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Buddhadharma : Fall 2011
Ngawang Zangpo completed two three-year, three-month retreats in France (1976–83) under the direction of Kalu Rinpoche, and was an oral translator for him until Kalu Rinpoche’s death in 1989. He has translated numerous texts by Jamgön Kongtrul, most recently Buddhism’s Journey to Tibet. He lives at Pema Osel Ling, a Buddhist retreat center in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. On Translation translator: nGaWanG ZanGPo (Hugh Thompson) You’ve said that translation is a form of guru yoga. How so? That remark refers to oral translation, the trans- lation-work context in which I first experienced what we might call “communion.” When a bud- dha conveys the four noble truths, for example, to persons eagerly in the process of enlighten- ment, and you are the one who must listen well and repeat the words in another language, there is an intimacy that arises that is absolutely stun- ning, beyond words. You primarily translate restricted texts. Does it bother you that the readership for this material is quite small? It’s an honor and incredibly rewarding to assist the lamas and disciples who undertake the long retreats during which such texts are used. I have often heard it said, and seen it written, that advanced tantric teachings and texts should be heard or read only by the qualified practitioners to whom they are addressed. If that is true, num- bers alone have never mattered. sonamfaramin How do you choose what texts to translate? Almost all the texts I’ve worked on have been selected by my teachers. My sense of transla- tion work is service, acting as an intermediary between present and future buddhas. The texts they’ve sent my way seem to correspond to my connection to Buddhism: I’m a practitioner without academic training. So instead of intel- lectual works, they’ve loaded me with volumes upon volumes of liturgies and practical guides to all levels of tantric meditation, written by great Tibetan masters of the Shangpa and Nyingma traditions. You’ve dedicated most of your life to transla- tion. Has this been challenging for you in some ways, particularly in terms of livelihood? Of course, but I find material modesty becom- ing for Buddhist practitioners. In fact, though, I’m unimaginably wealthy in spiritual terms: I’ve received instructions from incredible masters, meditated and worshiped with Buddhists of all races and nations, and have been blessed with stellar colleagues (see www.tsadra.org) and close companions on the path. As Shakespeare said, “I scorn to change my state with kings.” Q&A Current Translation Project A commentary to Dujom Lingpa’s Buddhahood Without Meditation by the editor of his collected works and one of the main holders of his teachings, Sera Khandro (1899–1952). It’s a restricted text, intended for advanced practitioners of “great perfection” meditation. 85 fall 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Ngawang Zangpo with his daughter, Nina.