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A new translation of a sacred Buddhist text and its impact on contemporary Buddhist practice in Germany

The Lotus-sūtra is a key Mahāyāna-Buddhist text. It states fundamental beliefs and contains advice on ritual practice and ethical conduct. Many Buddhists worldwide use it daily. Commissioned by a Buddhist community, Sōka Gakkai International (SGI) Germany, Professor Max Deeg translated this text into present-day German. His translation, being the outcome and the product of historical-philological research in Buddhism, has become the official version of the sūtra for SGI Germany. This has had an impact on this community’s perception of the religious content of this text as well as its history. In addition, the authoritative canon of commentaries on the Lotus-sūtra, written by SGI’s founder, Nichiren Shōnin, in Japanese, was previously translated into German following an earlier English translation of the sūtra. Now this entire canon is being revised according to Deeg’s new translation. This case study therefore demonstrates how philological research, as undertaken by Deeg, impacts on the religious practice of translating sacred texts, and that translation of sacred texts informed by philological research can be acceptable and useful to faith communities.

Lotus-sūtra book cover