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Feb 24
Opinion Pieces
Love in Action: the Teacher’s Milkmen

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Communicating the dharma in human language is a translation from the beginning. Realized beings point at the inexpressible essence through various means, transmissions, signs, dakini language and eventually human language. In addition, some translated already existing texts, as did, for instance, Vairochana, Marpa, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

Trungpa Rinpoche gave the title of translators to some who knew human languages and had some level of practice and training, but were not necessarily endowed with high realization. He gathered them in a group known as the Nalanda Translation Committee (NTC). This group translated a number of texts, and in this process set standards for translations within the Shambhala mandala.

Since then, as the mandala continued to grow throughout the world beyond Indo-Tibetan and English speaking areas, the necessity for translating the Shambhala dharma into other languages increased irresistibly. English is not yet the universal language of our world, and people need to receive the dharma with all its subtleties in a language that they do understand—we mean understand, not just vaguely comprehend.

Trungpa Rinpoche actually went beyond just translating texts into English. He restored the original meaning of English words and—only when necessary—bent the language by introducing “dharma English”, in order to make it suitable to convey the dharma properly. Other languages may not have benefited directly from this work, but it gives pretty good hints for doing something similar in other languages. Now, how useful is translation work? Just imagine that all texts for practice and study be available exclusively in Tibetan or Sanskrit, eventually Pali. [Could you clarify this last sentence – what do you mean?]

In our sangha, in addition to practice texts and sometimes new termas, which are here to stay for some time, there is also a constant flow of texts and letters which irrigate the mandala, and need to be known and understood before they are utterly obsolete. They are all originally sent out solely in English. However these are usually less subtle and therefore less difficult to translate for the local—and most often excruciatingly small—translation groups.

How, ideally, does a translation committee work in our mandala? If one relies on the NTC standard, you need dharma practitioners already trained in translation work, who know Tibetan and Sanskrit and who work as a team, hand-in-hand with at least one bilingual lama. At this stage, most groups other than the NTC translate from English into the local language, referring to Tibetan or Sanskrit for details. They tackle translation emergencies as best as possible. In all groups, translators have to be sangha members and practitioners. Other criteria do exist: translation is a practice and specifically a group practice. Texts are signed by the committee as a whole [do you mean “assigned”? Please clarify]. Ego-trips are [definitely?] discouraged. Translators’ constant preoccupation is to dispel linguistic obstacles for practitioners for whom the challenge of the teachings is already big enough.

Author’s footnotes: in reference to “the teacher’s milkmen,” quite a few are actually women. And in reference to “Other languages may not have benefited directly from this work,” some members of the original NTC were fluent in Spanish and French, which has been quite helpful for the development of the respective local translation groups.

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