В. Erokhin


In this paper, the latest translations and approaches of Russian Tibe-tology are regarded in a broader context of the modern theory of translation. Firstly, the necessity to combine both the academic approach and vividness of living Buddhist tradition for a good and accurate translation to be produced, is emphasized. Moreover, I tried to point out some particular features of different schools of Tibetan Buddhism that should be reflected in translations of relevant texts. Some overviews of three-centuries development are available into Russian1, and the topic is to broad to be presented here.

The reference literature for the introductory part, concerning general translation problems, I took from the leading contemporary English transla-


tors' introductions where they specified their approach to a particular work2. The main collection of references one may find in the papers of the conference held in Delhi in 1990 when many basic principles were formulated3. It contains the most of suggestions, observations, and narratives along with technique details of translation.

As the criteria of examining Tibetan-Russian translations a modern, western formula is adopted. The aim of the Russian translators is actually the same as their western counterparts, but there is a need for a more precise, clear and commonly agreed approach, as today one finds little discussion in Russian on this topic4.

Everybody praises early and later Tibetan translator's works from the Indian languages. During the five centuries of translation of Buddhist texts in Tibet, three main types of translation were recognized: literal; for meaning; and combination of both. The latter is the preferable5. These approaches do not seem to have changed until now (if we take all modern linguistic, sociological, and historical methods just as means); but the opinions how to reach the goal, are diverse. From among numerous suggestions listed below, I take those with which I agree, omitting extensive arguments pro et contra, and try to generalize, not going into all necessary details.

Brief summary of ideal requirements to Tibetan — a Western language translation here is presented under the categories of goal, means, and qualities of a translator.

The goal is — fully and correctly transmit Buddha's teachings into very different milieu of western thought. Most complete and precise set of these teachings (especially that of Vajrayana) exist into Tibetan. Ultimately, it is not just the words in their sequence of whatever beauty and deep theoretical discourse, but the ineffable meaning and insight. This is to be accompanied with translation of the considerably profound and rich heritage of Tibetan enlightened teachers and thinkers. So it's a long process, for generations and centuries.

More practically, a translation requires that the resulting text should:

■ be compatible to the original, with respect to wording, vocabulary, genre, style, historical traits, author's particularities.


■ include the context of respective texts. As E. Napper formulates: «What form should this translation take? I believe that the most useful translation is one that is quite (although not mindlessly) literal and that renders technical terms with a precision that allows complex philosophical discussions that occur in the Tibetan to be mirrored in the English transla-tion»6. However, some terms should be specified with understanding of a particular school (the most evident example being the translation of rig pa in the Nyingma tradition; generally understood as awareness elsewhere, here it implies a much more profound meaning of insight, realization, ultimate presence).

■ charming and relevant means of target language should be implied, and irrelevant connotations avoided. «Reproduce the original concepts (not words) as closely as possible, using a minimum of addition or alternation. English words have been chosen on the basis of matching the feel and power which Tibetan words convey when used by lamas during their ex-planations»7.

■ be suitable for the target reader: scholarly and not-so-scholarly8 (and thus be suitably equipped), or general (and so be imbued with the translator's higher experience, a realization, and responsibility — because of his or her inevitable slant on interpretation. This is, in fact an aspect of growth from the humble translator to a teacher's position).

■ still not be absolutely literal, with the use of paraphrases if applicable. «Accurate translation requires, in addition to a transfer of the full contents, a transfer of their full intention»9.

The means of ideal translating is so a complex that it's listing always can be expanded. Here to mention a few the most important:

■ to begin with: usage of the genuine, critically edited text10.

■ team work: where at least one member is the source language native speaker, and one — the target11, as well as observation of an experienced editor observation. Nowadays these are the essential points due to which so many brilliant results are achieved. Moreover, it encourages a western translator move from his usually individualistic, inwardly orientated out-


look closer to the ideal figure of Tibetan lotsava — a professional and a realized one.

■ cross-referencing the sources on major Buddhist languages — especially Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese in their various forms. The Russian School of Buddhology was famous for this feature, which is now in decline.

■ ability to consult extensive lexicographical sources.

■ development of terminological dictionaries through teamwork at the beginning in smaller groups, then working on a particular tradition; and only after that is would be possible to talk about common collections. For the time being employing diversity in translation of basic terms is recommended. The problem is thoroughly described by S. K. Pathak (2001).

■ all methods of modern academic research — linguistic, historical, technical, comparative — prove their basic usefulness. They are, however, not sufficient alone.

■ from the Buddhist point of view, direct and pure transmission of a text is indispensable. Primarily this means the possession of textual transmission (lung) and oral explanations (khrid) from a qualified teacher. Additionally, if a great Tibetan teacher is the author of a text, in some cases, the translator may obtain empowerments (dbang) for practice that would bestow blessing upon his labour. For all this, a translator is necessarily a Buddhist. Pure academicians might argue with this statement, but the majority of translators' experiences during last decades prove this point, however it functions. The definition of «grace» is offered as follows: «A psychic link transcending the boundaries of self-identification. It transforms an individual's personality, enhancing the perception of a spiritual environment»12.

■ probably, the thoroughly probated Buddhist middle way would be the best solution as to the setting of general standards of Buddhist translation. Temperance in introducing new terms and opinions about freshly discovered facts, willingness to discuss difficult points of one's interpretation, and just possession of common sense would constitute the base of a good work.

■ motivation is no less essential aspect. Based on the Bodhisattva view and practice, it is supported by pertaining to a particular tradition as well as by following the instructions of one's Lamas (if the Diamond Way is practiced). «It is not hidden secret that only then will scriptures start revealing their multiplicity of nuances to the seeker»13. Concerns about one's fame, wealth etc. should be avoided.


Qualities of a translator could be understood partially through the previous list, as he or she is the possessor of the means. Still, a lotsava is supposed to diligently study, reflect and meditate, be able to explain, debate and compose, and be «sagacious, diligent and magnaniimous>>14.

From a practical viewpoint it is to say that a good translator is academically (scholastically) and traditionally (in Tibetan understanding) educated, and thus feels home just as at organizing and proving the facts within one's work as among the cunning curves of controversies on subtle matters. One possesses the many necessary means to tackle a particular work: knowledge on philosophy, logic, history, geography, grammar, and whatever special sciences are concerned; well versed in general and particular Buddhist teachings, such as essential secret mantrayana instructions; has fluent understanding of styles and types of source language; is quite aware of the cultural, background of one's topic. Some 20 years of study and experience within this sphere would not be unusual prerequisite for the best result.

The translator's cultural background and artistic skill in his native language should be high too. Moreover, if one belongs to a particular tradition and does work «from within» the tradition, the original text should be interpreted accordingly, communicating it with the benefit of experience, and sealing the work with the inner certainty.

The special reward in translating work is a peculiar warm feeling of meeting with the «inner root lama»; a kind of insight into the author's intention and thought. Hopefully, it will bring up similar feelings and help the reader to discover hidden treasures within the mind as well.

According to Buddhist viewpoint, it is necessary to make one step further in order to complete the process of adopting by a follower the particular, already properly translated text, - namely, explain the text to the trainee. As was pointed out by many accomplished teachers, it is not sufficient just read a book on your own; however thorough this reading is, something essential may be missed out of inattentiveness, ennui, etc. It is not, of cause, the matter of translator activity, but the tendency of publishing any available text without care of its special significance is already bringing about many speculations, which distort original, of often foreign to Buddhism researchers.

Certainly, texts of different schools of Tibetan Buddhism require different approaches. Most existing western scholar groups differ as to particu-


lar schools, to mention just a few of them. Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group (Kagyu), Ranjung Yeshe (Nyingma-Kagyu), and many Gelugpa-oriented scholars around the major USA universities. Comparative study of their similarities and differences is the agenda of the day.

If we consider the particular features of Karma Kagyu translation process, the following particularities of the followers of this school of Tibetan Buddhism may be singled out. Here we meet not only the «study — reflection — meditation» sequence of a Buddhist's career trail, but often, especially for the Western students, the initial involvement into deep meditation practices is inspired by Lamas' exceptional qualities and blessings. That is to say, not so many Kagyupas are fond of extensive reading and studying, which is, actually, not the case with their colleagues, e.g., of Ge-lug tradition. For a Kagyu translator it means increasing the importance of each word of a source so that it should communicate more essence in shorter form — a special attention to the core but the words, and in perfected literary shape. A more passionate inner world of individuals results in the dominance of creative, artistic abilities (no surprise then that the greatest Tibetan poet and yogi Milarepa was a Kagyupa), which need to be satisfied by particular means, — which both inspire and tame. Generally easygoing character, up to the superficiality, of many trainees is met with the relevant presentation, and, sometimes, more immediate then in other schools teacher (author) — student (reader) relationship (exposure).

Thus, in Karma Kagyu School we find two basic approaches. The first is a graduated path of Mahayana teachings which are essentially the same as in other schools of Tibetan Buddhism and which represent educational, scholarly, often monastic aspects of training (rooting in the Kadam approach that was brought up in the Kagyu tradition by Gampopa). The second is a secular-yogic original one, designed for people enjoying a more freestyle way of life while seeing everything from the highest point of view. In the latter, necessity of formal and informal meditation practice is of crucial importance.

These features point to particular qualities required in resultant translation. The first, scholarly approach, should meet with all requirements relevant to other Buddhist schools' frames of reference. But even in a seemingly dry exposition of philosophical tenets a translator should bear in mind his potential audience interests, so the following streaks of not so formal, less chilled genre such as liberation stories, essential instructions, etc., are also applicable. Richness, vividness, flexibility and inflection in expressions, in transmitted feelings, would also be appreciated by readers, as well as good sense of humour. One should also be mindful when analyzing


fragments where more then one level of meaning is traced, or to a wordplay that may sometimes open a new dimension of understanding.

Great importance should be given to the oral tradition of commentaries that communicate many particular specialties within philosophical understanding and meditation practice. Shentong-Rangtong views balance, with the full understanding of value of «emptiness-of-other» approach as the philosophical background for meditation practice, is one such example. The understanding of madhyamaka, «middleness», as not only the "avoiding of four extremes", but also "avoiding the extreme of the middle", is another example of this sort. There are many similar details. In the Kagyu tradition, a number of people who are interested in deep philosophical excavations seem to be far less then in the Gelug or Sakya traditions, so maybe less arid exposition of tenets makes sense; this, however, would not mean the mere simplification of Buddha's teaching. To summarize the point, — a Karma Kagyu translator should be a dryasdust with respect to his inner work with a text, whereas his translation may be presented in more relaxed character in order to fit with auditory.

Karma Kagyupas seem pay not so attention towards the cultural details of Tibetan Falk, especially when direct methods of liberation and enlightenment are involved, whether they are Indian or Tibetan in origin. Still, to pursue all effective methods of interpreting the Buddha-Dharma that Tibetans themselves developed, is clearly beneficial, and it means to work in team, support and enjoy all the good we find in our associates. Would-be result is precise in meaning, and inspiring, deep, and rich.

Others schools' features are, probably, better discussed by their adherents, and should be correlated with the particularities of the followers. Scholastically oriented traditions like Gelug and Sakya are naturally closer to a modern academic approach found in universities. For the Nyingma tradition, it may makes sense to reveal new facets of terminology and style that is more individual in character, thus in order to communicating newly discovered treasures with their «fresh-old» insights.

Vorobyeva-Desyatovskaya and Savitsky divide development of Russian Tibetology into 5 phases, according to «availability of enough prepared specialists, general course of development of Orientology in Russia and scientific interests of tibetologists themselves))15. These 5 phases are:

1. first introduction (up to 1829).


2. beginning of intensive, complex exploration of Central Asia (1829-1880).

3. 1880— 1917.

4. 1917—1941.

5. after WW II16.

This understanding of the tides and ebbs of Russian Tibetology is backed by socio-historical concept which nowadays looks pretty limited. It is interesting to compare this with the generally accepted modern understanding of Tibetan — Western translation through the ages, the Russian branch being an integral part of the process. Doboom Tulku allocates 4 periods to the history of Buddhist translation:

1. Christian-influenced period (until the beginning of XX c), when "translations... contain a very high degree of Christian colouring in the language of the translation and interpretation of original material"17 (Kern, Rhys Davids, Waddel).

2. Implementation into the understanding of Buddhist texts by some other Western philosophical concepts, notably Marxist and Kantian. (1st half of XX c.) — Stcherbatsky, Conze.

3. A call for newer concepts of Western thought such as of Freud, Jung, linguistic relativism etc. (1950 — beginning of 1990) — in works of, e. g., Guenter, and many his contemporaries. These three phases comprise imposition of the Western conceptual scheme upon Buddhist material))18.

4. «Western translators work in close collaboration with authoritative Tibetan scholars belonging to the indigenous tradition and allow Buddhist text to speak... with authentic Buddhist voice»19.

Last approach seems to be more relevant to the meaning of whole translator's activity — to bring the deep teachings of Buddhism into a new world as accurately as they exist in the original form. As to the Russian contemporary Tibetology, we may see that many works did not transgress yet the weaknesses of the 3rd phase' works.

The discussion over style and terminology is the agenda of the day, and can bring much benefit to public and modern Buddhists. The convergence of scholarly and living transmission approaches seems to be the highway for our, translators, subsequent development Comparing thousands of recent publication in English up to the theme, we have to realize


our fairly modest achievements, and to proceed diligently further. Good luck.


Bibliography (English)

Barzun & Gaff (2003)

Barzun, J. & Gaff, H. (2003). Difficulties and Dangers of Translation // The Modern Researcher. 6th ed. Boston: Houghton Miffin Company. P. 243-255. Doboom Tulku (2001)

Doboom Tulku (2001). Introduction // Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku. Delhi: Manohar. P. 1-13. Franco (1999)

Franco, Eli (1999). Buddhist Studies in Germany and Austria 1971 — 1996 with a contribution on East Asian Buddhism by Michael Friedrich // Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Vol. 22, # 2. P. 401-456.

Gyatso (2001)

Gyatso, J. Apparitions of the Self. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Holmes (1995)

Preface // Gampopa, Je. Gems of Dharma, Jewels of Freedom. Transl. from the Tibetan by Ken and Katia Holmes. Forres: Alteya Publishing. Jamgoen (1995)

Jamgoen Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Miriad Wolrds. Translated and edited by the International Translation committee. Ithaca: Snow Lion. Jamgoen (2003)

Jamgoen Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. The Treasury of Knowledge. Translated and edited by Kalu Rinpoche Translation group. Ithaca: Snow Lion. Konchog Gyaltsen (1998)

Preface in: Gampopa The Jewel Ornament of Liberation. The wishfullfilling Gem of the Noble Teachings. Translated by Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche, Khenpo. Ithaca: Snow Lion.

Lindtner (2001)

Lindtner C. (2001). Editors and Readers. In: Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku. Delhi: Manohar. P. 193-204. Napper (2001)

Napper (2001). Styles and Principles of Translation // Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku. Delhi: Manohar. P. 35-42. Pathak(2001)

Pathak S. K. (2001). Some formulae for Translating: Buddhist Texts from Tibetan // Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku. Delhi: Manohar. P. 43-58.

Reynolds (1999)

Reynolds, Frank E. (1999). Coming of Age: Buddhist Studies in the United States from 1972 to 1997 // Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. Vol. 22, # 2. P. 457-483.

Singh (2001)


Singh N. (2001). Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. // Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku. Delhi: Manohar. P. 20-34.

Terentyev (2004)

Terentyev A. Buddhist Iconography Identification Guide. Narthang. St. Petersburg.

Bibliography (Tibetan)

Tsongkhapa (2000)

Mnyam med tshong kha pa chen pos mdzad pa'i byang chub lam rim che ba. The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation. Taipei, Taiwan. bod rgyatshig (1993)

bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo. mi rigs dpe skrun khang. Thumi

Thurni. The Complete Tibetan Verb Forms. С. T. Lakshmi Printing Works.

1 Tibetan Studies (2005); Vorobyeva - Savitsky (1972).

2 E. g. Holmes (1995), Konchog Gyaltsen (1998), Jamgoen (1995), Jamgoen (2003), Gyatso (2001), and many others.

3 Buddhist Translations: Problems and Perspectives. Ed. by Doboom Tulku.

4 See Kugyavichus (2002), B. Zagumennov's and M. Kozhevnikova home pages http://www.zagumennov.nm.ru; http://kalachakra.ru; ongoing discussion in the «Buddhism of Russia» magazine.

5 Konchog Gyaltsen (1998), p. 17.

6 Napper (2001), p. 39.

7 Holmes (1995), p. X.

8 As Lindtner (2001), p. 199, suggests. 9Barzun&Gaff(2003).

10 «The editor must try to present his text in the form it is assumed to have left the hands of its author, editor or translators - Lindtner (2001), p. 197.

11 «Those who are aspire to be translators need to study their own parent language first to a degree of acceptable literary proficiency». - Singh (2001), p. 21.

12 Singh (2001), p. 26.

13 Singh (2001), p. 26.

14 Singh (2001), p. 24.

15 Vorobyeva - Savitsky (1972), p. 148.

16 Ibid.

17 Doboom Tulku (2001), p. 2.

18 Ibid., p. 4.

19 Ibid., p. 5.