Translation research shapes Buddhist practice in Germany
Our pioneering research into the translation of a sacred Buddhist text has influenced contemporary Buddhist practice in Germany.
The Lotus-sūtra is a key Mahāyāna-Buddhist sacred text. It is at the heart of the religious identity, spiritual culture, veneration and ethical practice of Japanese Buddhist communities, the most internationally widespread being Sōka Gakkai International (SGI).
In Germany, there are nearly 250,000 active Buddhists. Many of these use the Lotus-sūtra on a daily basis. However, despite being translated into other Western languages, there has never been a German translation based on the original ancient Chinese, Tibetan and Sanskrit versions of the text.
A new translation
SGI Germany commissioned Professor Max Deeg to undertake a German translation of the Lotus-sūtra. It was SGI's original intention to translate an existing English version published in 1993. However, Deeg recommended a research-led translation direct from a Chinese version dating from the 5th century AD, alongside other versions in Sanskrit and Tibetan.
Deeg had been working on a German translation for some years. His most crucial work was undertaken at Cardiff University with reworking of his earlier drafts, underlying philological research and research into translation technique.
He also collaborated extensively with German members of SGI and Professor Seishi Karashima, the world-leading expert on the Lotus-sūtra from Soka University, Tokyo.
The first edition of his translation was published in May 2007.
The Lotus-sūtra presents itself as a discourse delivered by the Buddha toward the end of his life. One tradition of Mahayan Buddhism states that the sutras were preached at the time of the Buddha and hidden for several hundred years until they were rediscovered and transmitted.
Deeg's translation has now become the official version of the Lotus-sūtra for SGI Germany and other German-speaking communities such as Austria and Switzerland.
Through distribution by a respected German publishing house, the book's circulation has reached not only religious and academic communities, but the wider general public.
Deeg's research and subsequent translation has led to a different interpretation of some passages of the Lotus-sūtra. This means that any material that draws from the content of this sacred text, has led to significant impact on the operations of SGI.
To help readers understand the meanings of the Lotus-sūtra, there is an authoritative canon of commentaries. Now the German translation of this canon is being revised according to Deeg's new translation as well as other SGI communications and publications.
Deeg's work demonstrates how philological research 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.
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Professor in Buddhist Studies (Study Leave 2022/3)
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