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Pai yü ching (The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables) [Бай юй цзин (Сутра ста притч)]. Tr. from Chinese, with notes by I.S.Gurevich. Introduction and tr. of poetical fragments by L.N.Menshikov. Moscow, Nauka, 1986. 128 p. (Pamyatniki pismennosti Vostoka, LXXVI).


The present Russian version of The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables (Pai yü ching) is translated and commented on by I.S.Gurevich. The Sūtra is a 5th century work of Chinese Buddhist narrative literature. Its full translation into a European language has never been done before. Stanislas Julien in Les Avadānas (Paris, 1859) and Edouard Chavannes in Cinq cents aontes et apologues extraits du Tripitaka chinois et traduits en Francois (Paris, 1910-34) translated only the plots of the parables leaving out didactic additions. The Sūtra has never been studied as a literary monument. In Japan, where in the 20th century its full translation and analysis was published by Akanuma Chizen and Nishio Miyakoo (in the series All the Sūtras Translated into the Native Language, Kokuyaku is-seikyO), the Sūtra was viewed as one of the many works written in Buddhist religious tradition, rather than a literary monument. For the first time, a literary criticism of The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables was made by L.N.Menshikov.

The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables belongs to Avadāna, a peculiar branch of Buddhist literature in China. The story of the text is traced in two main sources: A Collection of Data on Tripitaka Translations (Ch'u San-tsang tsi tsi) and The Lives of Virtuous Monks (Kao seng chuan) and is as follows. Its compiler is said to be Sanghasena of India who told the Sūtra to his pupil Gunavrddhi. The latter came to China in 479 and recited the Sūtra orally for a long time untill he recorded his translation in 492. In 502 (o: possibly, in 503) he died in Chien-ye,the then capital of China. The comparison of The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables with the same plot parables from the collections translated directly from Sanskrit shows that the Gunavrddhi version differs considerably from the original acquiring the forms typical of the Chinese narrative of the hsiao-shuo genre, rather than the forms of Jātaka or Avadāna characteristic of Indian literature. The didactic conclusions of the parables, were simplified and became more like Chinese traditional conceptions. Certain purely Indian notions gave place to corresponding Chinese ones. The narrative acquires a more strict form, general discourse reduced and secondary plots omitted. All these changes could take place during the 13 years Gunavrddhi stayed in China or, more exactly, between his arrival and preaching and the time he put the text down. At the same time, certain parts of the Sūtra (mainly its poetic section) undoubtedly survived unchanged and very accurately render the Sanskrit original.

The Sūtra was a new word in the development of Chinese narrative in two respects. First, the parables of the monument are short humour stories, while hsiao-shuo stories are rather serious. Second, the collection is marked by thematic integrity: it includes stories about fools, stupid actions, foolish or absurd situations whereas the hsiao-shuo collections, as a rule, follow a more broad thematic pattern telling about miracles or anything out of the ordinary line. The overall character of the parables provides grounds to believe that initially the Sūtra was called The Garland of the Flowers of Foolishness - these words are mentioned in the Sūtra's final phrase.

The collection lays no claim on being the word of Buddha. The name of its compiler Sanghasena is referred to at the end of the Sūtra. Nevertheless, the text starts with an introduction typical of any Sūtras included in the Buddhist canon. The introduction always tells where and when and on what occasion Buddha told a related sutra. However, a more close study shows that this introduction resembles in form certain places of the famous early Taoist work Chuang tzu. This undoubtedly later added introduction makes it possible to list the Sūtra among the apocrypha of early Chinese Buddhism being the extractions from plots of genuine Buddhist writings. Such compilations usually have similar introductions the Chinese origin of which can be easily traced. The most popular compilation of this kind is The Sūtra on the Requital for Favour (Ta-fang-bien-fo pao en ching).

The writing of Sanghasena—Gunavrddhi had by virtue of all the above changes become a piece of Chinese literature both in form and, to some extent, in content. This explains its durability in Chinese literature to say nothing of its rather entertaining content. For many centuries, it has been a pleasure reading, and already in the 20th century was retold several times to be adapted to contemporary notions. The retellings were of different nature, either leaving the parables unchanged omitting the Buddhist maxims, or adding other didactic endings marked by a modern Chinese flavour, or selecting plots more appropriate for the China of today, etc. The result often being new stories on an old foundation.

In addition to revised versions, the Sūtra has been published more than once in its full and original form. The great Lu Hsun, in 1914, payed his own money for the Sūtra to be published and favoured its 1926 Wang P’in-ch'ing variant. The monument in the original has also been published in the People's Republic of China.

The present translation is based on the Lu Hsiin text. The translator tried to produce an accurate yet smoothly readable text in Russian. Special terms are clarified in the Notes.


Аннотация, Содержание, «О буддийских притчах», Summary


Buddhist literature
Chinese literature
Chinese narrative
Chuang tzu
Pai yü ching
The Sūtra of a Hundred Parables

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