Preface to the English Edition of The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism

BUDDHISM HAS NEARLY A 1,700-YEAR HISTORY in Korea and the tradition continues to thrive still today on the peninsula. Buddhism arrived in Korea from India and China by at least the fourth century C.E. and the religion served as the major conduit for the transmission of Sinitic and Serindian culture as a whole to Korea. But Korean Buddhism is no mere derivative of those antecedent traditions. Buddhists on the Korean peninsula had access to the breadth and depth of the Buddhist tradition as it was being disseminated across Asia and they made seminal contributions themselves to Buddhist thought and meditative and ritual techniques. Indeed, because Korea, like the rest of East Asia, used literary Chinese as the lingua franca of learned communication (much as Latin was used in medieval Europe), Korean Buddhist writings were disseminated throughout the entire region with relative dispatch and served to influence the development of the neighboring Buddhist traditions of China and Japan. In fact, simultaneous with implanting Buddhism on the peninsula, Korean monks and exegetes were also joint collaborators in the creation and development of the indigenous Chinese and Japanese Buddhist traditions. The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism seeks to make available in accurate, idiomatic English translations the greatest works of the Korean Buddhist tradition, many of which are being rendered for the first time into any Western language.
The thirteen volumes of this anthology collect the whole panoply of Korean Buddhist writing from the Three Kingdoms period (ca. 57 C.E.-668) through the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). These writings include commentaries on scriptures as well as philosophical and disciplinary texts by the most influential scholiasts of the tradition; the writings of its most esteemed Seon adepts; indigenous collections of Seon gongan cases, discourses, and verse; travelogues and historical materials; and important epigraphical compositions. Where titles were of manageable length, we have sought to provide the complete text of those works. Where size was prohibitive, we have instead offered representative selections from a range of material, in order to provide as comprehensive a set of sources as possible for the study of Korean Buddhism. The translators and editors also include extensive annotation to each translation and substantial introductions that seek to contextualize for an English-speaking audience the insights and contributions of these works.
Many of the scholars of Korean Buddhism active in Western academe were recruited to participate in the translation project. Since the number of scholars working in Korean Buddhism is still quite limited, we also recruited as collaborators Western specialists in literary Chinese who had extensive experience in English translation.
We obviously benefitted enormously from the work of our Korean colleagues who toiled so assiduously to prepare the earlier Korean edition of these Collected Works. We regularly consulted their vernacular Korean renderings in preparing the English translations. At the same time, virtually all the Western scholars involved in the project are themselves specialists in the Buddhist argot of literary Chinese and most already had extensive experience in translating Korean and Chinese Buddhist texts into English. For this reason, the English translations are, in the majority of cases, made directly from the source texts in literary Chinese, not from the modern Korean renderings. Since translation always involves some level of interpretation, there are occasional differences in the understanding of a passage between the English and Korean translators, but each translator retained final authority to decide on the preferred rendering of his 2 or her text. For most of the English volumes, we also followed the collaborative approach that was so crucial in preparing the Korean translations of these Collected Works and held series of meetings where the English translators would sit together with our Korean counterparts and talk through issues of terminology, interpretation, and style. Our Korean collaborators offered valuable comments and suggestions on our initial drafts and certainly saved us from many egregious errors. Any errors of fact or interpretation that may remain are of course our responsibility.
On behalf of the entire English translation team, I would like to express our thanks to all our collaborators, including our translators Juhn Young Ahn, Robert Buswell, Michael Finch, Jung-geun Kim, Charles Muller, John Jorgensen, Richard McBride, Jin Y. Park, Young-eui Park, Patrick Uhlmann, Sem Vermeersch, Matthew Wegehaupt, and Roderick Whitfield; as well as our philological consultants Jeongdeok Sunim, Go-ok Sunim, Haeju Sunim, Misan Sunim, Woncheol Sunim, Byoung-sam Jeong, and Young-uk Kim. We are also appreciative to Ven. Jaseung Sunim, the current president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, for his continued support of this project. Our deepest gratitude goes to Ven. Gasan Jikwan Sunim (May 11, 1932-January 2, 2012), one of the most eminent monks and prominent scholars of his generation, who first conceived of this project and spearheaded it during his term as president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Jikwan Sunim’s entire career was dedicated to making the works of Korean Buddhism more accessible to his compatriots and better known within the wider scholarly community. It is a matter of deep regret that he did not live to see the publication of this English version of the Collected Works.
Finally, it is our hope that The Collected Works of Korean Buddhism will ensure that the writings of Korean Buddhist masters will assume their rightful place in the developing English canon of Buddhist materials and will enter the mainstream of academic discourse in Buddhist Studies in the West. Korea’s Buddhist authors are as deserving of careful attention and study as their counterparts in Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese Buddhism. This first comprehensive collection of Korean Buddhist writings should bring these authors the attention and sustained engagement they deserve among Western scholars, students, and practitioners of Buddhism.

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Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012