Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

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Malcolm
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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jun 16, 2016 4:35 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:
Malcolm wrote:For example, someone brought up the example of "stong pa nyid" as a translation for śūnyatā. Śūnyatā was originally translated into Tibetan as "ye 'byams." Very few people are aware of this, and so we run into rather strange translations of the term, not realizing it translated śūnyatā. So what to do? Do we translate it as "having always been without limitations?," "having always overflowed?," two quite literal translations of the term? Or do we use the very loose approximation "timeless infinity," as one translator suggests? Or do we translate it as emptiness, as we generally translate stong pa nyid?
This is interesting. How would you translate it?
Generally, in Dzogchen texts in man ngag sde, where it occasionally occurs, it should probably be rendered as something like "fundamentally/originally/primordially limitless" with a note that it is a gloss on the term śūnyatā.


Orna Almogi comments in Rong-zom-pa's Discourses on Buddhology, pg. 162, footnote 64:
  • Compare the term ye 'byams, which is an old designation for emptiness (Śūnyatā: stong pa nyid)
    and is still used in the rNying-ma tradition in this sense. Although the term is often translated as
    'primordial field,' such an understanding does not seem to be lexically attested, It is conceivable
    that here, too, the component ye was initially employed in the sense of 'totality.' In this case, the
    term ye 'byams would literally mean 'total/complete openness/expanse,' that is, 'emptiness.' As in
    the case of the term ye shes, however, I have not been able to locate any Tibetan source to support
    such an etymology, Note also the meaning of the Zhang-zhung word ye sangs, which according to
    Martin 2004, S.v., is equivalent, among other things, to Tibetan stong, that is, 'empty,' 'void.'
dzogchungpa wrote: Also, could you say more about the rationale for the original translation and subsequent revision?
Lost to history, perhaps it was overtly influenced by early translations of sūtras from Chinese into Tibetan. As it stands now the term is quite rare, though it makes an appearance in some sems sde texts and in the Treasury of the Dharmadhātu and Resting into the Nature of the Mind by Longchenpa.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:05 pm

OK, thanks. While we're on the topic can you say something about why DJKR would say
... when Vairotsana translated the word shunyata, he considered it from many angles and came up with tong pa–nyi, which expresses a lot of potential, the complete opposite of the word “empty".
as quoted above? How is it that 'stong pa nyid' expresses a lot of potential, if you agree with this statement?
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:21 pm

dzogchungpa wrote:OK, thanks. While we're on the topic can you say something about why DJKR would say
... when Vairotsana translated the word shunyata, he considered it from many angles and came up with tong pa–nyi, which expresses a lot of potential, the complete opposite of the word “empty".
as quoted above? How is it that 'stong pa nyid' expresses a lot of potential, if you agree with this statement?
Well, the word stong pa has several meanings in Tibetan. It's primary meaning is isolation (dben pa) or exhaustion (zad par 'gyur ba). It also can bear the meaning of ripen (smin pa) and benefit (phan pa); it's a kind of pulse, it is a phase of the moon; it also refers to a void space, for example, the emptiness of a pot that has nothing in it.

I would be very surprised if in fact Vairocana was the one who came up with the term stong pa nyid for śūnyatā. It is not impossible, but what is the real evidence for it?
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:23 pm

OK, thanks again, MOF. :smile:
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu Jun 16, 2016 5:36 pm

Malcolm wrote:Then there is the issue of "helping" the text. It is the habit of some translators to embed their understanding in their translations by fleshing them out, sometimes by as much as 40 percent, with extraneous material either derived from commentaries or from information provided in the course of hearing a text being taught. Other translations are leaner, more austere, tending to stick more closely to the text, depending on the reader's familiarity with the subject. Is this good, bad? How can we say it is either, when Tibetan translators themselves have often embellished?
This is also an interesting point. Can you give some examples of such embellishment?
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Quay » Thu Jun 16, 2016 6:04 pm

Thank you, Malcolm, for your extended comments on your views on translations and translating. In my experience someone who can articulate so well the reasons why they do something is likely to create something very meaningful or at the very least clearly in line with their reasoning and methods. I really appreciate that. (It also makes me happy to have your forthcoming book on order.)

My vaguely snarky earlier comment came from many years of study and some teaching, where I noticed (in the US at least) a tendency for those that favor free-form translating to also favor a kind of "winging it" when it came to the actual work of translating. Sort of "Dude! I live in the moment! Whatever flows...that's it!" kind of approach. While that may indeed produce some amazing texts I have found that more often it produces something else entirely. So, I appreciate translators such as yourself that present lucid, intelligible reasons and methods for what they do. Especially when it comes to translating Dharma texts as they carry a very special kind of weight and influence with those who read them.

Lastly, a favorite quote of mine kept above my desk to remind me of something important:

“Those who wish their work to be very thorough meticulously establish the underlying reasons for writing it.”
—Longchen Rabjam, from Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission
"Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky;
There is no end to all the subjects one could study.
It is better to grasp straight away their very essence--
The unchanging fortress of the Dharmakaya."

– Longchenpa.

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu Jun 16, 2016 6:28 pm

Quay wrote:My vaguely snarky earlier comment...
I found the snarkiness of your earlier comment quite clear. :smile:
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Fortyeightvows » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:12 pm

English speakers need to standardize their translations! Especially of terms, we could look to translators of the past for examples on how to do this, for example the five things you don't translate 五種不翻, etc..

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Fortyeightvows » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:14 pm

I have explained my views on this in this thread: http://dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f= ... ispensable

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:23 pm

Fortyeightvows wrote:English speakers need to standardize their translations! Especially of terms, we could look to translators of the past for examples on how to do this, for example the five things you don't translate 五種不翻, etc..
It is too early to do that. In another 100 years or so, maybe.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by heart » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:34 pm

Malcolm wrote:
krodha wrote: How does everyone feel about this idea of "two quite distinct ways of translation"? I personally do not see the point of an "interpretive free method", as in the case of Dowman's efforts, this allegedly intentional "loose style" often seems to lose the meaning the original text intends to convey. Curious to hear what others think.
I can't speak to what other translators do or don't do. And of course more than one scholar has taken issue with Dowman's translations, the same applies to Tony Duff, etc. But that is not very important. Why? We would be very foolish to think that after translating Dharma texts into English for a generation that we are in any position to stake out definite positions about how things could or should be translated into English.

For example, someone brought up the example of "stong pa nyid" as a translation for śūnyatā. Śūnyatā was originally translated into Tibetan as "ye 'byams." Very few people are aware of this, and so we run into rather strange translations of the term, not realizing it translated śūnyatā. So what to do? Do we translate it as "having always been without limitations?," "having always overflowed?," two quite literal translations of the term? Or do we use the very loose approximation "timeless infinity," as one translator suggests? Or do we translate it as emptiness, as we generally translate stong pa nyid?

Someone else mentioned committee translations. In my opinion, the quality of a translations depends on the committee, who did the original, who edited it, and so on. The failure of translation committees is the desire to create a brand, like different models of cars. Different translations from the same committee exhibit different levels of accuracy and quality depending on the composition of the actual team. Even among Tibetans, those who are educated in Shedras may not actually have the knowledge of Dzogchen for example, to accurately give information when questioned about the usage of term such as la zla ba.

The quality of a translation also depends very much on the ability of a person to express themselves well in their native tongue. Poor writers make poor translations. There are other factors: are you a native English speaker? Even the best of the non-native translators, not just Guenther, quite often make choices which are quite frankly nonidiomatic English and are strange in our language. Do you speak British, American, Canadian, Australian or Indian English? One's choice of words, one's compositional style, and so on, will all very much be influenced by the country and education one has.

Than there are other factors: people who have never translated anything other than Dharma texts tend to have a very brittle and dry style, because Dharma texts from the traditions of Madhyamaka and so on are exactly that, dry and brittle taxonomies which give very little indication of or possibility for process.

For myself personally, studying Tibetan Medicine opened up a whole new way of looking at Tibetan to which I previously had been blind. Biographies too demand a somewhat more personable style. In general, one modern fault of we Tibetan translators is a lack of diversity in our reading. I know of professors, much hailed for their translation of philosophical texts, who cannot handle that most simplistic of formats, the sadhana, with any skill at all. I have watched famous translators badly botch explanations given by Lamas because the translator had no knowledge of Tibetan Medicine and was therefore unable to accurately translate some concepts from a Dzogchen text, and amazingly just make up some bullshit on the spot, apparently to cover up their own ignorance. That said, I also have sympathy for oral translators, it is no easy job. Oral translators usually are not such good text translators, and the reverse is also true. There are very few translators who excel at both. As an oral translator, for example, I suck.

Then there is the issue of "helping" the text. It is the habit of some translators to embed their understanding in their translations by fleshing them out, sometimes by as much as 40 percent, with extraneous material either derived from commentaries or from information provided in the course of hearing a text being taught. Other translations are leaner, more austere, tending to stick more closely to the text, depending on the reader's familiarity with the subject. Is this good, bad? How can we say it is either, when Tibetan translators themselves have often embellished?

If anything, translators of texts should find themselves humbled by the process. There is little glory in it. The translation process is driven by a passion for discovering the unknown, the unread. Principally, Dharma translation should be driven by the motivation to deepen one's own practice, and to aid others. It can be especially disheartening in the beginning because you are mostly wrong all the time; but of course in the end, when one can share texts that have never been seen in English, it is deeply rewarding because of the joy it brings to oneself through deeper understanding and the joy it brings to others because it is like giving the blind eyes to see, however imperfect those eyes may be and still in need of correction.

While I certainly admit to having my preferences in both translation terms as well as translators, in general we should try to be supportive of the efforts of translators and not give them too hard a time. This does not mean that people cannot discuss this or that term and its suitability. Most people do not realize that a majority of texts translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan, especially the more important texts, underwent multiple revisions, a process that began in the mid-8th century and ended only in the 14th century. There exist dictionaries of archaic terms and their modern (i.e. post-Ralpacan) equivalents. Translators themselves should do their own research and not depend so heavily on translations made two, three, four, and five decades ago. Translators must question why for example we are translating ye shes as "primordial wisdom," rig pa as awareness, etc. We must not fall into formulaic translations, because in the end we will wind up with the very clumsy, basically unreadable translations done by Tibetans after the 14th century.

I would only caution those translators who are much given to criticizing the work of others that such criticism merely opens the door for rebuttal and criticism in turn, and this helps no one in the end. People may wish to ignore this fact, but translation is a crowd-sourced process. The more eyes there are on our translations, the more accurate they can in time become.

I am sharing these thoughts with you because the question arose and because I have spent the last 24 years of my life obeying my guru, Ngakpa Yeshe Dorje's command that I become a translator. In that time I have translated many texts, made even more mistakes, and have had my own pride and arrogance knocked down again and again (as hard as it may seem for some of you to believe) by the process of translation.

I will share with you one of my guiding principles in translating Dzogchen texts into English, since that is really what this thread is about. Rongzom states that while the words of the Great Perfection are simple, their meaning is vast and deep like space. On the other hand, the words of the lower vehicles are are very precise and detailed in their complexity, but their meaning is rough, just like a pile of dust. Therefore, as much as possible, when translating the texts of the Great Perfection, I try to keep my English as simple and plain as I can.

However there are some other principles that I also observe summarized here: http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/poundtra.htm, and based on the work of Ezra Pound.

1) A true translation must reject "Wardour-Street English," the pseudo-archaic language of Victorian translators associated with William Morris and F. W. Newman. Pound was willing to experiment with a variety of poetic style and diction. He made free-verse translations of classical works acceptable.

2) Each translation is a kind of criticism of the original. It stresses the strengths of the original, but it also shows what its limits may have been.

3) No translation has to reproduce all aspects of the original. It can choose to concentrate on only some aspects. It can leave part of the original out. It may even add to it or rearrange it in order to accomplish the translator's purpose.

4) Modern topical allusions may be used to bring across the emotions associated with the original's allusions.

5) Translations should be new poems in their own right. They should be artistically well-done. (while this refers to poems, it applies to everything)

6) History is a product of the present. All knowledge of the past is experienced in our current reception and reading of it. In this sense, all translation is both a continuity and a re-reading of past texts and authors.

One may find much food for thought on this Wiki page too:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Translation

Finally, another point that many people don't understand. Poetry and Prosody (Kavya) are distinct from the style of Karika literature of Indo-Tibetan religio-philosophical texts. Texts from the Samcayagathas to the Precious Treasury of the Dharmadhātu are not poetry, nor are they intended as poetry. The so called "verse" portions of the tantras emulate the gathas of sūtra, and so too are not poetry, but are in metered verses to aid memorization. While such compositions can be "poetic," it must be firmly understood they are not poems in our sense of the word. True poetry in the Indo-Tibetan traditions is a very specific, very highly stylized form which is generally confined to the so called "verses of praise" and the dedications found in the beginning and end of texts, ranging from short texts to multivolume treatises, and whose complexity and depth depends very much on the education of the author. Real poetry in Tibetan can be pretty boring reading, depending on deep familiarity with the synonyms which may be found in the compendium Amarakośa and its commentary. For example, a common synonym for the sun is "The one who is drawn by seven horses."

So, in the end, it is better to be light-handed in our criticisms of translators and their translations unless they are engaged in gross fabrications or outright plagiarism.
:good:

/magnus
"We are all here to help each other go through this thing, whatever it is."
~Kurt Vonnegut

"The principal practice is Guruyoga. But we need to understand that any secondary practice combined with Guruyoga becomes a principal practice." ChNNR (Teachings on Thun and Ganapuja)

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by treehuggingoctopus » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:51 pm

Thanks, Malcolm.
Greatly appreciated posts.
:reading: :reading: :reading:
. . . there they saw a rock! But it wasn't a rock . . .

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Quay » Fri Jun 17, 2016 3:55 am

dzogchungpa wrote:
Quay wrote:My vaguely snarky earlier comment...
I found the snarkiness of your earlier comment quite clear. :smile:
<Voice of Peter Griffin> Maaaaybbbee</Voice of Peter Griffin>
"Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky;
There is no end to all the subjects one could study.
It is better to grasp straight away their very essence--
The unchanging fortress of the Dharmakaya."

– Longchenpa.

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Crazywisdom » Wed Jun 22, 2016 10:20 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Crazywisdom wrote:I'm about to say something unpopular. Unless, a text is produced by a lama who transmits it, it is useful only for occasional cross reference.
There wont be many translations then.
Then there will be less confusion.
She glares menacingly at your corpse.

The criticisms of others are like wrathful mantras. Fast purification. Welcome it. -can’t remember who

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Wed Jun 22, 2016 10:40 pm

Crazywisdom wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Crazywisdom wrote:I'm about to say something unpopular. Unless, a text is produced by a lama who transmits it, it is useful only for occasional cross reference.
There wont be many translations then.
Then there will be less confusion.
Hahaha, no, there will always be just as much confusion.
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Crazywisdom » Wed Jun 22, 2016 11:02 pm

Malcolm wrote:
Crazywisdom wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
There wont be many translations then.
Then there will be less confusion.
Hahaha, no, there will always be just as much confusion.
Not if the translator is realized.
She glares menacingly at your corpse.

The criticisms of others are like wrathful mantras. Fast purification. Welcome it. -can’t remember who

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Wed Jun 22, 2016 11:11 pm

Crazywisdom wrote:
Malcolm wrote:
Crazywisdom wrote:
Then there will be less confusion.
Hahaha, no, there will always be just as much confusion.
Not if the translator is realized.
Hahahahahaahahahhaha, the Buddha was a buddha, and people were still confused as shit by his teachings, and he taught them directly in their own language.

A realized translator is a desiderata, but go ahead and show me one, and then tell me how it is that you know they are realized. And further, if the translator is realized, what is the point of his or her making translations when they can just teach directly from their experience?
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by dzogchungpa » Thu Jun 23, 2016 1:07 am

Malcolm wrote:Hahahahahaahahahhaha, the Buddha was a buddha, and people were still confused as shit by his teachings, and he taught them directly in their own language.
I would be surprised if the percentage of confused as shit people among the Buddha's disciples was not substantially lower than the corresponding figure for many contemporary teachers. :smile:
Malcolm wrote:.. if the translator is realized, what is the point of his or her making translations when they can just teach directly from their experience?
This is a good question. Weren't many of the Tibetan translators, like Marpa or Vairotsana, realized?
There is not only nothingness because there is always, and always can manifest. - Thinley Norbu Rinpoche

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jun 23, 2016 3:01 am

Can you think of any contemporary teacher who had 200 students commit suicide based on a misunderstanding?

dzogchungpa wrote:
Malcolm wrote:Hahahahahaahahahhaha, the Buddha was a buddha, and people were still confused as shit by his teachings, and he taught them directly in their own language.
I would be surprised if the percentage of confused as shit people among the Buddha's disciples was not substantially lower than the corresponding figure for many contemporary teachers. :smile:
Malcolm wrote:.. if the translator is realized, what is the point of his or her making translations when they can just teach directly from their experience?
This is a good question. Weren't many of the Tibetan translators, like Marpa or Vairotsana, realized?
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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Re: Keith Dowman's argument for his "interpretive free" translation style

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Thu Jun 23, 2016 3:18 am

treehuggingoctopus wrote:Thanks, Malcolm.
Greatly appreciated posts.
:reading: :reading: :reading:
Seconded, really informative.
"it must be coming from the mouthy mastermind of raunchy rapper, Johnny Dangerous”

-Jeff H.

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