Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche on translating the Kangyur

Address to the BLHP Working Committee and Guests

Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche
Kathmandu, December 7, 2010

Rinpoche spoke in Tibetan, with English translation by Erik Pema Kunsang.

My whole life I’ve been involved in the Dharma and Dharma activities, and trying my best in all different ways. Making the Buddha’s teachings available in a wide way has been very, very important. One of my primary aims in this life, and I cannot find anything more important than this, is to have the entire body of the Buddha’s words, the Kangyur, the precious words of the Buddha translated into English and other languages. I feel this is a wonderful opportunity. We should all rejoice that it is happening, we should rejoice in those who are doing it, and we should rejoice in ourselves doing it, be happy about it ourselves.

A couple of years ago, we invited Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche to attend a symposium. At that time, in private, we had some relaxed words. I mentioned, “Rinpoche, don’t you think it would be very nice to have the Buddha’s words, or at least some of them, translated in a very clear, authentic way?” Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche replied, “Yes, it would.”

“Shouldn’t we do something about it?”

He said, “Yeah, something should be done.” And then nothing more happened.

It’s been on my mind, since I was very young, that there is nothing more important in this world than the Buddha and the Buddha’s words. It’s been always on my mind. I don’t know why, but from a very early age, I had the greatest devotion toward Buddha Shakyamuni. For everybody else it seemed to be of secondary importance. The Buddha’s words are the root of all the other teachings, and they should be regarded as the main pillar of the Dharma. Otherwise, we have the branches but we have no root from which the tree grows. Of course some of the Buddha’s words have been translated, but not very much, when you really count it.

In the world right now, the largest volume of the Buddha’s words exists in the Tibetan language. Especially the tantras; they exist in some other languages, such as Chinese, Sanskrit, and Pali, but not that much. Nothing compared to what has been translated into Tibetan.

I don’t know how much the Tripitaka is read aloud in Chinese. In Tibet, at the major monasteries, we have this tradition of bringing out all the volumes of the Buddha’s words and reading them aloud. You probably know this much better than me. You are the experts. You have studied what is available in the world. But I’ve heard that the largest and most complete collection of the Buddha’s words is in the Tibetan. Until a few decades ago, it was used mainly by the Tibetan-speaking people, and more than Tibetans, people who come from the surrounding countries, like Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. They would study in Tibet, learn the Dharma, receive empowerments and so forth, and to the best of their ability take the teachings back to their own homelands.

Now the times have changed. We are in a completely different world now, and something needs to happen. In different places, we have seen only a small glimmer of daylight of the Dharma being established. Of course there are hundreds and hundreds of Dharma centers in different major and minor places where the Buddha’s teachings are studied and practiced. But I haven’t been convinced that there is an established shedra, an established drubdra, that continues in the most authentic way exactly like it was in Tibet. I’d like to see that happen. However, I feel that unless all the sutras and the tantras exist in their particular countries’ languages, it may not happen easily.

First of all, the greatest volume, the most complete body of the Buddha’s words, exists in Tibetan. And second, the tantric teachings exist mainly in Tibetan.

One of my teachers was Khunu Rinpoche. He was an Indian who traveled in Tibet. He said that not only do the sutras and tantras exist in Tibet, but the quality of translation is amazing. He felt that the translators and panditas who made it happen at such high quality must have been incarnations, Nirmanakayas. He gave a few examples, like the word Bhagavan in Sanskrit. To translate that with extra syllable de, chomdende. He thought a lot about it, and he said, “It’s excellent, it’s wonderful!” Because then you get the complete meaning. Also, to get the complete meaning of the word Buddha, you have to have both syllables, sang and gye.

Some Dharma words we can translate directly into Tibetan. But some we have to compare with their Sanskrit equivalents. I believe that we cannot be too judgmental in picking and choosing what we think is correct. In many cases we have to use both.

We need to translate the words of the Buddha in the highest quality possible. People who translate should be well educated in the Dharma, in the language, and especially also in the tantras. They need to study more of the tantras.

Isn’t it true that when dealing with the tantras, we need empowerment, reading transmission, and instructions? Isn’t that correct? But if we cannot get that immediately, we should at least get the reading transmission.

When we’re translating, we should have wide-open minds. Discuss with each other, have general consent, in a democratic way. Let’s use the best parts of democracy, where we can have free speech, we can have open discussions, not someone making directives that everybody else has to follow, but make open discussions and listen to one another.

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche mentioned about resources being scarce in Buddhist circles. I feel that one of the most important resources is human beings who are both learned and realized. How many are there of these? Not that many, right? That’s my main worry. In the past, there were great masters, such as Deshung Rinpoche, Khunu Lama Rinpoche, Dudjom, Khyentse, Ling, and Trijang Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, and Karmapa, who had great power to magnetize. If they were all here, alive, we would have a great force behind these projects. If we don’t hurry up now… We are already too late, so now we have to stress, because otherwise we will be really too late.

We need to connect with and include all the most learned and realized masters of all the different lineages. Connect with them, ask them questions, discuss with them, and get their advice. We need to unify our abilities here, and work together as one body, as one mind, in complete harmony.

We must be concerned with two things. First of all, the Kangyur should be translated into English in a completely perfect way, as perfect as possible. The second thing is to do it quickly. High quality, and as fast as possible.

For that to be accomplished, we need many circumstances pulled together. There’s one factor that is indispensable—the translators. The translators should be perfect—not just able to spell his or her way through a text and say, “I studied this area of philosophy.” That’s not enough. Honestly speaking, we can’t let just anyone who wants to translate. But if they are well educated and are able, then they should be included, whoever they are. If it’s one of us who’s not really capable of translating, he should be thrown out. There’s no way around that. If there’s somebody who’s not part of this group, someone living far away, or not really connected, we should seek out this person.

The main point I want to put across: Work together as one, with the highest quality, and as fast as possible. Every year we can meet and see how much has been accomplished.

Posted: 26 Feb 2011