Catalan translation and edition of the Lamentations of Divergences 『歎異抄』

Associate Professor
Hispanic Studies


       On April 2017 was published Lamentació per les divergències, my Catalan translation and edition of the Lamentations of Divergences 『歎異抄』. This is a bilingual version which includes the Catalan translation and the original Japanese text also edited by me. The Lamentations is one of the most widely read Buddhist writings in Japan since the beginning of XX century until today. It is, however, a writing surrounded by numerous enigmas. Among others, the authorship and the date of composition are unknown to us. We only know for certain that it was probably written sometime between the second half of the s. XIII and the first half of the s. XV. The Lamentations supposedly collects the teachings of one of the most influential figures of the Japanese Buddhism, Shinran (親鸞 1173-1262). Most of the scholars agree that the author, the person who supposedly collected Shinran’s teachings, was one of Shinran’s disciples called Yuien (唯円).

       However, the question of authorship is far to be resolved. First of all, the original manuscript has not yet been found and the oldest manuscript preserved is a copy signed by one of the founding fathers of Shin Buddhism, Rennyo (蓮如 1415-99). We must remember, however, that Shinran died in 1262, so that the copy by Rennyo would have been made, at least, more than two centuries after his death. It also must be added a very relevant fact: there is no notice of this work before the manuscript of Rennyo was made. We only have evidence of its existence thanks to later catalogs where the Rennyo copy is mentioned. Shortly after Rennyo copied the Lamentations, other manuscripts appeared. In total, it has been documented the existence of sixteen different ones during the Muromachi period (1336-1573), all of which, except two, appear to be copies of the Rennyo manuscript. The other two, although they coincide with Rennyo’s manuscript, do not include neither the postscript nor the appendix of this one. This fact has brought some academics to defend that those two texts would come from a different manuscript older than Rennyo’s one. Unfortunately, all these debates about the manuscripts are not based on any objective data but only on the content of the manuscripts.

       Although there is no news about the composition of this work before the copy of Rennyo, it has traditionally been assumed that the Lamentations would have been written by a direct disciple of Shinran. In fact, in the prologue of the Lamentations the author states: “Here, then, I set down in small part the words spoken by the late Shinran Shōnin that remain deep in my mind.” That is, if we believe this claim, the author listened Shinran’s teachings directly and years later wrote them down. In addition, in the text the name of a monk, Yuien, is mentioned in two occasions as the interlocutor of Shinran. Therefore, the scholars who have studied the work, much of which belong to the Shin Buddhist tradition, have taken for granted the hypothesis that it was written by a direct disciple of Shinran called Yuien or, at least, it was written in the entourage of one of Shinran’s disciples. However, it must be kept in mind that, except for what is stated in the text itself, there is no external proof that the work was written by a disciple of Shinran. This is a crucial fact that, nonetheless, is rarely mentioned in studies on the issue. In this translation I present all the hypothesis about the authorship that had existed historically and all the problems related to them.

       The Lamentations addresses some discrepancies that appeared among Shinran’s followers after his death and tries to fix some of Shinran’s religious ideas. For this reason, it exposes in a succinct and accessible way many ideas that we can find expressed in a more complex and detailed form in other writings attributed to Shinran. One of the main themes of this essay is the question of evil and its relationship to salvation. Some of the crucial ideas are exposed in an overwhelming way. Among them, we find the most quoted fragment of the Lamentations at the beginning of the third sermon. There we can read the following words attributed to Shinran:

Though it is so, people commonly say, “Even an evil persona attains birth, so it goes without saying that a good person will.” This statement may seem well-founded at first, but it runs counter to the intent of the Primal Vow, which is Other Power. This is because people who rely on doing good through their self-power fail to entrust themselves wholeheartedly to Other Power and therefore are not in accord with Amida’s Primal Vow, but when they overturn the mind of self-power and entrust themselves to Other Power, they will attain birth in the true and real fulfilled land

       As explained above, the oldest copy of the Lamentations that is preserved is that of Rennyo, a fact that explains why it has been the most used text in the editions that have been made until now. There are three manuscripts immediately written after that of Rennyo, which have also received attention: the Eishō-bō, the Beppon and the Ryukoku toshokan-bon, all of them copied at the end of the Muromachi period.

       The manuscript I have used for the translation and the edition of the Japanese text is, therefore, Rennyo’s one. I have, however, compared its content to the abovementioned other three manuscripts. When editing the Japanese text, I have indicated in footnotes the most important variants appearing in other manuscripts. It is not, however, a paleographic edition including all variants of the other manuscripts, since most of them consist merely of a different use of kana or the use of Chinese characters instead of kana. Consequently, I indicate only variants in case they influence the meaning or, at least, they use different words than the Rennyo manuscript.

       Besides explaining all the above-mentioned topics, in my introduction to the translation I also analyze the history of the reception of this text and the reasons why it became so popular from the end of XIX century on. Finally, my translation includes a Glossary, where I translate and define the key Buddhist terms which appear in the Lamentations. Provided that there is almost no tradition of Buddhist studies in Catalan Language there is no fixed vocabulary stablished as the standard translation of most of the Buddhist key terms. To translate them it was necessary to take as reference how those terms have been translated to other languages as English or French. The Glossary, then, intends to present to the reader the original term, its translation and an explanation of the basic meaning of each technical term.


  • Archive