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Buddhadharma : Spring 2006
spring 2006| 6 |buddhadharma Send your letterS by mail or to letterS@thebuddhadharma.com USUALLY I devour Buddhadharma from cover to cover, relishing and appreciating every word. Your Win- ter 2005 issue, however, contained information that I found to be illog- ical and somewhat irresponsible. I’m referring to the answers given to the person who asked about the Buddhist ramifications of killing some- one with a terminal illness (Ask the Teachers, p.19). The question put to the teachers included this: “The doctors offered to give her morphine to help ease her pain, but they also advised me that they would gradually need to increase the dosage and that this would eventually kill her.” And also this: “I have asked a close friend of mine to assist me in ending my life if I am ever in a vegetative state or suffering from a terminal illness.” Buddhism prides itself on its pre- cise understanding of cause and effect. In both of the above instances, the effect is death. However, also in both instances, the cause is clearly not disease; rather, it is the increas- ing levels of morphine and the direct actions of a friend, respectively. So I’m not sure how the response of one of the teachers could have been: “In applying this to the situ- ation with your mother, we see that there was no intention to kill, there was no effort made to kill, and your mother did not die because of your actions. She died because of a termi- nal illness, and your intention was compassion.” Huh? Did cause and effect sud- denly cease to be a principle that can be understood? I think your teachers need to re-examine the first precept. It is illogical to state that the pre- cepts are not “commandments,” but rather “guidelines” – yet at the same time, embrace compassion as an absolute, a principle that overrides all others, apparently at all times. In this case, compassion acted as an absolute that trumped the first precept, and even human life itself. Of course, compassion is an essen- tial component of Buddhist life. However, applied like this, it is also the grease on one of the slipperiest slopes of the twenty-first century. Charama Bhavika THIS IS A belated response to Tar- thang Tulku’s comments about the problem of translation that appeared in the Fall 2005 issue. I agree, par- ticularly with regard to the lack of a standardized vocabulary. I believe there is one very easy step toward remedying this problem: leave terms of art in the original language! There are many possible exam- ples, but one good pair is “rigpa” and “alaya.” Rendered in the origi- nal, a reasonably educated student of Buddhism has some understanding of what is being referred to. Rigpa, rendered as “primordial awareness,” is not bad. Nonetheless, I still end up doing the translation back to “rigpa” in my head, even though I am not a Tibetan speaker, and I have to read carefully when I encounter a term such as “awareness.” Moreover, in this case, I am not sure the trans- lator is doing an uneducated student any favors. Someone who is unfa- miliar with the original term would have cause to delve further into what it might mean, whereas “primordial awareness” might be susceptible to a superficial interpretation. This idea, if adopted, would also save the translators the trouble of considerable debate and cogitation, as well as help avoid the propaga- tion of misunderstandings. J. D. Bear Lone Pine, Calif. melvin mcLeod, Editor-in-Chief tynette Deveaux, Editor Barry Campbell Boyce, Senior Editor molly De shong, Assistant Editor seth Levinson, Art Director Liza matthews, Assistant Art Director katie Zdybel, Editorial Assistant scott armstrong, Editorial Assistant BoarD oF eDitoriaL aDvisors ajahn amaro, Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery Jeffrey Cox, Snow Lion Publications Zoketsu norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation, San Francisco Zen Center roshi Bernie glassman, Zen Peacemaker Order Jack kornfield, Spirit Rock Meditation Center John Daido Loori, roshi, Zen Mountain Monastery timothy mcneill, Wisdom Publications Larry mermelstein, Nalanda Translation Committee reginald a. ray, Naropa University Barbara rhodes, Kwan Um School of Zen sharon salzberg, Insight Meditation Society robert a.F. thurman, Columbia University, Tibet House U.S. Peter turner, Shambhala Publications taitetsu unno, American Buddhist Study Center michael wenger, San Francisco Zen Center (Organizations listed for identification purposes only.) 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