English signs at temples lack precision
By Do Je-hae
The nation’s Buddhist temples are major tourist attractions for foreigners, who often rely on English versions of Korean signs to learn about the temples they are visiting.
The need to enhance the accuracy of these sign translations is becoming more apparent as the templestay program heads into its 10th year in 2012. The program has emerged as one of the most successful tourism campaigns since its inception in 2002.
An expert in the missionary work of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism says that to improve the English translations of temple signs the Korean versions need fixing first.
“In many temples, the problem starts with the inadequate original texts in Korean. In the process of translating such flawed works into English, we end up with many errors and misinterpretations,” Bae Kwang-shik, president of the International Dharma Instructors’ Association (IDIA), said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.
One of the key initiatives of the affiliate organization of the Missionary Division of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism is to publish a definitive Korean-English Buddhism dictionary.
There are three such works available, compiled by monks and scholars.
“The existing dictionaries, however, need to be expanded and polished. We need a dictionary that can match the comprehensiveness of the digital dictionary by A. Charles Muller,” Bae said.
An expert in East Asian Buddhism, Muller teaches at the University of Tokyo and is the founder and managing editor of the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (http://buddhism-dict.net/ddb/).
It provides English explanations of the Buddhist glossary in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and Sanskrit, among other Asian languages.
Another problem with English signs at temples is that they are usually the work of people who lack sufficient knowledge of English or Buddhism, or in some cases, both.
“The signs should be translated by people fluent in English and learned about Buddhism,” Bae said.
But this is far from reality. Normally, they are translated by temporary workers hired by local governments devoid of means to double-check the accuracy of the end product.
Bae travels to temples across the nation and often comes across inadequate English signs with grammatical and factual errors.
For example, a sign at the Magok Temple in Gongju, South Chungcheong Province, carries glaring mistakes that hampers foreigner’s understanding of the background of one of its halls, the Eungjinjeon.
It reads, “The 16 arhats are human beings who want to finish their self-discipline, assume the position of a saint, bless mankind and lead them into the righteous law.”
The expression “righteous law” should be replaced with “true Dharma,” a term found in the Muller dictionary.
Bae says that a proper translation of the entire sentence would be “The 16 arhats were Buddha’s disciples, who attained enlightenment and vowed to stay in this world to protect and propagate the true dharma.”
When completed, the dictionary by the IDIA is expected to serve as an indispensable reference in translating messages and history of Korea’s Seon Buddhism.
A faculty member at the School of Dentistry at Seoul National University, Bae has made arduous efforts to disseminate Korean Buddhism through his activities with the IDIA, comprised of monks and devout Buddhists involved in missionary projects domestically and internationally.
To become a certified Dharma instructor, one must pass an examination authorized by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism.
In the mid-1990s, Bae was studying in Oregon in the United States, and a shocking discovery at a huge book store led to his lifelong devotion to missionary work.
“At the book store, I found books on Buddhism originating from Tibet, China, Japan and Vietnam. There were no books on Korean Buddhism,” he said. “There was one Korean Buddhist temple in Oregon, but there was no one to guide visitors. I realized then that I should do something to introduce Korean Buddhism abroad.”
One of the key policies of the most venerable Ja Seung, head of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, is to disseminate Korean Buddhism abroad.
To that end, a U.S. chapter of the Jogye Order is expected to be established in New York this month, overseeing the administration of 30 Korean temples in the New York and New Jersey areas.
To support international missionary endeavors, the IDIA conducts Buddhism courses in English; regular English Dharma talks at the Templestay Information Center; cultural exchange programs and interpretation and translation services. The IDIA was involved in the development of an official Templestay manual.
The IDIA is also active in assisting the adjustment of multicultural families to Korean life. The organization will hold the “Fun Festival for Internationals” on Sept. 25, inviting 700 international workers and their families from eight countries. This festival will feature performances by participants from each country at the Auxiliary Stadium of the Jamsil Sports Complex in Songpa-gu.
At the invitation of Ven. Hyechong, the director of the missionary division of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, a number of ambassadors are expected to attend.
For more information on the IDIA, visit www.idia.or.kr or call 02-722-2206.