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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
83 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Current translation project Ganges Mahamudra, or “Pith Instructions on Mahamudra,” which is a song of realization composed by the great Indian yogi Tilopa in the eleventh century on the occasion of Naropa’s awakening. The song was, presumably, transcribed by Naropa and taught to Marpa, who translated it into Tibetan. Q&A Unlike a lot of Buddhist translators, you’re not an academic. You began translating in the 1970s while you were a student of Kalu Rinpoche. How did having a Buddhist teacher and practice community shape you as a translator? I learned Tibetan to communicate with my teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, and fell into translation by default; no one else was around. Rinpoche consistently emphasized practice over academics, and I take the same approach to translation. The three- year retreat gave me the opportunity to taste experientially what Buddhism teaches. Until the retreat, it was as if I had been translating the word “sweet” without ever tasting honey or a chocolate bar. Translations that are intended for people who use them for practice need to be in English that reads easily and clearly communicates the experience of practice. Two influences helped me here: Wittgenstein’s view of language as a toolbox—different words do quite different tasks; and Guenther’s view that a translation must bring out the meaning of the text. You’ve said that students and teachers who rely on translated texts are completely at the mercy of the translator. How concerned should we be about this? Very. Here are two examples. The translation of Freud into English transformed an introspective practice into a behavioral psychology because the translator used “ego,” “superego,” and “id” instead of “I,” “over-I,” and “it” (as Freud did in German). In the Buddhist context, the translation of the three poisons as “greed,” “hatred,” and “delusion,” instead of “attraction,” “aversion,” and “indifference” masks their role as deeply conditioned patterns associated with a sense of self. In general, the reader has no idea what liberties the translator has taken. People expect a translation to be a faithful rendering of the original in a different language. In practice, any translation is really a new work inspired by the original, just as any painting of a sculpture is a new work inspired by the sculpture. There’s a website that has eight translations of Ganges Mahamudra by various teachers and translators, including you. Why so many different translations? Each of those eight translations reflects the way the translator relates to the text, the audience for the translation, and its intended use. One is clearly academic: it is very precise in terms of words and meanings. Another accompanied an oral commentary, and it faithfully reflects that teacher’s commentary. A third is a flight of devotion inspired by Tilopa’s instruction. My translation is intended for practitioners and I tried to make it read as naturally as possible. [These translations can be found at www.naturalawareness.net/ganges.html] Ken McLeod is a Buddhist teacher, translator (The Great Path of Awakening), and author (Wake Up to Your Life). He lives in Los Angeles and directs Unfettered Mind, a Buddhist network that provides training and guidance for those whose path lies outside established centers. On Translation Translator: Ken McLeod ankaczudec