Friday, February 25, 2011


What are the Similes of Trees and Water?

A collection of simple four line verses with seven syllables each, Similes of Trees and Water is a Tibetan text written in the 18th century composed by gung thang bstan pa’i sgron me - or simply Gung Thang.  The content is distinctly Buddhist in nature since the entire work is actually a commentary on Tibetan Buddhist teachings.  As such there are many allusions to Jataka tales and other legends, and the richest reading comes with a cultural and socioreligious context.

In general every verse works the same way: the first two lines make an assertion which is then demonstrated in the second two lines using a simile of trees or water.  In my Textual Notes I will be referring to the assertion as the "example."  Occasionally a verse or group of verses will deviate from this structure; and when I do my rough translations sometimes I switch them in order to achieve the best flow.    

What is the purpose of this blog?

My main goal is to maintain a live, collaborative translation effort online serving two purposes: 1) to combine the knowledge and skills of multiple translators from around the world in order to have a comprehensive translation of a Tibetan text, and 2) to foster a community of people interested in Tibetan Buddhist poetry, especially a text that has yet to be published in a European language.

As a student who has become disillusioned with academia I wanted to start a translation effort that could cross the academic-lay boundary.  More than anything, I want people from all different disciplines to be able to read a translation of this beautiful work and come away with as great an understanding as if it had been taught in a college class.  In my opinion, too many translations are printed with little to no explanation of the intricate and subtle connotations and nuances found in the original text.  This is, more than anything, an experiment to see whether or not a new and different approach to translation might be more effective.

How will I be doing my work?

Most importantly, I will be using Wylie transliteration until I get a Tibetan font up and working on my computer.  Also, I use THDL offline translation tool and my preferred dictionary is Rangjung Yeshe. 

I will dedicate one post to each verse unless two or more verses work together in such a way that it would be more prudent to post them together.  If this project actually takes off and becomes active, then I will open up the verses for a collaborative effort via GoogleDocs.  My hope is that when modifications or alternate readings are made, that those can be part of the posts around the original verse. 

Since it’s just me right now, I’ll be including all notes in the original posts.  But later, if other contributors come to the fore, then we’ll have to come up with other options.  I’m open to suggestions on this matter.  In the future I want the notes to become a dominant portion of this work.


So at the moment I wonder what will come of this project.  Right now I’m putting out a call for anyone with experience in translating Tibetan, no matter how novice or advanced, to come and glance over the verses I’ve done so far. 

As I’ve stressed, I want this to be more than an editing or revision process.  This is your chance to expound on all the intricacies and complexities of Tibetan grammar, your chance to help explain the background of Tibetan history and religion, and yes, your chance to vent your frustrations about translating Tibetan (I know I will . . .).

This community should operate as a live workshop for however long it takes to translate this work properly.  So come and enjoy!  Contribute!  This is an awe-inspiring work of literary art, let’s spend some quality time with it!

Signing off in Lhasa, Miss A.

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