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Reviewed by:
  • The Mandala Sutra and Its English Translation: The New Dunhuang Museum Version Revised by Yang Zengwen
  • Ma Lijuan (bio)
The Mandala Sutra and Its English Translation: The New Dunhuang Museum Version Revised. By Yang Zengwen. Translated and edited by Tony K. Lin, Kunchang Tsai and Josephine Lin. Taipei: Jiafeng Press, 2004. Pp. 432. isbn 95628039-5-6-2

Chan (禪) has been one of the most prominent sects of Chinese Buddhism since the mid and late Tang Dynasty and it has been particularly well-known around the world. The Platform Sutra (Tan jing 壇經) purports to convey the teachings of Huineng (慧能) (638-713), one of the most revered figures in the Chan tradition, and the text has been regarded as the most reliable source for the study of Chan. This canonical Buddhist text is generally categorized into four different versions: 1) Dunhuang (敦煌); 2) Huixin (惠昕); 3) Qisong (契嵩); and, 4) Zongbao (宗寶) (more often in English named as the "Ming text"). The Dunhuang version is further divided into two manuscripts: the Old Dunghuang text and New Dunghuang text (also known as the Dunhuang Museum version). The New Dunhuang text is regarded in Buddhism as the more clearly transcribed one and, more significantly, the most intact version that is closest to Chan ideas and history, in that it includes three key lines with sixty-eight Chinese characters that are entirely absent from the old Dunhuang text. The book I choose to review here is a translation of this version and a related translation study.

The Mandala Sutra and Its English Translation: The New Dunhuang Museum Version Revised by Prof. Yang Zengwen is significant both for academic scholars of Chan Buddhism and for ordinary readers, particularly Buddhists, for the following reasons. In Chapter 3, Lin provides the very first translation based on the New Dunhuang text, following Wong Mou-Lan's (黄茂林) first translation of the Ming text in 1930 and Wing-tsit Chan's (榮捷) translation of the old Dunhuang version in 1963. Moreover, the translator divides the whole text into parts and juxtaposes the corresponding sections of the two Chinese texts, revised respectively by Dr. D. T. Suzuki (すずき だいせつ) and Prof. Yang Zengwen (楊曾文), placing these together before the English translation. This is undoubtedly a great convenience for scholars in the field and provides an easy way to present the similarities and differences between the two in a more visual manner. Also, an overview of studies of the Tan jing texts worldwide is presented in great detail in Chapter 1. Most of those have been based on the Ming text, which is lengthier than the Dunhuang manuscript by about two-thirds. Photos along the timeline concerning important events related to Huineng's life and teachings are offered as well. All of the above prove the book to be a distinctive advance beyond other versions of the Tan jing and another significant step forward for Chan study in the western world.

The book is particularly advantageous for academics in the field of translation studies, on account of the thirty-four examples from twenty different translations given in Chapter 5, as well as a list of translations of important terms by previous translators in Chapter 6. This proves to be a useful resource and a handy reference for case studies in Buddhist translation. For example, "zuiguo" (罪過) in section 7-2 of the original text is listed in five different translations:"I am ashamed" by Yampolsky, "Please pardon me" by Wing-tsit Chan, "Yes, it is mine" by Ma Kerui (馬 克 瑞), "I did compose the verse" by Ke Lirui (柯利叡) and "yes, in fact, Hsiu did it" by Hengxian (恆賢). With the analysis that "zuiguo" in Chinese means both "crime, something evil" and "foolish act or situation," the author expresses his preference for Yampolsky's translation and meanwhile presents his "a crime" as an option and a related example for more vivid contextual perception. Such comparison and elaboration helps readers develop a more comprehensive understanding of the source text and the target text as well. More importantly, the difficulties in the process of translation, including multiple possible interpretations arising from homonyms and punctuation, are presented in Chapter 4, which helps scholars become better informed about the whole translation process and how the translator...