Buddhism’s movement out of India and around the globe has provoked great changes in every society it has touched, and its spread ranks among the most significant developments in human history. Translation played a central role in this story, but how did Buddhist translators go about their work? This talk harnesses the only surviving set of records from a pre-modern Buddhist translation bureau to better understand Buddhist translation practices. Among the manuscripts discovered in 1900 in the Silk Road oasis of Dunhuang are lecture notes, outlines, drafts, and reference works tied to the translator and Buddhist monk Wu Facheng 吳法成 (d. 864, Tibetan name Go Chödrup འགོ་ཆོས་གྲུབ་). Over the course of his career, Facheng served both the Tibetan Empire and a local (Chinese) regime, translating Buddhist scriptures from Chinese to Tibetan and vice versa, composing original works in both languages, and lecturing on philosophy at regional Buddhist monasteries. In their informal and unfinished state, Facheng’s working papers permit an unprecedented window onto the processes that produced canonical Buddhist translations, thereby helping us to better understand the dynamics of Buddhism’s transmission along the Silk Road in the late first millennium.
Meghan Howard Masang’s research interests center on the Tibetan adoption and assimilation of Buddhism. She holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of California, Berkeley (2023), and an A.B. in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies from Harvard University (2004). Her dissertation examines the translation career of Wu Facheng 吳法成/Go Chödrup འགོ་ཆོས་གྲུབ་ (d. 864), an influential scholiast and translator of Buddhist scriptures from Chinese to Tibetan and vice versa based in the important Silk Road oasis of Dunhuang. Prior to graduate school, her work as a Tibetan translator and interpreter led her to Songtsen Library in Dehradun, India, where she spent four years translating a modern Tibetan commentary on the Old Tibetan Annals and Old Tibetan Chronicle by H.H. the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, published in English as A History of the Tibetan Empire: Drawn from the Dunhuang Manuscripts (Dehra Dun, India: Songtsen Library, 2011; translated with Tsultrim Nakchu).