Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Response to Broughton's Translation of Zen Master Linji's Record


Jeffrey Broughton last year (12/11/2012) published a new translation of Zen Master Linji's Record - The Record of Linji: A New Translation of the Linjilu in the Light of Ten Japanese Zen Commentaries
This is not a formal "review" but a response to Broughton's translation, because I haven't had an actual copy of the book in my hands and am only going off what I have been able to glean from the internet, including Amazon's inside view.

Someone commented on a blog, "It looks very good and should be compared with the older Ruth Fuller Sasaki headed effort. I am not sure which of these two is better."

I know of at least five English versions: there is a first one by Ruth Fuller Sasaki (with Yoshitaka Iriya) titled The Recorded Sayings of Ch'an Master Lin-Chi of Hui-chao of Chen Prefecture (1975);
a second one based on the same Ruth Fuller Sasaki but updated and edited by Thomas Yuho Kirchner: The Record of Linji (2008); one by Irmgard SchloeglThe Zen Teaching of Rinzai (1975); one by Burton Watson: The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi (1999): and one by  Eido Shimano Roshi: The Book of Rinzai Roku (2005).  So, this new one from Jeffrey Broughton makes at least six English translations of the whole record, not counting partial translations.

Caveat Emptor, Caveat Lector.

What was interesting about the comment that Broughton's translation "looks very good" turned out to be that it was actually not a comment about Broughton's translation but about a heavily edited version of an excerpt from Broughton's translation at the Daily Zen website. Elena at Daily Zen presents a monthly journal with selections of Zen gems that you can subscribe to.  

From the looks of it, Broughton's translation is consistent with his other translations that always have quirks that, to me, make them like eating cooked rice with grit in it.  Broughton is an excellent academic scholar, and his translations reveal both the benefits and detriments of that calling.  To see this clearly, the excerpts that are presented at Daily Zen by Elena that have been heavily edited show what it takes to make Broughton readable. 

The main "sin" that Broughton comits, in my view, is having too many inserted brackets.  There is virtually no paragraph without bracket insertions.  He apparently wants to "help" the reader read through what he considers to be gaps in the writing.  But just as often he is filling the gap with his own personal interpretation when the actual words of Linji are more fluid and evocative that just the one forced view that Broughton has inserted.  Also the brackets make the reading very choppy becaue the reader has to jump over the bracktes to read the text in is own terms without Broughton trying to tell us what it means.  Otherwise, the reader has to read through the bracketed material with the pesonal reminder each time that the insertion is Broughton's own interpretation which may or may not be correct.

To make Broughton's version readable, Elena at Daily Zen has either removed the brackets and left the material that was in the brackets or removed both the brackets with the material inside them.  She has also broken up the format of having each section as a long single paragraph the way Broughoton has them into sensible English style and size of paragraphs.

Compare these two versions of Broughton's sections 13:32 and 13:33. The first is the way that Broughton wrote it and the second is the way that Elena at Daily Zen cleaned it up.  You will note that the cleaned up version is much more readable, but we no longer know which parts Broughton inserted. But with Broughton's version, the heavy usage of brackets is just uncalled for in my view and he has made the translation unnecessarily tedious and virtually unreadable.

Jeffrey Broughton's translation:

[13.32] “Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about [traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization]. There is no ‘buddha’ that ought to be sought, no ‘Way’ that ought to be completed, no ‘dharma’ that ought to be attained [i.e.,  nothing-to-do].  Externally seeking for a ‘buddha’ with characteristics [i.e., a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty-two characteristics/a buddha image made of clay or wood]—he will not resemble you [the true buddha of your own mind/that one person]. If you want to know your original mind [the true person], it's not something [outside of you that you can] join up with; nor is it something [you can ever] be apart from.  Stream-enterers! The true buddha [everyone's dharmakaya buddha] has no form, the true Way has no substance, the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas [the above three] come fused together as the single [seamless]place [the single non-dependent true person].  Those who haven't been able to perceive [the single, seamless place] we call ‘[transmigrating] sentient beings of confused karman-consciousness.’”

[13.33] Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."  The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one [i.e., three words for the same thing], and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of [beholding] reality as it truly is, moment after moment [at all times] the mind never breaks off [from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion]. When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person/[true] person who was not discombobulated by [other] people/persons/’the person.’  Later he met the second patriarch [Huike]. At [Bodhidharma's] single utterance [i.e., 'My quieting mind for you is over'], [for Huike] at once everything was settled, and for the first time [Huike] understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.  As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!”


Here's Elena's Daily Zen edit:

Venerables! You bustle along going to various regions—what are you looking for? The soles of your feet have gotten as wide as planks from tramping about traveling on foot far and wide in search of a teacher and realization. There is no "buddha" that ought to be sought; no "Way" that ought to be completed; no "dharma" that ought to be attained, nothing-to-do.  
Externally seeking for a "buddha" with characteristics, a nirmanakaya buddha adorned with thirty two characteristics or a buddha made of clay or wood, would not resemble you, the true buddha of your own mind/that one person. If you want to know your original mind, the true person, it's not something outside of you that you can join up with; nor is it something you can ever be apart from.

Stream-enterers! The true buddha, everyone's dharmakaya buddha, has no form; the true Way has no substance; the true dharma has no characteristics. These three dharmas come fused together as the single, seamless place. Those who haven't been able to perceive the single, seamless place we call transmigrating sentient beings of confused karma-consciousness.  
Question: "What are the true buddha, the true dharma, and the true Way like? Please give us instruction."

The Master said: "A 'buddha' is mind purity itself. The 'dharma' is mind-radiance itself. The 'Way' in every place is unobstructed radiance itself. The three are one, and they are all empty terms, without real existence. For the practitioner of beholding reality as it truly is, moment after moment the mind never breaks off from beholding reality as it truly is—twenty four hours a day peacefully dwelling in the state of the original portion.

When the Great Master Bodhidharma came from the western lands, he was only in search of a person, a true person who was not discombobulated by other people. Later he met the second patriarch Huike. At Bodhidharma's single utterance, 'My quieting mind for you is over' at once everything was settled, and for the first time Huike understood that his practice up until then had been useless effort.

As for this mountain monk's vision today, it's no different from that of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to an eight-line poem by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you only catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself.


To me, the over abundance of brackets in the translated text makes Broughton's translations not worth the effort to read. He should have put at least 95% of the bracketed material into footnotes instead.  Elena has made Broughton readable.

Aside from style or readability concerns, let's look at the content of what Broughton does with a particular section. For example, here is one of Linji's signature sayings.

若第一句中得。與祖佛為師。若第二句中得。與人天為師。若第三句中得。自救不了。

Here's how Broughton translates it:

If you catch on [to an eight-line poem] by its first couplet, you are a teacher of the buddhas who are our ancestors. If you catch on to it by the second couplet, you are a teacher of humans and devas. If you [only] catch on to it by the third couplet, you won't be able to save even yourself!

First, the term 祖佛 is almost invariably translated as "ancestors and Buddhas," or transposing for the English syntax as "Buddhas and ancestors." The term "ancestors" refers to the historical arhats and bodhisattvas such as Mahakashyapa, Ananda, Nargarjuna, Vasumitra, Bodhidharma, etc.  To be a teacher of the Buddhas and ancestors is a well known phrase.  There is no real justification to translate this phrase as " the buddhas who are our ancestors." I do agree with Broughton that the term 祖 is better translated as "ancestors" than as "patriarchs" because there is no gender reference in 祖.

Second and perhaps more importantly in reference to what Linji is actually teaching, there is no basis that I know of for Broughton to insert into the saying "an eight-line poem" using brackets. Apparently he does this because he translates 句 as "couplet."  However, the word 句 (ju) means a "sentence, clause, phrase, a verse, a written line, a classifier for phrases or lines of verse."  There is no reason to force it into the shape of a "couplet." Also the word 得 (de) means to "get, obtain, gain, attain, win, etc."  "Catch on" is loosely within the field of valid translation, but "catching on" to me seems a little weak in relation to what Linji is pointing at.  Broughton's references to "couplets" and "eight-line poems" makes it sound like Linji is making literary analysis for the Chinese literati, rather than giving Zen teaching for students of the Way.

Here's Schloegl's translation:

One who attains understanding at the first phrase will be a teacher of patriarchs and Buddhas; one who attains understanding at the second phrase will teach men and gods; and one who attains understanding at the third phrase cannot even save himself. (p. 55)


Here's Watson's translation:

If you get it with the first phrase, you can be a teacher of the patriarchs and buddhas. If you get it with the second phrase, you can be a teacher of human and heavenly beings. If you get it with the third phrase, you can’t even save yourself! (p. 67)

Here's Shimano's translation:

If you attain it within the first phrase, you can be a teacher of Buddhas and patriarchs. If you attain it within the second phrase, you can be a teacher of humans and devas. If you attain it within the third phrase, you can't even save yourself. (p. 77)

Here's the Sasaki/Kirchner translation:



He who attains at the First Statement becomes the teacher of patriarch-buddhas; he who attains at the Second Statement becomes the teacher of men and gods; he who attains at the Thrid Statement cannot save even himself. (p. 264)


Here's my translation:


If you attain within the first phrase, you become a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors.  If you attain within the second phrase, you become a teacher of humans and heavenly beings.  If you attain within the third phrase, you do not complete your own deliverance!


I read Linji's admonition about "the three phrases" to be a direct reference to his Dharma Grandfather Baizhang's three phrases about the elementary, the intermediate, and the complete stages of attainment (得). If you don't know that getting it or attaining within the three phrases refers to Baizhang's teaching of the three stages of the elementary, intermediate and complete attainments, you might fall into the trap of thinking that getting it at the first phrase is the best. But, as Baizhang and Linji are teaching us, the first phrase is only the beginner's attainment.

Broughton doesn't seem to understand and adds confusion about this point of the first, second, and third levels of attainment by inserting the bracketed "only" at the third phrase. If bracket insertions are to be made, then it should not be "if you [only] get it at the third phrase" but should be "if you [are fortunate enough to] get it at the third phrase," because if you get it at the third phrase, then you get the highest complete attainment and can't even save yourself.  To not complete even your own deliverance is better than being a teacher of Buddhas and ancestors. (Why? That's the koan, silly.)

Even though Schloegl adds the unnecessary word "understanding," to me, both Schloegl's and Watson's translations of this saying are much better than Broughton's becasue they are succinct and without brackets and don't insert the misdirection about poetry.

Broughton does have a great amount of reference information in the end notes, and to me, this is the value of Broughton's academic skills and research.  I would recommend the book for the notes, but not for the translation itself which seems to muddy the waters for the person who is not already familiar with Linji.

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