Monday, January 19, 2015

Variations on a Theme by Gampopa

One reader suggested that these different translations of The Four Teachings of Gampopa were more akin to variations on a theme, like, for example, the numerous variations of Paganini’s 24th Caprice. (See for a discussion of Rachmaninoff’s composition.) 

Thus, however presumptuously, I’ve decided to call this series Variations on a Theme by Gampopa.

I’m posting these “variations” on this blog I set up for exploring topics in translation. You are invited to add your own variations in the comments section, or comment on the variations you see posted there.

Here is the original.

And here are three variations.

A traditional translation might read:

May my mind turn to the Dharma.
May Dharma become the path.
May the path dispel confusion.
May confusion arise as wisdom.

Many years ago I translated The Four Teachings of Gampopa as part of contemporary set of prayers to use at the beginning and end of practice sessions. Like Sakya Pandita's Separating From the Four Concerns, these four lines are a wonderful summary of the essential practice points in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism.

Let my heart turn to practice.
Let practice become a path.
Let this path dissolve confusion.
Let confusion become wisdom.

But now I would be more likely to render these four lines this way:

Let me be clear about what I am seeking.
Let me follow this path without compromise.
Let me see confusion and difficulty as the path.
Let me find understanding in confusion itself.


I love Mokume Gane and Damascus Steel said...

I learned this in the Vajradhatu chants.
Grant your blessing so my mind may become one with the dharma.
Grant your blessing so that dharma may progress along the path.
Grant your blessing so the path may clarify confusion.
Grant your blessing so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.
I don't know if you said this or I inferred it from one of your Q&A's on a podcast but I rearanged it based on your translation of mind as experience and the dharma as attention training.
So I began to see it as.

Grant your blessing so that my experience may become one with attention.
Grant your blessing so that attention may become my life.
Grant your blessing so that my life may clarify confusion.
Grant your blessing so that confusion may dawn as Awareness.
I felt like there was a thread of attention through the whole thing.
Which helps me to remember that everything is kind of made of or from Awareness.
Not that that makes much sense.

georgegarvin said...

I have problems with the new version of Gampopa's 4 lines.

First, "Let me be clear about what I am seeking" hinges on what you mean by "clear" and assumes that the purpose of practice or of life is "seeking".

Second, "Let me follow this path without compromise" makes sense to me if it means living the dharma all the time, i.e. awakening in the present continuously. Perhaps this is possible eventually with practice, but even if it isn't, it is nevertheless worthwhile.

Third, "Let me see confusion and difficulty as the path" makes sense so long as you are in the midst of confusion or difficulty. What if you are not in confusion or difficulty? Is then the confusion or difficulty of others, or of humanity, the path?

Fourth, "Let me find understanding in confusion itself" makes sense to me when confusion arises. What if you are just resting in presence? What if you are clear? Where is the confusion?

All this reminds me of Mel Brooks version of Hamlet's famous line:

To be or not to be. What was is the question?

Darien Donner said...

this evolution of the translation on a theme by Gampopa is an extraordinary testimony of how concepts and terms change dramatically while we are moving out or in
it seems like "practice" changes them
or as the last translation shows the acceptance of confusion.... for me one of the concepts that always throws me off... often I feel that when I am confused I am sort of failing... I guess that the fear of not being able to control puts me in a state of desperation

Maia said...

Well, Ken, this is one of your commentaries that sprout so many questions and comments of my own that I hardly know where to start, and as I read
your thoughts and Gampopa's lines over several times, I notice that words are starting to sort of melt, to lose what seems to be their previously
relatively clear meanings. As I examine them, I see they contain not meaning but habitual associations which are actually quite easily dislodged.
As I try to eliminate some ambiguities, I create others. It seems I have to choose:
which ambiguities are least misleading? Then it all starts to unravel!

Just to take one example "without compromise" as in: "Let me follow this path without compromise". At first, I think I know what this means.
Then the word-melt down, etc. Finally, I come to having no idea what "without compromise" means, and lots of exceptions to whatever typical meanings arise. Which matches my actual place now in re: my practice
and path, ie a question: when am I compromising a relatively stable path, and when am I following a path that arises as I go. I'm drawn to a way-making path, rather than a follow-the-signs path. So "compromise"
then is like a dimestore compass with a free-spinning needle... no true north?
Confusion. Ah. Yes, I know, let confusion become understanding...
which is maybe 360 degree listening/sensing, and throw away the compass? But when you
are a writer/translator, eventually you have to choose, don't you?

Thank you, Maia