Translating & Transferring Buddhist Literature

Contributing writers: Casey A. Kemp and Gregory Forgues

Audience at Vienna ConferenceParticipants listening to translation presentation at University of Vienna.
Photo: Rolf Scheuermann

On 21st May, 2014, the Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Translation Studies (BTS) program at the University of Vienna, in coordination with the doctoral college Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands (IK CIRDIS), hosted a one-day workshop mapping issues and methods in Buddhist Translations Studies. It was convened by Professor Klaus-Dieter Mathes and 84000 board member and translator Gregory Forgues. The event included talks by major scholars from Buddhist Studies such as Professor Dorji Wangchuk, Professor Matthew Kapstein, Professor Akira Saito, and 84000 Editor-in-Chief Professor Tom Tillemans.

Part of the KF BTS program at Vienna University sponsored by Khyentse Foundation, the workshop encouraged in-house scholars from the University of Vienna’s well-developed Buddhist Studies program to join with academics from other institutes working on related projects to discuss and collaborate on Buddhist translation. The well-attended and packed day addressed practical concerns for Buddhist Translation Studies as a developing discipline and provided a potent atmosphere for productive, informal discussions between sessions.

The wide variety of talks covered approaches to translation from various disciplines, such as textual scholarship, cultural studies, and translation theory, including “cultural translation.” Participants also discussed new translation software and practical methods that have become increasingly available in recent years, which bring along the potential to increase the efficiency and quality of translation projects. One such example of these newly available tools is translation memory software that aligns bilingual source texts and equivalent available translations, a valuable referencing resource for translators.

The workshop focused on translation as a bridge between worlds and a cross-cultural process through which the original text is interpreted, reinterpreted, altered, or distorted. The job of the translator is far more complex than is commonly understood, and this consideration is important for both translators and readers to keep in mind, especially when translating canonical works. Thus, taking such an interdisciplinary approach helped lead to a common vocabulary and methodology for Buddhist Translation Studies scholars, which has the potential to be an invaluable contribution to translators of Buddhist translation projects.

Throughout the day, participants explored relevant translation issues with the goal of establishing a methodology to train professional translators of Buddhist literature for projects such as 84000. It also set a strong precedent for future academic encounters regarding Buddhist Translation Studies.

Scheuremann, Forgues, Kapstein, Tillemans, TauscherLeft to Right: Rolf Scheuermann, Gregory Forgues, Professor Matthew Kapstein, 84000 Editor-in-Chief Professor Tom Tillemans and Professor Helmut Tauscher. Photo: Casey A. Kemp

“Translator training programs are very important for 84000 to ensure that there will be a continual flow of translators for our 100-year mission. At the same time, the very existence of 84000 has motivated many translators-in-training, as now there is the opportunity for them to contribute to a meaningful project with their developing translation skills,” Professor Tom Tillemans, 84000 editor-in-chief, said about the conference. “As such, 84000 and the Khyentse Foundation have been working closely with translator training institutions, such as University of Vienna and Rangjung Yeshe Institute, to address the issues we have uncovered after working with more than 150 translators over the past four years. Our editors have provided many suggestions on how the training programs can better prepare translators to undertake Kangyur translation, which requires specific knowledge and skills in the context of canonical translation.”

For more information on the conference content, review this PDF with conference abstracts: Translation Workshop Abstracts.

To learn more about methodological issues in the translation of Buddhist canonical literature, watch Tom Tillemans’ video for translators.

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