Passing the Torch: Kumarajiva Project Prioritizes Translator Training
In about 30 years, a lot of our jobs will be done by artificial intelligence. So we are getting closer and closer to becoming irrelevant. When that day happens, I think the teachings that are written in the sutras will become so much more relevant. Your children, 30 to 40 years from now, will appreciate that you have done this.
— Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, October 2020, “Return to Normal”
This September issue brings you updates from the Kumarajiva Project, now in its third year of operation. Read about the project’s new focus on translator training, glimpse the profundity of our recent translations, and learn about the available workshops that emulate the method and spirit of the great translator Kumarajiva. Finally, we invite you to discover (if you haven’t already) how the Kumarajiva Project is using art and music to further connect our readers with newly translated Buddhist texts.
Title image: Heart Sutra in Chinese calligraphy by Shu-jian Dai
Translator Training is Key
Kumarajiva Project Shifts Focus
Early in 2021, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, chair of the Kumarajiva Project, met with the project team. He emphasized the historic importance of the Chinese people and culture to the survival of Buddhism.
As much as I always emphasize that culture and dharma are different, these two influence each other. Culture is so important. The Chinese culture is a Buddhism-influenced culture. So many of the monasteries were built and supported by the Chinese diaspora, by the “Chinese-speaking world.” It doesn’t matter whether it came from the Kuala Lumpur Chinese or the Sydney Chinese. The Buddhism that exists in the Chinese language is very important. It’s the source of the fire. When we are trying to keep this source alive, we know we can make more fire from here. So that is the sort of motivation we must have to keep this fire alive.
Calling the Kumarajiva Project a “motivation practice,” Rinpoche said that, despite the immensity of the project, it must be done for the sake of the dharma.
We know it is very challenging. But we are Buddhists, and if we don’t do this, it will be so heart-breaking to have forgotten these sutras. So we have to do it.
Rinpoche reaffirmed his support for the project in its ambitious mission to translate Buddhist texts into both classical and modern Chinese. However, he also expressed concern about the lack of qualified Tibetan-to-Chinese translators available to do the work required and suggested prioritizing the training of translators.
Due to the severe shortage of qualified translators, the long-term success of translating the Tibetan canon into Chinese will depend on our effort to cultivate the next generation of translators in the coming years. We need to shift our emphasis from actual translations to translator training.
Image below: Rinpoche with the Kumarajiva Project team in February 2021
Recruiting Trainees to the
New Intensive Training Program
As a result of this new focus, the Kumarajiva Project has developed an intensive 6-year comprehensive online training course, which is custom-made for potential translators of the project. The program includes training in Tibetan and Chinese languages, basic translation principles and theories, and Buddhist philosophy. As of March 2021, we had 17 aspiring translators from different parts of the world training to be translators, editors, and reviewers for the project. For more information, please visit the website.
The Translation Workshop
In further support of translator training, the Kumarajiva Project offers ongoing online translation workshops that follow in the tradition of the great translator Kumarajiva, who, while translating, also held workshops expounding on the text that he was translating.
In September and October, Khenpo Chöying Dorjee, the former abbot of Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö Institute, will give teachings on three Mahayana sutras (in Tibetan with Chinese interpretation). Register here to attend.
- September 14, 2021: Toh 212, The Sūtra on Dependent Arising
- September 16, 2021: Toh 249, The Sūtra Teaching the Four Factors
- October 19, 2021: Toh 144, Cultivating Trust in the Great Vehicle (click for the English text translated by 84000.)
Image above: Khenpo Chöying Dorjee giving a teaching
The Kumarajiva Project has finished the translation of 14 sutras from the Kangyur and three Indian commentaries from the Tengyur. Rinpoche referred to one of these sutras, The Sūtra of the Chapter about Sthīrādhyāśa / Dṛdhādhyāśaya, in his June teaching, You Are Your Own Master. The following excerpt from Rinpoche’s talk is a taste of the profound teachings to be found in this important sutra.
“Ta” means, sort of, end, realm, border. Basically, it is a limit. Like if you go across Taiwan, let’s say, from one end to the other, then once you reach the edge, that’s it, you can’t really go beyond that limit. Likewise, all our emotions — desire, anger — have their limits, sort of, “from A to Z.” Let’s say Z is the end. So the end of an emotion is basically shunyata. It is emptiness; it is true nature. This is important, because in the Mahayana, they always say that the real antidote, the real enemy, the real solution for the emotion is emotion itself. The reason is, if you look into the emotion, ultimately emotion is shunyata. In other words, it is wisdom.
Illustration above by Daleast for The Sūtra of the Chapter about Sthīrādhyāśa / Dṛdhādhyāśaya
Connecting With Buddhist Texts Through Music and Art
To offer different ways of connecting with the Buddhist teachings, the Kumarajiva Project is exploring using music, audio, video, and illustrations to enhance our readers’ experience.
Image below: The music team at work
Audio and Video
On Entering the City of Vaiśālī
With COVID-19 spreading around the globe, the Kumarjiva Project team felt that it would be helpful to translate On Entering the City of Vaiśālī. In this sutra, the Buddha instructs Ananda how best to help the people of Vaiśālī, a city ravaged by a terrible epidemic, by reciting specific mantras and verses. The Kumarajiva Project has produced the following materials to accompany the translation:
- An audiobook of On Entering the City of Vaiśālī in Chinese.
- A recording of the Sanskrit dhāraṇī from On Entering the City of Vaiśālī that Buddha Shakyamuni asked Ananda to recite for pacifying the epidemic.
- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s advice (and video footage) for reciting the dhāraṇī from On Entering the City of Vaiśālī in the time of an epidemic.
Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas
In early 2021, the Kumarajiva Project published its first Chinese translation of an Indian commentary from the Tengyur, Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas. The following music video (Chinese) and a short teaching by Rinpoche expand the reader’s experience of the text:
- Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas music video.
- Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche teaching on the importance of Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-Five Buddhas.
Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels
The Kumarajiva Project, 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, and Bhumisparsha jointly hosted an online 2021 New Year celebration, On His Lotus Seat. Rinpoche was requested to provide film footage for a music video of the sutra, Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels (click for the English text translated by 84000), which the project had recently translated. Watch the music video here.
Image below: Rinpoche while recording the music video of Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels
The Kumarajiva Project is pleased to present several illustrations by artists Daleast, Sophie Xie, Alicja Żmigrodzka, and Shu-jian Dai, who created inspiring interpretations of some of the newly translated sutras. Their works have been added to the modern Chinese language version. To view the images, visit our online library.
Image below: Illustrations for the new translations
In Other News
Khyentse Foundation’s Trisong Grant is open for applications from September 1 to 30.
Trisong Grants support projects and programs promoting general well-being, mental health, and natural resilience, based on Buddhist views and practices. We encourage applications for projects related to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addiction, prison outreach, domestic violence, end-of-life care or hospice, mental illness, spiritual caregiving and pastoral counseling, and psychosocial education. Apply here.
Weekly online studies series with Jakob Leschly on Magic Dance by Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, starts Thursday September 23 at 7:30pm – 8:30pm AEST. Click here for full information and to register.
I bow to my own Wisdom Mind
Which is my best wisdom teacher,
The source of all visible and invisible qualities
— Thinley Norbu Rinpoche
This is a unique and powerful presentation of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism on the five elements — earth, water, air, fire, and space. In their gross and subtle forms, these elements combine to make up the infinite illusory display of phenomenal existence. Through teachings, stories, and his distinctive use of language, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche relates how the energies of the elements manifest within our everyday world, in individual behavior and group traditions, relationships and solitude, medicine and art. He concludes that through the practice of visualization and meditation, we can recognize the pure secret essence of the elements, which is our vast, unobstructed wisdom mind.
Khyentse Foundation Migrates to a New Donation Platform.
Khyentse Foundation has recently migrated to a new donation platform that offers new online donation forms for KF general funds and for the Kumarajiva Project, with new features such as e-cards. We would like to remind all our recurring donors to renew their donations soon in order not to interrupt their ongoing donations. We treasure every dollar from our donors. Your generous support enables the foundation to continue to carry out Rinpoche’s ever-growing dharma activities. If you have any questions about your donation, please contact the donation team.