Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Ina Bieler, and I’m originally in Austria, Europe, Graz. And I currently live in Arizona, Garchen Institute, working as Garchen Rinpoche’s personal translator and also the Lamas that visit the Garchen Institute in Arizona. I’ve been translating for seven years now for Garchen Rinpoche.
How did you become a translator?
I was also interested in Tibetan Buddhism for a very long time. I was looking for someone to teach, a teacher, and I met Garchen Rinpoche at the Kalachakra in Graz where I’m from. So he came to visit, to attend that. Then having to meet him because I was his driver at that time, one of the volunteers. And I really made a very good connection with Garchen Rinpoche. I wanted to become a nun and follow him, and his center and his practice. And then Garchen Rinpoche said that, for now, it would be better and more helpful if I were to go learn Tibetan. And so then I go learn Tibetan, and he recommended a school in India. That’s where I applied the LRZTP Lotsawa Rinchen Zangpo Translator Program in Dharamsala by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. And few months later I started the school and began to study, really with the intention to be able to follow Rinpoche and become a translator.
What made you interested in translating the Kangyur?
So I was translating for a few years actually for Garchen Rinpoche before I heard about the translation project that was about to launch, the 84000, and the Kangyur translation. I felt very interested, because the Kangyur is the words of the Buddha, and that’s really like the foundation, the foundation of Buddhism, the Buddhist teaching, it’s the actual words of the Buddha. And it seems that for anyone to be a Buddhist and to study Buddhism, it’s really important to know your actual…and our teacher Buddha Shakyamuni and his teachings that came from his mouth in this world, that really sets the beginning and the foundation of Buddhism, and I felt that it’s really a very important thing to do. If we were to translate the Kangyur in other languages, then in the future, we would lay another foundation so it also continues to exist in the Western world. And in future generations, even Western students would be able to know what the Buddha Shakayamuni actually said. And I actually think, of all the Buddhist texts that exist, this is the most fundamental and most important text to preserve, to translate.
Tell us a bit about the text that you’ve translated for 84000.
I have just translated one of the Kangyur texts now, <The Sūtra on Purifying Karmic Obscurations>, which was actually really a very nice text, really a very exciting, a very beautiful story, and also the way the Buddha explained the teachings in this text was really extraordinary. I feel that this text even included, although it’s a Mahayana text, it actually really shows the entire view of Buddhism I feel, there’s nothing that’s missing from all aspects. So I found that a very beautiful story.
Could you describe the translation process?
When I get the text and I begin to translate first, I try to read the text and get my understanding. I learnt that it’s more helpful to actually see the whole story, even if you don’t understand everything right away, but really to get an understanding of the story. So that’s what I am doing now. I’m reading the whole story, and then I’m going through everything with the Lamas that I’m working with. And I think that’s really important actually, because even if I’m sure, and that’s something I’ve learnt… Even if I’m sure I understand and I don’t have a question about this point, it’s still good to, it’s still very helpful, because you always get different even deeper understandings. So I feel it’s very important if you translate that, even if you’re very confident of your knowledge, that you translate with lamas who have the knowledge and also the realization and who give you even deeper insight into the meaning that goes beyond something that you maybe know. So I always go through the whole thing and clarify things. And if there are some parts that we both aren’t sure, then go to the next Lama, and another Lama, and also ask Rinpoche for the real meaning of that, especially the teaching part of the sutra. Because it’s important to really, to understand as much as you can. Not only the academic, but to really understand. And then to translate, I kind of divide it in chapters, even if there are no chapters. Actually I translate twice, so there are two drafts. After completing the second draft, and with editing, I send it to the editor. And then while the editor edits, I continue the second chapter translating the same way. And she sends it back to me, and I revise, and then clarify questions or make phone calls, and send it to the proofreader, then she sends back to me, then I go through it again. So basically all the points must be clarified, whatever that takes.
This being the first time you’re translating for 84000, was there anything new or unexpected?
Definitely the time calculation, I didn’t expect… it’s very tedious, very tedious. Before that I was more used to translate many sadhanas, which I actually find easier to translate than the sutras. I found that it’s really almost essential that you have some understanding of the culture, not the culture but how it was at that time, the language, the Sanskrit. Even if you don’t see it, even if it doesn’t exist, you can, it’s like you’re putting the Tibetan over it, and you can see it through. It really comes through, it definitely comes through. If you don’t understand Sanskrit, or even at least the grammar, the grammatical structures, it’s very hard to sometimes to understand, because the sentence structure sometimes is not proper Tibetan language sentence structure. For the most part it is, but not always. If you don’t know Sanskrit grammar and then it’s confusing sometimes, and then you don’t know. Because Tibetan is an all particle language, a syllabic language. So depending on where you put the particle, like the la don and so on, it makes a big difference in meaning. It changes the meaning completely. Because Sanskrit doesn’t have that… it’s an inflected language, not a syllabic language, so you don’t have particles. So if you put the words according to the sentence structure of Sanskrit, then the particle ends up anywhere in the sentence. So if you don’t know that, the Tibetan, there could be mistakes, I think. So it inspired me to start studying Sanskrit actually, and I did start, studying Sanskrit now, which I find already very helpful.
What do you find challenging about translating sutras from the Kangyur?
In the sutras there are so much speech fillers, like “he said” and “he offered his words” and then “he spoke”, when actually, basically the Buddha spoke. So if you don’t know, you read all these lines, and sometimes you feel like there’s so much there, so much information. Also I find the verses more difficult than prose. Yes, because to put something into English verse is very different style than the Tibetan verse form. The Tibetan poetry is just completely different, and then even more so for the Sanskrit. So to put that in the way that it’s still…it doesn’t sound like something that’s a new creation, it still sounds original, I found that challenging. And also, doing the sutra, its comparison between different editions. I found that sometimes the spelling of various verses is different, which really changes the meaning. Like I had this word “sog”, which could mean “and so on”, or it could mean a person or being, could mean “life force”, and if you add this other word before it, it could even mean “together with that attachment”. So there were so many different ways of putting it. And it could have all made, it could have made the case for each of them. So I asked so many Lamas and I get so many answers. And the thing is probably because it’s a story, it’s a drama, and there’s a teaching in the drama. It’s like a really exciting story, and you’re waiting, what comes next. Stories are always more difficult, I think, as a translator. Because for stories you need to really understand the point, you know. In order to understand the point, you must understand the culture and all that background, the cultural background, the time, place, there are so many things that have to come together to really understand the story.