Last week Counterpoint Press sent an "advance galley" copy of Red Pine's new translation of The Lankavatara Sutra. The book was on my Amazon "wish list," so I consider myself pretty fortunate.The Lankavatara Sutra played an important role in the development of Zen Buddhism and, according to legend, Bodhidharma passed on his personal copy to his dharma heir, Hui-k'o. As I understand it, this sutra is important for teaching that consciousness is reality itself. Further, it provides a detailed analysis of consciousness, heady reading for an unconscious fellow like myself.
Red Pine is known for his translations of the Diamond, Heart and Platform Sutras. This new translation looks fully annotated with notes and references, making it especially valuable for those of us who might not grasp its teaching.
Although I haven't read the text, I have skimmed randomly through it. Here's a gem that jumped off page 110:
Mahamati, words are not ultimate truth, nor is what they express ultimate truth. And how so? Ultimate truth is what buddhas delight in. And what words lead to is ultimate truth. But words are not ultimate truth. Ultimate truth is what is attained by the personal realization of buddha knowledge.I plan to offer an actual review of the book in the coming months. In the meantime, you might pre-order through your favorite bookseller.
Some of the commenters on that page shared their reservations about Red Pine's translations suggesting that Red Pine doesn't have a very good grasp of the deeper ideas of Buddhist teaching. I too am looking forward to Red Pine’s new translation, and I also have reservations about how Red Pine does translating. But I strongly disagree that "the problem" with Red Pine's translations has anything to do with his not having "a good feel for what the texts are talking about."
In my view, Red Pine knows exactly what he is doing, and I don’t think that his translations are invalid or illegitimate. It is just that he is translating for the general non-Buddhist audience, so he does not worry about keeping the terminology strictly in accord with the original or presented in the technical jargon of Buddhist rhetoric. People who have no background in the technical terms of Buddha Dharma won’t notice a thing and will be inspired by his translations. But when reviewing the translation against the original texts, it becomes clear that his primary goal in translating is to make the work the most palatable to the most people, not in keeping great accuracy for the original words or Buddhist concepts. For me, knowing that is his goal, I can read his translations without getting my knickers in a twist about his using popular terminology rather than strictly Buddhist terminology. I know if I want the more strict translation to look elsewhere, and that does not prevent me from enjoying how Red Pine translates.
The doctrine expounded in the Lankavatara and also in the Avatamsaka-sutra is known as the Cittamatra and never as the Vijnanamatra or Vijnaptimatra as in the Yogacara schoool of Asanga and Vasubandhu. (p. 181)
“Without a theory of cognition, therefore, Mahayana philosophy becomes incomprehensible. The Lanka is quite explicit in assuming two forms of knowledge: the one for grasping the absolute or entering into the realm of Mind-only, and the other for understanding existence in its dualistic aspect in which logic prevails and the Vijnanas are active. The latter is designated Discrimination (vikalpa) in the Lanka and the former transcendental wisdom or knowledge (prajna). To distinguish these two forms of knowledge is most essential in Buddhist philosophy.”
“The Lanka is never tired of impressing upon its readers the importance of this understanding in the attainment of spiritual freedom; for this understanding is a fundamental intuition into the truth of Mind-only and constitutes the Buddhist enlightenment with which truly starts the religious life of a Bodhisattva. [...] The awaking of supreme knowledge (anuttarasamyaksambodhi) is the theme of the Prajnaparnmita-sutras, but in the Lanka the weight of the discourse is placed upon therealisation by means of Aryajnana of ultimate reality which is Mind-only. This psychological emphasis so distinctive of the Lanka makes this sutra occupy a unique position in Mahayana literature.”
To play with the translations for comparison, here are the side by side translations of the section Mr. Briggs selected, as translated by Red Pine, with the same section translated by Suzuki: