Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Some years ago I met Andy Ratman in Bodh Gaya when he was half way through his translation of the Divyavadana, that amazing collection of Buddhist myths and stories, tales and fables and listened intently as he told me about the difficulties of translating this work. Now his translation of selections from the Divyavadana has been published under the name Divine Stories. I haven’t seen it yet. However, Joel Tatelman's translation of selections of the same work has also just been published by the Clay Sanskrit Library and I have just finished reading it. What a treat! As with all the CSL publications the Sanskrit text is on the left hand page and the English on the right making it possible for people like me who know very little Sanskrit to at least check the Buddhist doctrinal and psychological terms. It is also presented in an attractive hardback volume which sits comfortable in the hand and looks lovely on the shelf. Tatelman tries to capture the lyrical beauty of the original and succeeds wonderfully in doing so.
It is so interesting to see how later Buddhist authors were able to take the Buddha's sometimes bland and non-committal statements and injected a bit more feeling or inspiration, drama or urgency into them. Here is one example. In the Punnavada Sutta when Punna tells the Buddha of his courageous determination to return to the Sunaparanta country to teach the Dhamma the Buddha says, 'Excellent Punna, excellent! Possessing such self-control and peacefulness, you will be able to dwell in the Sunaparatna country. Now go and do what you think is fit' (M.III,269). The Divyavadana gives a much elaborated and quite exciting version of the Punna story but the Buddha's words to Punna at the end are far more encouraging. I reproduce Tatelman's translation of them. 'With your forbearance and meekness, you are well able to live among the people of Shronaparantaka, well able to make your home among the people of Shronaparantaka. Go, then, Purna! Attain liberation, then liberate others! Cross over, then convey others across! Consoled, consol others! Achieve final emancipation, then emancipate others!' (p.159)

1 comment:

anotherqueerjubu said...

Thank you for writing about this collection — as a teacher of storytelling, and particularly sacred storytelling, it's always good to come across a new collection, or a better translation of a collection I know.

So many of the Jataka tales are too didactic for my taste. I look forward to having this volume in my hands soon.