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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
48 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2014 The Buddha, as recorded in the Pali canon and especially as expanded upon in the Mahayana sutras and tantras, was always surprising in his deeds. Upon complete enlightenment, he acknowledged being a bud- dha, awakened from the sleep of ignorance and perfect in his knowledge of reality, life, death, and nirvana. He at once assured us that such a liberating and blissful ultimate reality could not be translated into any language or captured by any conceptual scheme, law, or theory. While the “dharma jewel” holds us free from suffering, we cannot hold it under our conceptual control. Liberating knowledge can be experienced, but not translated. That didn’t stop him from communicating it anyway, at length, and with great subtlety, variety, and eloquence. As one great Chan master said, “After enlightenment, the Buddha never spoke a single word. Such a garrulous non- speaking, it filled the Naga king’s cave with sutras!” To add to the expressive inex- pressibility, when the Buddha addressed large audiences from all over the multinational subcontinent, every single person heard him clearly in their own native language, as if the Buddha were sitting right before her or him. No need for translators or jumbo auditorium screens! FORUM BHIKKHU BODHI • SARAH HARDING • T. GRIFFITH FOULK Milestones INTRODUCTION BY ROBERT THURMAN Since then the numerous Buddhist texts have been memorized, collected, lost, redis- covered, translated into numerous languages, and compiled into various canons. And now this stream of translations has cascaded into the European languages: Sacred Books of the East, Pali Text Society, Biblioteca Buddhica, Numata Series, Snow Lion, Wisdom, Shamb- hala, and so on—today, a Niagara of illumi- nating books present the many facets of the dharma jewel. The Tibetan word for a translator is lot- sawa, from the Sanskrit lokacaksuh, which literally means “cosmic-eye,” “world-eye,” or perhaps “public eye.” The Sanskrit loka, like the Greek cosmos, can mean either “world” or “people.” The idea is that a translator looks out from the home culture into another culture to present that other culture’s vision of the world. The translator is thus a “pub- lic eye” for her or his people, and tradition- ally was highly honored in cultures taking up Buddhism, because the people in the home culture, such as Sri Lanka, China, Tibet, or Mongolia, believed that the new knowledge being received was of a higher order than what was already available. In effect, the “translator” elevated the home culture. In our modern world, translators are usu- ally not so highly honored, because we tend to assume that our own culture is the highest pos- sible. Therefore, exploration of other cultures is considered a kind of archeology or anthro- pology, as they and their knowledge must surely be inferior to ours. But anyone who has truly benefitted from their contact with the dharma jewel perhaps would disagree, and one would hope, honor the lotsawas! ROBERT THURMAN is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and president of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, which publishes translations of texts from the Tibetan Tengyur. Exploring Buddhist Translation Today (OPPOSITE)CAMBRIDGEUNIVERSITYLIBRARY