Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

"Not Unlike the Wrong Side of a Turkish Carpet": Titles and Sub-Titles in Some Translations of the Dhammapada

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

"Not Unlike the Wrong Side of a Turkish Carpet": Titles and Sub-Titles in Some Translations of the Dhammapada

Article excerpt

The Background to the Original Research

The original enquiry began with some rudimentary, perhaps naïve, questions arising from what some might consider an arcane scenario. Suppose a reader with some interest in Buddhism heard that the Dhammapada is a crucial text in the Buddhist canon, and went into a bookshop to purchase a translation, only to find that several were available. The difficulties of judging the advantages of some translations over others are contained in the words often used to describe them: 'exact', 'correct', 'reliable', 'accurate', 'faithful', 'precise' and numerous others. In themselves, these terms also embody some of the goals inherent in the translation process, although not all of them may be attainable at the same time. Put another way, the reader might ponder whether the "meaning" of the Dhammapada can be essentially the same, when different translators have created differing targetlanguage outcomes of the original text. This, in turn, might cause them to ask what the implications would be of such differences in meaning, especially if they were in search of the Buddhism contained in the Dhammapada.

Solutions to these problems depend, in some measure, on the presumptions, expectations, and knowledge that individual readers bring to a reading of the translations, and, more particularly, on one's taste regarding the style and language of religious texts, or one's familiarity with the cultural milieu in which the Dhammapada was written, as well as the essential purpose for which it was written, to say nothing of the reasons for which it is being read. The circularity of the problem is self-evident If readers wish to establish that they are reading an "accurate" or "reliable" version of the original, then a command of the source language becomes both necessary and inevitable.

However, if one of the primary assumptions that readers bring to such readings is that different translators will probably create similar, but not identical, translations fairly consistently, then a comparative study of the target-language outcomes may be pursued without a command of the source language. In other words, such a study could focus exclusively on a comparison of translation outcomes in order to explore the differences and similarities in the meanings they offer. This is not to say, however, that such outcomes can be evaluated qualitatively in order to establish which of these constitutes a more or less successful or precise translation. That again, would require a sound knowledge of the source language in order to deal with issues such as formal and dynamic equivalence. Instead, the purpose of the exercise as a whole would be to explore differences and similarities in the meanings produced by several different translations of the same text, which was the primary purpose of the original study.

However, since the breadth and detail of that original study cannot be encompassed adequately within the parameters of an article, we shall focus here on the matters raised at the very outset of an encounter with the translations: the titling and sub-titling of the volume as a whole as well as the sub-titling of the 26 sections that make up the Dhammapada as a text.

Translation Authences

In essence, translators are caught between different authences of readers. Burton Watson, himself a translator of many Buddhist texts, suggests two: "We need all different kinds of translations, very literal ones for the historians and scholars, and something else to reach out to a wider authence. In any case, any translation is going to last only a little while" (in Butler 1991: 23). Of course, these are not the only authences to whom translations may be addressed. According to Buder, Watson is "referring to the fact that translations are ephemeral and must constandy be re-cast in contemporary language to reach new generations of readers".

If Buder is correct in this view, one wonders why so many translators become so neurotically defensive about their work. …

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