37 practices translation notes: verse 2

Translation notes are for those who would like to go a little deeper into the Tibetan language and translation process.

“While those I love can stir up a tsunami…”

In line 1, the Tibetan chu.tar.yo is literally “to move like water.”

Padmakara translation: “In my native land waves of attachment to friends and kin surge.”

Ken McLeod: “Attraction to those close to you catches you in its currents.”

From Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s commentary: “Desire for friends churns like water.”

It would have worked in my translation as “While those you love can catch you in their currents,” but that would have been very close to Ken’s wording, which is unique among the translations I’ve found. I also liked the analogy of a tsunami, which emotions stirred up by loved ones can certainly feel like. Though “tsunami” doesn’t offer the spectrum of “currents,” it often takes a tsunami to wake us up to the problematic nature of our attachments.

“When I don’t care I lose my moral compass, / and dark delusion permeates my mind.”

This one’s a little tricky. The Tibetan word for delusion is ti.muk, which is variously translated as ignorance, delusion, stupidity, mental dullness, and more. Most translations use the word “stupidity” here. Ken says “indifference,” and I think that better captures the mental state we would juxtapose against love and hate, and it also captures the corresponding trifecta of reactions associated with the second skandha, which is feeling or sensation. According to the Buddha, we react to any experience we encounter by finding it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Indifference for us is the neutral emotion, which can be a defense or escape from engagement with love or hate. In Togme Zangpo’s verse, the mental poison of ignorance manifests as ti.muk, delusion, forgetting what is right and what is wrong, which digs us even deeper into the quicksand of samsara.

“To give up all my habits and reactions…”

This line is added. It’s not in Togme Zangpo’s root text, nor in any other translation. After a lot of consideration, I decided to put it in, because the purpose of this translation is to help students of the 37 practices memorize the verses and be able to bring the meaning to mind in daily life; and this meaning is supported by all the commentaries as the deeper, underlying meaning of this instruction. I just spelled it out, whereas Togme Zangpo left it literal. You’ll see me do this occasionally, usually because I need an extra line for the verse; I would never leave any part of the original verse out, but this sometimes creates a vacuum that requires an extra line. Sometimes I can get it by expanding one thought into two lines, but sometimes not.

I’ve stuck as close to Togme Zangpo’s original as I could, and there are only a few exceptions, but if you feel such additions disqualify my work from being a translation, strictly speaking, you might call it a handy study guide in verse form. And it’s always a work in progress; maybe I will come up with better solutions in the future!