Translation and Tibetan language study seem to go hand in hand. In fact, I cannot seem to think of any other modern spoken language that if one chooses to study it, one will automatically be asked "Oh! So you are [or are planning to become] a translator!" In fact, the association between Tibetan language study and translation (of Buddhist texts in particular) is so strong that those of us who choose to pursue modern Tibetan are frequently hit with outright antagonism for our choice!
Us non-Dharma Tibetan students are frequently encouraged to do translation, which as Pongu noted in a previous post, seems to only mean Dharma translation. Strangely enough, work on translating modern texts, or using one's studies to write in Tibetan are considered worthless, but we'll talk about that another time (hence the "part 1.")
I have a problem with this. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good translation and the hard work that went into it, but I really don't like the ideas surrounding it. Why should anyone studying Tibetan automatically be assumed to be a translator? Well, statistically, there's a pretty good chance that they are. To me, that brings up a big issue. Tibetan is a living, modern language with more than eight millions speakers world wide, if one includes related dialects such as Balti and Ladakhi. Yet the modern spoken aspect of Tibetan is systematically ignored by many, if not most, people interested in learning Tibetan. Only the Dharma language is seen as worthwhile. It completely disregards modern Tibetan language, and with it, much of modern Tibetan culture.
What of modern Tibetan literature? Songs? Blogs? Autobiographies? When I mention translation of any of these, the idea is generally tossed aside as worthless.
I seriously ask the commenters here. Can you think of another language with millions of speakers and a vivid modern culture and literature scene where the modern language is outright ignored? Where only the classical language is considered worthwhile? I am really trying to think of one and I can't.
The second issue was pointed out be a commenter as well as several Tibetans I've spoken to. That's qualification for translation.
Virtually all of the primary texts in Buddhism have been translated already. That means the texts yet to be translated are either very new or very rare or very advanced. In short, if you've reached the level where you should be studying these texts (which, from a traditional study standpoint would probably include a minimum of 10 years in a shedra) then I certainly hope you would have picked up some Tibetan along the way.
This isn't to say all Tibetan Buddhists should learn Tibetan. By no means! But it means that if you are going to be studying these extremely advanced esoteric texts, you should have taken the many years necessary to study all of the primary texts, primary practices and so forth. Don't start decorating a house before you've built the foundation, as a friend of mine likes to say. If you are studying these texts, you should be under the guidance of a teacher, and if you are doing the years upon years of intensive study, then you are probably in a monastic environment, in which case, yes. You should learn Tibetan.
But it's more than just the linguistic knowledge of Tibetan. These texts are advanced. Throughout Tibetan history they would have been translated by khenpos, geshes, lamas who had studied Buddhism for most likely a bare minimum of 20 years of intensive study inside of a monastery or shedra. They would have learned all the primary texts and practices and likely studied and practiced this text before translating it.
Linguistic knowledge is not enough! In order to express the actual meaning of a complex Buddhist text, one needs to have a deep understanding of the Buddhist context. To paraphrase one person: "How do these kids who've studied for five years think that they can accurately translate the texts we take a lifetime to master?"
As another Tibetan friend expressed, it is cheapening the profound teachings and culture of Tibet.
And that's not helping anybody.
This land is my land - ལ་ཐོན་པོའི་ཙེ་ལ། ལྷ་སང་གཅིག་བཏང་ནས། དར་ཅོག་གཅིག་བརླངས་ནས། ལྷ་རྒྱ་སྦྱིན་མཁྱེན་པས། ལྷ་ཆོས་སྐྱོང་སྲུང་མས། འདི་ང་ལ་གསུངས་བྱུང་། ཕ་ཡུལ་འདི་ང་ཚོ་ཚང་མའི་རེད། Cho...
2 years ago