Cantonese is a Useful Tool for Chinese Buddhist Sutra Study

Discussion in 'Buddhism' started by alphone, Jun 3, 2022.

  1. alphone

    alphone Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2006
    Messages:
    59
    Likes Received:
    21
    From :
    https://universalalphaomega.blogspot.com/2022/06/cantonese-is-useful-tool-for-chinese.html

    Most Chinese Buddhist Sutras, especially the Mahayana and Vajrayana Sutras, were translated into Chinese during Tang (唐) and Song (宋) Dynasty. The Chinese pronunciation in these two dynasties are very different from the modern official Chinese pronunciation ( a.k.a. Mandarin ), but similar to Cantonese pronunciation.

    For example, Sanskrit ‘Manjusri’ is transliterated to Chinese ‘文殊師利’, which pronounces ‘Wen-Shoo-Shi-Li ‘ in Mandarin, and pronounces ‘Man-Siu-See-Ley’ in Cantonese.

    We can do a syllable-to-syllable comparison here :

    [Sanskrit] Man -> [Chinese character] 文 -> [Cantonese] Man -> [Mandarin] Wen
    [Sanskrit] Ju -> [Chinese character] 殊 -> [Cantonese] Siu -> [Mandarin] Shoo
    [Sanskrit] S -> [Chinese character] 師 -> [Cantonese] See -> [Mandarin] Shi
    [Sanskrit] Ri -> [Chinese character] 利 -> [Cantonese] Ley -> [Mandarin] Li

    From the above comparison, we can see that the Cantonese pronunciation is closer to the Sanskrit pronunciation than Mandarin. Especially the starting syllable, ‘Man’ in Sanskrit was transliterated to the Chinese character ‘文’, which pronounces ‘Man’ in Cantonese ( same consonant & vowel as the Sanskrit ), and pronounces ‘Wen’ in Mandarin ( both the consonant & vowel are very different from the Sanskrit ). So if you know only the Mandarin pronunciation, you would be confused why the Sanskrit ‘Manjusri’ is transliterated that way.

    Another example, Sanskrit ‘Namo’ is transliterated into Chinese as ‘南無’, which pronounces ‘Nam-Mo’ in Cantonese, and ‘Nan-Woo’ in Mandarin. Here is a syllable-to-syllable comparison :

    [Sanskrit] Nam -> [Chinese character] 南 -> [Cantonese] Nam -> [Mandarin] Nan
    [Sanskrit] mo -> [Chinese character] 無 -> [Cantonese] Mo -> [Mandarin] Woo

    Apparently the Cantonese pronunciation of ‘南無’ is very similar, almost identical to the original Sanskrit pronunciation, while the Mandarin pronunciation is very different, especially the second syllable.

    More examples :

    Sanskrit ‘Kasaya’ is transliterated to ‘袈裟’, which pronounces ‘Ka-Sa’ in Cantonese, and ‘Jia-Sha’ in Mandarin. The first syllable in the Mandarin pronunciation is very different from the Sanskrit pronunciation.

    Sanskrit ‘Kundali’ is transliterated to ‘軍荼利’, which pronounces ‘Kun-Toe-Ley’ in Cantonese, and ‘Jiun-Too-Li’ in Mandarin.

    Sanskrit ‘Mahesvara’ is transliterated to ‘摩醯首羅’, which pronounces ‘Mo-Hey-Sau-Lo’ in Cantonese, and ‘Muo-See-Shou-Luo’ in Mandarin. The second syllable - ‘he’ in Sanskrit, is transliterated to the Chinese character ‘醯’, which pronounces ‘Hey’ in Cantonese, and ‘See’ in Mandarin.

    Sanskrit ‘Bhagavan’ is transliterated to ‘薄伽梵’, which pronounces ‘Bok-Ga-Fan’ in Cantonese, and ‘Buo-Jia-Fan’ in Mandarin. The second syllable in the Mandarin pronunciation is very different from the original Sanskrit pronunciation.

    There are still a lot more examples like these.

    Aside from individual Sanskrit words or names, let’s also look at the transliterations of Buddhist Mantra / Dharani :

    “Namo skritva imam” - This is a phrase extracted from the Sanskrit version of Great Compassion Dharani. It is transliterated into Chinese as ‘南無悉吉利埵伊蒙’. Here is a syllable-to-syllable comparison :

    [Sanskrit] Nam -> [Chinese character] 南 -> [Cantonese] Nam -> [Mandarin] Nan
    [Sanskrit] mo -> [Chinese character] 無 -> [Cantonese] Mo -> [Mandarin] Woo
    [Sanskrit] S -> [Chinese character] 悉 -> [Cantonese] Sik -> [Mandarin] See
    [Sanskrit] K -> [Chinese character] 吉 -> [Cantonese] Kʌd -> [Mandarin] Jee
    [Sanskrit] Ri -> [Chinese character] 利 -> [Cantonese] Ley -> [Mandarin] Lee
    [Sanskrit] Tva -> [Chinese character] 埵 -> [Cantonese] Do -> [Mandarin] Duo
    [Sanskrit] I -> [Chinese character] 伊 -> [Cantonese] Yee -> [Mandarin] Yee
    [Sanskrit] Mam -> [Chinese character] 蒙 -> [Cantonese] Mong -> [Mandarin] Meng

    From the above comparison, we can see that (approximately) each Cantonese syllable shares a same consonant with its corresponding Sanskrit syllable, so if we recite the phrase in Cantonese quickly, the resulting sound would be similar to the original Sanskrit sound.

    On the other hand, the Mandarin syllables do not always agree with their Sanskrit counterparts on the consonants they use, so if we recite the phrase in Mandarin quickly, the resulting sound would be very different from the original Sanskrit sound.

    Another example, “Namo Bhagavate Bhaisajya guru” - This is a fragment extracted from Medicine Buddha Dharani. It is transliterated to ‘南謨薄伽伐帝鞞殺社窶嚕’. Here is a syllable-to-syllable comparison :

    [Sanskrit] Nam -> [Chinese character] 南 -> [Cantonese] Nam -> [Mandarin] Nan
    [Sanskrit] mo -> [Chinese character] 謨 -> [Cantonese] Mo -> [Mandarin] Mo
    [Sanskrit] Bha -> [Chinese character] 薄 -> [Cantonese] Bok -> [Mandarin] Buo
    [Sanskrit] Ga -> [Chinese character] 伽 -> [Cantonese] Ga -> [Mandarin] Jia
    [Sanskrit] Va (*) -> [Chinese character] 伐 -> [Cantonese] Fad -> [Mandarin] Fa
    [Sanskrit] Te -> [Chinese character] 帝 -> [Cantonese] Tai -> [Mandarin] Dee
    [Sanskrit] Bhai (*) -> [Chinese character] 鞞 -> [Cantonese] Bei -> [Mandarin] Bing / Pi
    [Sanskrit] Sa -> [Chinese character] 殺 -> [Cantonese] Sʌd -> [Mandarin] Sha
    [Sanskrit] Jya -> [Chinese character] 社 -> [Cantonese] Se -> [Mandarin] She
    [Sanskrit] Gu -> [Chinese character] 窶 -> [Cantonese] Geoi -> [Mandarin] Ju
    [Sanskrit] Ru -> [Chinese character] 嚕 -> [Cantonese] Lou -> [Mandarin] Lu

    (* The ‘Va’ in Sanskrit can be pronounced like ‘Fa’ or ‘Ba’. )

    (* The ‘Bhai’ in the Sanskrit Dharani can be written & pronounced as ‘Bhei’. )

    In the above comparison table, almost every Cantonese syllable agrees with its Sanskrit counterpart on the consonant they use, but for the Mandarin syllables, this is not the case.

    So generally speaking, when you encounter a transliteration in a Chinese Buddhist sutra, whether it is a term, a name, or a fragment from a Dharani / Mantra, if you read it in Cantonese rather than in Mandarin, the resulting sound would be more accurate.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2022
    Leveller and Cino like this.
  2. Cino

    Cino Big Love! (Atheist mystic) Admin

    Joined:
    Oct 19, 2018
    Messages:
    3,266
    Likes Received:
    1,742
    Fascinating, thank you!
     

Share This Page