the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta side by side, listing the exercises in the 'contemplation of the body' section and putting the commonalities in bold:

Ekottarika Āgama 12.1
anatomical parts
4 elements
bodily orifices
corpse

Majjhima Nikaya 10
breathing
postures
activities
anatomical parts
4 elements
corpse

Madhyama Āgama 98
postures
activities
counter unwholesome mental state
forceful mind control
breathing
experience of 4 absorptions
perception of light
reviewing sign
anatomical parts
6 elements
corpse

But where do you go from here? If you were a conservative Theravadin you might say that breathing, postures and activities were removed from the Ekottarika Āgama discourse and bodily orifices added - in Central Asia or in translation to Chinese. Likewise for the differences between the Pali and the Madhyama Āgama versions.

To make the next step the interpreter basically only has one tool, and that is the standard of coherence. Coherence with the immediate context and coherence with the early discourses as a whole.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Virgo » Thu Apr 24, 2014 8:52 pm

It is easy to see that many of the discourses seem to have been altered by various groups. Things added in, taken out, lists changed, explanation of types of views and so on...

That is one of the reasons why I rely on the Abhidhamma.

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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Sat Apr 26, 2014 12:45 pm

The validity of Eisel Mazard's assessment is obvious. If Analayo were to apply his strategy to biblical hermeneutics he wouldn't be taken seriously.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby daverupa » Sat Apr 26, 2014 2:23 pm

pulga wrote:The validity of Eisel Mazard's assessment is obvious. If Analayo were to apply his strategy to biblical hermeneutics he wouldn't be taken seriously.


It's a Q-source approach, but with better material and without the conundrum of lost material. It's an approach that is taken seriously in many contexts, and declaring it flawed isn't an argument showing how.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Sat Apr 26, 2014 2:47 pm

daverupa wrote:It's a Q-source approach, but with better material and without the conundrum of lost material. It's an approach that is taken seriously in many contexts, and declaring it flawed isn't an argument showing how.


The synoptic gospels were all written within a fairly narrow timeframe. The temporal and cultural gap is too great to try to improve upon the accuracy of the Pali Suttas using the Chinese Agamas.

If someone by chance were to discover a Chinese translation of the Gospel of Mark written in the Middle Ages, and I were to use it to "correct" a fragment of the same gospel discovered at Nag Hammadi it would leave people scratching their heads.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Qianxi » Sun Apr 27, 2014 7:47 pm

That's great pulga, I was hoping there would be some objections.

pulga wrote:The temporal and cultural gap is too great to try to improve upon the accuracy of the Pali Suttas using the Chinese Agamas.

If you are talking about pinpoint word for word terminological accuracy, then of course you need an Indic language. But given that the early discourses are largely made of a combination of set-phrases or 'pericopes', if you are familiar with the Pali canon it's not hard to see the Indic equivalent beneath the Chinese.

But there's another kind of accuracy, and that is the accuracy of the arrangement of textual units within a discourse. Sometimes difference of arrangement is reasonable variation, in which case no decision can be made about which is preferable. However sometimes a variant is obviously arranged in a way that doesn't fit with the presentation of the same topic elsewhere in the early discourses. And on top of that, other parallel discourses might be found where a more coherent arrangement is followed.

It's not possible to create a kind of 'original' from the comparative method, but it's fair to say that the ideas that the extant traditions share are likely to be early.

The background assumption of such comparison in Analayo's work is the sense that "In general terms, none of the Agamas or Nikayas can be considered to be invariably historically earlier than others. Each of these collections contains early and late material.." This conclusion can only be derived from thoroughly reading the Agamas and Nikayas, it's not really provable in a paragraph on a message board! (if you have access to a library, see Analayo's book A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya, which lays out this argument: "The Conclusion, and with it the entire work, finishes up with a simple but significant observation: the study has revealed no evidence that any particular line of transmission has preserved the discourses more faithfully than the others")

pulga wrote:If someone by chance were to discover a Chinese translation of the Gospel of Mark written in the Middle Ages, and I were to use it to "correct" a fragment of the same gospel discovered at Nag Hammadi it would leave people scratching their heads.

The Chinese Agamas were all translated during the lifetime of Buddhaghosa, I think that's fairly early! Besides, it's the Indic text behind the Chinese translation that is being read - and the accuracy of the translations can be verified because like the Nikayas, the Chinese Agamas are formed from recognisable set phrases and moveable textual blocks - in fact the same set phrases and textual blocks as in the Pali canon.

The New Testament is one of the best documented of all ancient texts - there are hundreds and hundreds of old manuscripts of it, and the variations are not very large. The traditions of the Chinese Agamas and the Pali Nikayas separated at a time when they were not yet written down [contra. user 'arhat' of this board's nevertheless very interesting theories], so the variations between their structures are the result of the development of different oral traditions. It's just not comparable to the slight word order variations in New Testament Greek.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Sun Apr 27, 2014 11:41 pm

Thanks, Qianxi, for the well written response. But I'm still not convinced of the value of such a comparative study.

Aren't we placing a lot of trust in the handful of men who translated these texts? I admit that I'm not familiar with how the Chinese texts compare with their available Sanskrit and Tibetan counterparts, but to borrow once again an example from the Western tradition, the early Latin translations of Greek manuscripts were notoriously loose and at times inaccurate, e.g. Rufinus' translation of Origen's Peri Archon. How have we ascertained the accuracy of Saṃghadeva's Madhyama Āgama when we haven't the original to compare it with? The whole historical setting of how these texts came to be preserved is lost to us. What sort of man was Saṃghadeva? What circumstances did he find himself in? What particular texts did he have access to? What was his standard of thoroughness and accuracy? Are we giving authority to a flawed translation? I'm not saying that this is not an intriguing field of study, but the historical approach in trying to understand the Buddha's original teaching is fraught with endless speculation and conjecture.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Apr 28, 2014 4:39 am

This comment from Ven Huifeng might be useful (since he actually has a PhD in this area...)
http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.ph ... 87#p227787
Huifeng wrote:And don't forget the portions of a fair amount of commentarial material which are direct quotations from the Nikayas and Agamas, again in Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese. And for the latter, while a translation indeed, the translation idiom of someone like Xuanzang is tight enough that it's really quite easy to back translate if you also know Sanskrit.

~~Huifeng
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Mon Apr 28, 2014 5:22 am

From Thandra Shekhar Prasad's article The Chinese Agamas Vis-a-vis the
Sarvastavada Tradition
in the Buddhist Studies Review Volume 10.1 1993:

The Chinese Agamas are translations of the Indian originals.
Should we come across the originals, the former may not tally
exactly with the latter as is the case with the fragmentary San-
skrit sutras and their corresponding portions in the Agamas in
Chinese. The Chinese translations do not appear to be identical
with the originals because most of the translators, as Sir Charles
Bell observed, fell short of our standards of accuracy. The
contents have been amplified and transposed in the originals;
the translations also underwent scrutiny and severe editing
before being included in the Canon. The translators of the
Agamas were no exception and their versions were subject to
omissions, commissions and editorial retouching".


http://archive.org/stream/BackCopiesOfB ... 3_djvu.txt

I'm somewhat non-committal on the whole subject, but I wonder whether the exuberance of some might be amplifying their faith in such a project.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Qianxi » Mon Apr 28, 2014 12:49 pm

That quotation seems quite strange, i'm not sure why Prasad is quoting a Tibetologist from the 1930s on the accuracy of Chinese translation. Looking at Bell's book 'Religion of Tibet' (1931) on google books, it seems he couldn't read Chinese.

pulga wrote:How have we ascertained the accuracy of Saṃghadeva's Madhyama Āgama when we haven't the original to compare it with?

By comparing it with the Pali, basically.

pulga wrote:The whole historical setting of how these texts came to be preserved is lost to us. What sort of man was Saṃghadeva? What circumstances did he find himself in? What particular texts did he have access to? What was his standard of thoroughness and accuracy?

The historical setting of Buddhism in Central Asia and India at the time is partially recorded in the travel account of the monk Faxian. The historical setting of the translation of the Madhyama Āgama is recorded in quite some detail, however. As are the character, circumstances and interests of Saṃghadeva, and the names of the other texts he translated, and his process of translation.

The sources for these are the prefaces to Saṃghadeva's translations written by his contemporaries and a collection of monks' biographies compiled 100 years after his time. And the wider Chinese social context is recorded in stacks of official and unofficial histories.

Basically, he was a specialist in the Abhidharma from Kashmir, when he first came to China he worked on a translation team with other Indian, Central Asian and Chinese monks checking or reading out the Indic original, but not translating himself as he could not yet speak Chinese. After a decade or so in China he learnt the language and discovered that the translations he had worked on as a monolingual assistant (including the Madhyama Agama) were not accurate, so he and his followers resolved to retranslate them.

The translation process usually took place in a hall in front of an audience of local dignitaries and monks. Usually a foreign monk read out the Indic version, either from memory or from a manuscript, a monk who understood both Indian and Chinese translated it orally into Chinese, then a couple of Chinese monks would each write down the translation in Chinese. After the translation had been completed in this way it would be thoroughly checked and edited.

In the case of the Madhyama Agama the preface records that it was translated from December 15th 397 to July 24th 398 in a temple on the estate of a local official in what is modern day Nanjing by the Kashmiri Gautama Samghadeva, based on a manuscript read out to him by Samgharaksa, another Kashmiri monk. The Chinese monk Daoci acted as the scribe, assisted by Libao and Tanghua. So the public translation process finished in summer 398 but the preface records that because of the outbreak of war the editing process was not completed until 401.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Mon Apr 28, 2014 2:10 pm

Qianxi wrote:That quotation seems quite strange, i'm not sure why Prasad is quoting a Tibetologist from the 1930s on the accuracy of Chinese translation. Looking at Bell's book 'Religion of Tibet' (1931) on google books, it seems he couldn't read Chinese.


It's not really necessary that he know how to read Chinese. I'm sure that when the Sanskrit fragments were first discovered scholars were inclined to compare them with their Chinese translations. Bell was probably familiar with such studies. Has anyone bothered to make such a comparative study in recent years? Has the topic even been brought up? If the Chinese translations don't tally well with the Sanskrit originals that they're supposed to be translations of it certainly would put a damper on things, but on the upside it would provide us more fodder for speculation.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby Qianxi » Mon Apr 28, 2014 5:08 pm

pulga wrote:
Qianxi wrote:That quotation seems quite strange, i'm not sure why Prasad is quoting a Tibetologist from the 1930s on the accuracy of Chinese translation. Looking at Bell's book 'Religion of Tibet' (1931) on google books, it seems he couldn't read Chinese.


It's not really necessary that he know how to read Chinese. I'm sure that when the Sanskrit fragments were first discovered scholars were inclined to compare them with their Chinese translations. Bell was probably familiar with such studies. Has anyone bothered to make such a comparative study in recent years? Has the topic even been brought up? If the Chinese translations don't tally well with the Sanskrit originals that they're supposed to be translations of it certainly would put a damper on things, but on the upside it would provide us more fodder for speculation.


The Chinese Agamas were not translated from Sanskrit, they were translated from a Prakrit like Gandhari. It's not the case that there is a single text of the Agamas that the Chinese either does or does not accurately reflect, there were lots of different textual lineages, and most of the different Chinese agama collections are from a different lineage (Dharmaguptaka, Sarvastivada etc.). According to Richard Salomon the content of the recently unearthed 1st century bce Gandhari texts is no earlier than that of the Chinese Agamas or the Pali canon, and different from them both, to the same extent that the Pali and Chinese differ from each other. (sorry for linking to a podcast, I couldn't find a more convenient reference. I'm also quoting from my memory of the podcast, I haven't listened to it again)

The Sanskrit fragments are mentioned in the work of Analayo, as are quotations from the Agamas in Tibetan, but it's hard to draw any conclusions from a fragment of a common textual block. It's mainly the way that the blocks are arranged that varies from lineage to lineage, not the blocks themselves. That's plausibly a feature of oral transmission.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby pulga » Tue Apr 29, 2014 8:29 am

Thanks, Qianxi. What you say sounds reasonable, but we still don't know enough of the details surrounding each of the particular lineages: how scrupulous they were in preserving their texts, the adversities and setbacks each must have encountered. As I said the subject is intriguing, but still very speculative. I question its relevance to the Dhamma.

I came across an online edition of Choong Mun-keat's Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism . It looks very informative, and nicely laid out. I'll have a look at it, maybe even read the whole book if I'm drawn into it. Perhaps then I'll be able to better engage you in discussion.
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Re: Using the Chinese to 'correct' the Pali?

Postby daverupa » Tue Apr 29, 2014 1:21 pm

pulga wrote:I came across an online edition of Choong Mun-keat's Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism . It looks very informative, and nicely laid out. I'll have a look at it, maybe even read the whole book if I'm drawn into it. Perhaps then I'll be able to better engage you in discussion.


That book was referred to in this thread; the following two links, across two posts, are also relevant. Probably there is quite a bit more in there of note (e.g. viewtopic.php?f=29&t=3167&start=120#p213781 etc.).
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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