Janet Gyatso: "Local, Translocal, Passion: What Goes into a Translation? The Tibetan Rendering of the Meghaduta"

Saturday April 2nd 2022, 9:30AM - Sunday April 3rd 2022, 5:00PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford
Janet Gyatso photo

Event is by invitation only due to space limitations.


This seminar will look at a high point in the Tibetan reception of Indian poetics: the 14th century translation of Kālidāsa's masterwork  Meghadūta into Tibetan. Tibetan Buddhists, like other Buddhists, were wary of the pleasures of poetry on the path to enlightenment, especially the monastic path.  But they were also attracted to the possibilities of poetic language, both for teaching religion and for expressing many kinds of sentiments.  It is well known that Tibetan intellectuals became exceptionally avid scholars of Daṇḍin's Kāvyadarṡa.  But monk translators also produced a masterful rendering of the passionate  Meghadūta, despite its obvious eroticism.  They made a good translation of this very complex text, and yet also introduced subtle shifts.  This seminar will look closely at these shifts by the Tibetan (and one Kashmiri) translators, and discuss their import. What do they suggest?  Some seem actually to emphasize the erotic mood even further than the original; some seem especially interested in the possibilities of the imagination; some show a special appreciation for the powerful agency of the messenger.  In the course of the seminar we will read verses from the Tibetan Meghadūta and compare them with the original Sanskrit. We will also read a few passages of pre-Buddhist oral Tibetan literature (or, a written version of one) in order to take in some very "Tibetan" aesthetics regarding messengers.  And during the introductory lecture at the start of the seminar, we will also read at least one verse by the great scholar the Fifth Dalai Lama, using kāvya in a sarcastic way for religio-political ends. This seminar is based on joint research and collaboration with Lama Jabb of Oxford University.  


Janet Gyatso is employed as the Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies and the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at Harvard Divinity School. She writes on Indic and Tibetan Buddhist Literature and Science.  Her main current project is in animal ethics.  Her PhD is in Buddhist Studies from University of California at Berkeley.