A Dictionary Of Chinese Buddhist Terms

With Sanskrit And English Equivalents And A Sanskrit-pali Index

by William Edward Soothill | 1937 | 324,264 words

For about a thousand years, Buddhism dominated the thought of China and her thinkers were occupied with Buddhist philosophy. This dictionary serves as a resource to the interpretation of Chinese culture, as well as an important reference for the comparative study of Sanskrit and Pali originals. The author provides a key for the students which to u...

Professor Soothill's Preface

AS compilers of the first Dictionary of Chinese Mahāyāna Terms, we are far from considering our attempt as final. Our desire has been to provide a key for the student with which to unlock a closed door. If it serves to reveal the riches of the great Buddhist thesaurus in China, we will gladly leave to others the correction and perfecting of our instrument. It was Dr. E. J. Eitel, of The London Missionary Society, who over sixty years ago, in 1870, provided the first means in English of studying Chinese Buddhist texts by his Handbook for the Student of Chinese Buddhism. It has been of great service; but it did not deal with Chinese Buddhist terminology in general. In form it was Sanskrit-Chinese-English, and the second edition unhappily omitted the Chinese-Sanskrit Index which was essential for the student reading the Chinese Sutras.[1]

Lacking a dictionary of Chinese Buddhist terms, it was small wonder that the translation of Chinese texts has made little progress, important though these are to the understanding of Mahāyāna Buddhism, especially in its Far Eastern development. Two main difficulties present themselves: first of all, the special and peculiar use of numerous ordinary Chinese terms; and, secondly, the large number of transliterated phrases.

In regard to the first difficulty, those who have endeavoured to read Chinese texts apart from the apprehension of a Sanskrit background have generally made a fallacious interpretation, for the Buddhist canon is basically translation, or analogous to translation. In consequence, a large number of terms existing are employed approximately to connote imported ideas, as the various Chinese translators understood those ideas. Various translators invented different terms; and, even when the same term was finally adopted, its connotation varied, sometimes widely, from the Chinese term or phrase as normally used by the Chinese. For instance, kleśa undoubtedly has a meaning in Sanskrit similar to that of 煩惱, i. e. affliction, distress, trouble.

In Buddhism affliction (or, as it may be understood from Chinese, the afflicters, distressers, troublers) means the passions and illusions; and consequently fan-nao in Buddhist phraseology has acquired this technical connotation of the passions and illusions. Many terms of a similar character will be noted in the body of this work.

Consequent partly on this use of ordinary terms, even a well-educated Chinese without a knowledge of the technical equivalents finds himself unable to understand their implications.

A difficulty equally serious is the transliteration of Sanskrit, a difficulty rendered far greater by the varied versions of many translators. Take, for instance, the word "Buddha" and its transliteration as 佛; 佛陀; 浮陀, 浮圖, 浮頭, 勃陀, 勃馱, 部陀, 母陀, 沒馱, and so on. The pages of the Chinese canon are peppered with such transliterations as these from the Sanskrit, in regrettable variety. The position resembles that of Chinese terminology in Modern Science, which was often transliteration twenty or thirty years ago, when I drew the attention of the Board of Education in Peking to the need of a regulated terminology for Science. Similarly, in pages devoid of capitals, quotation-marks, or punctuation, transliterated Sanskrit-into-Chinese may well seem to the uninitiated, whether Chinese or foreign, to be ordinary phrases out of which no meaning can be drawn.

Convinced, therefore, that until an adequate dictionary was in existence, the study of Far Eastern Buddhist texts could make little progress amongst foreign students in China, I began the formation of such a work. In 1921 I discovered in Bodley's Library, Oxford, an excellent version of the 翻譯名義 集 Fan I ming I Chi, i.e. Translation of Terms and Meanings, composed by 法雲 Fa-y n, circa the tenth century A.D. At the head of each entry in the volume I examined, some one, I know not whom, had written the Sanskrit equivalent in Sanskrit letters. These terms were at once added to my own card index. Unhappily the writer had desisted from his charitable work at the end of the third volume, and the remaining seven volumes I had laboriously to decipher with the aid of Stanislas Julien's M thode pour d chiffrer et transcrire les noms sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres chinois, 1861, and various dictionaries, notably that of Monier Williams. Not then possessed of the first edition of Eitel's Handbook, I also perforce made an index of the whole of his book. Later there came to my knowledge the admirable work of the Japanese 織田得能 Oda Tokunō in his 佛教大辭典; and also the Chinese version based upon it of 丁福 保 Ding Fubao, called the 佛學大辭典 in sixteen volumes; also the 佛學小辭典 in one volume. Apart from these, it would have been difficult for Dr. Hodous and myself to have collaborated in the production of this work. Other dictionaries and vocabularies have since appeared, not least the first three fascicules of the H b girin, the Japanese-Sanskrit-French Dictionary of Buddhism.

When my work had made considerable progress, Dr. Y. Y. Tsu called upon me and in the course of conversation mentioned that Dr. Hodous, of Hartford Theological Seminary, Connecticut, U.S.A., who had spent many years in South China and studied its religions, was also engaged on a Buddhist Dictionary. After some delay and correspondence, an arrangement was made by which the work was divided between us, the final editing and publishing being allotted to me. Lack of time and funds has prevented our studying the Canon, especially historically, or engaging a staff of competent Chinese Buddhist scholars to study it for the purpose. We are consequently all too well aware that the Dictionary is not as perfect or complete as it might be.

Nevertheless, it seems better to encourage the study of Chinese Buddhism as early as possible by the provision of a working dictionary rather than delay the publication perhaps for years, until our ideals are satisfied—a condition which might never be attained.

We therefore issue this Compendium—for it is in reality more than a Dictionary—in the hope that many will be stimulated to devote time to a subject which presents so fascinating a study in the development of religion.

My colleague and collaborator, Dr. Hodous, took an invaluable share in the draft of this work, and since its completion has carefully read over the whole of the typed pages. It may, therefore, be considered as the common work of both of us, for which we accept a common responsibility. It seemed scarcely possible for two men living outside China, separated by 2,000 miles of ocean, and with different mentalities and forms of expression, to work together to a successful conclusion. The risky experiment was hesitatingly undertaken on both sides, but we have been altogether happy in our mutual relations.

To Dr. F.W. Thomas, Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Oxford University, I am deeply indebted for his great kindness in checking the Sanskrit terminology. He is in no way responsible for the translation from the Chinese; but his comments have led to certain corrections, and his help in the revision of the proper spelling of the Sanskrit words has been of very great importance. In the midst of a busy life, he has spared time, at much sacrifice, to consider the Sanskrit phrases throughout the entire work, except certain additional words that have since come to my notice. As an outstanding authority, not only on the Sanskrit language, but on Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan language, his aid has been doubly welcome. Similarly, Dr. Hodous wishes specially to thank, his colleague at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., Dr. LeRoy Carr Barret, for the generous assistance he rendered in revising the Sanskrit terms in his section of our joint work, and for his well-considered and acceptable comments and suggestions.

Dr. Lionel Giles, Keeper of the Department of Oriental Printed Books and MSS., British Museum, illustrious son of an illustrious parent, has also our special appreciation, for he magnanimously undertook to read the proofs. He brings his own ripe scholarship and experienced judgment to this long labour; and the value and precision of the Dictionary will undoubtedly be enhanced through his accurate and friendly supervision.

Next, we would most gratefully acknowledge the gift of Mrs. Paul de Witt Twinem, of Trenton, New Jersey, UṢ.A. She has subscribed a sum of money which has made the publication of our work possible. To this must be added further aid in a very welcome subvention from the Prize Publication Fund of the Royal Asiatic Society. Such a practical expression of encouragement by fellow-orientalists is a matter of particular gratification.

Our thanks are due to Mr. Zu-liang Yih 葉樹梁, who with accuracy, zeal, and faithfulness has written the large number of Chinese characters needed. To the Hon. Mrs. Wood I am grateful for help in the exacting task of transcribing. As to my daughter, Lady Hosie, I have no words to express my personal indebtedness to her. Without her loving and unflagging aid as amanuensis, I should have been unable to finish my part in this work, which-so the authors hope-will once again demonstrate the implicit and universal need of the human spirit for religion, and its aspirations towards the Light that "lighteth every man that cometh into the world".


Oxford, England, 1934.

Footnotes and references:


A reprint of the second edition, incorporating a Chinese Index, was published in Japan in 1904, but is very scarce.

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