UCLA scholars bring Korean Buddhist works to English-speaking world

UCLA scholars bring Korean Buddhist works to English-speaking world

The field of Korean Buddhism, which has a nearly 1,700-year history, has opened up to Western scholars and students with the release of the first comprehensive collection of Korean Buddhist works to be published in any European language. 

by Rebecca Kendall, UCLA Today

The Korean Buddhist canon contains an exhaustive collection of East Asian Buddhist writings extant in the 13th century, sections of which are included in "The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism."

"The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism," a 13-volume collection of translations of Korean Buddhist materials, was published in English in July. All the works in the collection also now have a home online, providing even greater access to academics, practitioners and the public at large.  

"This series truly cements the field of Korean Buddhism in the West," said Professor Robert Buswell, director of UCLA’s Center for Buddhist Studies and distinguished professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. A former Buddhist monk who pioneered the study of Korean Buddhism in the United States after joining the UCLA faculty in 1986, Buswell was charged by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism to help lead this six-year initiative. In addition to editing and translating the materials, Buswell also chaired the project’s four-person editorial committee and wrote an introduction to the series.  

"No longer do we need to lament that there’s nowhere to find material on Korean Buddhism in the English-speaking world," Buswell said, "because we now have 13 volumes of some of the most foundational writings available for investigation."  

The collection is based on an existing compilation of materials produced in Korean. It includes the original texts, written in the Buddhist argot of literary Chinese, accompanied by their English translations. Writings include commentaries on scriptures; philosophical and disciplinary texts; indigenous collections of Zen cases, discourses and verse; travelogues and historical materials, and important inscriptions, among other things.  

Buswell said that Western experts in Korean Buddhism are few and far between, although interest in the field has been growing rapidly. Because there aren’t a lot of people who possess the skills necessary to take on a translation project like this – not only does one need to be fluent in Korean and have a strong understanding of the Buddhist tradition, but one also needs to read classical Chinese, the language of the original manuscripts– he turned to some of his former and current graduate students for assistance.  

"We’re fortunate at UCLA because we have pretty much the only program outside Korea that offers Korean Buddhism as a specialty in a Buddhist studies program. Most places doing Buddhism in the West specialize in either Chinese or Japanese on the East Asian side, or Sanskrit and Pali on the Indian side," said Buswell, adding that UCLA’s programs in Korean studies and Buddhist studies are among the largest and most prestigious in the world. "The fact that we had such an important role to play in this project goes to show how deep our place is in both of these fields. It’s something that UCLA can be justly proud of."  

UCLA Ph.D. graduates Richard McBride, now a professor at Brigham Young University, Hawaii, and Patrick Uhlmann, now a professor at Geumgang University in Korea, worked alongside Buswell to edit and translate nearly 40 percent of the series. In addition, Seong-Uk Kim, Sumi Lee, and Maya Stiller, who are all currently Ph.D. candidates in Korean Buddhist studies, provided research assistance.  

"I think it is no exaggeration to say that this project would never have been finished without the investment UCLA has made over the last generation in building the largest programs in the country in both Korean studies and Buddhist studies," Buswell said.

Read or download the translated collection here. A hard copy of the full set may also be found in the UCLA Young Research Library.

Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012