Friday, March 9, 2007

energy or blessing?

In the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the prayers often used in the practice "Guru Yoga" reads:

Treasured teacher, I pray to you.
Give me energy to let self-fixation go.
Give me energy to be free of need.
Give me energy to stop ordinary thinking.
Give me energy to know mind has no beginning.
Give me energy to let confusion subside on its own.
Give me energy to know all experience is pure being.

I've been asked a number of times why I translate "blessing" as "energy". There is a significant difference in emotional tone and "blessing" is the most common usage (and the one I used in my early days).

The word "blessing" has its roots in sacrifice: from the On-line Etymological Dictionary

O.E. bletsian, bledsian, Northumbrian bloedsian "to consecrate, make holy," from P.Gmc. *blothisojan "mark with blood," from *blotham "blood" (see blood). Originally a blood sprinkling on pagan altars.
This word was chosen in O.E. bibles to translate L. benedicere and Gek. eulogein, both of which have a ground sense of "to speak well of, to praise," but were used in Scripture to translate Heb. brk "to bend (the knee), worship, praise, invoke blessings." Meaning shifted in late O.E. toward "to confer happiness, well-being," by resemblance to unrelated bliss. No cognates in other languages. Blessing is O.E. bledsung.

These associations are all foreign to my experience of guru yoga or other forms of prayer in Buddhism. So, I started to hunt for an alternative.

My experience is one of a kind of energy, through devotion. An emotional energy. And the Tibetan byin.brlabs (pron. jin-lap) itself means "a wave of something given" or "to flood with something given". This does correspond with my experience.

Clearly, translation problems go back a long way, viz., the choice to use the word "blessing" to translate "benedicere", which has a completely different set of associations.


DWS said...

Who am I to question your translations, but there is a comments area here, so I'm assuming you're welcoming some discussion.

While I understand your hesitance at using the word, Blessing, it's the "Give me" part that throws me a bit off. When I think "Give me the energy to..." I can't help but think of plain old physical energy, i.e. "give me the energy to do the dishes", "Give me the energy to get through this move, etc." Why not translate it a bit closer to the way you defined the word byin.brlabs: "a wave of something given" or "to flood with something given". I was thinking that (for me at least) a phrase such as "Pour forth the energy to..." might capture the essence for me. Or perhaps something (despite its heavyhandedness) like: "Flood me with the energy to..."

TLPLJ said...

Is it the case the the use of the term "empower" is simply too problematic because of its association with specific ceremonies/rites of transmission within the Tibetan and Buddhist traditions generally? Even if such is the case, does the word 'power' yet retain viability as an alternative to 'energy'? To venture a suggestion maybe audaciously removed from the beaten path, what about 'inspire'? Less daring, what about, in lieu of 'give me', the assorted phrases, 'Grant unto me', 'Convey to me', or simply, 'Convey', or 'transmit'? What about 'provide'?

Ken said...

Thanks for the suggestions. I like the idea of "pour forth..." It doesn't quite work, but your response opens up some new directions and gives me something to work on. I agree, "Give me energy..." does lack a certain emotional tone and "Pour forth..." is a step in the right direction.

Ken said...

In response to tiplj, you are right about "empower". It is usually used in connection with certain transmission ceremonies in the Tibetan tradition. "Inspire" has been considered by a number of translators and is generally regarded as not having enough oomph for this context. "Power", at least for me, has a specific meaning quite different from the usage here. Such are the challenges of translation!