Vision and Translator Instructions

Instructions from the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua on Translation

“For everything we understand of this Sutra, we should give great thanks to the translator. If he had never existed, we would be unable to see the Sutra or even to hear its name. If that were the case, how would we be able to cultivate according to the methods prescribed in it? It would be impossible to find its path of cultivation. Therefore, we should thank the person who translated the Sutra, since from that time up to the present moment, every generation has benefited from his compassionate teaching and transforming. The merit of translating Sutras is inconceivable. It is extremely vast. Now it is up to you to translate the Sutras into the languages of the West. The merit derived by the people who take part in this work will be without limit, for it will benefit not only their own lives, but will be cause for the gratitude of generations of people in the West.

Everyone can be included in the work of translation; I hope no one will fall behind. You should quickly learn Chinese and translate the Sutras into English. Everyone should be eager to make a contribution to the people of the West.

“We are using everyone's wisdom to translate the Sutras. Even if it takes several decades, we have to do something of value for the people of the future. We want them to be able to study the Buddhadharma and read the Sutras. It won't be like now, when there are only a few Sutras in English and those who want to study the Buddhadharma don't even know where to begin. Let us all translate the Sutras and open the source of wisdom for the people of the West, so that Easterners and Westerners can all come to understand the Buddhadharma. Everyone should make that his or her goal. We shouldn't think on our own behalf; we should think on behalf of the people who live hundreds and thousands of years in the future. We want to make it easy for them to study the Buddhadharma and understand the Buddhadharma. That's our goal. That's why we are making such strenuous efforts and undergoing so much hardship here.

“Certainly our personal cultivation is also extremely important. If we can cultivate and realize the fruition of enlightenment, of course we will be able to help Buddhism in a great way. Even so, this is only a temporary contribution. If we can translate the Sutras into the language of every country and deliver the Buddhadharma into every person's heart, that is a lasting achievement.

Propagating the Dharma is a very important task, but the translation of Sutras is even more important in terms of the propagation of Buddhism as a whole. I hereby seek out those who share the same aspirations as I have. Let us all stand together and work hard in cooperation to translate the Sutras, using everyone's wisdom.”

Guidelines for Translators

The Venerable Master frequently reminded his disciples to use their true wisdom to translate the Sutras. He also said that if they felt something had been translated inappropriately, they could bring it up at any time land everyone could study it and discuss it together. Such open and democratic discussions allowed for more accurate translations. In this way, the style of the translation centers of the past was brought to Western countries. The Venerable Master said:

Translation should be done through consensus. Before a nation's constitution is formally ratified, it must be read three times, and each time people are asked if they have objections. We should adopt this method in the translation of Sutras. After the translation is completed, everyone should study it and see if there are problems.

Everyone's wisdom should be used in translating the Sutras. All opinions can be brought up. When we ask for opinions, we should follow the procedure for holding karmavachanas (formal Sangha meetings). That is, after the translation is read once through, everyone is asked to give their opinions and the translation is revised. After that, it is read another time and people are asked again. Then, it is read and people are asked for a final time. There must be three readings, and people must be asked three times. The text should be read slowly so that it can be heard clearly and distinctly. When the three readings are done in accord with karmavachana procedure, those who have opinions should bring them up. If there are no opinions, that means everyone is in agreement. In the future, no one can say, "This part is not translated well. It was done wrong at the time." None of us can object then. So everyone has to be responsible. Only when everyone is in unanimous agreement can the translation pass. As we do our translations here, we want to set up a pattern for the people of the future. They will have to follow our method. It won't do for one person to come out with his own translation. We are using everyone's strength to carry out this work.

Accuracy is the most important

In translating the Sutras, nothing is more important than accuracy (correctness). The translation cannot be at odds with the original text. When translating someone else's work, you must translate that person's words faithfully. You cannot add your own ideas. If the grammar is awkward, you may smooth it out, but there is no need to add your own interpretations.

Translation should be understandable Sutra translations should be simple and clear. You don't necessarily have to use Sanskrit. If the term doesn't exist in English, then use the Sanskrit word if you must. If it does exist in English, we should use words that people in this country can understand with ease. If we use Sanskrit words everywhere, then there's no need to translate the Sutra into Chinese, and then into English.You might as well use the Sanskrit version! The purpose of translating a work is to popularize it, to make it so that people can understand it as soon as they read it. It's enough if we can do that. It should be very ordinary. If you deliberately find a very difficult word to use in the translation, people will be mystified when they read it. We should use our wisdom to investigate the matter. If a word is fitting, we can use it. That's enough. The evolution of language takes place bit by bit.

People may not understand something for the time being, but gradually, after they look at it a few more times, they will come to understand. As long as the meaning is felt to be sufficient and complete, that's good enough.

Translations should encompass many interpretations

In translating the text of the Sutra, you cannot translate according to the meaning of the commentary. The text of the Sutra is like the ocean, while the commentaries are like rivers that can flow into the ocean in any way they please. You shouldn't treat the rivers as the ocean. The Sutra is alive, not dead. It is perfectly fused and unobstructed. It is not restricted to a single meaning. Any interpretation is acceptable, as long as it is logical and makes sense. Don't make it so rigid and insist that it has to be a certain way. As long as the meaning is conveyed, that's enough. Don't spend too much effort on this aspect. If you spend all your time quibbling over the words themselves, you'll get farther and farther away from the meaning and you'll never come up with a good translation. In translating Sutras, you have to be very flexible and dynamic. You can't always be so obstinate and fixed in your ideas. As long as the meaning is there, it's enough.

Translating develops wisdom

No matter who you are, if you use you wisdom to translate Sutras, your wisdom will become greater day by day. The growth of wisdom takes place day after day. If you concentrate your mind and devote yourself to studying every day, your wisdom will open up.

Use the Mind of the Buddha – impartial and objective

We must have proper views and proper knowledge when we translate Sutras, and we must maintain a sense of righteousness. You can't be partial or speak nice words to please people. You have to make quick decisions and speak with determination and courage, like a judge. We should have the spirit of a judge deciding court cases. We have to bring forth sincerity, use correct and penetrating views, and be decisive. We should translate in an objective manner and not get caught up in the language. We have to use wisdom when we translate Sutras, without harboring the least bit of emotion. No matter whose words they are, if you think they're wrong, then at that point you have to be inflexibly just and impartial. You have to be cold and emotionless when you translate. If you listen to your emotions, you'll go wrong. Why did Shakyamuni Buddha speak this Sutra? When we translate, we have to imagine Shakyamuni Buddha's frame of mind.

What was he thinking? What were his intentions at the time? We have to use our own thoughts to comprehend the principles that the Buddha expounded in the Sutras. In doing so, we will attain the wonderfully subtle meaning.

Joy of Translation

When we translate Sutras, our hearts should be filled with the joy of the Dharma. You shouldn't have thoughts of fighting. Use wisdom: Don't be indecisive. Don't use stupidity. We should think of how rare this opportunity is: "That I can take part in this Sutra Translation Assembly is truly a fortunate event that is hard to encounter in ten thousand eons. It's impossible to describe my happiness." Each time we translate a Sutra here, everyone should first very quietly recite,

"Homage to the eternally dwelling Buddhas of the ten directions. Homage to the eternally dwelling Dharma of the ten directions. Homage to the eternally dwelling Sangha of the ten directions." That doesn't mean reciting it verbally. In your minds you should have this thought,

"1 take refuge with the limitlessly limitless, infinitely infinite, eternally dwelling Triple Jewel of the ten directions to the exhaustion of empty space throughout the Dharma Realm. We hope that the Triple Jewel will aid us and enable us to have proper knowledge and proper views, and open great wisdom, so that we can translate Sutras." Every time we do the work of translating Sutras, each person should first request the aid of the Buddhas. Don't use the human mind to translate Sutras; you should use the true intention of the Buddha. When you translate, ask yourself, "Is this meaning in accord with what the Buddha meant, or is it in opposition to what the Buddha meant?

At the time when the Buddha spoke this Sutra, what was his intention?' That's what you should pay attention to. Although you could say this is a false thought, if your mind is true, what you do will be genuine. If your contemplation is true, you will unite with the substance of the Triple Jewel.

Devoting their lives to translation

The work we do is not like the work of worldly people. Don't ask, "What kind of compensation will I get for doing this work? What will I gain from it in the future?' The translation work we are doing offers no worldly gains whatsoever. We are working for Buddhism entirely on a volunteer basis. We are devoting our entire lives to work for Buddhism. Therefore, we want neither money nor reputation. We're not greedy for wealth, nor are we greedy for sex, food, or sleep. In our work, we must accord with the six great, bring paths of not contending, not being greedy, not seeking, not being selfish, not pursuing personal advantage, and not lying. When we carry out this work, we don't ask for a reward, or for anything at all. We simply want to translate the Buddhist Sutras, and that is enough.

Putting our Work in Perspective

In the early days, the Venerable Master had a small gathering of Americans of which only a few knew Chinese and served as translators. Despite this limitation, he encouraged them to translate and make Buddhism accessible for other people as well. The Venerable Master acknowledged that this work is just a beginning, and that much more work is left to be done by those in the future.

Just a beginning

In our present translations, it will be enough if the meaning is clear and understandable. We shouldn't embellish our work so it is as beautiful as embroidery. As long as it's passable, that's enough. In the future, if people think it's unsatisfactory, we will have given them a general translation which they can rework.

Take responsibility for Buddhism, and just do our best against difficulties We do not have many people who understand Chinese, and some of us don't know English very well either. Thus, we are translating the Sutras under very trying and difficult conditions. Despite the hardships, we are prepared to transmit the Buddha's wisdom life and pass on the lamp of the Buddhadharma. The kind of work that we're doing will have great impact on mankind in the future. Therefore, we want to do this sacred work with special diligence. Don't be sloppy and casual. Take it seriously. Be especially solemn and do this work in all seriousness. We have to think: "I am a member of Buddhism. If I don't fulfill this responsibility, whom do I expect to fulfill it?" Every one of us has to think, "If I don't do it, who will? The entire responsibility for Buddhism lies with me."

The Eight Guidelines for BTTS Volunteers

The Master set down the Eight Guidelines for the Translation of Buddhist Texts. If translators can actually follow these guidelines, they will be endowed with noble integrity. All those involved in the work of translation should honor these rules:

1. Volunteers must free themselves from the motives of personal fame and profit.
2. Volunteers must cultivate a respectful and sincere attitude free from arrogance and conceit.
3. Volunteers must refrain from aggrandizing their own work and denigrating that of others.
4. Volunteers must not establish themselves as the standard of correctness and suppress the work of others with their fault-finding.
5. Volunteers must take the Buddha-mind as their own mind.
6. Volunteers must use the wisdom of Dharma-Selecting Vision to determine true principles.
7. Volunteers must request Virtuous Elders in the ten directions to certify their translations.
8. Volunteers must endeavor to propagate the teachings by printing Sutras, Shastra texts, and Vinaya texts when the translations are certified as being correct.

From these Eight Guidelines, we can see that every person who takes part in the translation work must be broad-minded and of lofty integrity. Only then will he or she be able to take on this sacred work. The Venerable Master exhorted those doing the translation work with the following words:

Expand your mind and investigate together

The measure of our minds should encompass all of space and pervade worlds as numerous as grains of sand, excluding nothing and including everything. If you have doubts, bring them up. If you feel that a certain point is correct, you can explain your reason. Everyone is here to discuss and investigate together. We don't need to argue. It's not a case of one person winning and another losing. No one wins and no one loses. At all times, everyone is level and equal. United and equal, we advance together.

Four Committees

When the Buddhist Text Translation Society was established, the Master set up Four Committees to govern the translation process: (1) Translating Committee, (2) Reviewing Committee, (3) Editing Committee, and (4) Certifying Committee. These Four Committees provide an excellent means for training newcomers in the translation process. More importantly, as people practice taking the Buddha's mind as their own mind in translation and as they immerse themselves in the Venerable Master's words of Dharma, their minds expand and mature and they advance more resolutely upon the path to Bodhi.

Description of the Four Committees

Translating Committee: translator(s) primary responsibility is to render, as accurately as possible, the source material into the language of target translation. Upon completing his task, the translator(s) sign & date their translation and pass it on to the Reviewing Committee.

Reviewing Committee: reviewer(s) goes over the entire translation in full, listening to audio or working with the Chinese while checking the primary translation. This person makes necessary corrections and revisions that improve the accuracy of the translation. The work done by the Translating Committee member is not erased, for those who edit and review the work at a later date should be able to see quite clearly both the original transcript and the alternate versions. He indicates the date he received the drafts, how much work he did on them each day, and signs and dates the copies when he has finished, retaining one copy for the Review Committee and passing another copy to the Editing Committee.

Editing Committee: editor(s) makes sure the translation readable and the principles of the Dharma are very clear. If he is bilingual, he also checks the audio or written Chinese, comparing the rough draft version and the revisions made by the second committee, and decides upon a correct version. When finished, the Editing Committee member(s) concerned sign(s) and date(s) the work, retaining one copy for the Editing Committee and handing two on to the Certifying Committee.

Certifying Committee: certifier(s) make sure that the translation reflects the true and actual Dharma and tallies with the mind of all Buddhas. People who read the translation can then with confidence rely upon it to practice. The qualifications of a certifier are that they must be fluent both in Chinese (source language) and in the target language of the translation and have a considerable amount of experience both in the study and practice of the Dharma.

When necessary, two people, one fluent in Chinese and the other in the target language, are paired together for certifying a translation.