Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

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Lobsang Damchoi
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Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Lobsang Damchoi » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:09 pm

Would like to pose a question--this is primarily for Westerners who do solo practice of the higher tantras on a regular basis, but I'm interested in anyone's views: your genuine gut feelings, as well as whatever advice you may have received from teachers.

Is it a really serious disadvantage to one's personal progress and realization if one practices in the vernacular? I know lamas frequently mention the blessings of using Tibetan. But, IMHO Westerners have something that may compensate in some measure: a strong. almost visceral connection to the sound of Sanskrit. :thumbsup: (At least it seems to be true in my case.) And Sanskrit is, after all, the original for most of the tantras we practice. If one is going to learn a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language for dharma practice, why not Sanskrit (if it's a practical alternative based on surviving sources)? :shrug:

Also, is it really practical, where there are many complex referents and highly detailed imagery, to expect that the Tibetan will have the same practicality and power as one's native language? :soapbox:

In a recent book the author compared doing tantric sadhanas in a non-Tibetan language to being blind -- is it really that bad? Should I hand in my tantrika card :quoteunquote: until I'm fluent in Tibetan? :crying:
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Malcolm » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:41 pm

Lobsang Damchoi wrote:Would like to pose a question--this is primarily for Westerners who do solo practice of the higher tantras on a regular basis, but I'm interested in anyone's views: your genuine gut feelings, as well as whatever advice you may have received from teachers.

Is it a really serious disadvantage to one's personal progress and realization if one practices in the vernacular? I know lamas frequently mention the blessings of using Tibetan. But, IMHO Westerners have something that may compensate in some measure: a strong. almost visceral connection to the sound of Sanskrit. :thumbsup: (At least it seems to be true in my case.) And Sanskrit is, after all, the original for most of the tantras we practice. If one is going to learn a 2nd, 3rd or 4th language for dharma practice, why not Sanskrit (if it's a practical alternative based on surviving sources)? :shrug:

Also, is it really practical, where there are many complex referents and highly detailed imagery, to expect that the Tibetan will have the same practicality and power as one's native language? :soapbox:

In a recent book the author compared doing tantric sadhanas in a non-Tibetan language to being blind -- is it really that bad? Should I hand in my tantrika card :quoteunquote: until I'm fluent in Tibetan? :crying:
You should practice in the language you understand, rather than be a parrot.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Konchok Namgyal » Sat Jan 17, 2015 9:14 pm

It was explained to me like this :
Even though you should do these practices in Tibetan you should also understand what it is you are saying.
The blessings flow through the language much as they do through the lineage.
especially the Mantras, the intonation and vibration of them effects body, speech and mind.

I too wondered these things when I first began the practices, in time they become second nature.
Recognize that your mind is the unity of being empty and cognizant, suffused with knowing. When your attention is extroverted, you fall under the sway of thoughts. Let your attention recognize itself. Recognize that it is empty. That which recognizes is the cognizance. You can trust at that moment that these two – emptiness and cognizance – are an original unity. Seeing this is called self-knowing wakefulness. ~ Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Malcolm » Sat Jan 17, 2015 10:44 pm

Konchok Namgyal wrote:It was explained to me like this :
Even though you should do these practices in Tibetan you should also understand what it is you are saying.
The blessings flow through the language much as they do through the lineage.
especially the Mantras, the intonation and vibration of them effects body, speech and mind.
If you are a translator, you should practice in Tibetan.

If you are with a Tibetan Lama doing a group practice, you should practice in "Tibetan", even if it sounds awful (it does).

If you are by yourself, you should practice in English, because just as mantras pronounced improperly will only delay your practice; just as mumbling your sadhanas will delay your practice; chanting liturgies in phoneticized "Tibetan" only results in making sounds which at best only vaguely resemble Tibetan, sounds which you do not understand, nor will be understood by anyone who is a Tibetan speaker, and thus you will merely cause obstacles for yourself.

This does not mean one should not take pains to learn Tibetan, which is the only proper way to learn how to pronounce it. This does not mean that certain prayers like the seven line prayer, the Migtsema, the short Barceh Lamsel and so on should not be recited in Tibetan — of course they should -- it is easy to learn how to properly pronounce a few lines of Tibetan. This does not mean one can practice a chod liturgy in English (attempts have been made but they all suck). But as a general rule English speakers who do not know Tibetan should practice in English apart from the above noted exceptions, that at least is my opinion.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by DespreTine » Sat Jan 17, 2015 11:19 pm

chanting liturgies in phoneticized "Tibetan" only results in making sounds which at best only vaguely resemble Tibetan[...]
Upon taking the time to learn the "alphabet" and pronunciation rules (Lhasa dialect, for abundance of resources) I find the phonetic spellings more difficult to work with. I frequently find myself referring back to the Uchen when I don't understand what the "phonetic guide" is trying to tell me.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Fortyeightvows » Fri Jan 23, 2015 7:50 pm

I hope i don't get lambasted for this post, but:

The thing about chanting in english is that it almost always sounds terrible. some of the shambhala centers have atune they use that works well and sounds ok but for the most part english chanting is terrible. there are ways of translating english so that it can be chanted to the same tune that tibetan uses some fpmt centers have been very good about this.
let me give you one example

'The gods and demi-gods bow
To your lotus feet, O Tara,
You who rescue all who are destitute
To you, Mother Tara, I pay homage."

compared to

"Gods and asuras with their crowns,
bow down to your lotus feet,
liberator from all problems,
Mother Tara homage to you"

Try chanting them both. especially with tune, the first one just won't sound good.
same for this one

"In this pure realm, surrounded by snow moutains,
Is the source of complete happiness and benefit,.
Avalokiteshvara, Tendzin Gyamtso.
May you stand firm until the end of existence."

compared to

"in the snowy mountain paradise
your the source of all good and happiness
powerful, tenzin gyatso, chenrezig
please remain until samsara ends"

with the second one you could easily use the common tibetan tune and have it match beautifully.

in chinese the translations are standardized and the version that can be chanted nicely is the one made standard. this happened a long time ago. i think that since some of the translation were sponsored by the emperor they were of a very high quality.
another thing about chanting in english is that because every hymnal contains a different translation even two people who both have the prayer memorized can't just chant it together from memory and then when reading it together because some parts will be similar it can get sloppy very easily. In los angeles there are tibetan temples where the prayers are read in tibetan, chinese and english.I don't know tibetan so i can't speak to the accuracy of pronunciation but listening to the english is sad, the people can never read it in sync. this situation is made even worse when people who's english isn't very good try to join in, but without any type of tune it's very difficult to stay together and have the chant flow.

I don't see this situation changing anytime soon.

just my thoughts

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by conebeckham » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:05 pm

My personal feeling is that, even if one doesn't want to be a translator, it's valuable to learn to read Tibetan to the point where sadhanas make sense. The ritual traditions, melodies, etc. are part of the practice. But, you know, I'm a traditionalist.

I agree phonetics are approximations at best. I also agree that you should not be a parrot. But, for example, Mongolians have practiced using Tibetan, a language that is not their native tongue, for centuries, and I see no reason why we cannot do the same.

There are a few good English liturgies, dohas, etc. But most of them, I agree, sound horrible.

Tibetan is not that hard to learn, really.
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It is realized through the blessing grace of the Guru and fortunate Karmic potential.
Like this, mistaken ideas of discriminating wisdom are clarified."
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Fortyeightvows » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:10 pm

"My personal feeling is that, even if one doesn't want to be a translator, it's valuable to learn to read Tibetan to the point where sadhanas make sense. The ritual traditions, melodies, etc. are part of the practice. But, you know, I'm a traditionalist."

the prayers can be translated into english in ways that allow the traditional melodies to be used. that was why i gave the example of hhdl's prayer.

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by conebeckham » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:43 pm

Fortyeightvows wrote:"My personal feeling is that, even if one doesn't want to be a translator, it's valuable to learn to read Tibetan to the point where sadhanas make sense. The ritual traditions, melodies, etc. are part of the practice. But, you know, I'm a traditionalist."

the prayers can be translated into english in ways that allow the traditional melodies to be used. that was why i gave the example of hhdl's prayer.
Yeah, though I personally find something gets lost in the process, much of the time.
དམ་པའི་དོན་ནི་ཤེས་རབ་ཆེ་བ་དང་།
རྟོག་གེའི་ཡུལ་མིན་བླ་མའི་བྱིན་རླབས་དང་།
སྐལ་ལྡན་ལས་འཕྲོ་ཅན་གྱིས་རྟོགས་པ་སྟེ།
དེ་ནི་ཤེས་རབ་ལ་ནི་ལོ་རྟོག་སེལ།།


"Absolute Truth is not an object of analytical discourse or great discriminating wisdom,
It is realized through the blessing grace of the Guru and fortunate Karmic potential.
Like this, mistaken ideas of discriminating wisdom are clarified."
- (Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, from his summary of "The Ocean of Definitive Meaning")

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Paul » Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:50 pm

These days Erik Pema Kunsang is working on english prayers with traditional melodies - they're pretty good.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by conebeckham » Fri Jan 23, 2015 10:32 pm

I've heard a bit of Eric's, and I like them...I also have enjoyed Ari Goldfield's work with Khenpo Tsultrim.
དམ་པའི་དོན་ནི་ཤེས་རབ་ཆེ་བ་དང་།
རྟོག་གེའི་ཡུལ་མིན་བླ་མའི་བྱིན་རླབས་དང་།
སྐལ་ལྡན་ལས་འཕྲོ་ཅན་གྱིས་རྟོགས་པ་སྟེ།
དེ་ནི་ཤེས་རབ་ལ་ནི་ལོ་རྟོག་སེལ།།


"Absolute Truth is not an object of analytical discourse or great discriminating wisdom,
It is realized through the blessing grace of the Guru and fortunate Karmic potential.
Like this, mistaken ideas of discriminating wisdom are clarified."
- (Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche, from his summary of "The Ocean of Definitive Meaning")

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by dzogchungpa » Fri Jan 23, 2015 11:21 pm

Anne Klein has done quite a bit of work along these lines, see:
http://www.shambhala.com/heart-essence- ... panse.html

I am not a translator, but I have studied enough Tibetan so that I can do the few sadhanas I practice in the original, and as Cone mentioned it's not that hard to do. Personally, I think it makes a big difference to know the original words involved.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by dzogchungpa » Sat Jan 24, 2015 2:03 am

BTW, you can see some of Klein's work here:
http://translationandtransmission.org/a ... xpanse.pdf
It takes a great being to be daring enough to cultivate a bad reputation. - Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Fortyeightvows » Sat Jan 24, 2015 6:23 am

That link is really great! That's exactly the style that I'm talking about, excellent for chanting.
I think that standardization would be a very good thing for western buddhists to do too. It makes it much easier to chant together if everyone has the same version memorized or are at least familiar with it.

It's like this: I can chant the heart sutra with anyone else who also knows it in chinese. But if I were to learn it in english the only other people who I would be able to chant it with would be people who knew the same version. Obviously most people you will chant with will have memorized the same version but if you move to different city and go to a different temple then they will use a different version and so on.

Anyways just my thoughts.

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Fortyeightvows » Sat Jan 24, 2015 6:35 am

Avalokitishvara great lord of compassion
Manjushri lord of stainless wisdom
Varjrapani destroyer of maras armys
Tsongkhapa crown jewel of tibetan sages
Losang drakpa to you I pray

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Shemmy » Sat Jan 24, 2015 8:28 am

Every lama seems to have a different take on it, so I'd ask your teacher. But, that said, personally, and speaking as just perhaps some kind of knuckle head crackpot, but a reasonably dedicated and diligent one, the mantric power of words is a tangible reality and an indispensible one for practitioners. I have always assumed there is mantric power to not just the mantras used in a practice but to the entirety of the text. If you use English, imho, you are missing some of what is coming through the lineage and may be missing out on the tangible results of the vibratory power of the sounds to contribute to any positive result. I have even once had a conversation with a Nyingma lama specifically about this, about the mantric power of all words in a practice text and he agreed absolutely and commented that you shouldn't visualize any words in English either that you need to work to visualize them in Tibetan script.

Of course it is far better if you know what you are saying means, which could be a problem if you don't speak Tibetan, but most western practitioner don't and I think we can see some successes in people's practice, so perhaps just having a fairly clear understanding of what each line means and bearing it in mind when practicing is enough. I hope so, because that is what I am banking on anyway. For me and probably most others, we are not expert in Tibetan. I sometimes wish I had a grasp of Tibetan so that I could grasp any nuance, puns, and poetic devices in the texts I use, but life is short, especially around this neck of the woods, better get on with it as best I can than worry about fine tunings.

There's also that story of a pundit or some other sort of Buddhist authority who meets the levitating yogi in a cave on some island in the middle of a lake. He asks the yogi what he's been practicing and what he knows and as it turns out the yogi only knows the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra and that has been his only practice, and to the pundit's horror he finds that the yogi hasn't even been saying the mantra correctly. Don't know if that story has been propagated to put us commoners off the scent so to speak, but it does seem to suggest that in the long long run, devotion will carry you further than merely following the script. Again, just my probably mostly ignorance based opinion.

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Lobsang Damchoi » Sat Feb 28, 2015 5:03 am

Hi all.

See this very interesting recent Dharma Wheel post on the use of Sanskrit in the Kalachakra Tantra:

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.ph ... 08#p272445

(Journal of the International Assoc. of Buddhist Studies, vol. 11, 1988: "Buddhist Sanskrit..." by John Newman.)

The article contains references to the positive aspects of translation to the vernacular. Similar injunctions can also be found in the Pali canon -- in the words of the Blessed One himself. Also, (if any further authority were needed) I have it on good authority that the 16th Karmapa not only wanted English translations of dharma texts, he encouraged the development of an authentic American version of Tibetan Buddhism.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by lama tsewang » Tue Mar 03, 2015 9:19 am

at the back of the book on kye rim in nyingmapa tradition, called , i believe , deity mantra and wisdom , theres aan article by getse mahapandita , and in this article he talks strongly against tibetans who might want to visualize seed mantras in sanskrit letters , he says that this is wrong , since they are tibetans. i think the same goes for us in north america and europe etc..
For those who think they should recite sadhanas , which are meant to be understood, for those people , i would strongly suggest that youre attached to rules and rituals . maybe you should be reciting vedas , if the important thing is the sounds of letters . I think that in our teaching , the important thing is the meaning , not going blah , blah blah.

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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by Ayu » Tue Mar 03, 2015 10:51 am

For me the sound of my mother tongue is somehow disturbing. To recite it aloud and quickly is more like a fight than like a contemplation. I get headache between the eyes from it and my tongue is stumbling over the words, so that I often pronounce them wrong. I make nasty mistakes like "Please mess me..." instead of "Please bless me..." and so on.
Also it is not possible to sing it nicely. It always sounds like a catholic liturgy.

Tibetan sound and pronounciation is much more helpful and fluently for me.

My solution is to read one paragraph silently in my mother tongue for comprehension - and then recite it in Tibetan. This takes a little bit longer, but it has the best results.

So, I think, it is better to handle these language problems more individually. I think it is important to understand what you are reciting and it is important to find a relaxed mood while doing it.

Reciting Tibetan together with a Tibetan Lama is somehow different: even if I don't understand the meaning as quickly as the recitation goes, it reaches my heart somehow. I found that out.
Must be due to the transmission.
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Re: Tibetan language--indispensible in Tantra?

Post by PadmeSamadhi » Tue Mar 03, 2015 11:17 pm

Over here many times when we do the Seven Line Prayer we do the first time in Tibetan and a couple times in our language, just to keep the meaning fresh, etc etc.
Also reading the sadhanas in your language gives you a great teaching, an example is Red Tara sadhana which is very clear the teaching of emptiness, etc.

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