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on January 15, 2012
Preliminary observations:

For a Lankavatarian, the arrival in the mail of Red Pine's new translation of the Lankavatara Sutra was like receiving the Holy Grail. This long anticipated release was well-worth the wait. Readers will not be disappointed as this contemporary rendition, through the skillful writing ability of Bill Porter, breathes new life into what is considered a difficult text. I found myself being mesmerized as soon as I opened the book. Often I find myself skipping through a book's preface to get to the content, but not this time. Red Pine weaves a masterful synthesis of the Sutra's origins--from the text itself to wonderful anecdotes revolving around key Zen players who were instrumental in the Lanka's promulgation. One such anecdote relates how Shen-Hsiu, who lost that famous poetry contest with Hui-neng, was actually a greater admirer of the Lanka than the Sixth Patriarch himself; he was even buried beneath a hillock that he affectionately named Mount Lanka.

One salient feature that appears again and again in Bill Porter's translation is the Sutra's non-projection of dharmas: "Because the various projections of people's minds appear before them as objects, they become attached to the existence of their projections." The way to become free from one's projections is to realize that "they are nothing but mind" Itself. The Buddha makes Mahamati (the spokesman in the sutra who addresses questions to the Buddha) aware that his incessant inquires are nothing more than "his own and others' imagination and as such are tantamount to pie in the sky." Consciousness itself is a "self-fabricated" fiction, but "bodhisattvas transform their consciousness into the projectionless tathagata-garbha, or the womb from which the buddhas arise." Red Pine is right on target with his understanding of the tathagata-garbha and the alaya-vijnana, the latter "represents the defiled mind", the former "the mind purified." He also stresses a point about practitioners: "The Lanka is not a text that welcomes the casual reader. An understanding of its teachings requires a teacher, or incredibly good karma. And such teachers and karma have always been rare. There have been times when the Lanka achieved a certain amount of popularity, but it has never been a text whose readership was widespread--its reputation, yes, but not its readership." Hence, one can see the validly of his decision to take the reductionist approach in order to enhance the Sutra's readership.

I am also delighted that Red Pine decided to include the "Introductory Chapter", something that editions like the Goddard abridged efforts have sorely left out. The interesting and edifying account of Ravana, the Overlord of the Yakshas, being transformed (Bill Porter's translation of pavavriti--or the "turn about" within the deepest recesses of consciousness) through his discourse with the Buddha, in effect having a Yogic self-awakening, highlights in a nutshell the whole teaching within the Lanka on the process of the self-realization of Noble Wisdom. Am looking forward to reading the rest of Bill Porter's marvelous and informative translation--his accompanying commentary is an invaluable and enjoyable asset. The only contentious points thus far is his decision to exclude arya-jnana in favor of buddha-jnana--in doing so he misses the authentic import of the true meaning of the "Noble-Ones" who are instilled with the proper Buddha-gnosis to attain that wonderful self-realization of Noble Wisdom...this is not some "personal revelation" as he asserts (personal revelation is akin to what I was describing in my recent blog: The Rapture ([...] wherein a woman had a personal revelation as to the coming "Rapture"). The self-realization of Noble Wisdom found within the Lanka is not a "personal" revelation, but rather a singular divulgement of the Tathatagas. Also, like most contemporary Buddhist scholars, his emphasis upon the "no-self" leaves much to be desired--even though he breaks-down this "self" down somewhat as being constituted of the Skandhas--he seems, thus far, to be leaning in the direction of pure anatmanism. All in all, a new majestic rendition of the Lanka's marriage between Yogacarism and Zen--what Red Pine calls, "Zen tea in a Yogacara Cup."
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on February 15, 2012
It is said that when Hui-ko, the Second Patriarch of Zen, asked his teacher Bodhidharma what the essence of Zen was, Bodhidharma handed him a copy of The Lankavatara Sutra. Since then, this text has been revered as the seminal Zen sutra; in fact, it is commonly regarded as the only Zen sutra recited by the Buddha himself. For decades, the only major translation was D.T. Suzuki's 1932 edition. Red Pine--respected translator of the Platform Sutra, Diamond Sutra, and Heart Sutra--has just released his own translation of The Lankavatara Sutra, an edition I encourage everyone to read for themselves.

The Lankavatara Sutra is a must-read for any serious student of Mahayana Buddhism, and Zen in particular. Its Yogacarin Mind-Only doctrine enormously influenced the development of Zen. Several years ago I read the sutra, but couldn't make heads or tails of it, mainly because it is such an exhausting, mind-numbing scripture. But when I recently read Red Pine's edition, I found it surprisingly accessible.

Part of the reason is because of his excellent, and often humorous, footnotes. Two of my favorites are: "This section makes my head hurt," followed shortly by the lone "Amen!" For me, that alone made the edition worth reading. The notes are set on the left page, which makes them very easy to consult. I don't know about you, but when an author places the footnotes at the back of the book, I tend to overlook them, or scan them at best. But when they are set on the opposite page, I read nearly every one of them, mainly because Red Pine's notes are so helpful in understanding this challenging sutra.

All in all, I found Red Pine's latest translation to be refreshing, masterfully translated, engaging, and most importantly of all, enjoyable. It's an excellent complement to D.T. Suzuki's translation and a title I highly recommend. As the great Chan and Son masters Zongmi and Chinul point out, sutra study is an important facet of Buddhist practice, and for Zen practitioners The Lankavatara Sutra is virtually indispensable.

Thanks to Counterpoint Press for sending me a copy of this book to review.

--Andre Doshim Halaw
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on February 22, 2012
Unlike the others here I am not an intellectual person qualified to make a scholarly critique of the book. I only want to say that as a student and practitioner of Chan this book is very supportive of my practice. I've been studying Suzuki's translation and also his Studies in the Lankavatara Sutra. This new translation is very helpful. I read small portions each morning and evening before my meditation and often read the same chapter from the Suzuki edition. I believe there is great benefit in having someone like Red Pine who's native language is English and who also is a student and translator of poetry write for an English speaking audience. I like the format of the book with the notes on adjacent pages so that I don't have to go looking for them. I also like how Red Pine often gives you what was written in the various sources that he studied and lets you draw your own conclusions. Anyway I'm a big fan of all of Bill's translations. They have been a great help to me on the path to liberation. I hope this finger pointing to the moon is a help to you and you are able to experience the reality beyond words and ideas. With Metta, Robert
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on March 14, 2014
I've been reading this translation along with the classic Suzuki translation and the Cleary translation. This is obviously the most reader friendly, with notes and glossary, and straightforward English (sometimes a little too straightforward). Red Pine and Cleary are somewhat easier to read and smoother than Suzuki (mostly because they translate the vast-sounding names and technical jargon), but occasionally Cleary's translation is not in anything like readable English (see below). It is worth noting that the Cleary translation has no apparatus, and no introduction, etc. I would certainly advise having the Suzuki translation (which has a long introduction) to hand as a complement, if you are really going at this sutra. Even better would be to have the Suzuki "Studies in the LS", because in the back of it is a substantive glossary to his translation. The Red Pine translation has extensive notes, many of which refer to the Sanskrit original (Red Pine's is from the Chinese), that Red Pine admits he is at dictionary level reading ability. For the interested reader, here are three versions of the same piece (from section VIII of Chapter II, in the Suzuki numbering):

Seeing the three realms of existence as caused by the impressions of mistaken ideas elaborated since beginningless time, by mindfulness of the non-origination of the imageless stage of buddhahood, having attained the ultimate truth first hand, the master of one's mind, having attained effortless practice, like a jewel of all colours, maintains certainty in the orderly combination of the steps of the stages by means of subtle created forms entering the minds of beings, through understanding mind alone. - Cleary

Who sees that the habit-energy of projections of the beginningless past is the cause of the three realms and who understands that the tathagata stage is free from projections or anything that arises, attains the personal realization of buddha knowledge and effortless mastery over their own minds. And like gems capable of reflecting every colour, they enter the subtlest thoughts of other beings and in their apparation bodies teach them `nothing but mind' while establishing them in the sequence of stages. -Red Pine

Perceiving that the triple existence is by reason of the habit-energy of erroneous discrimination and false reasoning that has been going on since beginningless time, and also thinking of the state of Buddhahood which is imageless and unborn, [the Bodhisattva] will become thoroughly conversant with the noble truth of self-realization, will become a perfect master of his own mind, will conduct himself without effort, will be like a gem reflecting a variety of colours, will be able to assume the body of transformation, will be able to enter into the subtle minds of all beings, and, because of his belief in Mind-only, will, by, gradually ascending the stages, become established in Buddhahood. - Suzuki

It is noticeable that there are different choices (e.g. is there one 'being' established in Buddhahood, or many?) being made here. Finally, it is worth noting that the Red Pine translation does not include the final chapters that were added on later to the core. Having slogged through the Sagathakam -- a miscellaneous grab bag of earlier sections and some additional thoughts that are somewhat intriguing -- I don't miss it. But the added chapter on meat-eating is interesting.
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on January 14, 2012
A 1st look: Red Pine's Lankavatara Sutra as Jasmine Tea

First Sniff. - The Brisk Advertisement Copy:

Before beginning I will let Mr. Red Pine introduce his own characterization of the Lankavatara:

"Think of the Lankavatara as Zen tea in a Yogacara cup.", (Page 15).

I received Red Pine's translation of the Lankavatara yesterday. 3 things struck me right off.

1. - Zen tea in a Yogacara cup Steeps Quickly

On the very same page as the self characterization of the text by the translator is this statement:

"These include the 5 Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, memory, and consciousness)", (page 15).

That rendering into English of "samskara" as "memory" immediately struck me as suggesting the same kind of treatment of a complex term as would be the translation of Nama-rupa as "name and form" followed by an explanation which indicated that it was simply a the conceptual process of labeling rather than a dynamic process by which the 7th consciousness expressed its assertion of the self and then imposed its agenda by yanking something out of its context in our experience to make it a moon of the planet of our fictional self and in turn creates of it an object to which we would constantly be responding by "seeing it" and being triggered into egocentric outflows of behavior.

Memory itself has been defined before in the sense of "non-losing" and "sustaining", or "reminding" and "paying attention to details" within the context of mindfulness. In Paul L. Griffith's essay "Memory and Classical Indian Yogacara" in the Mirror of Memory edited by Janet Gyatso, Prof. Griffiths quotes the Trimsikabhyasaya as saying

"Smrti is the minds nondeprivation of an object with which it is directly acquainted.... [It is an object] which which is directly equated by means of the previous experience [object]." (Page 111)

The word "memory" is a little limited, while the 4th Skandka is a much broader concept - a deep contributor of contour or responsiveness within experience that is like a coral reef built-up changing the flow of waves coming in to a beach that I usually think of what I think of when I think of the word samskara.

2. - Zen tea in a Yogacara cup is Naturally Sweet

In his notes on page 116, in chapter 2, note 323, he discusses if word "hostility" is short for "hostility and kindness" or not, but he goes with "hostility". He interprets this saying

"however, the place of "hostility" here is clear when it is understood that is based on the 7th form of consciousness, or ego consciousness. And wherever the ego is involved, hostility, and not kindness is the operant emotion."

Now, I really am going to go a little bit out on the limb here.

I would think that just as there is a background characteristic insufficiency going on always behind the 10 aspects of suffering there is also a background hostility going on all the time that is actually distinctly different than any of its aspects or expressions as what we would call "anger". This "ground hostility" is closer to a universal principle of cognizance which is to tear things apart by analysis, to divide things against each other, to yank things out of their context and make them submissive to our hierarchy of projected expectation. This is not "anger" hostility but it is more like the existential paranoia that creates dualistic thought.

3. - Zen tea in a Yogacara cup is Spicy

The original 1st section of the text, the so-called "108 questions and answers" has all along been a daunting section because it is hard to find any order in it. On page 44 Red Pine says

"I'm of the opinion it is merely an example of the way the repository consciousness works: you never know what seed is going to sprout next."

On one hand that is a really functional way of looking at it, on the other hand it's a little bit too cute. I think it's not so helpful because he himself earlier on said that he thought that this presentation represented a kind of "yoga practitioner's sense of priorities" rather than an academic organization of the material. But he never described what that presentation would look like itself in distinction to a scholarly presentation. And in this one case in which were talking about a famous problem of the book, at least a sentence of orientation would seem proper to expect, rather than throwing aside that original assertion of a alternative form of organization in the 108 questions and answers and offering up a simple surrender, the kind of secret knowledge that is implied but not demonstrated when someone, even a Buddha, responds to a question by just smiling slyly in silence.

I have been waiting for this book so long and I am so grateful to get it that I just thought I'd make these 3 points as a way to get a conversation going about it because a meal enjoyed alone really isn't the same as a meal with friends.

Leo Rivers
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on November 3, 2012
When we met at the Buddha city that fine fellow Red Pine pointed at his Platform Sutra translation and I said something to the effect that 'everybody has translated that'. Then he asked me what I would like to see translated and I immediately replied 'I know it's almost impossible to bring out in English but the Lanka was the most personally influential Sutra that I have read because the yoga works when you practice what is written'. He got a poleaxed expression on his face and repeated " Oh!The Lanka the Lanka the Lanka I can't escape it".. 10 years later all i can say is Oh! The Lanka! the Lanka! Dear Red Pine I bow in deep appreciation for your ineffable suffering in finishing this vast undertaking.
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on July 7, 2013
This is THE sutra to read if you're a serious student of Zen. I've no more to add ,except that Red Pine's comments are very useful and down-to-Earth. The Sutra itself is complicated, but Red Pine's comments do help.
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on January 22, 2014
Red Pine's translation of Bodhidharma changed my life. It's concise, confident and luminous. This translation? Not so much. It's overly technical and overly-considered. I suspect his problems with the translation came from overthinking the vagaries of the sources. Sorry, Mr. Porter, but you got a little timid and scholarly on us this time. I prefer Red Pine when he's getting to the essence. This translation is decent, but not great.

UPDATE: I'm upgrading this from 3 to 4 stars. I've compared it to several other translations (including Suzuki's) and it's fine. Still not Pine's best work, and not as immediately readable as his Bodhidharma translation, but I understand the difficulty with this one, and I believe it's very useful as a scholarly, comparative reference.
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on December 27, 2012
This work will be a classic! Not only does its translator state the work's teachings in the English of our times, but gives us the benefit of his own years of studies with Chinese masters in Asia in explaining them. Rightly considered the foundation book of Mahayana Buddhism today, The Lankavatara Sutra lets you experience and not just understand many of its most profound teachings: and with the urgency of its original author (or authors, as scholars today consider it more a compendium by several writers). If Buddhism claims to be the faith that awakens us, this is the Sutra that shows you how it does so. Now, proclaims its translator, "live it."

It arrived in excellent condition and right away. Many thanks. I will be ordering and looking forward to the translator's companion work, The Diamond Sutra.
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This is based on the actual words of the Buddha. They say only an enlightened fellow can understand it. They got that right! Thankfully, Red Pine's has a good commentary with the footnotes written on the opposite page.

What surprised me is that the Buddha is called an avatara (avatar) and he is referred to as Bhagavan, like Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita! Red Pine doesn't give an explanation for this. You would expect him to offer an explanation but I suspect he hasn't a clue as to why Vishnu appeared in Lana disguised as the Buddha!

We are all told that Buddhism is an athiestic crede, especially Zen, when in this highest teaching, he clearly isn't! Oh, and Red Pine doesn't write ch'an Buddhism, but he sticks to Zen Buddhism. A proper Chinese will be banging his fist on the table by now!

What annoyed me is Pines translation of arya jnana to buddha jnana. What's wrong with the word arya anyway? In India, a Jnani is an enlightened One. The word Jnana sort of means knowledge in the dictionary but it doesn't in Indian spirituality. So Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj are Jnani's. So Buddha Jnana is saying Buddha Buddha or Jnana Jnana!

Pine does, however, write that the Buddha wears a swastika on his chest. If you can add that in your text, then you can use the word arya.
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