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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 09 30 The most ambitious aim of the conference was to lay the groundwork for translating the entire Kangyur. “When I learned that Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche wanted to translate the Kangyur into English, I was very encouraged,” Dzongsar Khyentse said in his opening remarks, adding, “It’s a massive task.” He stressed that although “it’s not the sole purpose of this conference,” it is a critical need that can no longer be ignored. Translating the Kangyur is a feat that even the most optimis- tic observers estimate would take a dedicated team twenty-five years, with many saying it would take at least twice that—if not longer. But Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche emphasized the urgency of starting right away. “Those in the Tibetan com- munity who are still able to understand and communicate in classical Tibetan are rare,” he said. “In about a hundred years there will be almost no Tibetans who can read the words of the Kangyur and understand their meaning, and very soon it will be too late to do anything about it.” So these leaders in the field of Tibetan Buddhist translation met to hash out how to accomplish the task of translating the complete collection. In the end, they would draft ambitious plans for the next five, twenty-five, and one hundred years that go beyond even the translation of the Kangyur. First, though, the group spent a lot of time tackling nitty- gritty questions that translators have been wrestling with for years. One key issue was how much of the Buddhist termi- nology should be translated into English, and how much can be left in the original language. In one heated discussion, the translators debated whether they’d be short-changing anglo- phones by leaving in too many foreign words, particularly from Sanskrit. When the Tibetans imported the sutras, tantras, and philo- sophical treatises from India, they left hardly any Sanskrit words untranslated. Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, a Nyingma lama who lives in France, said English translators should emu- late that example. “We have to really find the right word in our target language,” he said. “We must not keep Sanskrit!” He would like to see English equivalents for all Tibetan and Sanskrit words used, such as samsara, bodhichitta, and perhaps even buddha and dharma. Wulstan Fletcher of the Padmakara Translation Group, which is supervised by Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, countered, “I think the genius of the Eng- lish language is its ability to absorb new words,” including ones with foreign roots, like microphone and video. And does it really take any less time, he wondered, to explain the mean- ing of “cyclic existence” than it does to explain samsara? Plus the Oxford English Dictionary already has entries for “sam- sara” and several other Buddhist words of Sanskrit origin. Thurman pleaded for names, at least, to be left in Sanskrit. He said he feared that the translation for some names could sound a bit too cutesy in English, such as “Bodhisattva Little- Flower-in-the-Field.” How about adopting Tibetan terms, rather than Sanskrit? Is the Sanskrit vajra any better than its Tibetan equivalent, dorje? Some said it might be the case because English and San- skrit have a common ancestry (English is an Indo-European language). That’s why it’s fairly easy for English-speakers to pronounce karma, for instance. But Tibetan requires different skills that involve lots of training of the ear and mouth. Another sticky point: since most of the sutras were origi- nally translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit, would the group translate from the original Sanskrit or from Tibetan, and end up with a translation of a translation? A complication is that there no longer is a Sanskrit canon as such. Many of the origi- nal Sanskrit texts were lost, while others have been edited or Translators continue their discussions over lunch. E. Gene Smith, founder of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York. (Top)johnsoloMon;(lEfT)pETERaRonson