約翰 ∙康諦博士（84000編輯主席）和彼得 ∙史基伶教授(貝葉基金會創立人)，與【八萬四千•佛典傳譯】談及佛教大藏經的簡史。
彼得 ∙史基伶教授是尼泊爾藍毘尼國際研究學院(Lumbini International Research Institute)的成員，也是泰國曼谷朱拉隆功大學(Chulalongkorn University)特別講師。他是貝葉經基金會(Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation)的創始人，該基金會致力於保存、研究，及出版東南亞佛教文獻。他是國際佛學研究中心(International Center for Buddhist Studies)的創始成員。彼得 ∙史基伶住在泰國超過三十年，並密集往返於亞洲各地。
1980年始，他在敦珠仁波切、頂果欽哲仁波切、貝瑪旺嘉仁波切及紐修堪布仁波切等上師的指導下，在法國多爾多涅(Dordogne)連續做了兩次三年閉關。之後，他協助其他閉關同修一起成立「蓮師翻譯小組」(Padmakara Translation Group)，目前他擔任該小組的主席。他也有幸成為敦珠仁波切在世最後幾年時的醫生，隨後，他也把其他喇嘛和修行者的醫療照顧統合起來。他目前在多爾多涅(Dordogne)過著半隱居式的生活，平時翻譯經典，並為其他三年閉關者提供醫療照顧和諮詢。他出版的譯作包括(都是合譯)：《證悟者的心要寶藏》、《普賢上師言教》、《覺悟之旅》、《修行百頌 》、《你可以更慈悲：菩薩三十七種修行之道》。他目前正在翻譯米龐仁波切對彌勒─無著菩薩的寶性論所做的釋論。
與約翰 ∙康諦及彼得 ∙史基伶對談：
我們通常會將之分為佛陀親口宣說的言教，或是佛弟子在佛陀的要求或啟發之下在佛陀面前所說之法。這些都被稱為「佛陀言教」。這在藏文佛典裡，被歸類為《甘珠爾》(即：佛說部 / 教敕譯典)。
但「正典」的確是一個西方的概念。在藏傳佛教裡，我們是用《甘珠爾》(佛經部 / 教敕譯典)和《丹珠爾》(論述部 / 論述譯典)來區分。在漢傳佛教，這些經典就收納在《大正藏》(Taisho)中，多數也稱作經、律、論三藏或《大藏經》。在藏文《大藏經》裡我們也有類似的概念。當然，在著名的巴利文《大藏經》裡，或多或少也是把經典分為這三藏。
How big are the buddhist canons?
They’re all big compared to the holy books of other religions like Christianity or Islam. But it’s difficult to compare them because they are measured differently, even within their own cultures and traditions.
The Thais like to measure the Pali Canon in 45 volumes. Of course those volumes are not identical in size.
“Chinese canon” is a very difficult term, because the Chinese Tripitaka was produced since the Tang period and they all have different sizes. The one used today was mainly produced in Japan in the Taisho era. The Taisho Tripitaka has well over a hundred volumes.
The Tibetan canon is usually made into traditional Tibetan volumes of 100 to 108.
So they’re all big, diverse; but it’s difficult to compare them without making the equation of imaginary Western pages or something like that.
Why do these canons contain different texts?
They were produced at different times, with different imperatives of the monastic cultures that were reflected on what they needed at the time, and produced what we can call a “canon” if you like.
So the Pali Canon is an early collection, done even perhaps in an oral period. At that time the tantras and other such texts were not available—maybe not pronounced, maybe not compiled. The others, as collections, are much, much later. More diverse bodies of literature had evolved at that time.
And then within Tibet itself, and in China, too, I believe, there would be debates as to what to include as the authentic word of the Buddha. Because all of them define themselves as containing authentic words of the Buddha or disciples—there are different definitions of authenticity, but that is still the basic rule.
For the Tibetans, for example, they would only include texts that they believed had an Indian original it was translated from, therefore it was authentic.
Chinese also have a similar principle. We have old Chinese catalogs which discussed these questions. Sometimes a later cataloger would reject works that were accepted earlier on and say, “This is not an Indian compilation.” So the main idea was that it should be an authentic work of the Buddha, and it should go back to India if it was in translation.
But the decisions were made at different times, different places, so none of them were fixed really. Even the Pali Canon has some flexibility in it. Particularly the Tibetan and the Chinese evolved over centuries with debates, rejections of texts, taking in new texts and so on. So they are all evolving, changing.
Again, that’s one of the reasons the word “canon” is a little difficult, because the canon itself is an evolving idea.
Are all the texts in the Tibetan and Chinese canons translated from Sanskrit?
Almost all. They must mostly have had Sanskrit originals. But some of them were translated from other languages. In fact, some of the Tibetan translations were made from Chinese, because the scholars knew that there had been an original text in Sanskrit which then no longer existed, and so they had to translate it from Chinese.
Other texts were translated from other languages of the area, from Kotanese, Sogdian, and some other languages. In fact at one point, one of the reasons that are given for the revisions that happened later on in the translation period that divides the early from the later translation period is the problem that there were such a plethora of texts—some of them translated from different source languages—that it was really quite difficult for people to know what was really authentic and valid and what wasn’t. And they were translated. Because they were from different sources, they varied quite a lot. The Tibetan that resulted varied quite a lot, and they needed to be made more uniform. But by and large, yes, they were to a very large extent translated from Sanskrit originals.
What happened that led to the loss of the Sanskrit texts?
Well, the wider picture we don’t really know. Some people say, you know, there were a lot of social changes going on in India at that time. But the most obvious answer to that question is the arrival of the invaders – Muslim invaders from the Northwest, who began to spread through Northwest and later Northeast India. The reason they hadn’t been able to invade before was due to the strength of the various kingdoms and republics that existed in Northern India at that time. So you could say that they wouldn’t have been there if there hadn’t been a considerable weakening of the defenses that had enabled the buddhist cultures to flourish in those areas.
But the immediate cause of the disappearance of buddhist culture was probably the arrival of the invading armies. They were extremely destructive. It had actually been happening for several decades, but there was one particularly bad year, which was 1193, I believe, when a particularly strong and violent army swept through the area and destroyed, not for the first time, but destroyed pretty much definitively the universities at Nalanda and Vikramshila and probably others, too. There were some accounts of the destruction of the great libraries and the burning of the books. So this was a very big change.
But I doubt if even an invading army would’ve been able to wipe out Buddhism as a culture, if they hadn’t been many other causes at work. And I think we have to assume, as well, that there must have been movements within India that by which the various different Hindu indigenous Indian beliefs began to encroach in people’s minds, in the way people practiced and in their cultures… the quite extraordinary spread of the practice of Buddhism—its study by monks in monasteries and the influence that it had on the ordinary life of people and over large areas of India. So it’s quite a complex story.
To what extent have the Chinese and Tibetan translations preserved what was lost in the Sanskrit collection?
Well we don’t know the answer to that question. So much of the Sanskrit is simply no longer found. It’s said that probably somewhere between 10%, 15%, maybe as much as 20% of the texts of the Kangyur have Sanskrit texts surviving. But the rest don’t. So that’s a large proportion of 80-85%. Those texts, very interesting to know what might have happened to them, but for the moment they simply haven’t turned up. A lot of texts were found in among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, which had been relatively stable politically for a very long time. It was never invaded and didn’t change very much. More recently, Sanskrit texts have been found along the Silk Road and in areas much further north; the archeological finds where the conditions for preservation were much better than they were in low-lying India, with its humidity, insects and so on.
We can only guess. But between the two, spanning quite a large period… first of all the Chinese translations which, you know, the translators took great pains to find most of the texts that were really being used at that time and which existed and take them back to China and translate them; and then later on, the same happened for the Tibetans. So covering a very large span of time, almost a thousand years, it’s unlikely that there were many texts that completely disappeared, but that’s sheer conjecture.
We have what we have, and some texts I believe have turned up in Sanskrit, not very many but a few in some fragments of scriptures which don’t seem to exist either in Chinese or Tibetan. So there may be a few. Of course, the other consideration is the different versions of texts which tended to evolve over time and geographically in different areas. So we don’t necessarily have records in the Chinese and Tibetan of all the versions of all the texts as they evolved.
What is the value of being able to read different buddhist canons?
There are many ways to interpret the value. So for some people it might be a matter of inspiration, reading the life of the Buddha in different versions. Could it be a matter of inspiration for people, a matter of revealing the life of the Buddha, say in relation to places like Bodhgaya here. Another sense is it can deepen a person’s understanding of practices, as for example, meditation, meditation on the breath, Anapana. We can compare various versions in Pali, in Tibetan, in Sanskrit, in Chinese translation. Here in fact, we see that they’re very close to each other and we could perhaps come to the conclusion that this is one of the core practices of mediation, of Buddhism. So we can see both the kind of synchronic and diachronic relation of text which gives a deepening idea of the teachings or practices.
So I think there are multiple benefits to that. I don’t think there are – I can’t really think of any drawbacks. I think it’s beneficial to expand one’s knowledge. It might increase tolerance, too, amongst buddhist groups if they see that, “Oh, we all have these core, we have some core traditions.” Because sometimes people, because they don’t know the language and don’t read the shared texts, sometimes they have an idea that… people who are from the Pali tradition might think, “Oh this Tibetan is something completely different – there’s only tantras which we don’t have.” Or the Tibetans might think similarly that the Pali tradition is different. And so and and so forth. It has many benefits in many ways I would think.
Who were the first people to translate buddhist texts into English?
Sporadic translations of buddhist texts from any of these collections began in the 19th century. I don’t think in the 18th, but I might be wrong. That was when the study of Indian texts, the Sanskrit and others, began in Europe, but I’m not sure if there are any real translations.
The first description of the Tibetan canon was by a great Hungarian scholar – Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, published in the 1820s and 30s. He did translate a few things.
As for the Pali, I think the first translations from Pali, excluding French (which might have come earlier or in the mid 19th century on),… the idea of translating the entire Pali collection began in the late 19th century with the Foundation of the Pali Text Society in England. They have more or less translated the whole collection. But that’s done by separate translators, sort of at different times over a long period. But they did have the idea of a single project.
For the Chinese it was much later. Maybe BDK Tripitaka, which was in progress.
For the Tibetan, the idea of a systematic translation has recently begun with the 84000 project.
How will this English translation benefit buddhists and non-buddhists?
Well I think the benefit for buddhists should be fairly obvious. They can read texts for inspiration, they can learn actually about Buddhism. By the very fact that so many of these texts have not been translated, even when Sanskrit exists, or even when Chinese translations exist but they’ve not been translated into English… so people who know only English, or European languages, if they are buddhists then they don’t have access to their full canon or traditional texts. So it will help a great deal in being aware of the practice, philosophy, history, narratives. There are so many wonderful things in these canons or in the Tibetan canon. So people will be able to be aware of their own tradition.
For non-buddhists, more or less the same thing. That if we talk about buddhist… how can we talk about buddhist philosophy in comparison with Western philosophy when most of the texts are not translated? So it will increase knowledge for the benefit of both buddhists and non-buddhists and others.