To the Sublime Reincarnation of Khyentse Rinpoche and the Organizers of the Buddhist Literary Heritage Project, a Glorious Institute of Sakya Dzongsar, with Respect,
I would like to express my joyous and enthusiastic gratitude for the letter, prospectus, and explanations which I recently received from you.
After the Third Counsel collected the words of our Compassionate Teacher as well as the works of the Indian sages, all these were gradually put in writing—first in the Indian language, then eventually translated into Chinese and Tibetan as well. The great variety of literature we now possess we owe to the kindness of the panditas and the translators of those scriptures.
Similarly nowadays, in these late times, if we are able to translate all these scriptures into various languages—English and so forth—needless to say it will be useful in preserving the Buddha’s precious doctrine for a long time. For this reason I wholeheartedly thank you for your respect, kindness and graciousness on account of the plans that were mentioned in your letter.
When something is important it must be emphasized. And if it pertains to the holy Dharma, we should repeat it 100 times! Since all of you are great knowledgeable persons there is no need for one such as me to say it. Nevertheless—if there was a spelling error in the composition of scriptures in ancient India it was corrected. And if there was an error in the meaning the author was chastised and unable to publish.
Now in our day there is much new Buddhist literature being composed and translated into many other languages. Many of these contradict the actual meaning of the scriptures, as you know. Therefore not only translation into other languages but careful revision with other learned persons should be undertaken again and again. I have seen how crucial this is, therefore I ask you to please please bear it in mind.
On the Auspicious 3rd Day of the the 8th Month of the Iron Tiger in the Tibetan Year of the 17th Rabjung, Respectfully,
Reincarnation of Ladakh Rizong Sras 102nd Throne-Holder of Gaden Monastery
Your Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche,
Firstly I want to encourage you in this very important and worthwhile endeavour. As there are so many non Tibetan speaking people who are very eager to learn dharma it is very important to have good translation and good ways of presenting dharma. So all of you there at the conference should work hard so that we can achieve perfect presentations of the dharma in non Tibetan and non Sanskrit languages. This will also create great merit and through this so many people can attain liberation and enlightenment.
Whether you come to doing translation of the dharma through academic and scholarly interests or through the desire to practice both will lead to better dharma. When you know the deeper meanings of the dharma then you will have the aspirations to practice, so the academic path will lead into the practice path. When you learn the deeper meanings as a practitioner your practice will develop well. My main translators are both academics or scholars and practitioners, as are many of the other well known translators among you.
There are a number of important issues that your conference could address.
The authenticity of translations is a problem. We should try to emulate the translations of the olden times transmissions of dharma from India into Tibet. At that time all the Tibetan translations were done with one Indian Master and one Tibetan translator working together. Of course at that time the situation is very different, people had no distractions, they were fully devoted to that work and they were not just ordinary persons, but all noble ones. In that way their translations were perfect. Of course at this time it is almost impossible to be just like them, but we must try at least to follow their ways translation and it is best to have two people, Tibetan and English, working together.
I also feel that we must always translate even if imperfectly. Nobody can make the perfect translation from the beginning. But at least we should translate, and then somebody else from that base can make it even more pure, and then again somebody else can again translate it, and in that way eventually we aim to have the perfect translation.
In doing the translation work it is very important not to translate in haste in the midst of a being busy with our general life. We must devote our time to the translation. We must have time to think carefully and chose the right words and we must read the commentaries on whatever we are translating, because commentaries make the meaning clear and without fully understanding the meanings one cannot translate correctly.
Many root texts are very vivid and condensed. Tibetan words are very evocative of great depth of meaning, so many short phrases can contain a lot of very condensed meanings. Thus only through the commentaries can you the real meaning in that very short phrase, and be able to translate it correctly. The need to Restrict the distribution of tantric texts that you choose to translate needs to be addressed. Secret Tantric texts should be translated and only distributed to those who have the authority and qualification to read them through having received the empowerment from an authentic Master.
While the Mahayana teachings should not be secret and can be translated, printed, published and distributed generally, the tantric teachings, particularly the highest tantras, should not be allowed to be read except by people with the relevant empowerment. Of course they should only be translated by those that have had the relevant empowerment. As it is said:
If you explain the tantras without empowerment
And do the Meditation of that profound meaning,
Even if you comprehend the meaning correctly
You will manifest the hell realms not liberation
Moreover it is not enough to just state or write the restriction as people do not believe this and take no notice. So a controlled method of distribution is required. There are serious consequences to the practitioner who causes tantra to become accessible to people who are not qualified to access it, to the ongoing transmission of the tantra itself, and to the unqualified people who receive it. Therefore it is necessary that we make a strong and genuine effort to deal with this.
There are of course issues of resources so that people to have the time and space to translate well. Sponsorship should be worked out. Experienced teachers especially those who have a close connection with the west and English people should decide what should be translated and then work out sponsoring for that.
A network of translators is a very good idea. Otherwise someone else is translating the same text, which is a waste of energy and time. They should exchange information so they do not unknowingly repeat the same translations and they can help each other choose the right terminologies.
The texts I would choose to be given priority are:
Tantric texts: Although we have a translation of Khonchog Lhundrups snang gsum it would be good to do an improved translation of this work and also translate his rgyud gsum.
Mahayana text: Kunkhyen Gorampa Sonam Senge’s dbu mas: General Meaning of the Madhyamaka.
Also on your list of invitees I did not see David Jackson and Cyrus Stern whom it might be good to invite. Also for future consideration as well as those invited already Jay Goldberg and Lama Pema of New York, Lama Migmar, Dr Tashi Tsering and Jurgen Tillman are also involved in translating Sakya works.
I will note your progress with interest and I wish your conference the greatest success. We pray that you may live long and fulfil your noble works!
Sera Thompson & Claudia Chender MacLellan
On behalf of His Eminence Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
P.O. Box 156648
San Francisco, CA 94115
Dear Ms. Thompson and Ms. Chender MacLellan,
I am writing to you on behalf of His Holiness Mindrolling Trichen, in response to your letter for a request of an endorsement of a conference of leading Tibetan-English translators organized by Hs Eminence Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche at Deer Park in Bir, India, in March, 2009.
It is wonderful to know that such a conference will happen soon and that the highest level of authentic translation is being done for the spread of Dharma through-out the world. His Holiness is very concerned about the translation of key Dharma texts and was very happy to hear about the conference. His Holiness was also very pleased to be asked to be an honorary patron of such an event and is happy to be of support and sends many blessings for the success of the conference. His Holiness prays that it will benefit all sentient beings by encouraging the preservation and proliferation of profound Dharma texts.
I apologize for the lateness of this response but I do hope this letter and His Holiness’s endorsement may be accepted and be of benefit for you and for the conference. If there is any way in which I can help you further, please let me know.
Secretary On behalf of His Holiness Mindrolling Trichen