Archive for the ‘Conferences’ Category

The XVIIth Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies will be held at the University of Vienna, Austria in August of 2014. More information can be found on the conference website: http://iabs2014.univie.ac.at

The Thirteenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies will be held in Ulaanbaatar Sunday 21 July to Saturday 27 July, 2013.

For more information see their new and developing website: http://www.iats.info/

Convened by Michael Sheehy and Jeff Wallman of TBRC, “Gene Smith: His Life and Work” was the first panel I attended at IABS 2011 Congress.

Michael Sheehy gave a formal presentation entitled “Banned Books, Sealed Printeries and Neglected Dkar chag” that described some fascinating research on the history of Takten Damchö Phuntsok Ling Monastery (where Tāranātha passed on) and its printery. He recounted three separate attempts to rescue the woodblocks of Jonang texts from the Phuntsok Ling printery by three different Tibetan lamas over several centuries following Tāranātha’s death. It is not until the efforts of Losal Tenkyong (blo gsal bstan skyong), a Zhwa lu Tulku who was close to Jamgon Kongtrul, that the printery doors were unlocked and a dkar chag of the texts found there was created.

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The 16th Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies is under way here at Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Jinshan, New Taipei, Taiwan.

Scherrer-Schaub and Huimin Bikshu at the Opening Session_IABS 2011

The opening session of the Congress included a truly fascinating address by Tom Tillemans. Professor Tillemans spoke about looking to Buddhist philosophy, specifically Dharmakīrti, for developing defenses against hard-line materialists who claim that there is no such thing as mind. This was probably one of the better delivered and more interesting talks I’ve heard at the several conferences I have attended this past year and a half (of course I’m partial to philosophical discussions). If there is time I will treat it to its own blog post here.


The opening day saw the nearly 600 scholars from around the world introduced to the bewilderingly large grounds of Dharma Drum Buddhist College and its amazingly dedicated support staff. The army of Taiwanese that greeted the delegates, and have been at every corner to guide us from floor to floor and room to room each day since, are embodying what I can only imagine is an amazing sense of the importance of service cultivated here in Taiwanese Buddhist culture. At times one feels as though herded by shepherds or kindly directed by an aunt who thinks you are her slightly disabled nephew, but the sincerity overpowers the oddity. Dharma Drum Buddhist College is situated on Dharma Drum Mountain, a massive estate with beautiful modern buildings designed to impress. The scale of the place is almost inhuman, and although spending time in each separate area is enjoyable, the architects seem to have forgotten that buildings at an institution should flow together in such a way as to make traversing from one meeting place to another somewhat less than an epic journey across space and time. But I digress… The Dharma Drum Mountain is an excellent place for a congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies as it is a manifestation of modern Buddhism and plays a role in Buddhist studies. Thanks to the kindness of Dr. Bill Magee, one of the organizers of the conference, I am able to attend this gathering of scholars and it has been an honor and a privilege just to be among such amazingly dedicated and accomplished Buddhist scholars and scholars of Buddhism. The conference is very well organized but is so full of amazing panels that it is impossible to attend even half of what I would like. In the next series of blog posts I will endeavor to recount as much as I can about my experiences and the papers presented at this historic event.

Dr. Art Engle gave a presentation on his work at the recent Tsadra Foundation Fellows and Grantees Conference entitled “Observations on Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhūmi.” During his talk he discussed the translation of rigs pa as “application” instead of “reason” in the context of “The Four Applications” (Wyl: rigs pa bzhi; Tib: རིགས་པ་བཞི་ ; Skt: catasro yuktayaḥ). Here he provides us with his notes, translations, and the associated text citations:

 

The Four Applications

[Note: The following passage is an excerpt from Ārya Asaṅga’s The Listener’s Stage (S: Śrāvakabhūmiḥ, T: Nyan thos kyi sa). It forms part of a larger discussion on what are referred to as thirteen “requisites” (S: sambhāraḥ, T: tshogs) for attaining freedom from attachment. The two activities of listening to and reflecting upon the true Dharma taken together represent the tenth of these qualities. Asaṅga’s description of the four applications (S: catasro yuktayaḥ, T: rigs pa bzhi) appears in his explanation of the second of two methods for engaging in the practice of reflection. It is here that we find Asaṅga stating that the term yukti is synonymous with yoga (T: sbyor ba) and upāya (T: thabs), any of which could be rendered in this context as an “application,” a “means,” or an “expedient.” It is for this reason that I have translated the term as “application,” rather than the more commonly seen rendering “reason.” The Sanskrit of the text that appears below is not well edited and contains a number of corruptions; nevertheless, it is helpful in the effort of attempting to render an accurate English translation. Another important primary source for the four applications is a passage that appears in Chapter Ten of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra.]

 

cintanā katamā | yathāpīhaikatyas tān eva yathā śrutān dharmān ekākī rahogataḥ | ṣaḍ acintyāni sthānāni tad yathā, (1) ātmacintāṁ, (2) sattvacintāṁ, (3) lokacintāṁ, (4) satvā(ttvā)nāṁ karmavipākacintāṁ, (5) dhyāyināṁ dhyāyiviṣayaṁ (6) buddhānāṁ buddhaviṣayaṁ varjayitvā (viśodhayitvā ?) svalakṣaṇataḥ | sāmānyalakṣaṇataś ca cintayati |

SEMS PA GANG ZHE NA, ‘DI LTAR ‘DI NA LA LA GCIG PU DBEN PAR SONG STE, BSAM GYIS MI KHYAB PA’I GNAS DRUG PO ‘DI LTA STE, BDAG LA SEMS PA DANG, SEMS CAN LA SEMS PA DANG, ‘JIG RTEN PA LA SEMS PA DANG, SEMS CAN RNAMS KYI LAS KYI RNAM PAR SMIN PA LA SEMS PA DANG, BSAM GTAN PA RNAMS KYI BSAM GTAN GYI YUL DANG, SANGS RGYAS RNAMS KYI SANGS RGYAS KYI YUL RNAM PAR SBYANGS NAS, JI LTAR THOS PA’I CHOS DE DAG NYID RANG GI MTSAN NYID DANG, SPYI’I MTSAN NYID KYI SGO NAS SEMS PAR BYED PA YIN NO, ,

What is reflection (S: cintanā, T: sems pa)?
It is [described] as follows: Here a person goes alone to a solitary place and, after having cultivated the six inconceivable topics—that is, reflection upon the self, reflection upon beings, reflection upon the world, reflection upon the ripening of beings’ deeds, the objects of meditation that pertain to those who practice meditation, and the objects of a Buddha that are possessed by Buddhas—he [or she] reflects upon the individual and general characteristics of those teachings [that have been heard] in the same manner that he [or she] heard them.

 

sā punaḥ cintā dvividhā gaṇanākārāsahagaṇanāyogena dharmeṇa | tulanākārama(rā), yuktyā guṇadoṣaparīkṣaṇākārā [ca][|] sa cet skandhapratisaṁyuktāṁ deśanāṁ cintayati | sa ced anyatamānyatamāṁ pūrvvaniviṣṭāṁ deśanāṁ cintayaty ābhyāṁ cintayati |

SEMS PA DE YANG RNAM PA GNYIS TE, BGRANG BA’I RNAM PAS CHOS RNAMS LA BGRANG BA’I TSUL GYIS SEMS PAR BYED PA DANG, GZHAL BA’I RNAM PAS RIG PAS YON TAN DANG SKYON NYE BAR BRTAG PA’I TSUL GYIS SEMS PAR BYED PA YIN NO, ,GAL TE PHUNG PO DANG LDAN PA BSTAN PA LA SEMS PAR BYED DAM, GAL TE DE LAS GZHAN PA SNGAR BSTAN PA GANG YANG RUNG BA BSTAN PA LA SEMS PAR BYED NA YANG RNAM PA DE GNYIS KYIS SEMS PAR BYED PA YIN TE,

Moreover, this reflection is of two types: (1) [reflection] upon teachings using a method that is a form of counting and (2) [reflection upon teaching] by means of a form of deliberation that consists of examining the good and bad qualities [of a particular topic]. If [someone] reflects upon a teaching that relates to the aggregates, or reflects upon any other teaching that was previously given, he [or she] reflects upon it using [either of] these two [methods].

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The Challenge of translation – Faithful yes, but not a slave

 

While no one disputes that a translation must be truthful, the definition of truthfulness and the ways in which translators have striven to achieve it have varied over the centuries. Word-for-word translation has given way to translation of meaning with the translated text reading as naturally in the TL as the original did in the SL. Reconciling truthfulness and beauty is one of the most important challenges faced by translators.

 

*****

 

Much has been said and written about the notion of faithfulness (or fidelity) in translation, even the sexist comment that a translation is like a woman : if is faithful it is not beautiful and if it is beautiful it is not faithful, as if being both faithful and beautiful were mutually exclusive

Obviously, like everything else, “faithfulness” depends on how you define it – a principle of loyalty or honesty or a matter of exactness and accuracy ; or  both ; or much more that that ) – and also it depends on what you relate it to – word or meaning ; the source language or the target language ; the source text or the target text ; the author or the reader.

Faithfulness will also depend on the different choices you make and the strategies you use in different translating situations (oral or written), with different texts (literary or technical ; philosophy, poetry, logics, etc…). And accordingly, it raises different types of difficulties. Usually technical translators are envious of literary translators because they do not have technical problems to solve, and literary translators are envious of technical translators because they only have technical questions to deal with. We Dharma translators, are not envious of anybody else, because we have both : the technical problems and all the rest…

Without getting into theoretical issues about linguistic theories in translation, I would like to relate this notion of faithfulness to my personal experience as a Dharma translator and  specially to one model of translation strategy developed by Lederer (2001) at the ESIT school of translators in Paris that I find interesting and useful.  So, as this exploration of the extent of faithfulness,  has mainly given me the opportunity to reconsider my ideas about translation and my involvement in translating Dharma I am afraid that apart from being a very self-centered talk, the rest might be very familiar to you and overrun.

 

*****

 

 

In the early eighties, when the director of a FPMT center in France asked me to translate orally, from English to French, the teachings of the resident gueshé on Shiné and Lhaktong, I thought he was pulling my leg. First, I did not know who Shiné and Lhaktong were and did not think that just knowing a foreign language suddenly qualified someone to be a translator or worse an interpreter. On top of that How can you translate something you do not understand ? The reason that apparently made me a translator was that I understood English and had a degree in linguistics from a Canadian university. But speaking a language and translating a Buddhist senior monk talk about meditation and philosophy are for me two different things : in one case, you think you know what you are talking about, while in the other you know you don’t.

But curiosity and temptation were stronger than I thought, so I finally went up to meet Gueshé la in his room and find out more about the subject.

After hearing all my excuses about my incompetence, Gueshé La just smiled at me and said : ” Oh don’t be so shy just say the same thing in your own language ! ”

Saying the same thing in my own language ! That was exactly what I thought I could not do, as my knowledge of the thing itself was rather a non-thing and definitely not functional.

 

But as you cannot resist a wise and compassionate person, a few days later, after some more encouragement by Gueshé la, convincing me that there was not any body else around who could do it, I was sitting on the hot cushion, scared as a newborn lamb, trying to convey as faithfully as I could, that is almost word by word, whatever Gueshé la was saying. Sorry, whatever the English translator was saying, as I did not know Tibetan then. This was my first experience of translating Dharma : translating a Tibetan translator translating the words of a Tibetan scholar speaking about a subject I knew nothing about. This is how Dharma teachings were introduced in France when at this time when there were no direct Tibetan-French translators available. Taking any one who came close to accomplishing the function of a merely labeled translator. In that case ME.

Everybody knows the famous expression (traduttore, traditore) : that interpreters are traitors.  And in that case we were two traitors. Although some might argue that two traitors are probably better than just one, as betraying the traitor could be one step closer to truth !?! Anyway, we both joined our efforts as best we could, trying to translate every word like a dictionary would. Isn’t a dictionary the best tool for translating ? This is when I proudly started to consider myself as being just a tool at the service of Dharma and others. A Dharma translating machine so to speak.
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“As for the Blessing of Vajravārāhī, Marpa Lhodrakpa does not have it.” WTF?

by Sarah Harding

In the beginning, my work translating the Pakmo Namshe[1] by the 2nd Pawo Rinpoche Tsuklak Trengwa (dPa’ bo gtsug lag Phreng ba, 1504-1566) presented several surprises. I had always believed that this was a commentary about the secret practice of Vajravārāhı based on the sādhana by the Sixth Karmapa Tongwa Dönden (mThong ba don ldan, 1416-1453) that we had all practiced in three-year retreat. I had certainly used it as such. But as soon as I came across the actual words of the sādhana within the text, it was clearly not that. Tsuklak Trengwa gives the title of the sādhana as simply dPal rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma’i gsang ba’i grub thab, or Srı Vajrayoginı Guhya Sādhana, authored by Nāropa and translated by Marpa. Well that’s easy, I thought, because there’s a three-folia verse text in the Peking Tengyur by Nāropa, or rather Mahā Nāḍapāda, with just that Sanskrit name.[2] Great—only that was not it. Then I actually opened and looked at every single text attributed to Nāropa in the Tengyur, and could not find a match. Then for weeks there were random feverish searches on TBRC under every conceivable word, like “yoginī,” “secret,” “vajra,” “pig,” and so on. Finally one fine day brought up the Miscellaneous Works (gsung thor bu) of the First Karmapa, Dusum Khyenpa (Dus gsum mkhyen pa, 1110-1193), and there I found it among several other secret Vajrayoginī practices, 29 folios and with no author, under the title dPal rdo rje rnal ‘byor ma’i gsang bsgrub [rdo?] rje btsun mo lhan skyes.[3] That was what I call a researcher’s moment of glory. It’s been all down hill from there.

The second big surprise was the nature of the text. I was looking forward to translating Pakmo Namshe because I understood it to be a practice commentary. Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa even says, “It is this sādhana exactly as presented by the bhagavatī herself that will be expounded here.” But after the first fifty pages I realized that it’s really a rebuttal, a giant polemic in defense of Kagyu practices. I’ve since found that many if not most Kagyu commentaries on Vajrayoginī written during this period, the 15th-16th centuries, are similarly on the defensive. At first I thought that if I could make it through the history section, just fourteen folios, then finally there would be the Dharma. But that naiveté was again shattered when a few pages into the so-called “actual instructions,” even in the section on the location in which to practice, (Mountain peaks and charnel grounds/ Lone tree trunks and empty caves/ Hermitages and isolated places,… ) the narrative bends around to start sections with that red warning flag of “mkhas pa kha chig gis,” and somehow launches into another tirade. The one most shocking for me was the quote early on that is the title of this paper, “As for the blessing of Vajravārāhı, Marpa Lhodrakpa does not have it.” I mean, what? There’s been great controversy about mahāmudrā and maybe some suspicious creative innovations by lineage masters, such as evidenced by the accusations leveled at Gampopa. But Marpa? And he doesn’t even have the blessing? As I figure it, we’re screwed. So I decided to jump right in to the fray and try to figure out what’s going on here. Truly it is a can of worms, and I barely got the lid off. In order to make some use of the considerable time and energy that I already spent on Pakmo Namshe, although my work on it has now been set aside, I will present excerpts primarily from my translation of that, and some from other researches, especially Sakya Paṇḍita, Gorampa, Padma Karpo, Tashi Namgyal, and Lowo Khenchen. I’ll also make available a polished translation of the history section. What follows is basically a travelogue of my confusions, or my ‘khrul pa’i thob yig.

Separating the issues
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Prajñāpāramitā, Indian “gzhan stong pas,” and the beginning of Tibetan gzhan stong

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there is an ongoing debate about whether the gzhan stong system was “invented” by Tibetans, in particular by Dol po pa, or whether there are Indian precursors of that view. I will discuss evidence for a number of typical gzhan stong positions in several Indian texts and early Tibetan works before Dol po pa.

The “Maitreya Chapter” in the prajñāpāramitā sūtras
What the Tibetan tradition commonly calls “The Chapter Requested by Maitreya” is found in chapter 83 of the Aṣṭadāśāsāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, chapter 72 of the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikāprajñāpāramitāsūtra, and the revised version of the latter. Certain parts of this chapter differ in their diction from the prajñāpāramitā sūtras in that all phenomena are divided into three aspects, such as “imaginary form (parikalpitaṃ rūpaṃ),” “conceived form (vikalpitaṃ rūpaṃ),” and “dharmatā-form (dharmatārūpaṃ).” These three types of phenomena and their descriptions match the three natures (parikalpita, paratantra, and pariniṣpanna). Therefore, many scholars regard the “Maitreya Chapter” as a later addition.
In general, there are two models for the relationship between the three natures. The common model (1) in Indian Yogācāra texts is that pariniṣpanna is described as paratantra’s being empty of parikalpita. Model (2), found in most of the texts discussed below and virtually all Tibetan works on gzhan stong, means that pariniṣpanna itself is empty of both paratantra and parikalpita. In Tibetan gzhan stong texts, the contrast between these two models is usually highlighted as representing one of the major differences between the views of sems tsam and gzhan stong.

In the “Maitreya Chapter,” the Buddha uses model (1), but says that both imaginary form (mere conventional designations such as “form”) and conceived form (the conditioned entities to which these designations are applied) do not exist ultimately, while only the dharmadhātu exists ultimately. When the latter is directly observed through nonconceptual wisdom, those entities are not observed. When they are observed, it is only through conception (vikalpa). This description is quite a standard explanation of the three natures as also found in the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra (Chapters VI and VII) and many Yogācāra texts.
The “Maitreya Chapter” also offers a distinction between these three kinds of form in terms of their being ultimately real or unreal, saying that imaginary form is nonsubstantial, conceived form is substantial (by virtue of conception’s substantiality, but not because it exists independently), and dharmatā-form is neither substantial nor nonsubstantial, but is the ultimate.

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The 2011 Tsadra Foundation Fellows & Grantees Conference began today at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Participants flew in from around the world to share their research and their passion for translation, and to celebrate more than ten years of Tsadra Foundation projects.

 

Tsadra Fellows, grantees, and guests gathered for the opening dinner at Houston Mills House, just across the iron bridge from ECC.

 

The next three days will be filled with presentations from some of the best translators in the world on such diverse topics as translation theory, the Indian and Tibetan sources of gzhan stong, and the autobiographical writings of Kun dga’ grol mchog.

བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས་ཤོག

Opening Chants

The International Conference on Tengyur Translation in the Tradition of the 17 Pandits of Nalanda

The conference began on January 8th with chants offered in three languages: Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. Students at the Central University of Tibetan Studies are now able to study Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Hindi, as well as other modern languages. Recently awarded university status (2009), the institution was established in 1967 and is now directed by Geshe Ngawang Samten, who played a key role in the proceedings of this conference. The previous director, Samdong Rinpoche, was also present and gave a speech as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The university was an excellent host for the conference, despite the pervasive cold, and I’m sure everyone especially appreciated all the students and staff who helped provide hot tea and crackers each day. The tech staff also had their hands full as many people chose to prepare PowerPoint presentations. Even with the power going out daily they kept things running rather smoothly.

Shrikant Bahulkar oversaw the opening ceremonies and participants heard welcoming words from Geshe Ngawang Samten, Tenzin Bob Thurman, HH Gaden Tri Rinpoche, and others. After the opening speeches, and tea to warm us up, we heard from Tom Yarnall, Christian Wedemeyer and Paul Hackett. The topic of this opening session was to be an overview of the Tengyur, it’s history, composition, and so forth. From Dr. Wedemeyer we heard more about the history and formation of the Tengyurs and from Dr. Hackett we heard details of the composition of the various Tengyurs. From Dr. Yarnall we received an interesting argument that basically presented the particular way in which it seemed the conference conveners were conceiving of their project to “Translate the Tengyur.”  The argument relied upon an interesting way of conceiving of Tibetan Buddhism and clearly described why the translation of the Tengyur is important and relevant to today’s scholars. What we heard was an introduction to one way of talking about the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as preserving the ancient Indian academic world of Nālandā, Vikramaśīlā, and so forth. Although I cannot repeat all of Yarnall’s discussion here, similar logic was presented on the official Tengyur Translation Website and it is worth repeating because it is interesting to note the kind of rhetoric used:

(1) That although the great Indian institutions such as Nālandā, Vikramaśīlā, and so on were ostensibly run by Buddhists, they were not only (or even primarily) Buddhist religious institutions; that they rather were multi-cultural, multi-tradition, cosmopolitan institutions, and hence true “universities” (as also argued by S. Dutt, L. Joshi, and others); (2) That as such, the many centuries of Buddhist arts/sciences developed in these institutions and recorded in the Sanskrit śāstras compiled therein took place in a vibrant, contentious, multi-tradition milieu in which each point had to be argued and defended; i.e., this was not a context such as Tibet (or other “Buddhist countries”) in which Buddhists were speaking virtually exclusively with other Buddhists, and thus could take for granted at least some common assumptions, perspectives, methodologies, and so on (rather, no premise or point could be taken for granted in the Indian context); (3) That therefore the Tengyur—as the repository of many of these śāstras (in Tibetan translation) which record the discourse that occurred in such a pluralistic environment very similar to our own contemporary, multi-cultural global environment—is uniquely important and relevant today (indeed, HH noted that in this way it may be even more relevant/accessible than many of the texts in the Kangyur); and (4) That therefore, the translation of the Tibetan Tengyur into modern languages and the publication of well-edited and annotated editions of these translations should be a prime priority for contemporary Buddhist scholars and institutions. (Taken from the official Tengyur Translation Website)

 

Dr. Yarnall (University of Columbia)

In his talk, Dr. Yarnall described the great academic institutions of ancient India in some detail, and linked their achievements with the texts preserved in the Tibetan Tengyur. He also presented a quote from the Dalai Lama in which he identifies himself as holding the tradition of Nālandā and not particularly that of the Mahāyāna or Varjayāna. Perhaps I am simply ignorant of this trend in the discourse, but I found it very interesting that the Dalai Lama and others who are scholars, students and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism were associating themselves so strongly with their idea(l) of Nālandā University. Every participant at the conference was given a new CUTS publication, a poem by the Dalai Lama praising the Seventeen Pandits of Nālandā, published in Tibetan, Chinese, English and Hindi. The overall effect of this, along with Dr. Thurmans interjections, was the sense that the real reason for translating the Tengyur is that it is supposed to be a faithful source for understanding the “scientific” tradition of Nālandā, which in turn is representative of an “authentic” Indian culture whose “inner sciences” pacified the barbarian lands of central and east Asia and will likewise pacify the West. Note also that the AIBS publication series is titled a “Treasury of Buddhist Sciences.” I personally rather like the idea of ancient liberal arts colleges producing texts on the inner and outer sciences of India and I like pushing the ideal of a modern pluralistic environment of scholarly debate. However, even disregarding the liberal use of the term “science,” I was left with the feeling that there is probably more to the story. I have not researched the actual evidence we have for reconstructing the scholastic culture of Nālandā, but perhaps someone reading this could post some more information about it online.

 

 

Dr. Wedemeyer (University of Chicago)

Dr. Wedemeyer provided a nuanced look at the idea of “the Tengyur.” He began with the now famous joke about the student who angrily told a theologian, “If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, It’s good enough for me!” Which might now be rendered in our context as, “If the Dege edition of the Kangyur and Tengyur were good enough for the Buddha, they’re good enough for me.” I doubt many scholars or translators have the exact same thinking with regard to the Tengyur or Kangyur, but a lack of understanding about the complexity of the development of these collections, and their content, seems to be widespread.

The many Tengyurs are collections of texts that developed over considerable amounts of time in various places in Tibet. The library at Nālandā did not have a “Tengyur” section. It is not until centuries after Nālandā’s heyday that we begin to see the creation of Kangyurs and Tengyurs in Tibet. Dr. Wedemeyer described the Tengyur more as a genre than a fixed set of scripture. In his opening remarks, Wedemeyer said, “The distinction between Kangyur and Tengyur is itself a relatively late construction, the two were probably not distinguished before the production of the circa 1310 Old Narthang Manuscript Kangyur. That is, the very existence of the Tengyur as a separate collection from that of the Kangyur is itself a human choice, one which we may chose to follow or not. Furthermore, it would seem that the idea… the concept of a collection of writings of Indian authors distinct from the revealed Sutras and Tantras appeared before anyone thought to physically prepare this collection separately from the (?) literature. The earliest records of a Tengyur found so far seems to be sometime after 1270 by o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, who notably speaks of Tengyurs in the plural. In the following century this mode of organizing Buddhist literature took off. We read of the textual transmission, the lung, of the Kangyur and Tengyur being given around Sakya in 1300. Later a Golden Tengyur was produced in Sakya in 1322-24. And most famously perhaps, Bu ston consecrated the Zhwa lu Tengyur in 1335….Very recently two Tengyur catalogs composed by the 3rd Karmapa have come to light, whose content and whose structure vary significantly from alternative redactions….Tengyurs were often both marked by local character, individualistic productions reflecting the tastes and allegiances of their authors, and open ended, works were added and subtracted at various times in their histories….As an aside, the Kalacakra was occasionally included in the Tengyur. Bu ston notes this in his Zhwa lu Tengyur catalog, but argues that its inclusion in the Tengyur is auspicious. And so one might regard as auspicious the inclusion of a translation of part of the Kalacakra by Vesna Wallace, which inaugurates the AIBS Tengyur publication series…

The formation of the Tibetan Tengyurs is not a simple story and so the translation—or perhaps we should speak of the “creation” of a ” Western Tengyur,” for it most certainly will be a creative production—will not be a simple story. The formation of some of the texts in the Tengyur are not simply a matter of an author composing a text in “Sanskrit” and having it translated into Tibetan. Colophons have been modified, text added or removed. Some texts come from Chinese, Tibetan or other sources. It is not always obvious who composed the texts, or even who translated them. There are duplicates included in the collections in different sections and multiple different translations of texts are included as well. Medicine, poetry, logic, ethics—you might even find a text on basket weaving—all are included. The early redactors of the Tibetan canons were focused more on an attempt to be comprehensive, than an attempt to create an authoritative, exclusive bible of Buddhism. In fact, there are non-Buddhist materials included in the Tengyur. While some texts most certainly represent what we would likely judge to be the height of philosophical and religious thinking, others may be surprisingly obscure and obtuse. It seems that some people erroneously assume that the works of Candrakirti and Nagarjuna and other philosophers are proof enough that all of the Tengyur will be worth reading. I think many modern Buddhists will find this is not the case. This, in itself, is not a problem. It simply makes the translation of the entire Tengyur a complex affair.  The translation of all the texts collected in all the Tengyurs would be an amazing scholarly feat worth the effort, if only for the things translators and specialists would learn in the process. It would probably be one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of humanities scholarship and I hope that the many great scholars at the Tengyur Translation Conference are able to guide such a project towards completion.

Throughout the conference I think it was made clear that few people participating there had a simplistic view of the contents of the Tengyur. In his opening talk, Dr. Yarnall proposed that “multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches” should be used when translating the texts of the Tengyur in order to insure quality translations that preserve the spirit of the multicultural scholastic approach he believes was found at the historic Nālandā University. Furthermore, he suggested, translators should be trained in multicultural approaches and their translations should be aimed not merely at Buddhist practitioners, but at the world at large. This is a fascinating approach and I look forward to seeing how this may be made possible while translators work on these texts with geshes and khenpos and lamas who are steeped in their traditions. In fact, in this globalized era, such a project will certainly become an interesting example of multiculturalism and the process itself will have a great deal to teach us. Perhaps just as much, or more, than the translations themselves.

As I noted in a previous post, several presenters mentioned the idea of needing critical editions of texts for quality translations to be made. It seemed that most people leaned towards the idea that as many variant versions of a text from as many languages as possible were necessary in order to produce the kind of quality translations people wanted to see (or at least, that’s what people said out loud). However, as soon as someone with a practical head for budgets looks at the project of translating ALL the texts included in ALL the various Tengyurs, the thought of creating critical editions, or even referring to all the versions of a text during translation, may cause quite a bit of disquiet. Funding issues aside, the first problem is a lack of qualified translators who can work in Pali, Chinese, Sanskrit and Tibetan. Perhaps there can be new university programs designed to produce Tengyur text translators? Or perhaps, translators and scholars can take advantage of modern technology and use online programs to collaborate on translations, allowing specialists in each of the various canonical languages to contribute expertise to a particular translation. Perhaps the project can be taken slowly and the proper attention paid to detail. In the current climate, it seems more likely that many translations will be made using one Tibetan version of a text with modern Tibetan commentaries from a particular tradition used to elucidate the meaning. These translations will not be as much about translating the original Indian texts as they will be about transmitting a particular Tibetan tradition associated with said texts. Thus, these translations will produce new Tengyurs for a new age. These new Tengyurs will sprout like mushrooms wherever donors can be found and one day we will have a conference about how to collect all the “really authentic” ones into a big database and translate them. I, for one, shall continue to hope that quality shall win out over the quantity focused translation projects, but only time will tell.

 

Day One of the Tengyur Translation Conference in Atisha Hall, CUTS

See the other post from Marcus on the Tengyur Translation Conference here.

 

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