Lucid Translation

by Phoenix Che

I learned quite a lot from reading the books published by the Buddhist Text Translation Society. I always thought reading was pointless but upon reading many of Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s teachings and commentaries, it made me realized that the benefit of reading does increase one’s knowledge! The most painful book of my life was Filiality: The Human Source Volume 2, I remembered I was pouring tears and feeling shame when I read it, especially the Filial Piety Sutra. I figured that these responses I had were probably due to the compassionate compilation of the book. The wordings are very lucid and clear. After gaining such good experiences just from reading, I felt appreciative of the person for establishing a society to translate Buddhist texts.

I am grateful towards Venerable Master Hsuan Hua who had established BTTS to spread the Buddhadharma in the West. As I am only fluent in reading English and understand better with simple wordings, I got interested in reading more Dharma talks and Sutras published throughout these years. Even though the Venerable Master spoke Chinese when he lectured, when I read the translations in English I felt as if he is instructing me in the present moment on how to lead the right path in cultivation. One of the Dharma talks given by the Venerable Master is straightforwardly encouraging to me to proceed and accord with the proper practice of Ch’an meditation:

“Now we are having a Chan session. Concentration is of vital importance in a Chan session. Your body, mind, and thoughts must be concentrated. Here, your body must walk when it's time to walk, sit when it's time to sit, and lie down when it's time to lie down. Walking, sitting, and reclining, you must follow the rules. Your mind must not give rise to false thinking; then the mind can be concentrated. Your thoughts should be devoid of greed, devoid of hatred, and devoid of stupidity. Single-mindedly investigate "Who is mindful of the Buddha?"

Although the words are written in simple and lucid English and seems easy to understand, sometimes I would need to read repetitively certain phrases and still be unclear (e.g. Single-mindedly investigate “Who is mindful of the Buddha?”). I realized this phrase is not to be heard to comprehend it, but has to be put into practice.

Another incident occurred when, since ghost and demon mysteries fascinates me, I often want to find out about the different types of them. Thus, upon reading The Fifty-Skandha Demon States and Volume 6 of the Shurangama Sutra, I have learned a great deal of knowledge about ghosts and demons. Ever since I was young I enjoy listening to ghost stories that happened to people, but upon encountering Venerable Master’s experiences with ghosts and demons, not only was I captivated, I also got rid of my fear of them. An interesting story he told appears in The Fifty-Skandha Demon States, it was about a demon that possessed a young girl; the description of the girl was quite attention-grabbing. As of now, I am not as frightful as before specifically in the dark areas, such as walking in the hallway of the Bodhi House at night.

Much of the translations are updated online and provided convenience for the society to encounter. I was one of those people when I first begin to learn Buddhism three years ago and depend on it to obtain the Dharma, because books are impossible to possess at that time. But staring at the computer too long is not quite fitting for the eyesight; I remember the tears would flow to assuage my dry eyes for reading too long. I also found many Buddhist scriptures online, such as from the Thai and Tibetan culture, but I am more comfortable with the Dharma that incorporates Chinese culture in it. The Venerable Master would elucidate verses written by ancient wise men and share stories about ancient enlightened beings for us to emulate. Especially the Pictorial Biography of the Venerable Master Hsu Yun, this book made me realize that I still have not gotten rid of the false thinking about the flavors of vegetarian food while eating. It was the part when Venerable Master Hsu Yun fainted of starvation and was aided by gruel porridge, given by Manjushri’s transformation as a beggar, for his survival in a cold journey. I imagined the bland and plain porridge he ate, which was neither too much nor too little, was an advisement for us to practice nondiscrimination upon the flavors and nutrition while eating.

Besides mindful eating, I often ask myself if I am practicing the Middle Way in performing daily tasks. If only there is a book of examples explaining the Middle Way, but it is better to not have one; as individuals are responsible for figuring it out by themselves. Otherwise, people might be reading too many interesting books and forget about their own abilities. Whenever I have a doubt I would flip through the Venerable Master’s Dharma talks to read on any kinds of topic and my doubts would be answered upon reflecting on the text. Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s lectures are efficacious to me.

I also noticed the Verse of Transference and an image of Wei T’o Bodhisattva appear practically in every single book. The dedication verse gives me a thought of hope for every living being’s liberation and Wei T’o reminds me to carefully observe the Dharma to protect the essential teachings. More importantly the translations from complex Chinese characters into English are still preserved with its original essential meanings, which I thought was always difficult to accomplish. But BTTS’s translation is neither abstract nor concrete, and they are considerately selective of the most suitable English word(s) to correspond with the original text.

It is in a Buddhist’s mind to hope for living beings to encounter the proper Buddha-dharma to cultivate on ending their own births and deaths. I understand that many Buddhist texts in Chinese are still in progress of translating into English and the committees are applying much assiduousness as well as time in the work. There is one Sutra that I hope for the Buddhist Text Translation Society to translate one day and will be circulated among people to read, this Sutra is called 文殊師利所 說摩訶般若波羅蜜經.

The reason why I hope for this Sutra to be translated by the Buddhist Text Translation Society is mainly because I doubt other translators’ work. I mentioned earlier that it is a difficult task to preserve the original meaning when translating from Chinese into English; and having read some Buddhist scriptures that were not translated well enough was perplexing to me. Some books were written with abstract vocabularies; and as a person with basic knowledge of English, it was an obstacle for me to comprehend it. Whereas some texts were not carefully translated cause me to miscomprehend the true meaning.


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