84000 Sutra Resounding: Opening Remarks by Rev. Dr. Chodrung Kunga

Event: Found In Translation: An 84000 Sutra Resounding
Venue: Washington DC, USA
Date: May 17, 2012


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Good evening! We are especially delighted to have with us today, Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen, Abbot of His Holiness Sakya Trizin’s temple seat in the United States, who is an important translator and teacher of the buddhadharma. He has played an important role in helping to bring the Dharma to North America and will preside over tonight’s sutra reading, which includes some of the sutras which he translated for the 84000 project.

Welcome also to the honored guests, and everyone.

My name is Chodrung-ma Kunga Chodron. I have been asked to say a few remarks as a member of the 84000 project working committee. First, I would like to thank you for coming to tonight’s historic event. This is the very first public resounding of the sutras in English which has arisen from 84000’s effort to translate the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon into English. May there be many, many, more.

I would like to extend special appreciation to tonight’s event partners:

  • The event patrons: WeChi, and an anonymous foundation,
  • The event’s co-sponsors: the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, Rigpa Washington DC, and Sakya Phuntsok Ling.
  • And Deborah McGlauflin, North American Fund Raising Director, who has worked very hard to plan, organize, and accomplish tonight’s event.

We dedicate tonight’s sutra reading to the late great Western Buddhist scholar and bodhisattva E. Gene Smith. He made it his life’s work to find, collect, study, catalog, and digitize every possible Tibetan Dharma manuscript. Beginning in the 1960s until his lamented passing last year, he labored for a half-century, faithfully carrying out the instructions of his teacher, the Very Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche to find and save the Tibetan Buddhist texts. At critical moment when the political changes in Tibet had scattered and destroyed this precious thousand-year-old heritage, he searched for them, text by text, found and saved them. Without his wise and compassionate efforts, most of what is happening here tonight would never have become possible.

The 84000 project is an effort to translate the entire Tibetan Buddhist Canon into the world’s major modern languages, starting with English, and then to make the translations freely available to everyone, on the internet and in other platforms yet to be invented in the future. This is a big project, and it is very, very important.

It’s a big project because as the name 84000 implies, the Buddha spoke 84000 articles of Dharma. These 84000 teachings are known as the Kangyur, which comprises 70,000 pages. It’s not one single handy book, like other religions. It’s a whole bookcase full of teachings spoken by the Buddha!

The Tibetan Buddhist canon also includes another section known as the Tengyur: just over 160,000 pages of commentaries on the sutras by great Indian masters such as Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, and others. Together the Kangyur and Tengyur total nearly 232,000 pages, which fills several large bookcases.

The 84000 project estimates that translating all of this into English will take about 100 years of sustained human effort by several generations of translators. But it is not an impossible task. The Tibetans did it, translating from Sanskrit to Tibetan and it took several hundred years. The Chinese did it, and it took about the same amount of time. The Mongolians, Koreans, and a handful of other civilizations cared enough about the Buddha’s teachings to translate the entire Buddhist canon, too.

But the 84000 project expects that this time, it will be quicker — hopefully only a hundred years. Technology means that we don’t have to walk to India to obtain the texts. We don’t have to grind the ink to write each word, and carve the woodblocks to print the sutras.

So in our time, and in our language, this great historic project to once again translate the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon has auspiciously begun. Tonight’s gathering is historic, because it is the first public resounding anywhere in the world of the fruits of 84000’s translation effort in English. All of us here tonight have very good karma to be participating in this event. May we participate again and again in this and future lives!

As I mentioned, translating the Buddhist Canon from Tibetan into English is an extremely important project. For this reason the project has been blessed and encouraged by the heads of all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. One of the reasons why, in their wisdom and compassion, they know it to be is so important is that:

Being able to read and study the complete collection of the Buddha’s words is a necessary prerequisite for the full and authentic transmission of the Dharma into a new culture and language. Until the Buddha’s words are translated, no one can read them. Without reading them, no one can properly study them. Without study, there is no correct meditation, and without correct meditation, there is no realization.

Another reason why translating the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon is very important is that the Buddha’s words and the commentaries on them by the great Indian masters are an authentic map and accurate record of the path that the Buddha discovered to lead us beyond suffering to Buddhahood. Thus, they are pure gold. But at this time only about 9% of the Kangyur and Tengyur have been translated into English, literally only a tiny nugget of that gold.

These days, we have a continual waterfall of books, blogs, and tweets about Buddhist topics being produced by anyone who possesses an opinion and a computer, myself included. These trendy texts are yellow-colored, sometimes even gold-plated, but they cannot be compared to the solid gold of the authentic words of the Buddha. So many books, but so few sutras. So many new opinions about Buddhism, but so little study of classic commentaries by great Indian masters. Until we complete the full English translation of the Kangyur and Tengyur with its authentic map to enlightenment, the Dharma in the West will easily wander along mistaken paths that are yellow-colored, but not authentically gold.

There is third reason why 84000’s effort to bring the Kangyur and Tengyur into modern languages beginning with English is important. The great Tibetan scholars who are masters of the Kangyur and Tengyur are now very senior in years, and many have already gone beyond our ability to receive their instruction and explanation of the texts. In addition to that, people with the high levels of literacy in Tibetan required for good translation are dwindling rapidly.

Due to the political changes in Tibet, most Tibetan children in China grow up reading and speaking Chinese, and those who live outside Tibet are schooled in Nepali, Hindi, Swiss, or English, but precious little Tibetan. Thus the translation effort must begin immediately, and continue quickly, to save the precious teachings of the Buddha as faithfully recorded in the Tibetan Canon and bring them into modern languages before it is too late. By doing this, Dzongsar Khyentse has said, “a vast swath of Buddhist civilization and culture will be saved from annihilation.”

So, three years ago, at a meeting of translators in India, the 84000 project was conceived and the international nonprofit effort to translate and share the Tibetan Tengyur and Kangyur was begun. Under the blessings and chairmanship of the Venerable Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and the very skillful leadership of Executive Director Ms. Jing Rui Huang, it is now well underway.

After spending the first year carefully laying the scholarly and organizational groundwork, grants were offered to qualified teams for translation work on the Kangyur.

Now more than 100 translators at universities and monasteries around the world have received grants. 10% of the Kangyur is now in the process of translation. The very first fruits, carefully reviewed and finalized translations, are now posted on web in the 84000 online public reading room. They are free and available to the world. Copies of them are among the sutras you will be reading tonight.

I encourage you to go to the 84000 website: 84000.co. Read the sutras. Download and widely share them. Tell your friends that nuggets of pure gold are now available for free!

By virtue of participating in tonight’s reading, you are already part of this historic transmission of the Dharma into English in this new land. There are other ways you can help the project, too, as you will learn later this evening.

Tonight, we will read several of 84000’s first translations, along with some additional Pali sutras translated from the Pali Buddhist canon.

We will begin with preliminary prayers, which you can join or just listen to, whichever you prefer. Following that, we will all read aloud the words of the Buddha, each reading a different sutra, creating a great beautiful, auspicious, mixed resounding of the words of the Buddha. As you read your own sutra aloud, read in a mindful, respectful speaking voice. Start with the first sutra on the top of your packet, but skip the prefaces, translators’ introductions, and footnotes. Just read the gold!

We will all read together for about 30 minutes, and then about 5 minutes before the end, you will hear a bell ring. Keep reading, but at that point, if you are not near the end of a text, please skip to a point two or three pages from the end and read to the end of your sutra. Once you finish, sit quietly, until the others finish, rejoicing in the sound of the Buddha’s words.

I now turn the event over to Venerable Khenpo Kalsang who will explain the traditional significance of reading the sutras aloud in this way. He will lead us in the preliminary prayers and the actual resounding of the sutras.

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