Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche on Translation
In late January 2018, Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche led a Resounding of the 84000 edition of The Teaching of Vimalakīrti at the Maha Sandhi Yoga Centre in Hong Kong. The evening began with an introduction and progress report from the 84000 organizers and was followed by a brief talk (transcript below) by Rinpoche on the importance of translation and making the Dharma available to everyone in the West.
Having spent much of his childhood in the United States, Rinpoche has a special appreciation for the translation of the Buddha’s words into English. Rinpoche recounted his grandfather, His Holiness the late Sakya Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche, warning him to be prepared when teaching students in the West, because though they “don’t usually show outward faith like we are used to in Asia, they ask very challenging questions.“
Clearly out of deep respect and admiration for his spiritual tradition, Rinpoche beamed as he said, “The Buddha’s words are not concerned with abstract theories, but with practice, with a whole way of life, and the science of mind.” Participants hung on to Rinpoche’s every word.
Rinpoche’s enthusiasm and good humor pervaded the room, setting a cheerful and buoyant tone for the resounding that followed. Participants were grinning from ear to ear when the evening came to a close.
84000 expresses its deep gratitude for Avikrita Vajra Rinpoche, Pema Tulku, and the Maha Sandhi Yoga Centre for so graciously co-hosting the event and drawing attention to the efforts of 84000.
Since we’re going to do the resounding, I’m not going to give a teaching… but I’ve been asked just to say a few words before we begin.
The main aim of the 84000 project, as I understand, is to make the Buddha’s discourses available in English and other languages.
Of course, Chinese speakers and Tibetan speakers have been able to take it for granted for many centuries that we can freely access the Buddha’s direct instructions whenever we want.
In the case of Tibet, as soon as there was interest in learning the Dharma from the leading figures in society, great translators went to work with no concern, no regard for time, cost, or convenience, with the sole compassionate aim of bringing the liberating light of Buddhadharma into the Land of Snows for generations to come.
Now, in English-speaking nations, there are already well-established religions. And it’s very different because there are no kings or queens or presidents commissioning the translation of scriptures and building temples, and so forth. So it’s happening more from scattered individual interest, and from that, small communities are created.
And even though—beginning, I think, around the 1960s—there’s been a lot of interest in learning Buddhism in English-speaking countries, the whole canon of the Buddha’s discourses, and especially the longer Mahāyāna sutras, has not been completely available in English.
So, yes, even though it’s not whole nations taking an interest in learning the Dharma, but rather comparatively small groups of people, still the interest is very sincere.
In fact, I remember very clearly, when I was young, a teenager, my grandfather, His Holiness the late Jigdal Dagchen Dorje Chang, warned me that when I teach in the West, I should be very well prepared—because although people don’t usually show outward faith like we are used to in Asia, they ask very challenging questions. He said, “They are going to squeeze the orange juice out of you!” He said that I will be very embarrassed if I don’t have the answers.
Now, in one way, he was just teasing me to make sure that I study very well; but on another level, he was very right! Because I have found that those who choose to learn Buddhism in English-speaking countries usually want to learn the deeper meaning and take up meditation right away.
So that’s why it’s very beneficial and very auspicious that all those who are involved in the 84000 project—and all those who support it—are making the Buddha’s discourses available in English and other languages.
And just as the project’s name says, 84000—eighty-four thousand—that suggests that the Buddha’s teachings are not only very deep, but very vast. Because from the moment the Buddha first set the wheel of Dharma in motion, he taught for 45 years, non-stop!
And the Tibetan version of the canon, which we call, as Sarah said, the Kangyur, includes not only the long Mahayāna sutras, but also all the esoteric tantras—the tantras of the four classes. The root tantras were mostly taught by the Buddha indirectly.
All those vast teachings, they can be summed up into three categories: first, those that concern ethics and how to live a life of moral integrity; and second, those that concern training and meditation — training and meditation so we can purify negative emotions and distorted vision and so on; and third, those that employ our human intelligence to gain wisdom, our own direct understanding of reality.
So, in that sense, the Buddha’s words are not concerned with abstract theories, but with practice, with a whole way of life, and the science of mind. The science of mind. And those with just a bit of dust in their eyes, no matter where they are from, can utilize them for liberation and enlightenment.
So, in that regard, every discourse of the Buddha is inconceivably precious, and therefore every effort to make all of them available to those who are interested is something that I rejoice in, that I encourage, support, and applaud.
And my aspiration is that the 84000 project is very successful and those who read the translations don’t just concern themselves with rituals like today’s resounding, but with implementing what they contain. Implementing them according to the context in which they are given: by diligently cultivating morality, meditation, and wisdom. So in that way, the purpose of the Muni’s intent will definitely be fulfilled and every effort and act of generosity that makes the project possible will be worthwhile.
So that’s all I have to say today. Although we are just reciting the words in a ritual today, still, by arousing the motivation of bodhicitta in our hearts sincerely and deeply, we can produce those merits and blessings that we can then dedicate for the welfare of all sentient beings.