More Shakespeare in Tibetan

d21cb-shakespeareAs you may be aware, today is the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. In order to mark the occasion, let us share some more of the Bard’s most famous lines translated into Tibetan. This time, the translation comes directly from the forthcoming Tibetan version of Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Continue reading

Lines from Shakespeare: In Memory of Nelson Mandela

On the day the world remembers Nelson Mandela, it seems appropriate to publish this translation into Tibetan of some lines from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (act II, scene II) – the very lines that Mandela highlighted in the so-called ‘Robben Island Shakespeare’ on the 16th December 1979 during his long period of captivity.

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Dmu zhag(s)

03f53-brda-dkrol-gser-gyi-me-long-zhes-bya-ba-bzhugs-soOne of the translations published recently over on Lotsawa House twice includes the expression “heavenly lustre.” This curious phrase is a translation of the Tibetan dmu zhag[s], a term that occurs a number of times in Mipham’s writings, but is absent from most dictionaries. I say “most” because although it is not found in popular lexicons, it does appear in Erik Haarh’s The Zhang-zhung Language (p. 37), where he says it is the equivalent of mkha’ lding, and offers the translation, “the sky-soaring one, Garuda.”

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Greater than A Wish-Fulfilling Jewel

A Note on the Translation of the First of Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses

The Eight Verses of Training the Mind (blo sbyong tshigs rkang brgyad ma) by Geshe Langri Tangpa (1054-1123) is a seminal work of Tibetan literature, and surely deserves to be ranked among the world’s spiritual classics. There have been many translations, especially in recent years, largely on account of its popularity with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has taught it on numerous occasions all over the world. Historically however, it appears to have received less scholarly attention and inspired fewer commentaries than related works such as the Seven Points of Mind Training (blo sbyong don bdun ma) attributed to Geshe Chekawa (1101-75)—who, incidentally, also composed a commentary on the Eight Verses. Perhaps this shortage of commentarial literature explains the apparent difficulty of interpreting the very first of Langri Tangpa’s eight verses.

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The Long-life Prayers of Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje

José Cabezón’s brief study of long-life prayers (or zhab brtan) in Tibet (“Firm Feet and Long Lives: The Zhabs brtan Literature of Tibetan Buddhism”), which appeared in Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre in 1996, makes the claim that “the zhabs brtan [genre] seems to have developed almost exclusively within the dGe lugs school until very recent times.” In a note, he goes on to say that he “searched, in vain, for examples of zhabs brtan in the works of Tāranātha (b.1575), Brug pa pad ma dkar po, 1526-1592), Jaya Paṇḍita (b.1642) and ‘Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846-1914).” Well, with the benefit of the TBRC database, we can now say that plenty of zhabs brtan prayers do appear in the writings of Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje (smin gling gter chen ‘gyur med rdo rje,1646-1714), an important figure in the Nyingma school.

Although it might be true that the Gelugpa were the first to compose such texts, it is clear from Minling Terchen’s collected writings that followers of the Nyingma tradition were requesting and composing zhabs brtan as early as the late seventeenth century. Volume Ca of the writings includes a text called bshes gnyen dam pa ‘ga’ zhig la bstod pa brtan zhugs su spel ba dag snang dad pa’i me tog, which is a compilation of brtan zhugs/zhabs brtan works, as well as the closely related genre of prayers for swift rebirth (myur ‘byon gsol ‘debs). The phrase zhabs brtan gsol ‘debs is used in several of the colophons, as is the more unusual form zhabs brtan rten ‘byung.

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Setting the Wheels in Motion

Tengyur ConferenceOnly a short distance from the glorious Dhamek stupa, marking the scene of Buddha’s first ever teaching, Sarnath’s Central University of Tibetan Studies provided an auspicious backdrop for the latest major conference on Tibetan Buddhist translation. The four-day event, organized jointly by the Central University and Columbia University’s American Institute of Buddhist Studies, focused on the Tengyur, the collection of ‘translated treatises’ (or shastras in Sanskrit) composed by the learned and accomplished masters of India and compiled in Tibet as the counterpart to the Kangyur, the ‘translated Word of the Buddha’. With the participation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the Ganden Tripa and many other Tibetan lamas, as well as leading scholars and translators from around the world, this gathering marked another important milestone on the road towards the eventual goal of translating the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon into English and other languages.

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Outrageously Large Numbers

I have recently been reading the new translation of Mipham Rinpoche’s byang chub sems dpa’ chen po nye ba’i sras brgyad kyi rtogs brjod nor bu’i phreng ba by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso (A Garland of Jewels, Woodstock: KTD Publications, 2008). As the (Tibetan) name suggests, the text offers accounts of the lives and careers of the eight great bodhisattvas, also known as the ‘eight close sons’, compiled from canonical sources, mainly the sūtras. Not surprisingly perhaps, Mipham devotes considerably more space to Mañjuśrī than he does to the other bodhisattvas.

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Methodology Guidelines from Padmakara Translation Group

In this season of lotsawa conferences, there is a lot of reflection and discussion about how lotsawas do their thing, all of it tying in quite neatly with the purpose of this site. In the spirit of this atmosphere of introspection, here is a set of guidelines laid out by the excellent Padmakara Translation Group on their burgeoning new site:

  • Start by receiving transmission and explanation of the text from a qualified teacher
  • Careful, painstaking translation of the meaning, with extensive research and study where necessary
  • Submission of difficult points and doubts to competent teachers with a good knowledge of the text
  • Double-checking of the draft translation by at least one other translator
  • Careful editing and rewriting to produce a clear, readable style
  • Final text proof-read and approved by a person who knows the subject and has a good command of the final language

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Returning to the Source: Report on Translating the Words of the Buddha Conference

408af-translatingwordsofbuddhalogoFor five days in March, several lamas and many of the world’s leading Tibetan Buddhist translators came together at the splendid Deer Park Institute in the Himalayan foothills of Northern India for Translating the Words of the Buddha, an impeccably organized conference that was several years in the planning. The aim was to discuss the current state and future direction of Tibetan Buddhist translation, but as we arrived few of us had any idea what to expect.

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