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The Buddha’s Word Foreign and Domestic €Reflections on Translation and Cultural Relationality f

by Birgit Kellner, Professor, Chair of Buddhist Studies, University of Heidelberg

by Birgit Kellner, Professor, Chair of Buddhist Studies, University of Heidelberg

In the course of Buddhism’s long and complex history, Buddhist scriptures €texts believed to express the words of a buddha, together with those of authoritative masters €have been rendered into a large number of languages. Large-scale and long-term translation projects yielded huge corpora in Chinese and Tibetan, with lasting impact on vernacular cultural and literary production. In Central Asia translation into vernacular languages only gradually became the method of choice, while the Theravāda tradition across South and Southeast Asia until recently maintained Pāli as a church language and chose to accompany the “formal” canon of scriptures with works in vernacular languages that acted as a “practical” canon used in local contexts.
In settings oriented towards translation, proclamations of rules and regulations, expositions of standards, and controversies about “good” and “bad” translations reveal an entire spectrum of attitudes to the cultural relationality of which translation is a continuous reminder. This talk will attempt to characterise this spectrum and raise more general questions regarding the study of translation in Buddhism, taking two prominent Tibetan voices for a starting point: the late 8th/early 9th royal decrees and accompanying manuals (such as the Sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa), and the treatment of translation by the erudite scholar-monk Sa skya paṇḍita Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan (1182-1252) approximately four centuries later.

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