THE INTRODUCTION TO THE VIETNAMESE
THE INTRODUCTION TO THE VIETNAMESE
Trans by Vien Minh
Yo vo, ānanda, mayā dhammo ca vinayo ca desito paññatto, so vo mamaccayena satthā.
I. A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE VIETNAMESE TRANSLATIONS FROM THE TRIPITAKA
Before His reaching Nirvana, the Buddha had given the last admonition to His disciples that: “the Dharma which I have taught and the Fundamental Laws enacted, will be your guidance now that I no longer remain with you.” To comply with the Lord Buddha’s last teachings, the Elders Arahat assembled for the First Buddhist Council at Rajagrha, so that together they would come upon an agreement on reciting all of the Buddha’s teachings during His 45-year lecturing to and educating His disciples. The foundation for Buddhist literature, which later was known as the Triple Buddhist Canon of Scriptures (the Tripitakas or the Three Baskets), was then procreated.
From then, the sacred teachings of the Lord Buddha advanced with the traveling footsteps of His Great Disciples spreading to all four directions. Wherever this teachings channeled to, the followers learned and practiced them accordingly to their respective regional dialect, just as the Buddha has instructed:anujānāmi, bhikkhave, sakāya niruttiyā buddhavacanaṃ pariyāpuṇitun’ti. “I allow you, o Bhikkhus, to learn the word of the Buddha in his own dialect.” So from the beginning, according to this teaching, the Buddhist scriptures were modified into many different native tongues. When Buddhism developed into various schools, each of the branches tried to compile its own Sacred Scriptures in the native language where Buddhism arrived. When the Old Indian system of written language was not widely developed yet, Buddhist Scriptures were mainly passed down by way of oral recitation. This means of oral transmission, which caused a lot of disparates in pronunciation due to the diverse local dialects, sometimes affected the few modifications founded in the writings. This phonological variation, in few instances, caused the different exegesis among the sects regarding the meaning of the Teachings. However, in looking at the whole picture, the essential teachings remained the same in interpretation as well as in practice among all the schools, both the Northern and the Southern traditions. This commonness can be validated through the on-going research and comparative works of all the teachings recorded in the two main Buddhist literatures that are in existence: the Pali canon and the canon written in Chinese characters. The Chinese translation originated from the Agamas, and the Pali canon that still can be verified, both are in accordance with each other in most of their contents. Hence, the differences that are known between the Northern and the Southern traditions – also incorrectly referred to as Theravada and Mahayana – are only slight diversifications in the historical and cultural backgrounds of each locality and ethnic race. That is the difference of the primitive and the later developments. The Buddhist teachings that arrived in the Southern countries were understood and practiced more in the original way, due to the fact that the development, the civilization and the societal institutions of these nations were still rather simple and uncomplicated. On the contrary, Northern societies in the north of India and northwest of China, have had more variant races and diverse cultures, thus they acquired more different societal and moral codes. Buddhism arrived in these nations, after a time, often became the state religion of such countries. And the Buddha’s teachings, likewise, was localized to be more suitable with the linguistic, traditional and social ways of life of that particular nation.
The sacred Triple Basket of Scriptures is the gateway to all understandings of the Dharma, a great source of knowledge for practice, as well as for study. The Vinaya Pitaka (The Basket of Discipline) and the Sutra Pitaka (The Basket of Sayings), a comprehensive collection of Dharma and Vinaya (Truth & Laws) that the Buddha had actually demonstrated and regulated, are the substantial ground for the Holy Disciples to learn and practice aiming at the ultimate goal of attaining the perfection of wisdom and virtue. These two Baskets also contained the interpretive explanations of the Great Disciples who heard the teachings directly from the Lord Buddha. The last of the Tripitakas, the Abhidharma Pitaka, according to the traditions of the Theravadin School in the South, and those of the Sarvastivada in the North, also came from the golden words of the Buddha. But there are some great Buddhist philosophers like Vasubandhu, along with most of the world’s well known academic authorities on the Buddhist Canon of the present time, who don’t acknowledge that the Abhidharma directly came from the Buddha Himself but rather these works are a collection of varieties of analyses, studies, interpretations, and systematization of what was taught by the Buddha from the first two Baskets – the Basket of Sayings and the Basket of Discipline. The Sutras and the Vinayas were construed during a determined period of time, gathered directly or indirectly from the golden words (verbatim) of the Buddha, and are the principal foundation for all schools of Buddhism, including the Mahayana school, regardless of the differences caused by the oral transmission in the course of time, affected by the diverse dialectical accents.
The Abhidharma is the part of the Holy Scriptures that reflects the historical development of Buddhism in all aspects, including the religious beliefs, philosophical thinking, scientific researches, and the jurisprudential, socio-political and cultural developments. Generally speaking, this Basket comprised not just the historical advancement within Buddhism itself, but also depicted the entire cultural change of the localities that the Buddha’s teachings have reached. This same change was also substantially proven in the history of Vietnam.
Each of the Buddhist traditions created its own canonical literature, which depicted the best exogesis to thoroughly understand the scriptures’ meaning, protected the comprehension and interpretation of the Canon, and refuted all heretic dogmas. This massive literature continuously evolved across many diverse geographical zones. Not until the significant spread of Islam into India was Buddhism getting gradually eliminated. One part of this Buddhist literature was transferred to Tibet, by means of the Tibetan translations from the Sanskrit scriptures, and a great number of the Sanskrit originals were well preserved until today. The other part of the historical literature – the largest and most comprehensive – was translated into Chinese and contained almost all of the different thought processes of Buddhism in the history of India, from the Primitive, Scholastics, Mahayana, and Mysticism.
Legend has it that Buddhism arrived in China under the reign of Emperor Mingdi of the Han Dynasty (bc 65), in the Era of Yungping. The very first sutra that was translated to Chinese was the Sutra of Forty Two Sections by Kashyapa-maganta and Zhu Falan. This legend, however, is really not unanimously agreed by all Chinese Buddhist scholars and historians. The only true account was that of Khang Tang Hoi (Ch. Kang Seng Hui) who was a Vietnam-born from Tonkin. He went to the Jiangzuo to become the first Buddhist propagator in southern China. All of his works in translating and commentating the Buddhist texts can authenticate that before that time, from 247 CE, when Khang Tang Hoi entered the Jianye territory, taking in Sunquan as his disciple, Buddhism has already propagated to a fairly steady form in Vietnam, and many scriptural works were already being translated. This fact can also be further reinforced by the written essay of Mau Tu called Li Hua Lun (Mu-zu’s Trease on the Justified Doubts). Unfortunately, almost all of these literatural works found in Khang Tang Hoi’s biography and Mu-zu’s record were missing, probably as a consequence from the Northern invasion. What remained only were the work that was supposedly recognized as handed down from the Chinese translation.
The first Sanskrit-Chinese translator in China was known to be An The Cao (ch. Anshigao) (who came to China around 147-167 CE). Of course, there were other scholars before him but their names were not recorded or known anywhere in history. Luong Tang Huu (Ch. Liang Sengyou), based on the oldest texts of Dao An (Ch. Daoan) (312 385 CE), found that there were about 134 Buddhist texts that have no known author/translator, therefore, it was hard to place a time when they were written, whether before or after the work of An The Cao.
The Chinese translations from the Sanskrit Scriptures, which continuously worked out from An The Cao to the time of Minh and Thanh dynasties, were compiled into the first 32 volumes of the Taisho Tripitaka,which included the scriptures of Theravada, Mahayana, and Mystic Buddhism, amounting to 1692 documents. Besides those, there were volumes 33 to 55 of the Taisho Tripitakas, which comprised of 1492 Chinese texts ranging from exegetical essays, interpretive extracts, to historical stories, traveling anecdotes, etc… Other than the Taisho, the Swatika Extension of the Chinese Tripitaka contained even more known literatural works. These two Chinese Buddhist manuscripts literally held the most complete Buddhist philosophical materials, of which the Taisho Tripitaka is the widely implemented epitome on a larger scale internationally.
The Buddhist scripture translating history in Vietnam began very early, possibly even before the time of Khang Tang Hoi. Some of the subtle indications can be traced in the text named Collection of Sutras on the Six Paramitas (Ch.= Liu Du JiJing). Khang Tang Hoi used the Sino-vietnamese to translate. There are no known translation of the Buddhist scriptures using the national language (i.e. vietnamese). During the entire period of Northern subordination, with the need to thoroughly master the Chinese language to perfection as immediate tactics to cope with this Northern influential monopoly, Chinese became the dominating language of our country. So the work to translate the sacred texts into our own language was impossible. The translation seen today of the Buddhist Scriptures in China was possible and tremendously successful only because it was sponsored by the ruling court of that time. The Vietnamese language was only used as a means to propagate Buddhism within the commoners.
Following the Chinese domination was the French colonization. Faced with the fall of the nation, and under the pressure of the invasive civilization, our traditional culture was on the brink of being uprooted. Accordingly, many monks were leaving their secluded mountain abodes to engage in arousing the movement of rejuvenating Buddhism, promoting the use of Buddhist texts in Vietnamese transcripted in Latin alphabets. The Buddhist literature in Chinese were subsequently converted into our national language, responding to the need of the Sangha members and lay Buddhist followers. The majority of these canonical texts belonged in the Mahayana tradition, only a small number of which could be accounted for from the Agamas (V. A Ham) translation. But whether they were from the Mahayana, or the Agamas, all the available texts did not follow any specific guidelines. Therefore, the studies of Buddhism had yet to have a substantial foundation.
On the other hand, because of the impact of the Sanskrit grammar in the Chinese translations a number of grammatical problems were so unfamilar that even some of the eminent exegeters like Jizang or Zhiyi often committed a lot of these misinterpretations. That made Ngan Tong, the organizer of the translation academy under the order of Emperor Sui Yangdi (605-618 AD), worried most about detecting many of these mistakes. Because of the discovery several of these errors, another famous scholar – Xuanzhuang – determined to venture into a pilgrimage to the West in search of the true Dharma, despite the imperial ban, and fatal dangers and difficulties along the trip.
Today, due to the discovery of many important original manuscripts in Sanskrit, and the readily available Tibetan texts that were translated directly from Sanskrit, the tedious work to correct and improve many Sanskrit to Chinese translations can finally be done. In addition, with the thriving Pali language, which has always been regarded as the closest to the sacred language of the Buddha, many of the errors found in the Chinese version Agamas are being comparatively modified, so that the teachings of our Lord Buddha can be understood and absorbed more transparently.
The above-mentioned notes are the fundamental observations that the Committee of the Vietnamese Tripitaka Translation taskforce can apply as guidelines in working with this monumental task. First, there are the texts in the Agamas mentioned here. The Chinese versions from the Agamas were done very early in the Post-Han era (ca. 250-220 AD) by Anshigao. Most of these were introduced from the countries in the west where Buddhism flourished at that time such as Kucha, or Khotan. Due to the oral transmission and the different dialects, the Sanskrit scriptural version contained a lot of mispronunciations leading to numerous misinterpretations. This can be confirmed by comparing the equivalent texts composed in Pali, or studying some quotations in the Great Commentary Mahavaibhasya or the Yogacarabhumi-sastra. Besides, unlike Kumarajiva and Xuanzhuang, and few others, most of the Chinese translators learned Sanskrit and practiced Buddhism in the western regions, and not directly in India, so their proficiency in Sanskrit was rather limited. As soon as their arrivals in China, they were faced with the grave demand of having more Buddhist texts for Chinese Buddhists to study and practice. This pressured them to carry out the instant translation, despite their weak expertise in the language. Their lack of proficient knowledge of the Chinese language usually required the aid of an outside interpretor. For this reason, the translating work went through many steps that even the main translator sometimes could not go through; as a result, the texts contained quite a few ambiguous and obscure sections and erroneous representations. Therefore, a Vietnamese translation from Chinese required lots of reference, if an approach to the lost Sanskrit texts were expected, and consequently a deeper understanding into the Buddha’s words was hopefully gained. That’s what the Chinese translations could not carry out due to the language obstacles.
The Vietnamese Tripitaka is essentially based on the Taisho Tripitaka of Japan, which was initiated during the ruling era of Taisho 11 in 1922, and lasted until the ruling era of Showa 9 in 1934. This massive compilation, comprised of 100 volumes, was assembled by the Taisho Tripitaka Publication Association that included over 100 leading Buddhist scholars of Japan during that time under the supervision of the internationally known Buddhist academics Takakusu Junjiro and Watanabe Kaigyoku. The master copy in use belonged to Haein Temple of Korea, also called the Korean edition. The textural proofread was based mainly on the block-printed editions of Sung, Yuan, Minh dynasties, and a few other block-printed editions and manuscripts from China and Japan, such as the handwritten copy of Tenbin, the Liao edition of Kunaisho, the manuscript of Daitokuji Temple, or that of Mantokuji Temple, etc… Another manuscript discovered somewhere in the Western countries such as Khotan, Tunhuang, Kucha, or Gaochang, also served as referential sources. A number of citations from Pali and Sanskrit texts are also footnoted as comparison with the Chinese translation, in which the authoritative editors may have posed questionable suspicions on their accuracy, or that they may belong in certain unidentifiable texts.
The contents of the Taisho Tripitaka were divided into three main corpora: the First Corpus included 32 volumes that comprised the Sanskrit-to-Chinese versions of all three Baskets – the Sutras, the Vinaya, and the Abhidharma – that are either taught by the Buddha as verbatim texts, or revised by His Great Disciples during the assemblies, or later compiled by authoritative Buddhist Scholars. The Second Corpus, from Taisho vol. 33 to 55, written in Chinese, composed of commentaries on the Sutras, Vinaya, and Abhidharma, plus sectarian treatises of the Chinese Buddhism, historical accounts, narrative chronicles, travel anecdotes, and legendary narrations; also the non-Buddhist versions such as Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Zoroastrianism , Catholicism, and the Sanskrit – Chinese glossary, textbooks, and prayer books. The Third Corpus, from vol. 56 to 85, gathered together all the written works of the Japanese scholars, which included explanations of the Sutras, the Vinaya, and the Abhidharma basically themed on the existing commentaries in Chinese but with further clarification and connotations, plus the sectarian treatises of Japanese Buddhism. The next 12 volumes of the Taisho Tripitaka were found to have collections of religious iconographs and illustrations, mainly those of various Mandala pictograms of Buddhist Mysticism. The very last 3 volumes were indexes listing the particulars of all existing and circulating Tripitakas.
II. THE EXISTING VIETNAMESE TRIPITAKA
The Vietnamese Tripitakas, as being compiled up to now, is a comprehensive collection of Vietnamese translations of Buddhist Scriptures, based on the Chinese Canon, with extensive researches into the Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan versions. Thus, our Tripitaka included inclusively all the known and widely circulated Buddhist works that were ever translated into Vietnamese all throughout our history.
We all know very well, that ever since Buddhism was first propagated into Vietnam during the reign of Emperors Hung, there existed probably a number of Buddhist texts translated directly to Vietnamese. Of course these very first works were all lost and cannot be accounted for anywhere in literature, but deep research and side by side comparison has proven that many syntactic structures of the Vietnamese language can be readily found in some Chinese texts (probably translated directly from the Vietnamese versions), for example the Collection of Sutras on the six Paramitas (Ch. Liu tu chi ching) or the Old Sutra on Miscellaneous Parables (Ch. Chiu tsa p’I yu ching). During the next few following centuries, the tradition of translating the sutras into Vietnamse continued to prosper. Their traces could be found in the five-characters verse of the famous Tang Poet Zhangji (750-820). Unfortunately, due to natural disasters and enemy devastations over times, these valuable works were destroyed. The earlier holy text in Vietnamese that still exists nowadays is a translation worked out in the 15th Century, by the Zen Master Vien Thai (1380-1440), known as Kinh Dai Bao Phu Mau An Trong Kinh (The Sutra on the universal Acknowledgement of the Parents’ Benevolence).
Then in the 16th Century, we have the Quan Am Chan Kinh (True Sutra of the Bodhisattva Kwan Yin), that are more widely known as Truyen Phat Ba Quan Am (the Story of the She-Buddha Kwan Yin) that was written around 1585-… ?, not sure by which author.
In the 17th Century, Minh Chau Huong Hai (time unknown) translated and connotated many Sutras that we have found in existence and still availbale, such as Dieu Phap Lien Hoa Kinh (Sutra on the Lotus of the True Law), A-di-da Kinh (the Amitabha Sutra), and Ma-ha-bat-nha ba-la-mat-da Tam Kinh (the Heart sutra on the Maha Prajna Paramita), etc…
The 18th Centure witnessed the appearance of the versions belonging to the Basket of Discipline, such as Sa-di Quoc Am Thap Gioi (The Ten Precepts of Samanera in the national language) by Nhu Trung (1690-1780), or Oai Nghi Dien Am (Samanera’s everyday Conducts Interpreted in national language) by Nhu Thi (1680-1740), etc…
At the turn of the 19th Century, we have the Phap Hoa Quoc Ngu Kinh (The Lotus Sutra in Vietnamese)by Phap Lien around 1852. From then on, Buddisht Scriptures in Vietnamse were translated and published in great number. Thus, we can safely say that the Vietnamese Tripitaka is a monumental collection of Buddhist literature translated from Chinese versions, as well as from Sanskrit, and Tibetan languages. The direct Pali tranlations of the Buddhist Canon, however, was collected and printed separatedly according to the criteria known worldwide, and was named the Vietnamese Therevadan Tripitaka (Dai Tang Kinh Nam Truyen). Therefore, the Vietnamese Tripitaka does not contain the versions of the Sacred Scriptures from the original Pali language.
Above is a preliminary representation and some main characteristics of the proposed Vietnamese Tripitaka that should be compiled, edited and published with the purpose of providing a wealth of resource, a mine of information accomplished throughout history, to the academic scholars and prospective researchers, students and teachers of Buddhism, as well as interested non-acedemic readers and amateurish writers. The remaining versions that are not yet translated, or unaccomplished, will eventually be translated, compiled, and incorporated into the present Tripitaka.
The Vietnamese Tripitaka chose the Taisho Tripitaka as the master copy, in which every single work would be translated. The guidelines for performing this task would temporarily be specified as below:
- 1. The Vietnamse Tripitaka includes all translated versions from the Sacred Scriptures found in existence in our country throughout history, by numerous known scholars through the generations. This will help to get a general view over the progress of its compilation in the course of history.
- 2. With regards to the master copy, the Vietnamse translation would be based on the Taisho Tripitaka that comprised of 100 volumes, with somewhere closed to 1000 Chinese characters of 10pt-size in each of the volume. The seriel numbers would be coded after that of the Taisho. Each of the page in the Taisho is divided into 3 columns named a, b, and c. The number of pages and columns will also be notated in the translation for easily and coherently referencing.
- 3. Incidentally, each of the Chinese scriptural text may even have many Vietnamese translated versions; so accordingly, each of the serial number of the Taisho would be tagged with A, B, C… as to differentiate with the various translations of the same original in Chinese.
- 4. With regards to the correction of the master copy in the process of translation, the manipulation is mostly based on the Taisho, with further reference to other available sources.
- 5. With regards to the discrepancies among the various edtions, it is the translator’s discrete knowledge that will guide in the selection for the alternatives.
- 6. The translator is suggested to research more thoroughly other Tripitakas and Scriptures, in order to adjust for words or sentences found in the Chinese version that supposedly contradict the well-established orthodox doctrine.
- 7. The Chinese translation was done based mainly on the oral transmission and recitation. Consequently, lots of mispronunciation were found such as sam in Pali vs sama and samyak; cala vsjala; muti vs muṭṭhi, etc… In these cases, the translators will have to consult the equivalent texts in other diverse Chinese versions, and sometimes making reference to the available Sanskrit texts to estimate these words’ original forms, and proposing the correct formats. These proposals would also be included in the footnote sections
- 8. Due to the variety of texts in different Buddhist Schools, we ought to have extensive comparative researches to arrive at a true understanding of the orthodox meanings accepted by all Buddhist traditions. This requirement is beyond the existing cabability of our translators. However, as the need arises, the different points of view found in these texts would be noted and compared, and their notations will also be represented in the footnotes.
- 9. The Chinese translated works are divided into many juans (books or volumes. The Vietnamese version will not be in such divisions, but the beginning of each Chinese volume will also be specified in the footnotes.
- 10. Buddhist terms in a number of the Chinese versions, in the case when not widely adopted and used, may cause difficulties in understanding and studying; they would be retained as such, but their equivalent – more popular and readily adaptable – would be included in the footnotes. In appropriate cases, the translator’s name, and the original text containing these obsolete words, will also be notated for further reference.
- 11. all sutra and doctrinal works mentioned in the footnotes will be represented in the same universal formats currently used by international scholars; these regulated formats about abreviations are always included at the end of each volume of the Vietnamese Tripitaka.
III. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE TRIPITAKA PROJECT
The implementation of the project developed through translating, editing, and publishing requires the establishment of a Council of the Vietnamese Tripitaka Project with a General Editor in charge, and with the major responsibilities assigned below:
- The Translation Committee. In order to complete a translating work, these tasks have to be performed:
- literary translation: the texts are distributed to scholars with relatively proficient Chinese, with at least a basic knowledge of Buddhist study, and with the linguistic ability needed to translate directly from Chinese to Vietnamese.
- the revision and commentation: the main purpose of this regulating person is to review the rough translation and improve or elaborate on the wording, and correct the mistakes possibly found in the translation. In reality the revision work requires much more than just that.
First of all, there is the correction of the texts. This should generally be done before the actual transtation takes place. Correction of the texts at first may seem simple, because the translator just need to note these erroneous typographical mistakes. Most of these errors are explained in the footnotes of the Taisho Tripitaka, the translator just need to understand the content of the translating paragraph to select the appropriate characters from the footnote sections. However, due to the limited understanding level in Buddhism and the inadequate research ability, most translators don’t choose the correct characters. Even the great Scholar An Thuan committed many of these errors by selecting an inappropriate representation of characters; because of the lack of Pali or Sanskrit equivalent texts, guess-work was most often applied. And these guess work is usually incorrect. Sometimes, errors are found not from re-written or block-printed editions, but from the original works themselves. Because Buddhist doctrine from India were passed down from generation to generation mostly in the form of oral recitation. The language deviation and phonetic inaccuracy, which could mistake the pronunciation of one word with another, can create the erroneous understanding of the original teachings. The person who translate from Chinese to Vietnamese, but without a proficient knowledge of Sanskrit, would not be able to detect these subtle mistakes in the Chinese version. And it would be of noteworthy to acknowledge that there are numerous and often occurring mistakes as such mentioned, in many Sanskrit to Chinese translations.
The needed revision focused on the Sanskrit Buddhist Canon. Its relevant influence in the translated documents often times caused difficulties in even the most knowledgeable of Old Chinese, and errors and mistakes happened to some of the most respected commentators of Buddhist literature. To thoroughly understand the contents of the works to be translated, it usually was necessary to find the exact documents in Sanskrit in order to do the comparison. The most reknown Venerable Jizang made plenty of mistakes in his commentaries because he just did not have a comparable source to decipher whether the sentences were active or passive; so he did err on occation, for example he had mistaken one who killed with the one being killed in a certain section of the Srimaladevi Sutra; this particular Sanskrit version was lost, it was a discovery noted in the Siksasamuccaya of Santideva.
Many original Sanskrit texts were lost over the years. Even some of the more important ones like the Maha Vaibhasya only existed in the translated form by Xuanzhuang. Fortunately, the original text of Kosabhasya was found, in which many chapters in the translated text have related notations, so that students of the Mahavaibhasya at least have a chance to concur and understand deeper into the content of this notable document. Reading a text without having a strong grip of understanding its content, is probably because of the fact that even the translator didn’t even grasp the full content of a document or understand it incorrectly, how could one expect the readers to get the meaning of the translated text? Therefore, the task of revision is not simply just improving and correcting the insufficiencies in the grammatical errors of the translation, but it requires an extensive research to really understand the content of the original document in its limited possibilities.
The Vietnamese Tripitaka is a translation from the Chinese version. The translator should not just alter the content as needed, even if the mistakes were found in the Chinese texts. Because these errors still carried historical bearings, no one should take the liberty to change or delete anything from it. On the other hand, the Vietnamese Tripitaka should not just ignore these misrepresentations found in translated Chinese literature. These errors should always be indicated, and its revision should be suggested and denoted in the footnote area to clearly explain the difference so that the Vietnamese version can correlate well to the Chinese translation.
Above, we just pointed out the few particular requirements to proceed with the translation of Scripture in a relatively acceptable manner. In the present condition, we have very few individuals who are truly qualified with those specifications. Thus, the steps needed now are more indicative of a process to train more qualified translators, not just merely creating translating agents, but enriching those who already have an acceptable understanding of Buddhist philosophy together with an ability to read and understand all selected languages of the Sacred Scripture, namely Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese. In the current translation work in the world, those who want to study Buddhism but do not know these old languages fluently, would not fare very well in understanding the basic canonical teachings. Anzong, the manager of the translation academy under the sponsorship of Emperor Sui Yangdi, also required such knowledge of his collaborators in hope of being admitted to the academy. Besides the need of profound knowledge of the Sanskrit language and Buddhist teachings, he also requested the comfortable range of knowledge in matters outside of Buddhism as well.
More specifics in creating a department to help training more translators for the Tripitaka work will be presented in a separate documentation at a later time.
- The Publishing Committeee. The areas in publishing the Tripitaka include:
- the correction of all the spelling mistakes in the translated documents. Oftentimes, these errors are being corrected as needed when the readers noticed them while the documents are being used. These readers can be just regular monks, nuns, or just lay buddhists, certainly not experts in the field, thus they are more apt to have less experience in discovering these errors. Even the so-called already corrected texts that are in use, still contain many of these mistakes.
- the presentation of the text. This task depends on the available computer technology. In the beginning, there are few experts in the field of computerized presentation and lay-out for publishing the finished texts into books. The task was done mostly by self-taught and self-produced individuals. Therefore, many do not master the technique available in the program enough to successfully employ the software ability to its fullness for the purpose of presenting the works to their perfection.
The translation of the Tripitaka is expected to take roughly 15 years or more to complete. Hence the entire set up cannot be created completely at one time. In that long drawn-out period of time, of course technology continues to improve and the presentation method may vary accordingly. The resulting manuscripts that are done at various times during the process will reflect this unavoidable difference.
- the printing process. After the presentation and lay-out work is accepted, the translated manuscript will be given to the printing companies that are contracted for this work. This final part at the printers is usually more stable. But there is still the need for someone to check in over time on the printing process to ensure that technical difficulties do not result from it.
- the distribution, marketing, and delivery. Distribution and delivery of the Tripitaka will not be an unimportant task. It should be done by a taskforce created specifically for this purpose, but for now the printing companies are in charge of this process because there is not enough manpower to provide a separate department. Besides, the Tripitaka translation task should be the mutual work of all Vietnamese Buddhists, no matter what sects, traditions, schools, or groups. All sangha members should be involved and partook in the taskforce, whether it is by manual works, mental helps or monetary contributions, individually or by groups. The marketing of the final and complete Vietnamese Tripitaka also requires a separate department to handle this task more effectively, but of course our manpower resource does not allow it, so once again, the work is now temporarily in the hands of the printing companies.
More than two thousand years since the fundamental teachings of the Buddha have arrived in Viet Nam. Buddhism has been practiced and applied by many generations. It has rewarded numerous individuals and societies with the feeling of peace and comfort in their lives. It has contributed in the development, growth, and success of many social groups, both sentimentally and intellectually. But so far, the tasks of translating, printing, and distributing Buddhist literature as the foundation on which to base our beliefs and practice, were never performed as a taskforce that really should encompass the entire nation.
The historical Chinese Buddhist translation also spanned out almost two thousand years, but with the grand success of creating, maintaining, and saving the immense wealth of literature despite many close calls to being destroyed due to ignorance and fanaticism. The great success of the Chinese Tripitaka was partly due to the royal endorsement of many dynasties that believed in Buddhism, and due to the wholesome support of the people in various times in history. Vietnam also have had royal Buddhist believers, but because of many factors including political and social impacts, there was never a well organized assembly supported by the royalty to take on the task of composing our Buddhist canon. Just because of the need of their own practice and learning, that some of the sutras were translated by individual monks throughout history, but those individual works were not enough to become the foundation on which to base the needed research and exploration deep into the teachings.
The most recent occasion was in 1973, when a historical first-ever committee of Tripitaka translators was formed, which included The Most Venerable Thich Tri Tinh as Chairman, the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do as Secretary General, and many highly capable monks who already have plenty of experience in translating texts, and highly regarded in the research area of Buddhist literature. This committee was supported and overseen by the Executive Institute of the Sangha, a part of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. The slate for this committee was prepared on a grand scale, but again due to the war torn situation in Vietnam at that time, only a very small portion of the works was finished. This meager accomplishment was later assembled and printed in 1993 by the Vietnamese Institute of Buddhist Research, under the guidance of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church, and was renamed “the Vietnamese Tripitaka.” In this collection, the Agamas (kinh A Ham) was assigned by the Translation Committee into two parts: the Truong A Ham (The Long Agamas) and Tap A Ham (The Connected Agamas) were given to the Most Venerable Thich Thien Sieu, the Most Venerable Thich Tri Thanh, and the Venerable Tue Sy of the Hai Duc Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies located in Nha Trang. The second section, the Trung A Ham (The Midium Agamas) and Tang nhat A Ham (The Enumerated Agamas) were the responsibility of the Most Venerable ThichThanh Tu, the Most Venerable Thich Buu Hue, the Most Venerable Thich Thien Tam of the Hue Nghiem Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies of Saigon.
Besides the Agamas, other works were also accomplished, including:
Works by the Most Venerable Thich Tri Nghiem: The Mahaprajna Paramita Sutra (Chinese translation by Xuanzhuang) belonging to the Mahaprajna literature. This sutra contains 600 volumes.
Works by the Most Venerable Thich Tri Tinh: 1/ The Maha Prajna Paramita Sutra (Chinese translation by Kumarajiva) belonging to the Mahaprajna literature.; 2/ The Lotus Sutra (Chinese translation by Kumarajiva) ) belonging to the Pundarika literature; 3/ the Avatamsaka Sutra (Chinese translation byŚiksānanda), and 4/ the Maharatnakuta.
These extra works of the two scholars mentioned above were assembled and printed by their own disciples, and were not yet incorporated to the Tripitaka of Viet Nam.
There are others who were given parts of the work in the translation process but their results are not yet announced or seen.
Despite the good intention, the end result is quite minimal due to the difficult situations of the country at that time. Additionally, this result also does not meet the qualifications and the customary time to perform the revision and editing according to the current international criteria for researching and translating Buddhist documents. So this work that was once started well-intentionally, still could not be accepted as the standardized Buddhist literature collections, as the proven Vietnamese contributions to the spreading of the Buddha’s golden scripture to all followers and believers in the world as the way to seek peace and happiness for all sentient beings.
Such grand work cannot be the contributions of certain individuals or group, nor a particular tradition or church, but it is the participating jobs of all Vietnamese Buddhist members as a whole; it cannot be of just one period of time, but spanning from generations to generations in existence and progressive improvement in this forever changing society. Such work is needed, first of all, to show profound gratitude to our many ancestors before us who have gone through numerous hardship, over countless asankhy time, in the sole purpose of seeking ways to bring peace and happiness to all sentient beings. Secondly, it is to continue the task of our ancestors and masters of propagating the teachings, that should be similar to a continuously well lit Lamp of Dharma, for all the world to benefit from.
In summary, with the benediction of all Buddhas and all the Holy Disciples and Sages, and through the blessings of the present Most Venerable Elders in the Vietnamese Buddhist ranks, we are urgently pleading to all four assemblies of Buddha’s disciples to generously help, with all your might and mental ability, in this most profoundly needed Tripitaka Project, so that it could be proceeded firmly and continuously from our present time to many generations to come, so that the Lamp of Dharma could forever shine in this world, for the beneficial inner peace and happiness of each and everyone of us sentient beings.
The Vesak season of 2552 in Buddhist calendar.
(in the year of 2008 or Mau Ty)
Tri Sieu – Tue S