Week 13 Update

Hello, again! I hope everyone has had an excellent couple of weeks. Here in California, we have nearly completed our exit from the extreme drought of the past few years. It’s really an amazing turnaround. These erratic and extreme weather patterns remind me of the extreme weather the world suffered during the Little Ice Age that began in the 14th century. In Ming-era China, they attributed the unprecedented storms and droughts to Heaven sending dragons down to Earth to warn the nation’s rulers to rectify themselves. If only our modern rulers could take such hints. They didn’t in China either, alas.

(For those who’d like to read more about this, I recommend The Troubled Empire by Timothy Brooks. He devotes an entire chapter to the subject of “Dragon Spotting” during the Ming dynasty.)

I skipped my update for Week 12 last Sunday since there wasn’t much to write about, and I think in the future I will be posting about individual topics when the time is right for it, such as when I finish releasing a chapter of the Ekottarika Āgama or hit a subject while editing the Dīrgha Āgama that’s interesting. I’ll try to steer clear of tramping around in the weeds of ancient languages for the most part. We’ll see if I can resist. But I will still shoot for a post each week.

I wanted to take some time this week to let everyone know where things stand with the translation project in general. This week was challenging because my autoimmune syndrome flared (I think I put too much garlic in a pot of chili), making me feel really ill and achy for a couple days, which basically stops me from working. The episode has passed now, so next week will go a bit smoother. I expect to release the rest of EĀ Chapter 10 and start Chapter 11.

I’m also spending half my time going over my translation of DĀ very closely and resolving some of the issues that I left unclear when I released the translations in 2021 and 2022. This will be the final pass for these translations, after which I’ll only be fixing any typos or obvious mistakes that might be discovered. But no more rewriting. So far, I’ve managed to wade through all of the names in the first half of DĀ 1, which make it one of the most time-consuming sutras to translate in DĀ. I believe I’ve worked out all of the unclear Chinese transliterations and translations using the other parallels to the Seven Buddhas Sutra and my improved knowledge of Gandhari pronunciations. When I finished that section of the text, I realized that it’s unlikely anyone will give it the level of attention that I have, which makes it that much more important to make it the best and most thorough translation possible.

Next week, I’ll be continuing to the Bodhisattva Vipaśyin portion of DĀ 1, which should go much faster.

Aside from these two main projects that I’m giving three days of my attention each week, I also have a “side project” that I’ve begun, which I give a little time each day in the hopes of chipping away at it in the long term. Is it wise for me to start a side project? No, not really, but there it is!

It began a couple weeks ago when I read an article by the French scholar Bareau laying out several arguments for identifying the Dīrgha Āgama as part of the Dharmaguptaka canon. This was back in the 1950’s when the question wasn’t settled yet. Today, we’ve confirmed his conclusion in multiple ways, which include the discovery of Gandhari parallels to DĀ that identify themselves as belonging to the Dharmaguptaka school. Bareau, however, discovered a couple different parallel passages that DĀ shared with stories found in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. One such parallel was the story of the laywoman Āmrapālī’s donation of her park to the Buddha in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra. This story is found in several Buddhist Vinayas because it was a significant event in the history of the Saṅgha. Bareau discovered that each tradition had a particular way of narrating the story, and the passage in DĀ 2 closely matches the version in the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya. The wording of the same passage in the Theravāda and other sources were significantly different and unique to themselves. (I wrote a more detailed account of these parallel passages at my Wiki site, for those who are curious.)

This made me realize that the mystery of the affiliation of the Ekottarika Āgama might be solved in a similar way. The advantage of comparing it to the various Buddhist Vinaya texts is that we know their provenances, unlike the situation with many Āgama translations and Indic language sūtra fragments. I started looking at the beginning of each of the Buddhist Vinayas that exist in Chinese to orient myself: The Mahāsāṃghika, Mahīśāsaka, Dharmaguptaka, Sarvāstivāda, and Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinayas.

Looking at them made me realize something even more fundamental to Early Buddhist studies: The Vinayas are the original EBTs. Of the vast corpus of Buddhist scripture that still exists, the Vinayas are the genre that clearly goes back to the time of the Buddha and the first generation of disciples. As they exist today, they show the same divergences that we see in the extant Sūtra Piṭakas, but the common core that existed prior to their sectarian history is evident.

Over the years, I’ve stuck my nose in Vinaya texts from time to time out of curiosity, but this year I’ll begin a more concerted study. In all honesty, the various Vinayas need to be translated just as much as the Agamas do, but that would be a massive undertaking. The various Chinese Vinayas alone take up three volumes of the Taisho (i.e., about 2,800 pages of Chinese or over 3 million words in English). But I’ll be writing more about the subject in the future.

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