Marpa Translation Society was founded by Drupon Khen Rinpoche in 2015, with the intention of making the classics of Tibetan Buddhism available to non-Tibetan-speaking practitioners, to aid their study and practice of Dharma.
The Society comprises a few experienced translators who have completed long periods of retreat or shedra study, as well as aspiring members who are just starting out. All members are currently practising, as part of a larger group, in a six year retreat programme under Rinpoche’s guidance in Thrangu Sekhar Retreat Center, Nepal.
Rinpoche often reminds the translators that the dharma is more than just words, and if their translations are to carry the feeling and blessing of dharma then it is imperative that, first and foremost, they themselves become dharma practitioners. For this a committed study and practice of dharma has to take priority over language skills. However, far from neglecting language study, in June 2017 Rinpoche established an intensive two-year translator training programme at Sekhar. Taught by a team of native Tibetan speakers – khenpos, lamas, and Rinpoche himself – the programme aims to give aspiring translators a solid foundation in spoken and written Tibetan language, and to develop the skills necessary for translating both dharma texts and oral teachings. Society members who are already translators also hold classes with the students, offering advice and guidance in translation method, and continue to refine their own knowledge through advanced Tibetan classes with a resident khenpo.
The Society translators work closely together under the direction of Rinpoche and meet with him regularly to clarify difficult points in their translations. Rinpoche also gives detailed instructions on some of the works undergoing translation.
The Society is currently translating texts into Chinese, English and, to a lesser extent, other European languages. However, in the longer term the hope is to make translations available to as broad an audience as possible.
Rinpoche’s Words on the Founding of Marpa Translation Society
In what follows, Drupon Khen Rinpoche Karma Lhabu expresses in his own words his intentions for founding the Marpa Translation Society, and what he hopes it will achieve:
‘Having travelled to many places both in the East and the West, I came to see the importance of good translators and translations. Most translators these days are working with financial gain in mind, and many of the translations lack quality and are very expensive. Practitioners, in general, do not have a lot of money because they do not spend their time and effort making money, they practise. Having in mind the thought to practise, they have reduced their activities and lead simple lives without an abundance of resources. Therefore, it can be difficult for them to acquire texts; many simply can’t afford them.
Witnessing these hardships and issues led me to think, ‘It would be good to try and help nurture a few translators. This could potentially lead to vast benefit for sentient beings and the Buddhadharma. Someone who conveys the Dharma in their own language to their fellow countrymen, is doing something wonderful and very important.’ This is what came to mind.
With this motivation, I have been encouraging some people to become translators, and others I have been teaching Tibetan myself. I thought, ‘If I apply myself to this, I might be able to nurture a few decent translators.’
With these thoughts in mind I approached Kyabje Thrangu Rinpoche to explain that we needed to establish a translation group, and asked if he could please give it a name. I thought that by asking Rinpoche, a special individual, it would bring blessing and good interdependence. I explained how and why I saw it to be important, and he was very pleased and replied that it was an excellent idea, and gave the name Marpa Translation Society (‘Drajur Marpa Ling’ in Tibetan). This is how the society came into being.
Our society has members from around the world, both East and West, who speak a variety of languages. It is our intention to emphasise translating treatises, instructions and advice, and particularly those works authored by Indian and Tibetan masters who are universally accepted as learned and genuine. I see there to be more purpose and benefit in translating these, so we will not be focusing on translating sadhanas and practice texts.
Our initial plan, which is already underway, is to translate Gampopa’s collected works into English, and Milarepa’s collected songs into Chinese. Some shorter works of Dharma advice are also being translated, and we make aspirations that these projects will bear fruit.
Financial profit will not be our aim when producing translations. Instead, we hope to aid those who practice and study the Dharma. The translators are working with the wish to benefit the Dharma and sentient beings, not to make a profit themselves. Therefore we intend to only charge the equivalent of the costs of publishing for any material we produce, adding nothing extra. The return of publishing costs is necessary since the society does not have substantial capital, and in this way we hope that the projects will fund themselves, without needing to rely on donations.
The general trend these days is that Buddhist organisations are primarily concerned with how to bring in money. As far as the true way of Buddhism is concerned, this is a terrible attitude, and only brings harm to the Buddhadharma. If we were to advertise that we have established a translation society and need funding that would be contrary to the Dharma.
By charging people only as much as each text costs to produce, the translations will fund themselves; we will not need to fundraise, and our activities will be in accord with the Dharma. If we were to make the translations free, people wouldn’t value them; they would be distributed left, right and centre, and would most likely go to waste. Very few people would actually read them. But if one has to pay something, even just a little, only those who genuinely want and need the texts will make the effort to obtain them.
It is with these thoughts and considerations that we have founded the Marpa Translation Society. We hope to be of benefit by providing texts, both as hardcopies and free downloadable files, in the near future. These are our hopes and aspirations.’
Translations produced by the Society so far are undergoing refinement while Rinpoche teaches them to the Sekhar retreatants, and any developments regarding the availability of translated and published texts will be posted here on the website.
Further enquiries can be made to: