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Bodhicaryavatara - Enthusiasm

by Sangharakshita

Hyphens were missing from this file. Some have been reinstated through spellchecking.

Questions and answers with the venerable Sangharakshita, on 'Enthusiasm': Chapter 7
of A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Rivendell, June-July 1987.
PRESENT: Sanghadevi, Vidyasri, Vajragita, Sridevi, Vidyavati, Trish Mander, Tessa
Harding, Viv Bartlett, Karola, Christine McCluskey, Caroline Gutt, Maggie Graeber.
29 June 1987Sangharakshita: All right, then: questions on verses 1 30, chapter on 'Enthusiasm', Batchelor's
translation and, of course, this is from Bodhicaryavatara. The first question is: , Have you any
general remarks to make about the relative merits of the two translations of the
Bodhicaryavatara in current circulation in the Movement, i.e. Matics and Batchelor?
S: I have not compared them in detail I have not compared them verse by verse but there are
one or two observations that can be made, the first of which is that Matics' translation is made
directly from the Sanskrit original (which does survive, fortunately), whereas Batchelor's
translation is a translation of a translation, namely it is a translation of the Tibetan translation,
made in accordance with oral explanations by a Tibetan teacher. So I would say that, if there
is any difference in actual meaning as between Matics' translation and Batchelor's translation,
the likelihood is that Matics is the more correct, because his translation is nearer to the
original. There is also the point that the construction of a Sanskrit sentence doesn't go very
easily into Tibetan, and sometimes it seems that in the Tibetan translation a complex sentence
is divided into a couple of simple sentences, or even more than two simple sentences, and that
does to some extent distort the meaning. I will give you one or two examples of differences (I
think actually some of the questions are based on these differences). For instance, if you look
at verse 5, you see that Matics says: Do you not see those of your own group dying according
to their turn, And yet sleep is to you as the buffalo to the outcaste (candala)? But Batchelor
says I am concerned with the second half of the verse : Whoever remains soundly asleep
(Surely behaves) like a buffalo with a butcher. These are rather different. It seems to me,
without actually looking at the text, that Matics is the more correct; because when the Matics
version says: And yet sleep is to you as the buffalo to the outcaste it means 'Sleep is to you
very dear', because the buffalo is the sole wealth of the outcaste, the candala. Candalas are
often butchers, and so candala can be understood as 'butcher'; the candala may keep the
buffalo in order to slaughter it and sell the meat. That reinforces the idea that the buffalo is
very dear to the candala, because it is his sole wealth, his sole source of income. And this is
why the Tibetan version, apparently, has 'butcher' for candala. But to say 'Whoever remains
soundly [2] asleep Surely behaves like a buffalo with a butcher' does not in any case convey
such a clear meaning as 'And yet sleep is to you as the buffalo to the outcaste'. So it would
seem that Matics is nearer to the original than is Batchelor. I will give you another example
from a neighbouring verse. There is a question from one of you based on this later on. It is
verse 3:
Because one is unconcerned with the sorrow of rebirth,
Sloth arises through inertia, relish for pleasure, torpor
And eagerness to be protected.
But then Batchelor says:
Because of attachment to the pleasurable taste of idleness,
Because of craving for sleep
And because of having no disillusion with the misery of cyclic existence,
Laziness grows very strong.
Which is rather different. The construction of the original Sanskrit sentence, one would
imagine from Matics' translation, is more complex. The Tibetan has not been able to render
the complexity of its structure, and that has to some extent affected the sense. And, of course,
Batchelor has translated according to the Tibetan and therefore according to the sentence
structure of the Tibetan, rather than according to the sentence structure of the original
Sanskrit. Batchelor is sometimes more readable, in the sense that his English is rather more
contemporary, one might say, even more colloquial. But I think, broadly speaking, he is not
quite as reliable as Matics is. No doubt the best way of studying the text is just to take the two
versions side by side and compare verse with verse.
Vajragita: I have got a translation in Dutch from Sanskrit ... few things I have compared...
Matics, but I have to go through it.
S: Anyway, let's go on. Oh yes, there is an additional question [on] that. What do you think of
'enthusiasm' as a translation of virya? I would have thought of it more as a support for virya,
something out of which virya arises, because I was under the impression that virya was
essentially active, the actual application of effort, energy in pursuit of the good. Well,
fortunately we know the original word here, which is of course virya, which Matics translates
as 'strength', which I think is rather feeble. It usually is translated as 'energy'. But 'enthusiasm'
isn't bad; it's as though no one English word is really quite adequate. It is energy energy is
based on strength but it is enthusiasm too. I think the advantage of the term 'enthusiasm' is
that it suggests that the energy is not forced, the effort is not forced. It is something that flows
forth freely, spontaneously, joyfully. This is what 'enthusiasm' seems to connote. So I think
that one can very well think of virya as comprising what we call enthusiasm as well as energy,
as well as strength. It is all those things. I don't think the word 'enthusiasm' by itself is an
adequate translation of virya. Perhaps there is no word which is a fully adequate translation.
But it certainly does suggest one particular aspect of virya. It makes it clear that virya contains
a strong emotional component. Virya doesn't suggest force, it doesn't suggest wilfulness.
Sanghadevi: The Tibetan commentary talks of 'joyous effort'.
[3]
S: That probably is good, because effort by itself is not necessarily free from stress, but the
Bodhisattva's effort is essentially a joyful effort, a natural, spontaneous effort; at the same
time a very vigorous effort. So 'enthusiasm' certainly conveys part of the connotation of virya,
even though it may not express the whole meaning of the term. All right, second question:
According to Geshe Gyatso's commentary on Batchelor's translation, there are three types of
laziness: Oh dear, three! the laziness of indolence, the laziness of attraction to unwholesome
action, and the laziness of discouragement. He then indicates how vv. 314 are concerned with
the first type of laziness, v. 15 with the second, and vv. 1630 with the third., (a) Do you think
there is suggestion here by Shantideva that the laziness of indolence and the laziness of
discouragement are stronger within us than the laziness of attraction to the unwholesome, or
(b) do you think the distinction between the first two types of laziness is an artificial one and
is not as clear-cut as the commentary makes out, or (Laughter) (c) [were] indolence and
despondency Shantideva's particular hindrances? I have wondered whether the story of
Shantideva having the nickname of 'Lazy Bum' and his subsequent rise to fame due to the
inspiration of Manjusri is a fanciful story or has some basis in facts. Hm, oh dear. I think I'll
start with the middle bit. 'Do you think the distinction between the first two types of laziness
is an artificial one and is not as clear-cut as the commentary makes out?' So what are the first
two types of laziness? The laziness of indolence and the laziness of discouragement. I see
these as rather different. I don't think the distinction between them is artificial.
Sanghadevi: No, it's the distinction between the laziness of indolence and the laziness of
attraction to the unwholesome.
S: Ah, sorry, it's going back further: the laziness of indolence and the laziness of attraction to
unwholesome action. All right, let's look at those, then. The laziness of indolence what is this
laziness of indolence, taking the English word fairly literally? Indolence, as the word is used
in English, is not necessarily a negative state, though more often than not, perhaps, it does
have a negative connotation. So the laziness of indolence would be when your present
situation and your present state is so pleasant, so satisfying, that you feel no inclination to
make any effort to go beyond it or to get out of it. That would be the laziness of indolence.
The laziness of indolence would not necessarily refer to something as it were negative,
something unwholesome. You could be, for instance, in a mildly dhyanic state and feel
indolent with regard to that, not want to make any further effort. But then 'the laziness of
attraction to unwholesome action' I suppose the laziness of attraction to unwholesome action
is when you don't make any effort to prevent yourself from being attracted to those
unwholesome actions or unwholesome states with regard to which you feel a sort of natural
inclination. You may be attracted to states of craving, to states of hatred and anger, but you
make no effort to resist that attraction; you just allow yourself to slide towards those unskilful
mental states. That would be the laziness of attraction ...

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