Lately I’ve been reading Tibeto-logic, a fascinating and helpful blog by scholar Dan Martin. It was there that I discovered this interesting interview with Prof. Paul Harrison, one of the world’s leading scholars of Mahayana sutras.
Williams talks about all of the considerations involved in translating Mahayana sutras–in this case, the VajracchedikÄ PrajÃ±ÄpÄramitÄ SÅ«tra, popularly known as the Diamond Sutra. His work, among other things, involves consulting Sanskrit written on fragile birch bark fragments in the 5th century and haphazardly unearthed in recent decades in Afghanistan and Pakistan, then comparing it with various Chinese and Tibetan versions.
I have the idea that until one actually commits to memory texts like these and performs these operations you can’t quite understand what’s going on. So they actually don’t work like books in the way that we understand books. They’re more like performance pieces or scores for pieces of music and I think until you play them–its no good reading the score–you’ve got to play the piece of music and then you’ll see how it works and the kind of effects it has on your mind when you do that. That’s the kind of perception I’m coming to have about Buddhist sutras like this one.