Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I've had a few people ask me how to comment on posts, so here's a quick note on that.

To comment on any post, simply click on the title (Verse X, for example), then scroll to the bottom of the page and write whatever you like in the comment box.  Hit post comment, and it should appear with the original text.  Hope this helps!

Signing off in Cleveland, Miss A.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Verse XV

ya rabs mdzangs spyod dpon dang 'bangs
phan tshun legs tshogs gong du spel
rgya mtsho che dang chu bo rnams
res mos tshul gyis grogs su 'gyur

Verse XIV

dar chen gru gzings rgya mtsho'i rgyan
sprin bral zla ba nam mkha'i rgyan
mkhas pa'i skye bo bstan pa'i rgyan
ru 'dren dpa' bo dpung gi rgyan


ru 'dren ni
sde 'dren pa

Verse XII

bya ba nyams kyis mi lcogs na
gzhan gyis rbad kyang byar mi rung
rkyal mi shes na gzhan dag gis
bskul yang chu nang ci phyir mchong

An action is impossible to do, even if completed by others, if one has no ability to cope through experience.  Although urged on by others, if one does not know how to swim, why jump into the water?


. . . if one has no ability to cope through developmental practice.

Textual Notes:

In my version of the text there is a note included about nyams kyis mi lcogs - 'dir stobs kyis mi nus pa, or "no power through strength."  Before this can be properly integrated, the word lcogs needs to be clarified.  It's primary definition is "pronunciation," then "to be able to cope" or "to handle."  So it's a word which, for a native speaker, seems to have a major association with speaking and being able to pronounce words properly.  Taken with the verse itself this makes sense since experience is a consequence of doing an action much like speech is a consequence of saying a word - the two are inseparable from each other.  It's a principle so obvious it's almost difficult to grasp (for me at least), and I think the subtlety lies in knowing that lcogs refers to how someone says a word - to proper pronunciation.  In other words, a person might know what a word means, might have even heard it said before, but if they're not able to pronounce it themselves the process of learning is not complete.  Take that forward into our metaphor, and we see that a person might technically know what swimming is, might even have seen another person swimming, but if they've never done it themselves they'll drown the first time they jump into deep water.  So what does this mean in light of the note?  I think it's simply stating the obvious again - if you don't have any muscles how could you lift something heavy?  That's why I've included the alternate version where nyams is translated as "developmental practice."  More on that in the cultural note.  And again, taken in the context of the previous few verses which are all about the merits of gradual practice, this makes a lot of sense.

Another minor textual note pertains to rbad and bskul.  Most contributors to the THDL dictionary translate rbad as "completely."  I think it's clear that in the verse it is functioning as a verb and not an adverb, but more important is its relation to bskul in the metaphor.  Only IW tentatively poses "to urge/send" as an alternate translation for rbad, which is more in keeping with the verse.  However again I think the two are complementary, and that being urged on by others is tantamount to seeing others complete an action successfully - that is, a person can say a word correctly, urge you to say it like they did, and yet if it's never been formulated by your own mouth before it can be difficult to get it right.   

Cultural Notes:

What is nyams exactly?  It's most common translation is simply "experience," but it can also be "vision," "developmental practice," or even "experiential sign of the development of practice (in terms of meditative moods)."  The most important part of this word is that it indicates something ephemeral (because nyams pa means "to get weaker," etc.).  

In "Genre, Authorship, and Transmission" Janet Gyatso refers to nyams as "meditative absorption" and describes how visions appear as a sign of the completion of a meditative state.  This was in the context of tertons and the tradition of treasure finding in Tibet.  Just briefly, a terton is a person who is either a reincarnation of an important historical figure/deity, or a person in close, direct contact with important historical figures/deities.  From this they are able to discover texts, objects, etc. that were hidden a long time ago.  In "Genre, Authorship, and Transmission" she's talking specifically about meeting with deities through visions induced during meditation.  Long story short, without these experiences (states of meditative absorption in which tertons meet with a deity) treasures could not be recovered.  I doubt that Gung Thang is speaking of this practice specifically, but I think it's a great example of the general principle behind the verse.

Janet Gyatso, "Genre, Authorship, and Transmission in Visionary Buddhism: The Literary Traditions of Thang-stong rGyal-po", in Steven D. Goodman and Ronald M. Davidson (eds.) Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation (SUNY 1992)

Signing off in Cleveland, Miss A.

Verse XI

bya ba chen po yun gyis bsgrub
ngang thung 'bad pas mthar mi phyin
rlung chen dal yang ring 'gro la
rba rlabs drag kyang cher mi 'gro

A great deed will not come to pass by a rash effort, but is accomplished over a long period of time.  Although powerful, a wave will not go very far; but a wave will go a long way even if the great wind is slow.

Textual Notes:

It seems that rba rlabs should be implied in the 3rd line in order for it to make any sense, and that is reflected in my translation.  The sense I get from reading it is that a powerful wave crashes, while a small wave moved by a slow but powerful wind goes a long way.  This is a much clearer rendition, but it is so far from a direct translation that I have to ask myself whether or not it's appropriate to use.  I think I can pinpoint the issue in using the verb "to crash" in English where it is absent in Tibetan. 

Signing off in Cleveland, Miss A.

Verse X

rgyun chags brtson pa ma btang bar
bags kyis bsgrubs na ci yang 'grub
chu bo dal gyis 'bab pa yis
yangs pa'i sa chen bskor nas 'gro

What can be accomplished if in gradual practice continuous effort is not applied?  Just so, the slowly flowing river proceeds having covered vast, great grounds.

Textual Notes:

chu bo dal kyis 'bab pa is the Tibetan name for the river Ganges, and it literally means "flowing slowly."  I translate it directly because the descriptive quality of the name is what gives it meaning in the metaphor.

sa chen has both a literal and a symbolic meaning.  It is literally great ground, and together with yangs pa - vast - it is illustrative of long distances.  In religious contexts, sa chen means "high level of spirituality," and this is the symbolic meaning which is nearly lost in translation.  Using the word "ground" in English is suggestive of the spiritual grounds which one can achieve through meditation, but this particular terminology is not as obvious a play on words as it is in Tibetan.

Cultural Notes:

Spiritual grounds are the levels reached through mediation and practice.  In Sanskrit, these are referred to as bhumis.  Traditionally there are 10 bhumis, but in different schools of Tibetan Buddhism there can be many more.  To listen to a lecture series by Gyume Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin about grounds and paths, visit this website:    http://www.thubtenchodron.org/OtherArticlesAudio/paths_and_grounds_of_the_bodhisattva.htm

Signing off in San Francisco, Miss A.

Some Changes

In the hope that independent translators and students from the Tse Chen Ling Center for Buddhist Studies (visit their website at http://www.tsechenling.org/) will soon be contributing to the blog I've decided to post as many verses as possible without accompanying translation or commentary.  That way people can choose which verse they'd like to work on without having to wait for me.  Within the month the entire poem will be available here.

To navigate, use the dates at the bottom of the page to move backward and forward through the verses.   Click on the arrows to see a list of all posts from previous dates.

There are also a number of notes included in my copy of the poem that are important to both readers and translators.  I will include the important ones in Wylie transliteration in the primary post with the verse.  Hopefully these changes will make this project more user friendly.  As always, I welcome any suggestions you might have because this is my first ever attempt at blogging.  Thanks!

Signing off in San Francisco, Miss A.