Lotus Sutra - Translation

Translation

The Lotus Sutra was originally translated from Sanskrit into Chinese by Dharmarakṣa, aka Zhu Fahu, in 286 AD in Chang'an during the Western Jin Period (265-317 AD) (E. Zurcher The Buddhist Conquest of China, 57-69). However, the view that there is a high degree of probability that the base text for that translation was actually written in a Prakrit language has gained widespread acceptance. Jan Nattier has recently summarized this aspect of the early textual transmission of such Buddhist scriptures in China thus, bearing in mind that Dharmarakṣa's period of activity falls well within the period she defines: "Studies to date indicate that Buddhist scriptures arriving in China in the early centuries of the Common Era were composed not just in one Indian dialect but in several . . . in sum, the information available to us suggests that, barring strong evidence of another kind, we should assume that any text translated in the second or third century AD was not based on Sanskrit, but one or other of the many Prakrit vernaculars."

This early translation by Dharmarakṣa was superseded by a translation in seven fascicles by Kumārajīva in 406 AD, although it is known that Kumārajīva made extensive use of the earlier version to the extent of borrowing readings directly from Dharmarakṣa's version. The Chinese title is usually abbreviated to 法華經, which is read Fǎ Huá Jīng in Chinese and Hokekyō in Japanese, Beophwagyeong in Korean, and Pháp Hoa Kinh" in Vietnamese. The Sanskrit copies are not widely used outside of academia. It has been translated by Burton Watson. According to Burton Watson it may have originally been composed in a Prakrit dialect and then later translated into Sanskrit to lend it greater respectability.

Modern scholars have not released much of the sutra on early fragments, except to say that they are not dependent on the Chinese or Tibetan Lotus sutras. Furthermore, other scholars have noted how the cryptic Dharani passages within the Lotus sutra represent a form of the Magadhi dialect that is more similar to Pali than Sanskrit. For instance, one Dharani reads in part: "Buddhavilokite Dharmaparikshite". Although the vilo is attested in Sanskrit, it appears first in the Buddhist Pali texts as "vilokita" with the meaning of "a vigilant looker" from vi, denoting intensification, and lok, etymologically connoting "to look".

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