The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

More than 15 percent of Kangyur translated into English

Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche with editors of the translation team at Shechen monastery, Bodhgaya

The monumental task is turning out to be even more complex than at first supposed

84000: It is said the Buddha taught more than 84,000 methods to attain true peace and freedom from suffering. But these teachings are as good as unavailable for most mortals, since only five percent of these have been translated into languages in use today.

Four years ago, a non-profit organisation called the 84000, chaired by Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche, took on the enormous and “infinite” task to translate into English from Tibetan, the 70,000 pages of Kangyur text in 25 years and 161,800 pages of Tengyur in 100 years.

According to the 84000 website, Kangyur means the “translated words (of the Buddha),” and is the entire collection of texts regarded as buddhavacana or “Buddha-word” translated into Tibetan.

Tengyur means the “translated treatises” and comprises the Tibetan translations of works written by Indian Buddhist masters, explaining and elaborating the words of the Buddha.

Currently, 144 translators in different countries have translated 10,026 pages (more than 15 percent) of the Kangyur into English. Fourteen completed translations, representing more than 650 pages of Tibetan text are now published online.

But in the process, some pertinent questions recurred and to seek clarification on issues, a few members of the editorial team of the translation group met with Tibetan scholars and rinpoches in a three-day seminar that began on October 22 at Shechen monastery in Bodhgaya, India.

One concern was that scholars with knowledge of classical languages such as the Sanskrit are in decline, the danger of losing this legacy was increasing.

The editor in chief of the translation team, Tom Tillemans, said, “translation isn’t a project of mapping one word to another,” adding that translators need to be “accountable” for their work.

Tom Tillemans said the situation has got more complex than what was imagined initially. The problems encountered by the translation team, who are highly qualified in their own field, were related to the terminologies, grammatical considerations and style.

“We can’t, in many cases, simply translate the Tibetan text in abstraction from Sanskrit,” he said. “Kangyur is very different from Tengyur, in respect of the literary problems.”

Another editor of the translation team, John Canti, said that 2,800 pages of Kangyur needed to be translated every year to complete the project on time. But he said that, on an average, only five pages could be translated daily and that too depends on the complexity of text.

While it was the Tibetan scholars, who were the first to translate the words of Buddha from Sanskrit, John Canti said that only 10-15 percent of the Sanskrit version exists in a reliable edition. For works of which no Sanskrit version survived, the Tibetan version in Dege is taken as the “starting point.”

If the Sanskrit version is close to the one underlying the Tibetan translation, the English translation will either be from Sanskrit or from Tibetan, while taking account of the Sanskrit as close as possible.

If significant difference is noted in the two versions, John said the English translation would be either one of the two or both, depending on the cases.

The chairperson of 84000, Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche, while making his opening remarks at the seminar, acknowledged Chokyi Nyima rinpoche, who initiated the idea. He said, as a facilitator of the dharma, it is the basic responsibility to make the words of Buddha available to everyone who wishes to access it.

“As a follower of Buddha and also a human being, I think our endeavour is really significant and important,” Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche said.

However, he said, that this kind of activity should have been done 20 years before. “I personally consider this event as most important, and hope it will continue as time goes”.

Chokyi Nyima rinpoche also highlighted that dharma has been spreading across the globe, and that the words of Buddha should not only be confined to Tibet. But making this possible was a risky business and tremendously challenging.

The project aims to publish all its work online, so that it can be accessed all across the globe. Moreover, the online version has different features to explain the meaning of every word in English from both Sanskrit and Tibetan.

John Canti said publishing in form of books would be costly, while international distribution would be too difficult. Limited number of copies would be printed for the libraries. Every volume of the source text would make about 20 modern books in English.

The project is funded by 108 founding sponsors and thousands of individual donors. The Khyentse foundation also made a major contribution during the initial phase.

According to the 84000 website of the 70,000 pages of Kangyur, 5,525 have been sponsored for translation.

The venerable professor Samdhong rinpoche, Khenchen Pema Sherab rinpoche, Professor Sampa Dorji and Ratna Vajra rinpoche attended the conference as senior scholars. Chokyi Nyima rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse rinpoche also attended the seminar as the advisors, as did several other translators and editors.

By Tshering Dorji, Bodhgaya


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