An Early Chinese Commentary on the Ekottarika-agama: The Fenbie gongde lun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the History of the Translation of the Zengyi ahan jing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. By ANTONELLO PALUMBO. Taipei: DHARMA DRUM PUBLISHING CORP., 2013. Pp. xiv + 424. NT$460.
Among the four Agamas translated into Chinese in the fourth and fifth centuries, the translation of the Ekottarika-agama, or the Zengyi ahan jing, is arguably the most mysterious and controversial. Antonello Palumbo's book is a groundbreaking piece of research, which wades through the jungle of problems, offering valuable clues and solutions to the mysteries concerning this collection.
This volume consists of two parts. The first part provides insight into the history of the translation of the Ekottarika-agama, including the stories of how monks and scholars from India and Central Asia arrived in Chang'an in the fourth century to form translation teams led by Dao'an, an eminent scholar monk. The second part is a textual-historical inquiry into the Fenbie gongde lun, an incomplete commentary on the Zengyi ahan jing. The inquiry serves as a viable means of exploring the translation of the Ekottarika-agama from new perspectives.
This book attests to the author's comprehensive grasp of the Buddhist sources in classical Chinese and Indic languages. Antonello Palumbo is also able to read scholarly works in several modern languages, including Chinese, Japanese, French, German, and Italian, and thus can utilize a large amount of relevant information to enrich his understanding of the issues. He delves into an extraordinarily tangled textual history, carefully analyzing the interconnections between texts, and yields noteworthy discoveries. He is so perceptive as to discern the subtleties and nuances of the sources, and to distinguish between genuine and inauthentic elements. For example, he convincingly identifies the "Postscript to the Scriptural Collection of Samgharaksa" as apocryphal (pp. 85-89). Two sources referred to in Baochang's catalog are rejected as possible forgeries (pp. 147-50). Such examinations clarify the historical background to the translation and circulation of the Ekottarika-agama.
In the first part of the book, Palumbo elaborates on the historical narratives relating to the translation of the Ekottarika-agama; he says: "I zoom in tightly on the background and circumstances of its translation, the men who took part in it and its obscure aftermath" (p. 6). We can see the fruitful outcome of his endeavor to reconstruct the history of translations of the Ekottarika-agama and several other texts produced by Dao'an's group. The study elicits valuable information from a wide variety of sources, some of which have hardly been noticed. It vividly describes and analyzes the different characteristics of the translators and their bearing on the translators' various approaches to translation. Here are some examples: "Dao'an... professes a concern for faithfulness to the Indic original even at the expense of the literary quality of the output, a position that he shared with Zhao Zheng" (pp. 92-93). "Zhu Fonian himself says... Sometimes I get explanations from the reciter, or if the substance is abridged I add the details... This statement reads like a candid disclaimer, revealing Zhu Fonian's awareness of his weakness as a translator" (p. 89).
Palumbo makes the plausible suggestion that from 384 to 385 the Chinese translation of the Ekottarika-agama yielded three different redactions of the Zengyi ahan jing (pp. 36-49). He also argues for the existence of a fourth redaction, which he thinks was made by Samghadeva. While many scholars accept that "Samghadeva translated the Zengyi ahan jing anew in A.D. 397" according to the information stemming from the Lidai sanbao ji, Palumbo aptly refutes this very source as unreliable (p. 66). On the other hand, he infers the fourth redaction by Samghadeva from...