Response to Mark Tatz' Review of Ethics of Tibet:
Bodhisattva Section of Tsong-kha-pa's Lam rim chen mo 

By Alex Wayman

Philosophy East & West
V., No. 1 (January 1994)
pp. 145-147

Copyright 1994 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

p. 145

    The review by Mark Tatz (Philosophy East and West 43, no. 2 [1993]: 337-341) was so full of gratuitous insults, misinformation, and self-exaltation that no reader should be surprised that I must respond with contrary evidence and "let the chips fall where they may."

    The first point made by Tatz is that my initial translation (Calming the Mind and Discerning the Real) from Tsong-kha-pa's great opus, the Lam rim chen mo, was distinguished by a controversy with the reviewer Geshe Lhundup Sopa, who, according to Tatz, showed how I had completely misconstrued Tibetan grammar. Buddhist texts stress hat the external world is not really as it is imagined by ordinary consciousness, but also stress that persons differ in their ability correctly to assess these externals. I apparently did better than Tatz in this case, because I recognized at once that the review in that Buddhalogical journal, then being published in Madison, Wisconsin, was not written by Geshe Sopa. This was awkward for me; in responding to whoever actually wrote the review readers might think I was impolite to the wonderfully educated Geshe. When I included a remark on the excellent English, the then editor suppressed it (so he "bet on the wrong horse"). Later, at a Tibet day anniversary at the Dalai Lama's Tibet House in New York City, Geshe Sopa's assistant -- to my memory a certain Jones -- confessed to me that he had written the review. Later, when the international Association of Buddhist Studies conducted an international meeting on Buddhism in Bologna, Italy, where I delivered a paper, Geshe Sopa also attended; and on that occasion he initiated a handshake with me. This was as close as he would come to admitting his misgivings at having allowed his name to be used for a bad joke which went too far (notice that the purblind like Tatz still think that the Geshe wrote that review).

    Even for the statement in my book that Lozang Jamspal had made suggestions throughout, Tatz could not help making an insulting jab: "Whether the suggestions were adopted is not specified." Therefore, I should mention that the Tibetan officials in Dharamsala, India, requested the complete manuscript of my Ethics of Tibet for evaluation before agreeing to a foreword by the Dalai Lama. Presumably they made spot checks at selected places and were satisfied, because his Holiness the Dalai Lama did write a gracious Foreword.

    Then Tatz claims that the Sanskrit I found for the bulk of the Tsong-kha-pa citations "is handled as badly as the Tibetan." This does not dismay me because Tatz has not distinguished himself in Sanskrit scholarship. This is his real disagreement: "When Tsong-kha-pa cites Indian sources that are available in Sanskrit the translator all but ignores the Tibetan, translating the Sanskrit directly -- regardless of the fact that

 

 

p. 146

Tsong-kha-pa did not know Sanskrit. Methodologically unsound, this can lay a rocky road through the text." The great Tibetan pandit would have endorsed my method of employing the original Sanskrit when available because his biography shows that he once studied with a Lama-translator due to the Tibetan disputes over which one was the better among the two translations of Candrakiirti's Madhyamakaavataara. But Sanskrit can be translated in different ways (observe the many renditions of the Bhagavadgiitaa). I adopted the interpretation of the Sanskrit that is consistent with Tsong-kha-pa's explanation of  the cited passage, at the same time consulting the equivalent Tibetan. Tatz did not address the real issue of whether I was successful in this approach; he was so busy insulting and pretending that he knows better that there was no room in his mind for the main criterion.

    It is also important that there were a number of the citations for which the original Sanskrit was not available. I translated such verses from the Tibetan, and they include a citation from Candragomin's De`sanaastava, which Tatz translated and published. This was a wonderful opportunity for Tatz to "sew up the case," with an observation like: "Wayman stumbles on the Tibetan when Sanskrit is not available." But no word on this from Tatz. He is the one who earlier in his review said that now there are good translators from Tibetan like Hopkins and Thurman -- of course including himself -- while it is Wayman who gives us these incompetent translations. In a letter of 11 November 1991, Professor Dr. Michael Hahn (of Phillips-Universitat, Marburg, Germany) wrote to me: "On page56 you translate a stanza from the De`sanaastava. I was delighted to see that you corrected a mistake in TATZ's translation. He rendered bsgos pa as 'fostered,' following a strange and imperspicuous explanation. You correctly translated it as 'infected.' I trust that before long you will see my detailed review article on TATZ's book in which I have corrected his translation in many places." I have followed the work of Professor Hahn for a long time and know that what he calls "mistakes" are not the debatable terms that occupy Tatz in his review, but real, honestly so, mistakes. Suppose that I were to write a review of Tatz' translation of the De`sanaastava in the manner of his review of my work or in the manner of that sad Madison "job" on my earlier translation. A consistent way would be to point out that he wrecked a verse in the De`sanaastava and would likewise wreck the verse if he had been translating it by its citation in the Lam rim chen mo -- the section he is reviewing. Then -- also consistent -- one could suggest a "better" translation for an other verse and conclude that his whole work is full of mistakes. That is the way Tatz talks and that is the way that older review in Madison talked.

    It would of course occupy too much space to try to counter the various examples which Tatz thought were my "mistakes." One should suffice. He said: "The noun-phrase sems rtse gcig pa (Sanskrit cittaikaagra)

 

 

p. 147

signifies a mind that is 'one-pointed,' 'concentrated' -- not a 'single area of thought' (tr.195, ed.539.6 and elsewhere)." But when a meditation is on 'love' (maitrii), or on the elements, or on the body of the Buddha, isn't this a contemplation as a 'single area of thought' (without straying)? See in this connection the Calming the Mind part of my earlier translation. Suppose someone were to ask Tatz: "What do you suppose is a 'one-pointed' mind?" Would he be able to explain the mind as 'one point'? Most of Tatz' examples were of this type: where he has decided to translate differently (but arguably so), and then claims that the differing translation is wrong. With only this kind of reasoning, I would declare most of his differing renditions to be wrong, arguing that they differed from the way I translate and that 'proves' the invalidity of his renditions. However, I rush to assure the reader that this is not how I argue 'correctness' in translation. I suppose some readers of Tatz' review were fooled by him, and so I had to write the above.

    Taking into account all the observations above, one may conclude that Tatz would do worse in translating each single Tibetan folio in terms of English pages than I have accomplished in the book Ethics of Tibet. I am very happy with the result, so as to present these wonderful teachings of a Tibetan master to the best of my ability, thus to deserve the  precious Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.