Bodhicitta, Aspiration, and Merit: an address to the translators

In March 2009, 50 of the world's leading Dharma translators gathered at Deer Park Institute in Bir, India for a conference convened by Khyentse Rinpoche and chaired by the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche


Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche is the youngest son of the Terton Kangyur Rinpoche. At an early age he was recognized as an incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro by H.H Karmapa and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. His main teachers are Kangyur Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche and Trulshik Rinpoche. Along with his brother Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche is a director of the Padmakara Translation Group, and Songtsen, a non-profit organization focused on rescuing, preserving and making accessible the cultural and spiritual traditions of Tibet.


An address to the translators from Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche

In March 2009, 50 of the world’s leading translators gathered at Deer Park Institute in Bir, India for a conference convened by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and chaired by the Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. The following talk by Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche is an address to the assembled translators. For more information, please visit the Chronicles coverage of the conference.

Good morning. I don’t think I can say it properly to the teachers and most illustrious translators, please bear with my ignorance. Also as I said on the first day, I really have absolutely nothing to say to such a gathering. To tell you the truth, I don’t even have anything to say to a dog. Just recently I was with some friends in Taiwan, and one of them had a dog. We were playing with the dog, and she had trained the dog to wait for a piece of bread placed on its nose, and the dog would sit for two minutes looking at the bread on its nose. The dog could meditate better than me! My span of attention is less than a second. In one second I think of so many things, let alone in front of such an illustrious group.

I have enjoyed close proximity with many great teachers like Kangyur Rinpoche, my first teacher and father, whose kindness I cannot even think of repaying. His kindness paved the way for me to be with one of my most kind teachers, HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, whose presence I had the fortune of staying in, but I really have to underline staying in, because due to my own incapacity I’ve not really been able to retain the slightest of his qualities or teachings. The state of my mind is inferior to that of a dog. I’m not saying this out of humility. It’s the truth. But I have had the fortune of being with such kind teachers, and also HH Dudjom Rinpoche was also one of my teachers. I’d also really like to thank HH Trulshik Rinpoche and HH the Dalai Lama. I’m not saying this to boast of my teachers, but just to say they had the kindness to accept me as their student, and I’m solely to blame for the fact that I haven’t learned anything. And I live in close proximity to the Padmakara translators, and my brother Tulku Pema Wangyal Rinpoche. I also have great gratitude to him as one of my teachers, and I also feel great gratitude towards Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche for having accepted me as one of his students. You might wonder why I’m talking about this, as perhaps you feel it’s not relevant to translating.

I beg to differ. This is the most important thing. This is only possible because of their compassion and kindness, their bodhicitta. Although a few days ago, the word ‘bodhicitta’ was removed from our vision statement, as it wasn’t part of the “when” or “how,” but without that bodhicitta, we wouldn’t be here. Buddha Shakyamuni has gone through so much hardship for so many lifetimes. But he’s special not just because of that hardship. I’m sure there are many sentient beings that were tortured and will be tortured just as he was, who are being flattened by rocks or chopped. At this very moment think of how many sentient beings are being killed just for our human digestion and taste. Are they all Buddhas? No. The only thing that makes the difference between them and Buddha Shakyamuni is aspiration. That’s the major difference between Buddha and us. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche made me talk here, and I feel tortured to have to talk in the presence of such learned masters and translators with such tremendous knowledge and courage. That’s something so encouraging. We have the courage to be here. We have the merit to be here.

For example, we’re all here trying to gather around translating the Buddha’s words, especially those translated into Tibetan and still available – where did that all come from— That came from an old lady and her three or four sons. I’m sure you’ve all heard the story of how the Boudhanath stupa was built – it was a lady who was a chicken-keeper. And if a lady who kept chickens could be responsible for our being here and our being able to hear the Buddha’s teachings, I’m sure we also have the capacity and ability to do things. She had great aspiration, and because of that, she had these three or four children, and they also made great aspirations. One aspired to be able to free people in that deserted, haunted land of Tibet where Buddha didn’t go in his life. I don’t even know if there were humans there at that time. Our wish here is not to pray that there will be some devotees in the Arabian Desert and we’ll do this for them. That boy aspired and later became King Trisong Deutsen, and he fulfilled that wish with his brothers, who later became Shantarakshita and Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava. They wished to propagate the Buddha’s teachings and dispel all obstacles. These three sons of a chicken-keeper made that aspiration, and that’s why I believe we’re here.

When Trisong Deutsen tried to translate, as it is written in the biographies of Vairochana and Guru Rinpoche, when Shantarakshita was there and they decided to teach dharma to Tibetans, Trisong Deutsen was a powerful emperor and he summoned his subjects. I can imagine a big ground full of sweaty Tibetan children, with snot coming out of their noses. And when Shantarakshita taught them, they couldn’t even repeat anything he had said. Trisong Deutsen was discouraged, but Guru Rinpoche told him that it wasn’t complicated, and he had the solution. He suggested teaching children who had aspiration, who’d made aspiration in their past lives. So when he brought young children like Vairochana and other great translators, they managed to repeat some words properly. Even to be able to say Namo Buddhaya requires so much merit. And each of us can say that. And as you know, that’s the fruit of so much merit. It doesn’t come from nothing. As HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche used to say to us, you need merit and the blessings of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Wisdom is something to be nurtured and developed; you can’t just claim it as your right. And each of us has the seed of it. Each one of us here is Buddhist, I don’t know if in same way as Buddha, but we’re all aspiring.

I want to emphasise that aspiration is so important. The fact we’re here isn’t just by chance. I don’t know who was who in past lives, but I have no doubt that all of us present here gathered around translating the Buddha’s words, especially from the Tibetan, most of us were present at the time of King Trisong Deutsen, Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, and their blessings allow us to be here. I don’t know what we were then. Maybe I was a donkey that was tortured to carry paper and ink from China and Bhutan, and that’s why I have this opportunity to sit among you illustrious and learned translators and teachers, and why I have the honour of addressing you.

But I can’t say I was even a donkey. Maybe I was a fly that got killed by a donkey. But I have no doubt that I was something in that time, and that’s why we have the opportunity to be here.

Infrastructure is very important, and funding is necessary of course—but even more important than that is bodhicitta. Without that, what are we going to translate? What’s the use? Why translate some words, like those Egyptian hieroglyphs? They are so interesting to read, but what is the benefit? At most we might know what a particular pharaoh did – but what is the benefit to us? Nothing! I’m not trying to disrespect anthropologists and Egyptologists, but from the perspective of translating the Buddhadharma, bodhicitta is of paramount importance. With that it’s possible to develop wisdom, not just knowledge. That wisdom is what we’re trying to transmit. I don’t believe in transmitting knowledge for its own sake. What’s the use of knowing how to get to the moon or being able to convince someone about something? Anyone can do that; you don’t need Buddhist teachings for that. It’s important, but the sole thing we want to translate is Buddha’s realisation. And that depends on compassion, kindness, and especially bodhicitta. That’s what our teachers from all traditions have said.

I’ve listened to HH Sakya Trizin and HH the Dalai Lama and also other teachers like Tengyur Rinpoche, and what most inspires me about them is not their knowledge. It’s their compassion, which allowed them to become so wise. They possess the wisdom that can cut through arrogance and pride, ignorance, and jealousy. That’s what we’re trying to transmute—not translate. In the West we have enough of those already. We don’t need Tibetan pride and arrogance. We’re trying to translate our teacher’s bodhicitta into our own lives—that’s of paramount importance. If there is a “how,” I’d like to suggest all of us here should not just take on Tibetan teachers, but as Robert Thurman said, we should take on this gentleman here, Mañjushri, as our main teacher. One of the qualities of Vairochana wasn’t his knowledge of Tibetan or Sanskrit, even though it was said he knew 360 languages, it’s because he had an ally in Mañjushri. It would be good if all of us could have the opportunity to do some retreat, even before learning English or Tibetan, and see Mañjushri. Perhaps we’re too busy, but if we’re too busy to accomplish Mañjushri, then what’s the use of translating half way? If we could actually practice, and measure even 1% of the qualities Vairochana had, especially his compassion …

While translating, the most difficult thing isn’t a lack of funding; it’s our own ignorance and pride. That’s what obscures us. In the whole of the Buddha’s teachings, there’s no mention of an obscuration of not having money, or not having a degree. Buddha himself said that ignorance, attachment, pride and arrogance—those are our obstacles. We don’t need to add an extra obstacle in the way of translating. The difficulty in raising funds isn’t a lack of interest from others, it’s because we don’t have that merit yet. As translators, we need to accumulate that merit. As Buddhists that’s important. If we’re not Buddhists, we can just go around raising funds. But in order for someone to give, the person who is receiving has to have merit. I’m sure each of us at this moment can simply tap into the merit of Buddha Shakyamuni, Mañjushri, Chenrezig, and Padmasambhava—and the merit of great masters like Longchenpa, Sakya Pandita, and Jigme Lingpa. Their merit is enough to enable transformation. We need to tap into it. How can we do that? By practicing. We need to ask, and then there’s no reason why their aspirations won’t be accomplished even now. Perhaps I have said something that’s not considered part of translation, if so please forgive me. Thank you.

Used by permission of Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche and Khyentse Foundation.