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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Buddhadharma - In the lingua franca for longevity

March 20, 2009

Kuensel online (Bhutan)
March 19, 2009

Opening the conference in Bir, India, on
‘Translating the Words of the Buddha’, Dzongsar
Khyentse Rinpoche warned of "how urgent and
precarious" the survival of Buddhist culture and
civilisation had become and urged the world’s
leading Buddhist translators, including
publishers, gathered there, to rescue Buddha’s
teachings "from premature extinction."

The survival of Buddha’s teachings could very
well hinge on how well it is translated into
modern languages, said Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoché
in a speech made available to Kuensel via email.

Rinpoché said that Buddhist heritage and culture
that originated from India and which spread and
nurtured the Buddhist way of life for more than a
thousand years has all but disappeared in that
country, survived only by its translation into
Choekyed.  By translating the classical Buddhist
texts into modern languages, translators could
save "a vast swathe of Buddhist civilisation and
culture from global annihilation," he said.

The main aim of the Bir conference -- from March
16-20 and organised by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
with funding from the Khyentse Foundation - is to
draw a long term plan to translate into English
the entire Buddhist canon, including the
108-volume Kangyur - the direct teachings of
Buddha. It is a daunting task but not impossible "if we all join forces."

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoché pointed out various
fundamental misconceptions in the way Buddhism
was perceived, followed and practised in some
Buddhist cultures. "Personally, I find it hard to
fathom the attitude of those Tibetan lamas, who
expect those who want to study and practice the
Buddhadharma, first to perfect the (classical)
Tibetan language (Choekyed). I can see that,
right now, it’s important for some people to
learn (Choekyed), but how necessary will it
really be in a hundred years’ time?"

In any case, said Rinpoché, those who can speak
and understand Choekyed were "extremely rare"
today. And, at the rate in which languages were
disappearing these days, in about 50 years or so
from now, there would hardly be anyone, who can
read Kangyur or Tengyur, leave alone understand its meanings, said Rinpoché.

Rinpoché said that, among the Buddhist culture,
the Kangyur is widely used as a "merit-making
object": monasteries will buy a copy only for it
to be stacked in the shelves. "If offerings are
made, the text will be read out loud, but little
effort will be invested in understanding the meaning of each word."

"While paying homage to the Word of the Buddha is
a powerfully meritorious spiritual act, the
Tibetan habit of using the Kangyur solely for
this purpose is neither to be admired nor
emulated: in fact, it’s a big mistake.”

Rinpoché added: "Every religion has an original
holy book - for Christians, it’s the Bible, and
for Moslems it’s the Koran. For Buddhists, our
root holy books are the Sutras and they are of
vital importance, because what Buddha taught us
must always be the final word on any given
subject, not what we find in the Shastras
(ancient Hindu commentaries on Buddhism) - and
definitely not what’s to be found in the Tibetan commentaries."

Rinpoche said: "As Buddhadharma is taught more
widely in the modern world, where attention to
detail and authenticity are so valued, people are
going to want to know what Buddha, himself,
actually said. The trend today is for teachers,
priests, scholars, politicians and fanatics to
obscure the original meaning of important texts
by interpreting them in a way that supports their
own personal agendas - it’s happening in all
religions, and sadly, Buddhism is no exception.
When problems, created by such interpretations
arise in the future, our beacon of truth can only be the Words of the Buddha.”

Rinpoche said that Buddhist cultures today
preserved and propagated the work of their own
lamas, and have forgotten the Buddha’s Sutras.
Such cultures often promoted the teachings of
their own teachers far more than those of the
Buddha, he said, - "and I have no trouble
understanding why Tibetan Buddhism is sometimes described as "Lamaism".

"Today, as a result, our vision is quite narrow,
and instead of dedicating our limited resources
to translating the Words of the Buddha, we pour
it into translating the teachings of individual
lineage gurus, biographies, their long-life
prayers, and prayers for the propagation of the
teachings of individual schools."

Rinpoché said translating Buddhist texts was
difficult and the road ahead was long and
arduous, and would take several generations
before the Words of the Buddha were fully and
effectively translated. In Tibet, it took seven
generations of Tibetan Kings to achieve the
results from Sanskrit to Choekyed. But the
important thing, he said, was to start somewhere.

"What we must do, however, is lay the
foundations, by devising a practical and
far-sighted plan to ensure that, eventually,
everything, that should be translated, will be - and we have to do it now.”

By Kencho Wangdi
kencho@kuensel.com.bt
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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