English Translation of Chinese Agamas


Lovely! Thanks!


My initial work on the Samyukta Agama has begun to a bear some fruit. I decided to work on the portion that’s parallel to the Pali Samyutta 45 as a project, and I posted the first three sutra translations of Nos. 748, 749, and 750 to my blog tonight. This section of the Chinese Samyukta spans Nos. 748 to 800, which I’ll be slowly posting.

The work on Madhyama Agama Nos. 7-10 is ongoing. I have MA.7, 9, and 10 drafted and working on MA.8 in my multitasking way.

I’ve also devoted some time to Chu Fonian’s Taisho 212, which is the second Chinese Dharmapada with avadana-style stories serving as commentary to the verses. I posted story Nos. 1, 2, and 3 last week from that text as well.



Given that BDK already has the first 71, out of curiosity, why did you decide to do the MA in order?


It began with re-editing my older translations, which were mainly at the beginning. Then I decided to translate the first section of 10 sutras to round it out. When I reach MA.10, I’ll probably focus on editing the other old translations. Are there particular sutras in MA you’d like to see translated? Working on the material after MA.71 does make sense in the short run.


Ah that makes sense!

:thinking: I guess I, personally, am interested in the MA sutras after 71 which have no parallels in the Pāli: teachings by the Buddha with no English version at all right now. What are they about?!

But that’s just me! No need to do things my way! Please keep following your own muse… I’m just happy you’re working on them at all :heart:


Dear @cdpatton,

May I have your translation of Chinese Agamas translated into Indonesian if they have been in stable version? I have translated English translations of Chinese Agamas from Analayo’s work into Indonesian, but it isn’t complete yet, so perhaps I can make the Indonesian translation from your work for the rest. Thank you :anjal:


Certainly. There’ll be the possibility of changes in the future, as I’ll be editing the drafts for consistency as I go, but feel free to translate the free versions published here or on my blog.



Not necessarily a text I’d like to see translated but, perhaps, some advice on translating works by An Shigao–specifically, T14. There are so many issues with the text that, quite frankly, I am at a loss for where to begin.

In fact, maybe just discussing those issues would be a good place to start.



Feel free to ask questions. I’m not an expert on the very early translators like An Shigao, but I can certainly research it. It just takes a little more time to dig into.


Well, for example, those long passages with repetition after repetition–where the phrases aren’t completely grammatical, and it’s hardly clear where one phrase begins and the next ends: how should approach that?


Well, one thing I see is poor punctuation. CBETA’s idea of punctuation isn’t always that helpful. Sometimes, they seem to just be breaking the text up into clauses and that’s all. Semicolons are more like periods, and periods mark the end of paragraphs. Sort of like 19th century English.

In An Shigao’s text, the Buddha addresses Ananda after starting a sentence, but CBETA insists on putting a ! after it anyway–I guess that just means a vocative to them. So, that really chops up the sentences.

For example:

『何因緣,阿難!老死?』= “What, Ananda, is the condition of old age and death?”

Another issue is that classical Chinese doesn’t think much of repeating subjects when they don’t change or aren’t that important and omits them, and it doesn’t have a copula verb, so it can seem like a bunch of verb phrases strung together to English speakers. We have to add those things in to turn it into something grammatical to us.

Is there a particular passage you’re trying to parse?


No, not a particular passage but, foolhardy as it seems, the entire discourse.

Yeah, and a lot like some early Chinese attempts at punctuation I’ve see from the Republican period: just breaking it up into clauses, as you said. And, often, the breakpoints themselves are very much open to debate:


According to the same passage in DN 15:

“Thus, Ānanda, these two phenomena, being a duality, converge into a unity in feeling.

“It was said: ‘With contact as condition there is feeling’…"

there should be a not just a period but also paragraph break after 是二皆痛相會. So, yeah, the punctuation is to be ignored.

(Actually, if you are familiar with DN 15, the form of the above question from T 14 is actually a conflation with the question forms from the beginning of the sutta: “Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Is feeling due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘It is.’" )

But that’s not the biggest issue for me. An Shigao’s original translation itself is!

I’m running around right now, so I can’t find any appropriate examples at the moment–but it’s been a few days and I wanted to respond to your kind reply. I’ll get back to you soon with one or some; but if you look at the text, you’ll see the incoherence in many places, I think.


We could do a walk through translation here on Sutta Central. That could be fun. It’s okay if there are delays; I’m busy too. An Shigao was one of the earliest translators during the later Han, so I think part of the issue is that he was using what’s more properly classical Chinese rather than the Buddhist Chinese that developed later that’s closer to the original Indic text.


For your reference .


Because of craving there is clinging , and with clinging there is craving . That , ananda , are kama tanha and bhava tanha , both with feeling as its contact , thus has feeling as its conditions .


Thank you. This wasn’t actually one of the phrases that I found difficult–there are many other, far more difficult sentences in T 14–but I thank you for your interest just the same. I must say, though, that I disagree a little with your rendering. First, I will be doing this for school, so it’s a bit of a looser translation than I would require; but that’s just personal style. Perhaps, though, a small run-through of some of the points where I disagree with you will help demonstrate how problematic this discourse is.

First, if by “clinging” you mean upādāna, then I have to say that 求 here is An Shigao’s rendering of pariyesanā; he translates upādāna as 受.

(As a side note, the situation is further complicated by the fact that, earlier in the discourse, he translates taṇhā as 愛求; and, honestly speaking, that leaves me at a total loss as to what he’s trying to say here with this enigmatic and, to my knowledge, elsewhere unattested 有愛故令有求,求故令有愛.)

Also, where you have “both with feeling as its contact,” I’m guessing you were just responding quickly and mistakenly typed “contact” instead of “condition.”

But, all that aside, as I said, I disagree with CBETA’s sentence break after 有痛因緣 which you chose to follow. When we compare it with DN 15, it seems to me that not only should it be the start of new paragraph but it is also part of a question and not a statement.

DN 15 has: Iti kho ānanda ime dve dhammā dvayena vedanāya ekasamosaraṇā bhavanti. (Thus, Ānanda, these two phenomena, being a duality, converge into a unity in feeling.) which (with some new punctuation) would correspond to: 彼,阿難!欲愛亦有愛,是二皆痛相會。

(Obviously, there is nothing in this sentence corresponding to 欲愛 and 有愛 in the Pāli; though there is the kāmataṇhā bhavataṇhā vibhavataṇhā two or three sentences earlier in the Pāli. It seems like a transposition–but the question, then, becomes: “Which is the original?” I’m going with T 14 because two types of taṇhā makes more sense in light of ime dve dhammā/是二. I think we can just chalk up the addition of the third taṇhā to leveling by the Pāli redactors.)

The next paragraph begins: Phassapaccayā vedanāti iti kho panetaṃ vuttaṃ. (It was said: ‘With contact as condition there is feeling.’)

This, I feel, is where 有痛因緣 belongs, because the the sentence in its entirety reads: 有痛因緣。阿難!若有問是,便言:『有。』which, after emending CBETA’s punctuation, would read: 『有痛因緣?』阿難!若有問是,便言:『有。』This, then, would correspond exactly to DN 15’s Atthi idappaccayā vedanā’ti iti puṭṭhena satā ānanda atthīti’ssa vacanīyaṃ. (Ānanda, if one is asked: ‘Is feeling due to a specific condition?’ one should say: ‘It is.’ ) which is how DN 15 introduces each of the DO links in the first part of the discourse: T 14, for whatever reason, uses the same format both times.

As I said, this is FAR from the most difficult passage in T 14, though it is typical of a few of the problems one encounters in trying to translate it. As @cdpatton stated, An Shigao was among the very earliest translators into Chinese. I don’t think, though, that it was because his writings are anything closer to classical Chinese; but, on the contrary, because his Chinese was just so bad. Nothing like the polished writings of later centuries, he was long before there was anything close to a style guide. There are far more experienced scholars who devote entire careers to studying his translations alone. And, in fact, I’m wondering if I’m having delusions of grandeur for even attempting to tackle this discourse–I may give it up.

So, @Gene, I hope you don’t feel I was overly critical. That is just the nature of this text: it’s merciless. And, again, this was just a single sentence from one of the more straightforward passages of which I happen to have a bit of a grasp.


Hi knotty ,

Don’t know if you already compare with


With yearning thus there is acquiring , if there is no yearning then nothing to acquire for . As such these dharma in turn arises , due to craving and yearning both as the conditions . Therefore , there are two type of craving dharma , namely , kama tanha and bhava tanha , because of both dharma thus arises wrong doing .


Do we know which canon An Shigao was translating from? I haven’t studied his work closely or compared it to the other Agama translations.

At this point, though, I would be surprised if any Agama precisely matched the wording of a Pali sutta throughout. Certain passages do match the Pali consistently, the old and important “stock passages” like the definition of the dhyanas. There are always variations, though, and it’s clearly in the original text, not just due to the translator. Certainly there are issues with word choice and rendering Indic grammar into classical Chinese, but that doesn’t account for narratives being different and material moving about in the text.

Anyone who wants a good indication of how casual the punctuation is in CBETA texts can compare T374 and T375, the large Nirvana Sutra editions. T375 is the lightly touched up version that’s nearly identical to T374; yet, the punctuation differs between them. It appears two different people punctuated the texts with different results (or one person did it at different times). It’s not generally an issue, but it’s clear that they didn’t spend time thinking critically about it. Then there’s texts like T1545 (the Mahavibhasa) that still aren’t punctuated and only occasionally is a paragraph break added. You can see there what the Taisho looked like: a series of clauses with periods between them.

I propose we create a separate thread for a collaborative translation of this text if you or Gene are interested. These early translations definitely can be a challenge for one person to decipher.


I decided to spend a little time today preparing an Excel sheet with the Pali and all four versions of this sutra in Chinese. It’ll be a bit before I’m ready to share it, but one thing that immediately stands out is that An Shigao’s Sutra parallels the Sarvastivada Madhyama version in that the question and answer sequence only goes to tanha and stops there. The Dirgha version of the Sutra goes all the way to namarupa (and beyond) like the Pali. So, right off, I’m suspecting we are dealing with two versions of this text and that An Shigao’s translation may actually be a parallel with the Madhyama Agama Sutra, not the Dirgha Agama. But I haven’t gone through all of it yet.

Also, there’s a paper on that discusses An Shigao difficulties with translating Buddhist terminology before the Chinese had created a vocabulary for it. The concept of sparsa, for instance, didn’t have any parallel concept that matched it, which is why he groped with words like “pain” and others. It varies from one translation to the next. The article is Pratītyasamutpāda in the Translations of An Shigao 安世高 and the Writings of his Chinese Followers.


Yes, indeed! Thank you very much for your greatly appreciated assistance! I am very much interested!

I have something like this already prepared from an aborted attempt from a few years ago. It’s in PDF. I can’t remember off the top of my head how specific I got in tabulating discrepancies; but some of the things you mentioned, like the DO progressions, I do remember were definitely in there. Should I send it to you?

I actually have that article. Jan Nattier, Eric Greene, and Stefano Zacchetti are the names I know of those scholars publishing papers on An Shigao. There’s also Shi Guohuei on the Chinese side (though primarily focusing on the Anbanshouyijing). Perhaps you know of some others?

(Anyone attempting to tackle An Shigao [for those very reasons you mentioned], let alone doing it successfully, is, in my opinion, a Titan–not an Olympian, but a Titan!)

Speaking of which, what would be the value, in your opinion, in consulting An Shigao’s other works? All the inconsistencies notwithstanding, his work does represent a genre of sorts with its own somewhat identifiable style.

I’ll be traveling for a few days. But I should be available from early next week.


Sure. I’m breaking it down into correspondence with Sujato’s Pali segments, which is time consuming, but the texts are so far behaving and fitting into a nice grid.

In my personal method of translation, the author’s own works take precedence over secondary works like dictionaries and contemporaries, etc. If you can get a sense of word use in the same text, that’s primary, and if you can get it from another work by the same author, that’s more helpful than a dictionary.

TL;DR Yes.