That’s a Wrap!

This past month studying and commentating on the new Red Pine edition of the Lankavatara Sutra has truly been an auspicious time for me; my hope is that this may prove of some benefit for present and future students of the Buddhadharma.

At the beginning of this blog series I remember writing how I hoped that this new translation would be the definitive Lanka for new generations of dharma-students. Red Pine is to be highly commended for rendering this new and vibrant translation for readers of the 21st century; his choice of utilizing a reductionist approach, i.e., breaking the verse structure down so that it is inviting and comforting for the modern reader will prove to be invaluable for all newcomers to what is considered to be a difficult Mahayana/Yogacara Text. It was indeed an enjoyable and smooth read, quite different from the former Suzuki effort, yet, it would be most inopportune to toss that former scholarly effort into the waste bin. Suzuki’s grasp of significant qualifiers, like arya-jnana, is more faithful to the original intent of the Lanka—and that is primarily addressing this text to the “Noble Ones”, the advanced Maha-Bodhisattvas who were spiritually ready to hear the immeasurable gnosis of the Buddhadharma. Red Pine’s decision to render this as exclusively buddha-jnana makes this reading an all-inclusive endeavor, yet its underlying current of “personal revelation” as opposed to “Noble self-realization” truly weakens the authentic Lankavatarian import of the message. In this sense, his effort cannot be considered as the “definitive-translation”, but side by side with Suzuki’s work it stands as a faithful, if more energetic, twin of these renditions.

It was well-worth the wait for Red Pine’s excellent gift for all students of the Buddhadharma. It will also, I’m sure, be worth it as we await others to also venture-forth into the noble waters of the Lanka and bring home their own crafted catch.

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17 Responses to That’s a Wrap!

  1. Edward Mondini says:

    The Red Pine translation: his best to-date. The Lankavatara Sutra represents the apex of the Buddhadharma. Not an easy read, must be linked with persistent practice to incoporate into one’s personal experience. Thanks for posting.

  2. Bodhichild says:

    You’re welcome, Edward

  3. Bartholomew says:

    Studying the Lankavatara Sutra, Red Pine trans. at Dharma Realm Buddhist University.. Every Tuesday at 2:30, come if you can ! or

  4. simon says:

    The Red Pine translation is a nice book, but it’s not a terrific translation (scarcely an improvement on Suzuki there), especially the first chapter which he “translates” from the Sanskrit since it’s not in Guṇabhadra, and the notes are decidedly hit-and-miss — some are very useful, others are downright misleading. Cleary’s new translation from the Sanskrit is a more faithful rendering of the text, although it does suffer a little from Cleary’s valiant attempt to leave no technical term untranslated….

  5. N. Yeti says:

    “Cleary’s new translation from the Sanskrit is a more faithful rendering of the text, although it does suffer a little from Cleary’s valiant attempt to leave no technical term untranslated….”


  6. Mau says:

    One part of section LVI never fails to confuse me.

    Mahamati, this recognition of the one vehicle, except by the Tathagata himself, has never been obtained before by anybody else—the philosophers, Sravakas, Pratyekabuddhas, Brahmans, etc. For this reason, Mahamati, this is known as the one vehicle….Because there is no teaching whereby the Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas can realise Nirvana by themselves, I do not speak of the one vehicle.

    Red Pine:
    “Mahamati, the one path to realization is beyond the reach of followers of other paths or shravakas or pratyeka-buddhas or even Brahma but not tathagatas. This is why I speak of the one path….Because neither shravakas norpratyeka-buddhas enter nirvana by themselves, I do not teach them the one path.”

    1. Only the tathagata can realize the one vehicle, not anyone else: I read this as if it says “nobody can ever transcend the categories of the triple vehicle except for those who do” or “only those who can pass the test will pass the test”. I feel like I am missing the point completely.

    2. Because neither sravakas or pratyekabuddhas realize nirvana “by themselves”, hence the one vehicle is not taught. At a loss here.

    Will a blessed soul please illuminate me. Appreciation.

      • Mau says:

        Thank you very much for your response. I read the two blogs and then reread the passages, but am still perplexed in many ways. This is probably due to the infancy of my study/practice, please bear with me! I will attempt to lay out my line of thought:

        Statement 1: The recognition of the one vehicle has never been obtained before and/or never will be obtained by anyone other than the Tathagata himself, and “for this reason”/”this is why” the one vehicle is the one vehicle.

        It appears as if the Buddha is defining the one vehicle by its undiscoverability. I have two interpretations: is this supposed to mean that (a) without being exposed to his teachings, the realization of noble wisdom is impossible by anyone? Or does it mean that (b) one CAN realize noble wisdom by themselves (even without being exposed to teachings), and once they do, they will henceforth be considered Tathagatas, and therefore the above statement remains valid? Is there another reading I am failing to see?

        Statement 2: “Because neither shravakas norpratyeka-buddhas enter (can realize) nirvana by themselves, I do not teach them the one path.”

        Does “by themselves” mean Statement 1 can be understood by my first (a) interpretation, that without the Tathagata’s help, the realization of nirvana is an impossibility? And if nobody can enter nirvana by themselves without the help of the buddha, why is THIS the reason he doesn’t teach the one vehicle?

        If Statement 1 is understood by my second (b) interpretation, this still doesn’t explain why Statement 2 is uttered and is as such.

        Thank you in advance.

  7. Mr.Nobody says:

    I just read through Suzuki’s translation for the second time, each time i’ve read it, i’ve gained innumerable lessons; should i truly read the red pine’s version for a different take that is a great combo from Suzuki’s? Suzuki’s translation read smooth to me, there were a few areas where I noticed, especially from Suzuki’s notes, that being a translator does not make one knowledgable in what is being translated; indeed some of the questions noted were silly if taken into context as a whole.

    Nevertheless, it was a fantastic read and as i just read it from start to finish (took a few days) a few days ago, again; i found it immeasurable in helping my practice of insight; fully illuminating the Lanka.

    • Vajragoni says:

      For a complete-unabridged and thorough study of the Suzuki translation, I would encourage you to download and study the “Complete Lankavatara Sutra and Discussion”–available in our library.

      • Mr.Nobody says:

        Will do, thank you!

      • Mr.Nobody says:

        I’m liking this unabridged version quite a lot, i’m only on page 85/286, however i’ve noticed that the questions and answers that are added on (presumably by you and those you’ve discussed this sutra with) sometimes miss key points, not so much your notes (which are great) but some notions are held by those you attempt to help; those notions continue to appear throughout their commentary.

        As there are no notions to attach to, no “knowledge”, no “reality” to cling to (all being a dream of mind) this sometimes goes unnoticed and is attempted to be analyzed from the perspective of discrimination and false imagination; which I wonder why this isn’t repeatedly pointed out as the source of these erroneous notions and speculations.

        Either way, loving the new read, will try to finish it as soon as I can; I cannot get enough.

        • Vajragoni says:

          You need to appreciate that this commentary was written back in early 2002, which was still the early formative years of Tozen’s school which was formed in 2000. I believe that it is still quite valuable and serves to highlight many salient points in the Lanka. Much work was put into it at the time; for instance, there was no “online” version of Suzuki’s translation available at the time–hence no copy and pasting but written out line from line.

          • Mr.Nobody says:

            Oh, I am finding it very valuable indeed; I am appreciating the extra break down of points throughout the Lanka; It isn’t that I am confused about these notions by any means but more that it helps to uproot any unconscious biases that are held to prior notions of “reality”. I am enjoying it quite a bit and plan to finish it within the next day or two, depending. Thanks for the recommendation and thanks for having such a thing available for download!

          • Mr.Nobody says:

            It has been a great read:) thanks for the recommendation. I tore through it and finished it last night; will be something I look back to, though I feel like the lessons imparted within were understood so it might be some time before re-reading; i’d rather work on contemplation leading to revulsion (the four fold habit energy, being identified and no longer nourished; existence, desire, form, theorizing).

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