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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
91 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Current Translation Project The Epic of Gesar of Ling recounts the life of an incarnation of Guru Padmasam bhava. Gesar was born in Tibet in 1038 and this account of his life is believed to be the longest single epic in world literature, spanning some 120 volumes. The project was initiated by the late Professor Robin Kornman, who dedicated his life to researching and translating the epic. Q&A What was so remarkable about the life of Gesar of Ling? Gesar entered the world at a time when there was tremendous turmoil in Tibet due to the lack of a powerful leader or king. He magnetized his people, galvanized a loyal army of bodhisattva warriors, rose to power, becoming the King of Ling, and began conquering the enemies of the buddhadharma in the four directions. The bulk of the epic deals with the many battles and victories that he dedicated to the benefit and welfare of humanity. The story of his life and deeds is the teaching itself, which is what makes this epic so accessible to people of all ages and from all walks of life. You don’t have to be Buddhist in order to appreciate this story. The tale gives us a true glimpse into the depth of the ancient Tibetan civilization that functioned as an uplifted enlightened society. How was his story preserved? The story of Gesar’s life has been passed down over the centuries by incarnate bards, and has also emerged through terma, or rediscovered hidden treasures, and from the pure visions of masters. Some of the stories were compiled over the years, while other parts have only been passed on orally from the bards. Over the centuries many scholars have compiled and edited the epic, including Ju Mipham Rinpoche (1846–1912), who composed many sadhanas, guru yoga practices, smokeoffering ceremonies, and the like in order to invoke Gesar and his blessings. Gesar is still seen as a spiritual master and folk hero in Tibet, where nomads regularly recount the stories of his life and deeds in their family circles. What are some of the particular challenges associated with translating this material? This epic is challenging to translate, given that the story took place a millennium ago. Without the assistance of Lama Chonam, a Tibetan scholar who was raised and reared in the same region as Gesar, it would be impossible to translate the text with any accuracy. The dharma terms are of course universal, but most of the story is presented through proverbs and prose linked directly to ancient Tibetan ideas and language. Do you think you’ll see the completion of this translation project in your lifetime? We have finished translating the first three volumes—about 600 pages of text with several hundred pages of endnotes and annotations. We are now editing these three volumes for publication and plan to continue working on other volumes containing the most famous battles. During our lifetime we know that at least the first three volumes will be available to encourage the continuation of this translation project for generations to come. Sangye khandro is a longtime student of Vajrayana Buddhism. For the past thirty years she has translated Tibetan classical literature and served as an oral translator for Tibetan masters. In 1999 she co-founded the Light of Berotsana Translation Group with Lama Chonam and Jules Levinson. On Translation Translator: Sangye Khandro SCOTTGLOBUS