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Tripitaka in English

The Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (Society for the Promotion of Buddhism) Sponsors a Major Translation Enterprise that May Take Over a Century to Realize.

Numata Yehan, a Japanese industrialist, finding the ubiquitous Gideon Bible in Hotel rooms throughout the west, decided that the great spiritual teachings of the Buddha deserved a fitting place in eastern hotels. Such was the origin of the wonderful compilation of Mahayana wisdom, entitled the Teachings of the Buddha. This book has often acted as a substantive introduction and guide to some of the principle values of East Asian Buddhists.

The BDK was the foundation set up to keep this primer before the public. Retiring and growing in devoutness Mr. Numata decided arrange for the establishment of a foundation to promote the English translations of Chinese and Japanese Buddhist scriptures that are vast libraries of knowledge. “The Buddhist canon is said to contain eighty-four thousand different teachings,” Mr. Numata states in the initial volumes of the series. “I believe that this is because the Buddha's basic approach was to prescribe a different treatment for every spiritual ailment, much as a doctor prescribes a different medicine for every medical ailment. Thus his teachings were always ap­propriate for the particular suffering individual and for the time at which the teaching was given, and over the ages not one of his prescriptions has failed to relieve the suffering to which it was addressed.

“Ever since the Buddha's Great Demise over twenty-five hundred years ago, his message of wisdom and compassion has spread throughout the world. Yet no one has ever attempted to translate the entire Buddhist canon into English throughout the history of Japan. It is my greatest wish to see this done and to make the translations available to the many English-speaking people who have never had the opportunity to learn about the Buddha's teachings.

"Of course, it would be impossible to translate all of the Buddha's eighty-four thousand teachings in a few years. I have, therefore, had one hundred thirty-nine of the scriptural texts in the prodigious Taisho edition of the Chinese Buddhist canon selected for inclusion in the First Series of this translation project.”

The initial results with descriptive reviews are covered on these pages. The BDK English Tripitaka has gotten off to a show start but the translations are definitely well wrought though lacking in extensive notes and other critical apparatus which may edify the scholar but tends to confuse, distract and even intimidate more general readers.

In December, 1991, at the Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research in Berkeley, California, settled down to edited and publish the translations of the Chinese and Japanese Buddhist works in the BDK English Tripitaka

The Taisho Shinshu Daizokyo (Newly Re­vised Tripitaka Inaugurated in the Taisho Era), which was pub­lished during the period from 1924 to 1934, consists of one hundred volumes, in which as many as 3,360 scriptures in both Chinese and Japanese are included. This edition is acknowledged to be the most complete Tripitaka of the Northern tradition of Buddhism ever published in the Chinese and Japanese languages. It is from this edition that the scriptures for translations are selected. The series number on the spine and title page of each volume correspond to the number assigned to the work by the Translation Committee of the BDK English Tripitaka in Tokyo. A list of the volume numbers is appended at the end of each volume; for the convenience of scholars who may wish to turn to the original texts, Taisho page and column numbers are provided in the left-hand margins of each volume. No attempt is made to standardize the English translations of Buddhist technical terms; these are left to the discretion of the individual translators.

We hope to include summaries of the contents for each published volume we are allowed to inspect. The influence of having readable translations of many Buddhist scriptures should help extend the dharma in the west in ways that will keep the various ethnic and indigenous developments in Buddhist practice and doctrine close to the vast spirit of the tradition in its still rarely fathomed plenitude.

 The Summary of the Great Vehicle (Taisho 1593) translated by John P. Keenan, this fourth-century "Compendium of the Mahayana" attempts to systematize Buddhist thought into a unified whole from the standpoint of the Yogacara ("Consciousness Only") School.

The Summary of the Great Vehicle is perhaps the most repre­sentative text of the Yogacara school of Mahayana Buddhism. Yogacara, together with Madhyamika, laid the foundation for subsequent Mahayana thinking. This text is a precis of Yogacara philosophy on conscious interiority. Asanga (ca. 310-390), its author, is the principal thinker of this philosophic lineage. His work comes between earlier texts such as the Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning (T. No. 676), the Maitreyan Analysis of the Middle and the Extremes (T. No. 1599), and the Ornament of the Scriptures of the Great Vehicle (T. No. 1604, the source most frequently cited by Asanga in his Summary) on the one hand and the later work of Vasubandhu and other commen­tators on the other.

The Summary of the Great Vehicle presents the classic argument for the basic Yogacara themes on conscious interiority, attempting to reinter­pret within this context the general Mahayana teachings of emptiness and dependent co-arising. The entire Yogacara endeavor, it would appear, is aimed at evolving a critical understanding of consciousness that would ground the Prajnaparamita (and Madhyamika) insistence on emptiness within a critically under­stood notion of the structure and functioning of conscious inte­riority. It then proceeds to explain the etiology of imaginative illusion, sketch its reversal by offering an explanation of the nature of conversion, champion the recovered insight into depen­dent co-arising in terms of the converted other-dependent pattern of consciousness, and thus allow for a valid, if limited, role for language-formed, conventional discourse, both commonsense and theoretical.

Chapter I launches into the program with a lengthy discourse on the structure of conscious interiority. It was evidently a felt need at the time of Asanga to go beyond logical attempts to deconstruct the illusion of essentialist thinking (Abhidharma) to an explication of the inner dynamic that results in both illusion and its reversal to wisdom. Consciousness is then presented not as a single inner knower looking out at external things but rather as a constant interplay between the latent container consciousness, with all the defiled seeds of past action, and the manifested, active consciousnesses of thinking, perceiving, and sensing, which bring to maturation those seeds and in turn plant new karmic seeds in the container consciousness-in an ongoing chicken-and-egg fashion for the duration of transmigration. Dependent co-arising denotes not only the interrelationships between things but also the structure of the mind itself, functioning as a synergy of these two levels of consciousness.

The Summary of the Great Vehicle goes beyond the earlier Scripture on the Expli­cation of Underlying Meaning in proffering the notion of thinking consciousness (manas) as the locus of mistaking perceived images for realities. When converted, thinking also functions in inter­dependency between perceived images and insight; but in its initial appearance as defiled, images are mistaken for realities without any felt need for achieving insight into their meaning.

Chapter II moves to a discussion of the three patterns in which consciousness functions. The most basic is the other-dependent pattern, which, in a word, is the above structure of consciousness as co-arising in an interplay between the container and the active consciousnesses and in the interplay between image and insight in thinking. The imagined pattern is the failure to understand this basic structure and the consequent clinging to things as if they had enduring essences. Frozen at the presentation of images as essences, one mistakenly affirms the reality of things that are in their very being empty and nonexistent. All things are empty inasmuch as all the ideas that are projected in the imagined pat­tern are without essence. The perfected pattern, in Paramartha's translation, the reality pattern, is the absence of imagining in the other-dependent pattern and the consequent recovery of its basic nature as other-dependent.

Chapter III treats the theme of conscious construction only, the hallmark of Yogacara. It is presented not as a subjective idealism, as has at times been thought, but as a rejection of the normative value of the subject-object polarity. Asanga reaffirms emptiness in teaching that in non-imaginative wisdom even the theory of conscious construction only falls by the wayside, for it is only a conceptional and language-formed explanation and not itself insight into suchness.

Chapters N to IX treat the development of the tyro bodhi­sattva through the perfections and stages to the full realization of wisdom. Chapter X turns to a treatment of wisdom as the three bodies of the Buddha, focusing in the main on the Dharma body so as to emphasize that this ultimate body is not a supernal essence floating off in some spiritual vacuum but is itself synonymous with emptiness as a non-imaginative awareness of suchness. The other two bodies, Enjoyment and Transformation, are also drawn into this context, and Asanga insists that all Buddhas, whether seen in meditations in their pure lands or perceived as historical figures, are embodiments of emptiness and not objects to be clung to in mistaken devotion.

The numbering of paragraphs within the chapters is not pres­ent in the Chinese text but is taken from Lamotte's translation (see below).

The Summary of the Great Vehicle has five separate translations, one Tibetan and four Chinese, those by Buddhasanta, Paramartha, Dharmagupta, and Hsuan-tsang. The present English translation is taken from the Chinese translation of Paramartha (499-569) made in 563. His translation is crucially important not only for deciphering the meaning of this most important Asangan text but also in delineat­ing the history of Chinese Buddhist thinking, for it led directly to the establishment of the Chinese She-lun Tsung, the School of the Summary. Paramartha did add passages to Asanga's text not found in any of the other translations, especially in reference to the themes of the Buddha nature. These added passages figure prominently in Chinese thinking on Yogacdra and on the Buddha nature.

There are two commentaries to the text: the Commentary to the Summary of the Great Vehicle (T. Nos. 1595, 1596, 1597) by Asanga's younger brother Vasubandhu (ca. 320-400) and the Interpretation o f the Summary o f the Great Vehicle (T. No. 1598) by Asvabhava (first half of the sixth century). Many passages yield their full meaning only when read in conjunction with these commentaries.

A preface is provided to the text by Hui-k'ai (517-568), who was a direct disciple of Paramartha and worked as his amanuensis in writing down his interpretations and, truth be told, as his Chinese-language mentor. Hui-k'ai's preface is written in a some­what florid style and is intended to recommend Paramartha and his work to cultured Chinese gentlemen. Its Chinese is difficult and the English translation of it below is at times interpretive.

There are two Western-language works on the Summary: Etienne Lamotte, La Somme du Grand W hicule d'Asanga (Maha­yanasamgraha), 2 vols., 1973, Louvain-la-Neuve:.Institut Orien taliste, University de Louvain. This French translation, which is based on the Tibetan text, is the standard work on the Summary. Paul Griffiths, HAKAMAYA Noriaki, John Keenan, and Paul Swanson, The Realm of Awakening: Chapter Ten of Asanga's Mahdyanasamgraha, 1989, New York and Oxford: Oxford Univer­sity Press. This work consists of an introduction to the thought of Chapter X together with a translation of this chapter of Asanga's basic text, of Asvabhava's Interpretation, and of the three Chinese translations and one Tibetan translation of Vasubandhu's Com­mentary. It is meant to focus on the theme of Chapter X and to highlight the differences in translation in the commentarial literature.

In addition, Diana Paul's Philosophy of Mind in Sixth-Century China: Paramartha's "Evolution of Consciousness," 1984, Stan­ford: Stanford University Press, presents the only book-length English-language study of Paramartha and his thought. It is a well-researched and readable book.


The Biographical Scripture of King Asoka (Taisho 2043) translated by Li Rongxi, this biographical text relates how King Asoka, after his conversion to Buddhism in the third century B.C.E, sent emissaries throughout his kingdom to spread Buddhism and unified India for the first time. In the Chinese Tripitaka there are two texts giving legendary accounts of the life of King Asoka (reigned ca. 265-238 B.C.E. or ca. 273-232 B.C.E.), the third Maurya ruler of Magadha. He was the grandson of Candragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty (321-184 B.C.E.), which had its capital at Pataliputra. The first of the texts is the A-yu-wang-zhuan (Asokdoaddna) or Biography of King Asoka (Taisho No. 2042), translated into Chinese in seven fascicles by An Faqin, a monk from Anxi (Parthia), who came to Luo-yang in the second year of Tai-kang (281 C.E.) during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Western Jin dynasty. The second text is Samghapala's Chinese translation (512 C.E.) of the A-yu-wang jing (Asokardjasutra) or Sutra of King Asoka (T. No. 2043) in ten fascicles, upon which the present English translation is based.

In spite of the legendary style of the presentation, this bio­graphical work, of which the original Sanskrit text is little known, gives accounts of the major events in the life of King Asoka that are historically verifiable through comparative studies of reliable written records and archaeological findings. Although the exact date of the original text is unascertainable, it may be said that it was composed no earlier than 184 B.C. E., when the Maurya dynasty collapsed, because this event is mentioned in the work.

In this work the last king of the Maurya dynasty is given as Pusyamitra, but according to Brahmanical accounts Pusyamitra was the name of a general of King Brhaddhanus, the last monarch of that dynasty. This general Pusyamitra is said to have killed the king, usurped the throne, and founded the Sunga dynasty in 184 B.C.E.

Besides recounting the major events in the life of King Asoka, this work devotes half of its space to stories concerning the six patriarchs who succeeded the Buddha in transmitting the Dharma:

Mahakasyapa, Ananda, Madhyantika, Sanakavasin, Upagupta, and Dhitika. It also includes some other stories for the elucidation of the Dharma. Dhitika unknown to Southern Buddhism and may be looked upon as a hint of the Mahayanist tendency of this work; this hint is enhanced by a sort of short dharani (incantation) in Chinese transliteration in Chapter VIII (which has been restored to the nearest possible romanized. Sanskrit by my friend Professor Wu Baihui of the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences).

Samghapala (459-524 C.E.), the translator of the Chinese ver­sion of the A-yu-wang jing, was a monk from the kingdom of Funan (in the eastern part of present-day Thailand), who came to China during the Qi dynasty (479-501 C.E.) and stayed at Zheng­guan Monastery in the capital, where he studied Mahayana texts under the Indian monk Gunabhadra and "mastered the languages of several countries". When Emperor Wu of the Liang dynasty came to power, he invited Samghapala in the fifth year of Tian jinn (506 C.E.) to translate Buddhist texts into Chinese. In the course of the subsequent seventeen years, he translated eleven Buddhist texts into Chinese, making a total of forty-eight fascicles, including the A yu-wang jing and the Vimuktimarga, with the assistance of Chinese Buddhist monks and lay scholars under imperial patronage. In the fifth year of Pu-tong (524 C.E.), he died of illness at the age of sixty-five at Zheng-guan Monastery.

 The Lotus Sutra (Taisho 262) translated by Tsugunari Kubo and Akira Yuyama, this is one of the most important of all Mahayana sutras. It is a work of great literary merit and has earned a lasting place in the history of Buddhism.

 This translation of The Lotus Sutra was made from the Chinese version by Kumdrajiva entitled Miao-fa-lien-hua-ching in seven fascicles. In translating the Chinese text into English we used the Kasuga Edition of the Lotus Sutra as a basic text rather than the Taish6 Edition. With very few exceptions the readings in these two editions are almost exactly the same in meaning, and the differ­ences are too slight to have any significant effect on the transla­tion. We have tried to make our translation as readable as possible without straying from the original meaning.

The last line of the first verse in Chapter XXIII, which we have translated as, "I have paid homage to the Bhagavat.  In order to attain the utmost wisdom," has no corresponding reading in any extant Sanskrit manuscript. It is found neither in the Tibetan canon nor in the Chinese version translated from the Sanskrit by Dharmaraksa in 267. Fur­thermore, it is absent in a number of authoritative editions of the Buddhist canon in Chinese.

According to the late Professor Shoko Kabutogi, the foremost specialist in various editions of Kumdrajiva's version of the Lotus Sutra, the Kasuga Edition is superior to other editions. The most reliable edition, printed in 1263, is now kept at the temple of Toshodai ji in Nara. We are pleased to say that this text was published in facsimile under the editorship of Dr. S. Kabutogi (Tokyo: The Reiyukai, 1979). Furthermore, at the advice of Pro­fessor Kabutogi, the late Professor Yukio Sakamoto included this version of the text along with his three-volume Japanese translation in the pocket-book series of the Iwanami Shoten (Tokyo 1962-67). In many cases, however, we have not necessarily followed the traditional Sino-Japanese interpretation.

In this connection we have consulted the Sanskrit and, on rare occasions, the Tibetan versions. Of the former, the so-called Central Asian recension, and in particular the Kashgar Manuscript, is of great importance. This manuscript was no doubt copied in the oasis town of ancient Khotan, but it is generally called the Kashgar Manuscript because the majority of the manuscript was obtained there in 1903, by N. F. Petrovsky, the Imperial Russian consul of the time. The manuscript is now scattered in a number of places throughout the world, and unfortunately has not been kept intact. Some folios are missing or damaged. Nevertheless, the available portions have been almost completely reproduced in facsimile under the editorship of Professor Lokesh Chandra of the International Academy of Indian Culture in New Delhi (1976; reprinted by the Reiyukai in 1977). As the fruit of painstak­ing work, Professor Hirofumi Toda of Tokushima University has recently published a romanization of this text (Tokushima 1981).

It is interesting to note here that in a number of cases, particu­larly those of Chinese proper names, either in transliteration or translation, Kumarajiva's version agrees with the readings of the Central Asian Sanskrit recension rather than that in others, such as those found in Nepal, or at the ancient site of Gilgit in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent and some of those found in Tibet. In such cases we have gladly adopted the version from the Central Asian recension, since some of the readings in Chinese have puzzled us for a long time.

Within the Buddhist canon, the Lotus Sutra is one text which should be read as a whole. We recommend reading the text from the beginning and continuing chapter by chapter so that this magnificent drama can be fully grasped as it unfolds. In this sense, Chapter I can be seen as a dramatic prelude; while the well-known parables which emerge during the course of the sutra serve to clarify and enliven the entire narrative.

For the reader who wants a quick summary of the Lotus Sutra, we suggest the preface to Professor Leon Hurvitz's meticulous work, Scripture of the Lotus Blossom of the Fine Dharma (New York 1976).

 The Sutra on Upasaka Precepts  (Taisho 1488) translated by Heng-ching Shih, this text sets forth the moral code to be observed by lay Buddhists.

As its title indicates, the Updsakasda-sutra comprehensively elucidates the content, practice, and essence of the moral code to be observed by lay bodhisattvas. It emphasizes the importance of the bodhisattva practice of lay Buddhists. The aspiration of the laity for enlightenment is said to be superior to the fruition of the practice of both sravakas and pratyekabuddhas. At the end of each chapter, the sutra concludes that lay bodhisattvas encounter more difficulties in following the precepts than ordained bodhisattvas. As such, their observance of the precepts is highly praised in the sutra.

The chapter "On Taking Precepts" is the pivot of the Upasaka­sila-sutra. It explains how a lay Buddhist should conduct himself with respect to six groups of people represented by the six direc­tions. This chapter enumerates six major and twenty-eight minor precepts that are different from the other two main categories of bodhisattva precepts. The Yogacara tradition has four major and forty-three minor bodhisattva precepts, and the Brahmajala tradition has ten major and forty-eight minor bodhisattva precepts. Although all three categories of bodhisattva precepts are for bodhi­sattvas to observe, the six major and twenty-eight minor precepts in this sutra are mainly for the lay bodhisattva, whereas the precepts of the other two traditions are for ordained bodhisattvas.

There are twenty-eight chapters in this sutra. The key points of each chapter can be summarized as follows:

Chapter I: On the Assembly. In response to Sujata's question, the Buddha points out that in contrast to non-Buddhists' worship of the six directions in order to procure wealth, Buddhists venerate another six directions-parents, teachers, spouse, friends, sub­ordinates, and dramanas-in order to practice the six paramitas (perfections). This is the crux of the sutra,

Chapter II: On Arousing the Aspiration for Enlightenment. The meaning and significance of the aspiration for enlightenment are detailed in this chapter.

Chapter III: On Compassion. This chapter explains that com­passion derived from the observation of the suffering and anguish of sentient beings is the root of the aspiration for enlightenment. The essence of the Upasakadda is the cultivation of a compas­sionate mind.

Chapter IV: On Liberation. This chapter outlines various ways to reach liberation. The cultivation of compassion is said to be the root of liberation.

Chapter V On Three Kinds of Enlightenment. In this chapter, the three kinds of enlightenment, that of the sravaka, the pratyeka­buddha, and the Buddha, are explained using the analogy of the crossing of a river by a rabbit, a horse, and an elephant. Through it we see how the enlightenment of the Buddha is exalted.

Chapter VI: On Cultivating the Thirty-two Marks. This chap­ter enumerates the thirty-two marks of the Buddha and explains the sequence by which each mark is cultivated and attained.

Chapter VII: On Making Vows. This chapter emphasizes the importance of vows as the foundation of bodhisattva practice and names those vows that a bodhisattva should make in order to fortify his resolve for enlightenment.

Chapter VIII: On the Meaning of "Bodhisattva." This chapter distinguishes a true bodhisattva from a bodhisattva in name only. Chapter IX: On the Firm Determination of a True Bodhisattva. This chapter tells how a true bodhisattva fortifies his practice in the face of difficulties.

Chapter X: On Benefitting Oneself and Others. This chapter states the eight kinds of wisdom and sixteen qualities with which a bodhisattva should be equipped in order to benefit himself and others.

Chapter XI: On the Adornment of Oneself and Others. This chapter sets forth the eight ways of cultivation with which one adorns oneself and others.

Chapter XII: On Two Adornments. The two adornments of blessing and wisdom achieved through the practice of the six paramitas are elucidated in this chapter.

Chapter XIII: On Drawing In. This chapter explains how to teach ordained and lay Buddhist followers.

Chapter XIV: On Taking Precepts. This chapter expounds the rites of taking the upasaka precepts and enumerates and expounds the six major and twenty-eight minor precepts.

Chapter XV: On the Purification of Precepts. Various ways to purify the precepts are explained in this chapter.

Chapter XVI: On Eliminating Evils. How the mindfulness of the Buddha eliminates evils is explained in this chapter.

Chapter XVII: On Making Offerings to the Three Treasures. This chapter explains the meaning of making offerings to the Three Treasures and lays down the means of doing so.

Chapter XVIII: On the Six Perfections. This chapter elucidates the meaning and details the practice of the six paramitas of giving, morality, endurance, vigor, meditation, and wisdom.

Chapter XIX: On Miscellaneous Subjects. This chapter explains the categories, merits, and fruitions of the practice of giving. Chapter XX: On the Three Pure Refuges. The meaning and meritorious virtues of the Three Refuges are explained in this chapter.

Chapter XXI: On the Eight Precepts. This chapter relates the blessings and virtues of taking the eight precepts.

Chapter XXII: On the Five Precepts. This chapter explains the difference between the worldly precepts and the ultimate precepts. It also emphasizes the virtues of the five precepts and the ten improprieties of lay followers.

Chapters XXIII to XXVIII: These chapters reiterate the prac­tice of the perfections of morality, endurance, vigor, meditation, and wisdom.


The Essentials of the Eight Traditions/ The Candle of the Latter Dharma 9525618-7-8
The Storehouse of Sundry Valuables
A Biography of the Tripitaka Master of the Great Ci'en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty
The Three Pure Land Sutras
The Essentials of the Vinaya Traditions/ The Collected Teachings of the Tendai Lotus School
Tannisho: Passages Deploring Deviations of Faith/ Rennyo Shonin Ofumi: The Letters of Rennyo
The Great T'ang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions
Senchaku Hongan Nembutsu Shu
The Pratyutpanna Samadhi Sutra/ The Surangama Samadhi Sutra
The Blue Cliff Record
Three Chan Classics
Three Texts on Consciousness Only
The Scriptural Text: Verses of the Doctrine, with Parables
Buddhist Monastic Traditions of Southern Asia
The Scripture on the Explication of Underlying Meaning
Kaimokusho or Liberation from Blindness
The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch 886439-13-3
A Comprehensive Commentary on the Prajnaparamita-Hrdaya-Sutra 886439-11-7


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