Thursday, March 12, 2009

Buddhist Sutras: Origin, Development, Transmission / Kogen Mizuno -- Tokyo: Kosei Publishing, 1982.

Buddha, like Socrates, left no writings of his own, but shortly after his death, his followers gathered to recite his sermons. The goal was to agree upon precisely what he said to preserve his teaching in an oral tradition. The language spoken by the monks of this First Buddhist Council was probably Old Magadhi. As the popularity of Buddhism grew, the desire to evangelize to speakers of other languages also grew. Consequently, the sermons of the Buddha were written down and translated into various languages of ancient India. These sermons are known as sutras. Along with the sutras, early Buddhists compiled monastic rules known as vinayas. Later, commentaries on the sutras developed, known as abhidharma. Collectively, these writings are known as the Tripitaka or the three baskets and are the canon of early Buddhism.

In centuries following the establishment of this canon, other important works were written in an effort to express the insights of Buddhism in various languages, importantly Chinese. With the addition of a number of original Chinese texts to the canon the "Pali canon" or the original canon written in Pali, was expanded into what is known as the Chinese canon. In Buddhist Sutras Kogen Mizuno recounts the origin, development, and transmission of the Pali canon through the Chinese canon. Along the way, he describes the transmission of Buddhist sutras into various other Asian languages, especially Japanese.

Mizuno's work is loaded with information about the texts, languages, and translators of the sutras and includes valuable explanation of some of the sectarian movements in the history of Buddhism and important cultural contexts. He notes that doctrinal divergences within Buddhism can often be traced to different interpretations of the teachings generated by translations into different languages. Unfortunately, the work is not well organized. While it follows a rough chronological sequence, there are many leaps forward and backward in time. Furthermore, it overlays this sequence with topical treatments of his subject that do not have a clear pattern of presentation. The effect is a rambling narrative. However, it is filled with illuminating facts and details in the history of the Buddhist canon.

Among its most valuable features is an appendix which alphabetically lists the titles of scriptures and catalogs of scriptures in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages. Each work appears in the list using each language into which it has been translated. For example, The Heart Wisdom Sutra is also listed as the Prajnaparamita-hridaya-sutra (Sanskrit) and as Pan-jo po-lo-mi-to hsin-ching (Chinese). English details about the work are given in under the title listed in the original language.

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