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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 73 of the horse race through which Gesar becomes King of Ling and husband of Drukmo, his principal consort. These episodes represent the opening stages of the epic. The intention is that they will be followed by further translations of the most important subsequent episodes. The translation is for the most part fluent and readable, and it copes well with the difficulties of presenting the various types and levels of Tibetan discourse found in the epic (prose nar- ration, epic song, proverbial material, Buddhist religious verse). The volume’s introductory material is perhaps less effective in orienting new readers to the unfamiliar world of Gesar and to a narrative that works at many levels and is often far from straightforward. The translators’ introduction describes the characters and summarizes the story but presents a straightforward Buddhist interpretation of the epic as expressing Gesar’s enlightened buddha activity. This is doubtless how Mipham Rinpoche and his associates wanted the epic to be understood, but they and their contemporaries were well aware that they were building on a familiar story that also existed at a more homely and vernacular level, and which was grounded in the everyday reality of life in Eastern Tibet. Readers of the new English version may know little of the Gesar stories or of Tibetan society and may be puzzled, to say the least, by some of the twists and turns in the plot. The complexity of the text is par- ticularly evident in the third episode translated here, the Tagyug, where the story has been arranged, at Mipham Rinpoche’s suggestion, according to the old Indian scheme of the seven precious jewels of a universal monarch. Gyur- med Thubten Jamyang Drapa also uses a previously written verse supplication by Mipham Rinpoche, the Symbolic Secret Jeweled Mirror, to structure the story and interweaves his interpretation of Mipham’s terse and highly symbolic verses with the narrative itself. The result is a multilayered narrative of con- siderable complexity, which operates at several different levels of meaning. Here and elsewhere Robin Korn- man’s own writings on Gesar, such as his introduction in Donald Lopez’s Reli- gions of Tibet in Practice (1997) or his masterly essay in Fabrice Midal’s Recall- ing Chögyam Trungpa (2005), provide a better and clearer introduction to the complexities of the epic narrative, and to Gesar himself as understood by the Rimé lamas, than any of the interpre- tive material presented in this volume. Perhaps one or another of these essays might be included in a later reprint or in the subsequent volumes. In the end, though, no amount of interpretation and orientation can offer a shortcut for the challenging but ultimately deeply inspiring encounter with the text of the epic itself. The real value of this translation is that for the first time, English-speaking readers can undertake a deep engagement with the story of Gesar. The book is also a fitting memorial to Robin Kornman, a great scholar and practitioner whose work is finally brought to the wider readership it deserves. Lama Chönam, Sangye Khan- dro, and everyone associated with this publication deserve our congratulations for bringing Kornman’s work to this remarkable conclusion. As Alak Zenkar notes in his introduction, “This epic life story of King Gesar of Ling is a beacon of light that will once again shine forth through these efforts.” REVIEWS Brass sculpture of Gesar in meditation posture riding a horse PHOTO | DIANA CHURCH