ON TRANSLATING SUTRAS
A lecture given by the Venerable Master Hua February 5, 1977, in the W. O. W. Hall in Eugene, Oregon.
Translated by Bhiksu Heng Sure
Now, what I'm going to say concerns Gold Mountain Monastery, the Gold Mountain Monastery in America, not the one in China. Everybody should be very clear about that, because people should be aware that Gold Mountain Monastery is located here in America, in San Francisco. It is not the Gold Mountain Monastery in China we're discussing. Not only have people outside confused the two, but insiders as well have had a hard time recognizing that what goes on in Gold Mountain Monastery is not Chinese Buddhism.
This is really a mistaken view. We don't teach Chinese Buddhism--in fact, there is no such thing as Chinese Buddhism; China has no real Buddhism. The only Buddhism in China is the kind that deceives old ladies. It's little old lady cheating Buddhism. (The little old ladies, however, do not cheat Buddhism.) The tenet of little old lady cheating Buddhism is, "Well, if you bow to the Buddhas--all you have to do is bow to the Buddhas--you can do away with all kinds of disasters and evil things. This is absolutely incorrect; the application of the principle of bowing is erroneous. When you bow to the Buddha, you bow out of respect to him. It's not that the Buddha comes along and gets rid of the disasters or does something to you to prevent them from occurring. When you bow to the Buddhas this eradicates your own difficulties and problems. It's not that the Buddha takes you by the hand or does something to the outside world. When you bow to the Buddha you yourself are correcting your own faults, erasing your own bad habit patterns.
This takes place very spontaneously. The Buddha doesn't come to you and do it for you; the Buddha is not going to get rid of your faults. You yourself naturally do it; you erase your undesirable behavior patterns.
Now, people with wisdom don't listen to Chinese Buddhism. Why is this? It's because the principles may seem right, but actually they aren't, because the really true principles aren't cultivated sufficiently. So, when Westerners hear about this kind of Buddhism they call it superstition. They say there's no true principle to it.
And I agree. I think this criticism is justified. Although I myself am from China, what I teach is not Chinese Buddhism. I've never really come out and said this before because I didn't feel that I had to explain. But, when the majority of people see that a Chinese person is teaching Buddhism, they assume that what he's teaching is Chinese Buddhism. This is not the case.
What I stress, what I hope for, is the Buddhism of all humanity—everybody's Buddhism. Buddhism doesn't belong to any particular race or any one country. It is not the private property of any country or nation. I stress a Buddhism that pervades the universe throughout the ends of empty space.
This Buddhism is now being established in America, and very soon it will be able to spread throughout the entire world from its foundation here in America. In the future we can take it throughout the entire world--even to outer space. We can take Buddhism to all the universes in outer space, to the limits of space and the ends of the Dharma-realm.
This Buddhism will come out of the United States. It's not Chinese or Asian Buddhism. This Buddhism doesn't belong to any place whatsoever. Now, nowhere in Asia will you find a monastery where everyone eats just one meal a day; nowhere in Asia will you find a monastery where everyone sleeps sitting up and doesn't lie down. Such monasteries simply don't exist anywhere else. Only in America are there vigorous people who are making heroic efforts on the Path without fear of suffering. They eat once a day and do not rest for the sake of Buddhism.
And right now history is being made. For the very first time the sutras are being translated into the languages of the West. During the Ch'ing Dynasty in China the Patriarch Kumarajiva, and, later, the Patriarch Hsuan Tsang brought the sutras from India and translated them into Chinese. Their work took a long time, but was eventually completed. Now, after hundreds of years all the texts must be translated again, and we have vowed to translate the entire Tripitaka into the languages of the West.
Why is it that Westerners don't really understand true Buddhism and don't recognize the proper Buddhadharma for what it is? It's because the sutras have not been translated into the languages of the West up to this time. Now we are doing this work, and at Gold Mountain everyone has a part in it. And what is the most difficult thing about this in terms of the value of this work? It's that none of the sutras are being translated for money. None of the translators or other people involved in the translation activities receive money for what they do. They don't put in x number of hours of work every month and receive a salary. It's not that way. The people translating the sutras don't get a single penny out of it. They do the work in order to cause Buddhism to grow and be propagated on a large scale.
Someone is saying, "Well, if that's the case that you really don't want to translate for money, why do you sell your sutras? They have a price tag. How can you sell them?"
You're right; that's a very good question. Basically sutras should be given away, given for free. However, if we were to pay for any single printing of a sutra and then give it away, that would be the last sutra we could ever publish. Our means would be exhausted at that point. So, what we ask is a small donation as a small return so that we won't totally use up our capital. This way we can keep publishing more sutras and do more translations; we have to take in a little to support the work. When you buy a sutra you are literally aiding and participating in the work of translation. This is something I wanted to tell you about today so that you'll all know what we're doing.
There's another reason for selling, rather than giving away, the sutras. We take a little money, because we've had the experience in the past of giving them away. When we first began we gave them away; we passed them out at every door gratis. We distributed them liberally as gifts. But then we realized that when people received these sutras, many of the recipients threw them into the garbage can. People discarded them. Why? Because people feel that if something is given away without charge it can't be worth very much. So after we realized what was happening we began to put a price on our sutras. It's really not right for them to be given away and then thrown into garbage cans.
Why do we say that it's important for people to pay for sutras, giving something in return for them? Because sutra translation is not easy work. All of our sutras and other publications pass before several hundred pairs of eyes before they are finally issued. Every sutra that is translated must pass through at least four steps; primary translation, editing, polishing, and, finally, certification. All our sutras go through these four steps, and a tremendous amount of work goes into the whole process. It takes a long time before the sutra finally is printed. Now, if we were to base the price of the sutras on the actual amount of work expended on them, we could easily increase the price to ten times of what we ask at present. That would be nearer to their value in terms of the amount of time and effort that goes into them.
We charge what we do so that everyone can afford to buy them.
Now, this work began in 1968. Since then, we've had nearly ten years of experience translating sutras. It is the United States that beats the rest of the world in every respect, so the translation of sutras should also be world surpassing here. The United States is the number one country in the world now, and the translation of sutras is not permitted to fall below the level of number one. We can't let it fall to the level of number two, second best.
Of all the translators of the Sino-American Buddhist Association's Buddhist Text Translation Society, the most experienced one of all is this singer here on my right. She's a translation expert. Her translations are really good, really correct and right. And of all the scholars in the world, Ph.D. scholars--big Ph.D.'s, little Ph.D.'s, old Ph.D.'s, young Ph.D.'s, new Ph.D.'s, pretty Ph.D.'s--none of them have as much ability to translate as this translation expert here. She's intelligent and has a good memory, but sometimes she's a little bit mischievous. If she can get rid of this mischievous streak, then she'll be really fine, really good. What is this fault of making- mischief? She likes to get angry, and sometimes she likes to sing angry songs too. It comes out in the songs that she sings. But today she was really polite to everybody, and her anger didn't show in the songs.
Those who are taking refuge should come forward and kneel in the front, and we'll have the refuge ceremony. This is taking refuge with the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. If you want to become a Buddha you must definitely first take refuge with the Buddha. If you want to understand the Dharma you must first take refuge with the Dharma. If you want to plant a field of blessings you must take refuge with the Sangha.
There is something that all of you should know as my disciples. I have no great virtue, no scholarship, and no great wisdom. I am greatly ashamed before all the people who take refuge with me. So, in order to be able to face my disciples, I have made a vow. What vow did I make? I vowed that all the disciples who refuge with me—if they have just a little bit of faith in me—will certainly become Buddhas. I will wait until each and every one of my disciples becomes a Buddha, and only then will I myself become a Buddha. I certainly will wait until all of them become Buddhas before I do, and because I have made this vow it’s important that my disciples don’t get lazy. This is the reason I want all of my disciples to cultivate really hard. Do you all want to become Buddhas? Yes? Why? Because there’s nothing else to do.