Atisha

Who or What is Greater than A Wish-Fulfilling Jewel?
 
The Translation of the First of Langri Thangpa's Eight Verses

Introduction

 

Geshe Langri Thangpa?s Eight Verses of Training the Mind is a seminal work of Tibetan literature, and surely deserves to be ranked among the world?s spiritual classics. There have been many translations, especially in recent years, largely on account of its popularity with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has taught it on numerous occasions all over the world. Historically however, it received less attention and inspired fewer commentaries than related works such as the Seven Points of Mind Training attributed to Geshe Chekawa, who, incidentally, also composed a commentary to the Eight Verses.

 

Perhaps this shortage of commentarial literature explains the apparent difficulty of interpreting the very first of Langri Thangpa?s eight verses.

 

The Tibetan

 

Version 1

bdag ni sems can thams cad la/ /

yid bzhin nor bas lhag pa yin/ /

don mchog sgrub pa'i bsam pa yis/ /

mchog tu gces par 'dzin pa bslab/ / 

Version 2

bdag ni sems can thams cad la/ /

yid bzhin nor bu las lhag pa?i/ /

don mchog sgrub pa'i bsam pa yis/ /

mchog tu gces par 'dzin par shog/ /

The question is: who or what is greater than a wish-fulfilling jewel?

 

Of these two Tibetan versions, the first would seem to imply it is all sentient beings. The second version seems to indicate that it is the highest aim or objective (don mchog).

 

The Commentary

 

Geshe Chekawa?s commentary, included in the Great Collection of Mind Training (blo sbyong brgya rtsa), follows the first of the two versions above. It begins its explanation of the verse by describing how to train to see sentient beings as wishing gems. It explains the similarity between them: just as a wish-granting jewel can not cleanse itself, beings can not free themselves from the mire of samsara, nor can they wash away their suffering and its causes. Yet, just as a wishing gem can become the source of all that we desire once we have cleansed it, sentient beings can, with our help, become a source of all temporary and ultimate benefit. It is on the basis of sentient beings therefore, Geshe Chekawa explains, that the unexcelled state of buddhahood can be achieved (sems can la brten nas sangs rgyas kyi go ?pang bla na med pa thob par ?gyur ro).

 

This is slightly reminiscent of chapter 5 verse 80 of Shantideva?s Bodhicharyavatara, which says:

Whenever I catch sight of others,

By thinking, ?It is through them,

That I will reach awakening?,

I?ll look with sincerity and love.[1]

With Geshe Chekawa?s explanation in mind, we could translate the first version (the one he uses) as follows:

I will train to see all sentient beings

As greater than a wishing gem.

With the thought of accomplishing the highest aim,

I will cherish and regard them as supreme.

Other Translations

 

In an early English translation of the text by Geshe Rabten, Gonsar Tenzin Khedup and Lobsang Kalden, it is all sentient beings who are greater than a wish-granting gem. They render the verse as follows:

?With the determination of accomplishing the highest welfare for all sentient beings, who excel even the wish-granting Gem (Cintamani), may I at all times hold them dear!?[2]

This is also the interpretation favoured by the translators of the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP):

?May I think of every living being

As more precious than a wish-giving gem

For reaching the ultimate goal,

And so always hold them dear.?[3]

Other translators, such as Heidi Köppl, in her recent translation of Chökyi Dragpa?s commentary to Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, consider that it is the ?supreme purpose? which is superior to a wish-fulfilling jewel. Yet it is all sentient beings who accomplish this.

?Considering that all sentient beings

Accomplish a supreme purpose

Superior to the wish-fulfilling jewel,

I shall at all times hold them to be very precious.?[4]

Ruth Sonam also thinks it is the highest good which is superior to the jewel, but, unlike Heidi Köppl, she thinks we must accomplish this for them:

?May I always cherish all beings

With the resolve to accomplish for them

The highest good that is more precious

Than any wish-fulfilling jewel.?[5]

Professor Robert Thurman concurs:

?Through my ambition to achieve

The supreme of goals

Far better than any wish-granting gem,

May I always dearly cherish every being!?[6]

Geshe Thupten Jinpa also thinks it is the highest aim which exceeds a wish-fulfilling gem. He translates it as follows:

?With the wish to achieve the highest aim,

Which surpasses even a wish-fulfilling gem,

I will train myself to at all times,

Cherish every sentient being as supreme.?[7]

Conclusion

 

The fact that the majority of translators associate the highest aim (don mchog), rather than all sentient beings, with the metaphor of the wish-fulfilling jewel is perhaps based on the prevalence today of the second Tibetan version given above. Yet if we consider, as Geshe Thubten Jinpa does, that the commentary attributed to Geshe Chekawa is genuine, and that it might even reflect Geshe Langri Thangpa?s own explanations, it seems that the first of the two Tibetan versions may be the more authentic. And that, in this case at least, it is all sentient beings who are being extolled above even a wish-fulfilling jewel.

 



[1] mig gis sems can lta na yang/ /

?di dag nyid la brten nas bdag/ /

sangs rgyas nyid du ?gyur ro zhes/ /

drang zhing byams pa?i tshul gyis blta/ /

[2] Four Essential Buddhist Commentaries, His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1982, reprint 1993

[3] Eight Verses for Developing the Good Heart, written by the Kadampa Geshe named Diamond Lion from the Plains of Langri, ACIP

[4] Uniting Wisdom and Compassion: Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva, Chökyi Dragpa, transl. by Heidi Köppl, Boston: Wisdom, 2004, p.13

[5] Geshe Sonam Rinchen, Eight Verses For Training the Mind, transl. by Ruth Sonam, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2001, p.85

[6] R. A. F. Thurman, Essential Tibetan Buddhism, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1997, p.141

[7] Mind Training: The Great Collection, transl. by Thupten Jinpa, Boston: Wisdom, 2006. p.275