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Where is God? Evolution of the representation of Buddhism in the French Translations of The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters
EPHE, PSL, CRCAO
Keywords: Buddhism in Europe, French, Translations, The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters
Abstract: The Sutra of Forty-two Chapters (Sishi’er zhang jing 四十二章經) is traditionally considered to be the first Buddhist sūtra translated into Chinese. Interestingly, after more than a millennium, its French translation also became the first integral translation of a Buddhist sūtra published in western language. However, despite its importance, its French translations have never been studied systematically. The present study is a historical and textual research of its four consecutive French translations from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century, respectively translated by Joseph de Guignes (1721–1800), Joseph Gabet (1808–1853) and Évariste Huc (1813–1860), Léon Feer (1830–1902), and Charles de Harlez (1832–1899). Through an analysis of vocabulary, style and interpretation of the translations, it shows that the image of Buddhism represented in these translations has changed from a monotheism, to a pantheism, a nihilism and a panpsychism. The evolution of its representations, as the result of a search for ‘God’ when defining a religion, is analyzed from the historical point of view which reengages the translations in the cultural controversies during the period when the discovery of the Orient was used to both challenge and defend the European conscience.