[INDOLOGY] Brackets in modern sanskrit translations

David and Nancy Reigle dnreigle at gmail.com
Mon Jun 4 23:35:40 UTC 2018

 Jean-Luc's reply has emboldened me to present a couple of observations on
this issue. But first, a clarification. In American English the word
"brackets" refers to square brackets [like this], while the word
"parentheses" refers to round brackets (like this). From some things I have
read by British writers, this may not be the usage in British English.

Many times I have noticed something particularly interesting to me in an
English translation of a Sanskrit text, and have then looked it up to find
the Sanskrit behind it. Many times the Sanskrit is not there; the
interesting English portion was silently supplied by the translator. The
problem here, for me, is that things get attributed to a Sanskrit writer
that are in fact by an English-language translator. So brackets are very
helpful to me, at least in technical writings (obviously excluding such
writings as novels).

This pertains to the issue of accuracy, which can be more important than
readability. The large-scale translation of the Buddhist scriptures from
Sanskrit, first into Chinese, and later into Tibetan, is probably the
largest example known to history from which the effects of literary versus
literal translations can be studied. The Chinese translations were
literary, while the Tibetan translations were literal, so literally
accurate that brackets were not required. In general, nothing was added
that was not in the Sanskrit. The Tibetan translations were made literally
by early royal decree, the idea being that the Buddha's words were too
sacred to risk interpretation by translators. The resulting translations
were not readily comprehensible to the people, as Geshe Lozang Jamspal
assured me. The canonical translations were usually studied in Tibet by way
of later commentaries on them written in native Tibetan.

In brief, Buddhism did not flourish in China, at least partly due to
confusion of the meaning of the Buddhist texts resulting from their more
literary translations, and contradictions between the different Chinese
translations of the same Sanskrit text. By contrast, Buddhism flourished in
Tibet, at least partly due to the consistency of the literally accurate
translations of the Buddhist texts, with their standardized translation
terms. The various Buddhist schools could arise in Tibet, with their
various interpretations of the Buddhist texts, because they all started
from the consistently same basis. The interpretations came later; they were
not built in to the translations of the core texts by the translators.

No one in Tibet wondered, for example, whether a Sanskrit core text spoke
of dhyāna or samādhi, because dhyāna was consistently translated as bsam
gtan, while samādhi was consistently translated as ting nge 'dzin. The
Tibetans did not have to contend with "meditation" or "concentration" or
"meditative absorption" or "meditative stabilization" used variously for
these two words in translations, like we have in English translations
today, and apparently like what occurred in the Chinese translations. Since
we do not have standardized translation terms, adding the Sanskrit word in
parentheses is something I find helpful. Nor did the Tibetans have to
wonder whether a word or phrase was added to the translation by the
translator. When words or phrases are added, as I believe is often
necessary in translations of terse Sanskrit into English, I find brackets
to be helpful.

Best regards,

David Reigle
Colorado, U.S.A.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://list.indology.info/pipermail/indology/attachments/20180604/df691940/attachment.htm>

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list