Impressions from the Buddhist Translation Workshop 2014, ISTB

Poster for the workshop on Buddhist translationIn a recent post, I informed readers about the Workshop on Buddhist Translation called "Translating and Transferring Buddhist Literature" at the University of Vienna, May 21st 2014.

This workshop was organized by the CIRDIS doctoral college (IK) "Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands" and the Khyentse Foundation Buddhist Translation Studies Program, University of Vienna. Convened by Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Mathes and Mag. Gregory Forgues, it aimed at exploring practical  concerns  of  Buddhist  Translation  Studies, particularly in  relation  to the latest methodological trends on issues  of transference and translation of Buddhist literature.

Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes welcoming the participants of the workshop on Buddhist Translation
Klaus-Dieter Mathes
On May 21st 2014, Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes welcomed a body of international scholars for the workshop at the Institute of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ISTB), University of Vienna. It forms a part of the recently initiated Buddhist Translation Studies Program at the University of Vienna funded by the Khyentse Foundation. 

Prof. Martin Gaenszle during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Martin Gaenszle on Cultural Transfer
Prof. Martin Gaenszle and Gregory Forgues opened the workshop with presentations on the research theme followed in the doctoral college "Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands". Thus focusing on an introduction to Cultural Transfer Theory and its relation to Translation Studies, Gregory Forgues suggested a methodological approach for a corpus-based discourse analysis of large corpora of Buddhist literature. Prof. Martin Gaenszle's paper further aimed at clarifying  the  utility  of  the  idea  of  “cultural translation” and also gauged its limits.

Front row from left: Prof. Ernst Steinkellner, Dr. Anne MacDonald, Dr. Martina Draszczyk
Presenters and Audience
Afterwards, different researchers approached the subject through observations based on their individual research. It was an intensive meeting with a tight schedule of fourteen presentations as well as formal and informal discussions by Buddhist scholars on a large variety of different subjects (you can find a list of the titles of all presentations here).

Audience of the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Presenters and Audience
Discussing the term mindfulness (Pāli sati; Sanskrit smṛti), Dr. Martina Draszczyk  demonstrated very clearly how a  term can develop a life of its own in the target language. Her presentation was followed by Dr. David Higgins' paper, which carefully discussed how early Tibetan translators and lexicographers responded to the problem of polysemy, i.e. that certain  Sanskrit  terms carry several possible meanings. Dr. Pascale Hugon elaborated on the fascinating but nevertheless provocative question whether efforts at translating the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist corpus into modern European languages should indeed address each and every text.

Prof. Matthew Kapstein during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Matthew Kapstein discussing a doha attr. to Kanha
Focussing on  a particular work of the Indian master Kanha, Prof. Kapstein's presentation raised some questions about the provenance and composition of a short collection of Indian
Mahāmudrā texts, the Do ha mdzod brgyad.

Casey Kemp during her presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Casey Kemp on luminosity
Casey Kemp argued in her presentation for a standardization of English terminological equivalents when  translating Sanskrit terms such as prabhāsvara (Tib. ʼod gsal) and prakāśa (Tib. gsal ba). Since either of them may occur in English translations as ‘luminous’, ‘luminosity’ or yet other terms, readers may not apprehend that they are two distinct philosophical concepts.

Dr. Anne MacDonald during her presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Anne MacDonald on translating Tibetan translations 
The workshop continued after a short lunch break with the presentation of Dr. Anne MacDonald. Taking into account the recurring  gaps  in  correspondence  between  the  Indo-Tibetan  domain  and  the modern world, her  paper touched both on general problems of inter-cultural translation, as well as issues specific to the process of translating Canonical Tibetan texts.

Poster for the summer school on Translating the Buddhist CanonPlease note: as posted earlier, Dr. Anne MacDonald will lead a summer school on "Translating the Buddhist Canon" at the University of Vienna in September.

Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Klaus-Dieter Mathes during his presentation
Discussing a passage of ’Gos  Lo  tsā  ba  gZhon  nu  dpal's  (1392-1481)  introduction to  the  second  chapter  of  his  Ratnagotravibhāga commentary, Prof. Klaus Dieter Mathes showed that a careful comparison with the bsTan ’gyur, bKa’ ’gyur and  Sanskrit of the quotations given by ’Gos  Lo is  necessary  not  only  for critically  assessing  his  line  of  thought,  but  also to  correctly  understand  and  translate  his Tibetan.

Prof. Akiro Saito during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Akira Saito on Buddhist Scriptures, terms and translations
Prof. Akiro Saito, presently Numata Guest Professor at the ISTB, offered a brief survey  of general Buddhist translation issues with reference to some actual examples, incorporating characteristics of Chinese and Tibetan translations of Buddhist texts.
Presenters and Audience
Then, I presented on  difficulties  involved in  translating  the  ambiguous formulations  of  the  Four Dharmas of Sgam po pa. Apart from an analysis of concerned grammatical and lexical phenomena, I discussed different variants and interpretations of the formulations in the light of existent Tibetan commentaries. Play of words frequently occur in indigenous Tibetan literature, and I focused on a particular example involving the term dharma.

Prof. Helmut Tauscher during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Helmut Tauscher on Chinese whispers and the Buddhist Canon
Under the header "Chinese Whispers?", Prof. Helmut Tauscher reflected on some problems of translation – from Sanskrit to other
Buddhist source languages as well as from these to European languages – and textual transmission of Buddhist literature. The presentation was illustrated by examples from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra.

Prof. Tom Tillemans during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Tom Tillemans on Buddhist translation
Prof. Tom Tillemans, Chief Editor of 84000 - Translating the Words of the Buddha, stressed cultural differences in the use of language. He thereby showed, that in the case of Buddhist texts, what people have called 'translation' is often closer to deciphering. 

Prof. Dorje Wangchuk during his presentation at the Buddhist Translation workshop.
Dorji Wangchuk on philological methods
Last but not least, Prof. Dorje Wangchuk offered
reflections on the historical-philological study of Himalayan Buddhism, where textual  problems  inevitably  become  translation problems, strongly stressing the importance of philological methods such as textual criticism.

Front (from left): Rolf Scheuermann, Gregory Forgues, Prof. Matthew Kapstein, Prof. Tom Tillemans, Prof. Helmut Tauscher
Some presenters of the workshop
In his conclusion, Prof. Mathes noted, that even though the day had been very long, he couldn't make out any tired faces. Indeed, the international audience made up of Buddhist scholars and students from Austria, Europe and abroad, had showed great interest and enthusiasm for this important subject.

Presenters of the Workshop on Buddhist Translation in an informal discussion
Still, owing to the fantastic summer weather, the possibility to continue discussions informally after the workshop in a typical Viennese garden restaurant was welcomed very much by all participants. 

Presenters of the Workshop on Buddhist Translation in an informal discussion

Presenters of the Workshop on Buddhist Translation in an informal discussion 

For a young researcher like myself, there is a lot that can be learned from experienced specialists. Having been invited to participate in a workshop with so many highly esteemed scholars from the field of Buddhist Studies was really an amazing experience and a great honor.  I am convinced that the issues addressed were certainly of great interest for anyone involved in Buddhist translation. It was therefore wonderful news to hear that a publication of the proceedings is envisioned. 

Like to
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