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This book is one of the various existing translations of the classic Buddhist manuscript “Platform Sutra”. The book is an authoritative English translation of the Tun-Huang manuscript by Phillip Yampolsky. The Tun-Huang manuscript is the earliest version of the eighth-century classic that covers original teachings by Hui-Neng, who is considered to be the founder of Ch’an Buddhism. In this book, Yampolsky offers readers a long but essential historical introduction of the Tun-Huang classic. The introduction contains information that is pertinent to the modern reader, who might be lacking a contextual understanding of Hui-Neng’s teachings. The book begins by giving a detailed account of the known and unknown information on Ch’an Buddhism, including the traditional practices of the religion. In the second part of the book, the author analyzes the most important texts of “Platform Sutra” and then he contextualizes them. The complete Sutra is laid out at the end of the very end of the book with corrections relating to the Koshoji edition. This is a review of The Platform Sutra of the Six Patriarch: the Text of the Tun-Huang manuscript, translated with notes by Philip Yampolsky.
Response to the introduction part
The book begins by offering a long introduction that is divided into four parts. In the first part, the author explores Ch’an Buddhism both in its accurate stance and in its legendary sense. The book follows the religion from the time it is introduced in China until it becomes the most dominant religion in Asia. In the next section of the book, the author takes time to address the life of Hui-Neng. Yampolsky also validates or invalidates some of the biographical claims that have previously been made to Hui-Neng. The goal of the book’s lengthy introduction in the context of the history of Zen Buddhism in China is to make sure that the readers can separate fact from legend. The next section is titled “The Making of a Book: The Platform Sutra”, whereby the author tries to consolidate the factual development of the Sutra in this section1. In the fourth section of the introduction, the author analyzes the two most important aspects of the Sutra; the sermon at Ta-fan Temple and the later additions to the teachings. Zen Buddhism in China is subject to legendary connotations of information. Consequently, Yampolsky’s introduction attempts to set the record straight when it comes to Ch’an Buddhism.
The second part of the book is the author’s translation of the “Platform Sutra”. In this section, the core elements of the main topic are discussed, including aspects of meditation, doctrines of the mind, oneness, purity of man, identity, and no thought. The categorization of these aspects reveals the author’s deep understanding of Ch’an Buddhism, and his willingness to dig deeper into the context of the classic manuscript. The subtle differences between the original “Platform Sutra” and Yampolsky’s translation are evident throughout the text. For instance, the author delves into the deeper aspects of the Sutra especially in their relation to Mahayana. Consequently, the reader can be able to gather useful facts from the author’s categorization.
The author can express himself clearly with a sense of simplicity that is characteristic of Ch’an Buddhism. This expression is valuable to the readers because it offers a polished version of Hui-Neng teachings. Eventually, the author’s style of expression eliminates any misconceptions that first-time readers of the Tun-Huang manuscript might have concerning its authenticity. The author of this book is also able to deploy his scholarly prowess using various tools such as important footnotes, historical information, and contexts of names and places. Readers can use this additional information to engage in further discussions on the subject matter and add on their knowledge of the Ch’an doctrine. Nevertheless, the deployment of the scholarly element also serves as a challenge to the average reader. These scholarly snippets also widen the scope of the interpretations of the sutra teachings but they also serve as a burden to the average reader. The interpretations of the Chinese terms in the glossary are quite helpful to the reader as they ease the burden that comes with reading the original manuscript2. To avoid any ensuing confusion, the author also includes the original “Platform Supra” at the bottom of the book. A reader has the privilege of accessing different types of reading materials in one book.
Recommended reading and Conclusion
Although the book’s forward suggests that this work is palatable to all types of readers, this might not be the case. The average reader might find the book’s wealth of information difficult to navigate. The book can be recommended to the readers who can navigate these complexities and understand their intended purpose. For instance, scholars might enjoy the foundation that Yompolsky has laid out in terms of future research and expounded discussions. Before the publication of this book, the essence of Ch’an spiritualism was difficult to translate through text. However, the author of this book has made considerable steps towards communicating spirituality through a work of literature.
Yampolsky, Philip. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript with Translation, Introduction, and Notes. Columbia University Press, 1967.
- Philip Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript with Translation, Introduction, and Notes (Columbia University Press, 1967), 89.
- Philip Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch: The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript with Translation, Introduction, and Notes (Columbia University Press, 1967), 185.