A Workshop on 'Methods and Problems of Translation' in Dharamsala

by Tenzin Yangdak, Times of Tibet, Nov 3, 2004

Dhramsala, India -- How true it is that the more we learn, the more unknown objects of knowledge we get to know. The great Indian Buddhist master Atisha states:

Our life-span is short where as the number of    knowable objects are manifold, Since, we lack the understanding of our life limit
We should enthusiastically practice our choice (of engagement and not everything), Just as swan (skillfully) extracts milk from water.

I had the great opportunity to attend the well-organised workshops on 'Methods and Problems of Translation' at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), Dharamsala, India from 11-15th October 2004. The workshop was an initiative of Dr. Thupten Jinpa - translator for H H the Dalai Lama and director of Montrel-based Institute of Tibetan Classics. Funded by his Institute, Dr. Jinpa was the sole resource person during the workshop.

I was the only one from Southern India among 30 participants. Most of the participants were from popular educational institutions within our exile community such as Center for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, LTWA, Buddhist Dialectical School, Mentsekhang (Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute) and Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala. I was one of the few individuals involved in translation works in the past.

Dr. Jinpa scholarly addressed and imparted main issues of concern relating to translation Work of Buddhist texts, giving clear guidance on how to collect the resource materials and to make good use of them. It was a luminous and comprehensive workshop for most of us like an eye-opening approach to translation work.

Issues addressed during the workshops were importance of reading the entire text, get the over-view of it, and if necessary, refer to the commentary text for explanation, or consult a qualified teacher, carefully read the sentence and identify the key cases such as subject, object, verb, clauses and so on, how to manage with long sentences in Tibetan texts by means of breaking up the sentence whereever necessary.

He also emphasized the importance of fidelity to the text when doing translation work, and readability and accessibility of the work to general public. Those key points indeed demonstrate the degree of efficiency and quality of a translator and it also show the principal task and responsibility of a translator.

In other word, one shouldn?t simply do a translation work without knowing and try to accomplish those key issues. Also one needs to be flexible to maintain the balance between direct and interpretive translation. Dr. Jinpa also stressed upon the importance of transmitting the feelings and emotional expressions of the author for the translation to retain its intent and style of language.

While emphasizing on number of key points it was also accepted that a translation work will be highly impossible to achieve perfection, all translated works are somehow away from the original text. Nevertheless, translation work should not be taken for granted .

Dr. Jinpa also scholarly dealt with certain Tibetan terms that imply wide range of different contexts. It was proven that in translation work of Buddhist text, one cannot use a single English term equivalent to a Tibetan term in all context. Also needful are certain English phrases to add while translating Tibetan text to properly express the context meaning in English. In general, most Tibetan texts do not contain certain cases, where as in English translation you have to add that to make sense in English language. All result of huge gap between Tibetan and English language.

Dr. Jinpa?s wish and aim to give the Workshop was clear through his tireless and scholarly effort in introducing and guiding all the participants; properly encouraging them, cautioning on important points and contributing to help produce future translators.

His vast, extensive and in-depth understanding of Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan literature and grammar reflected and resonated excellently during the whole event of the Workshop.

I felt all the participants, for most of whom it was their very first encounter with Dr. Jinpa, deeply appreciated his kindness, clear wisdom and talented presentation.

Ven. Achok Rinpoche, the director of LTWA, also expressed his pleasure for organizing the Workshop and satisfaction of achieving part of its task and objective i.e. to promote and preserve ancient Tibetan and Buddhist culture in its long history of existence.

I think it is not too late to organize such a workshop, with the intention of contributing more authoritative translation works of Buddhist texts in the future keeping in view of the ever-growing interest in Buddhist Philosophy around the world. I offer my respect and admiration to all the great translators with special thanks to Dr. Thupten Jinpa.