Much Ado About Namdak
In 2009, we presented a conversation that we had with Changling Rinpoche on the Tibetan term “nang-si” (the phenomenal world). This year in 2010, we offer another excerpt from the same discussion on the first stanza of “The Melody That Accomplishes Deathlessness.” Although there is no debate about how to translate “namdak” (Tib. rnam dag)—it is either “complete purity” or “completely pure”—we had an amusing and educational conversation about its use in context. In addition to Changling Rinpoche (CR), members of the discussion include Larry Mermelstein (LM), Scott Wellenbach (SW), Mark Nowakowski (MN), Patricia Kirigin (PK), Walker Blaine (WB), and Tingdzin Ötro (TO).
In the mandala of deities, the complete purity of the phenomenal world,
You ripen and free our three gates into vajra nature.
Sovereigns of all the families, teachers of the tantras,
Vajra monarchs, may you ever remain.
CR: In the mandala of the deities, the teacher ripens our body, speech, and mind into the three vajras.
LM: Is the first line saying that the mandala of deities is the complete purity of the phenomenal world?
SW: I think Rinpoche is putting “complete purity” more with the mandala of deities than with the phenemenal world.
CR: Yes, it is the completely pure mandala of deities. So you could say, “In the phenomenal world, the completely pure mandala of deities. . .”
MN: When we speak of “the phenomenal world,” it sounds like samsara.
CR: Yes. In this case, the phenomenal world is just samsara.
PK: The phenomenal world means samsara, even though it is the mandala of deities?
CR: Yes. It depends on the context. Sometimes “the phenomenal world” goes with both samsara and nirvana, sometimes only with samsara. In this case, the completely pure mandala of deities is talking about samsara. We don’t need to establish nirvana as the mandala of deities. We are establishing samsara as the mandala of deities.
PK: So we could say: “In the phenomenal world, the complete purity of the mandala of deities.”
LM: To me, to say that places too much emphasis on phenomenal world. It is more important to emphasize completely pure mandala of deities. I understand your point, but I still much prefer the current translation: “in the mandala of deities, the complete purity of the phenomenal world.”
WB: I also like the way it reads in our current translation, and I think it is very clear. The mandala of deities is the complete purity of the phenomenal world. This is how I understand the development stage. The stanza says that if the world is completely pure, one’s three gates ripen as vajra nature.
LM: But that is different from what Rinpoche is saying. If complete purity goes with the mandala of deities, our translation is not exactly saying what Rinpoche is saying.
CR: So now the question is: What is complete purity? Everybody can answer.
WB: It is “phenomena that are free of concept.”
TO: Or it might mean “purified of the kleshas.”
CR: In this particular line, who is completely pure? If the phenomenal world is completely pure, who is going to be completely pure? The deities? No. The deities are completely pure and the phenomenal world is going to be completely pure. The phenomenal world is “the thing to be purified” (Tib. chang-cha; byang bya), complete purity is “the purifier” (chang-che; byang byed), and “the result of the purification” (chang-dre; byang bras) is the mandala of deities. So what is complete purity? In other words, is complete purity “the purifier” or “the thing to be purified?”
SW: The purifier.
CR: “The ground of purification” (Tib. chang-shi; byang gzhi) is sugatagarbha, “the thing to be purified” is the phenomenal world, and “the purifier” is complete purity.
LM: So purity is what purifies the phenomenal world.
CR: So what is the connection between “the thing to be purified”—the phenomenal world—and “the purifier”—complete purity?
TO: I don’t understand how “purity” can be the “purifier.”
CR: When you establish the development stage, you have to begin with the purifier, the thing to be purified, and the result of purification. What is the purifier of development stage? It is the view of purity.
TO: So, taking the view of purity is what purifies.
CR: What is “the ground of purification?” The tathagatagarbha. What is “the thing to be purified?” The phenomenal world. What is “the purifier?” Purity. What is “the result of purification?” The mandala of deities. Obviously, “the ground of purification” and “the result of purification” are related by having the same essence. Tathagatagarbha and the mandala of deities are the same; they are related by having the same essence. All four terms have a connection. What is the relation between “the thing to be purified” and “the purifier?” It is the relation of the basis and what arises from it, like fire and smoke.
SW: Cause and effect.
CR: Yes. “The thing to be purified” and “the purifier.”
LM: By purifying the phenomenal world, the mandala of deities then manifests.
CR: Therefore, [in the translation of this line], the purity goes with the mandala of deities.
PK: When the phenomenal world is purified, you see the mandala of deities, which has the essence of complete purity?
[At this point we concluded the day’s meeting; the conversation resumed the following morning]
PK: We had a few ideas from yesterday’s meeting.
TO: I’d like to say “the phenomenal world, when purified is the mandala of deities.” Is that right? Is that going too far?
PK: Or you could say, “within the completely purified phenomenal world, the mandala of deities.”
MN: Or, “within the phenomenal world, completely purified as the mandala of deities.”
LM: I still prefer to put “mandala of deities” at the beginning for emphasis: “In the mandala of deities, the completely purified phenomenal world.”
MN: Whichever you put first—“phenomenal world“ or “mandala of deities”—will come across as the main point. What is the main focus of the sentence?
CR: Actually, after thinking about it, I agree with Larry’s reading: “In the mandala of deities, the complete purity of the phenomenal world, . . .”
LM: That is what we had originally.
PK: The only thing I would want to change with that would be to change “complete purity” to “completely purified” because I really liked Rinpoche’s explanation yesterday about how the phenomenal world, when purified, was the mandala of deities. If it just says “the complete purity of the phenomenal world” then that explanation doesn’t come across as clearly as if we say “in the mandala of deities, the completely purified . . .”
CR: Actually we could say “purified” here.
LM: What you said yesterday about complete purity really going with “mandala of deities” is what causes us to think what Patricia just said. Whereas the way we had it before, “the complete purity of the phenomenal world” really sounds like complete purity just goes with phenomenal world. As opposed to that it’s doing something to the phenomenal world, purifying it.
CR: The purity of the phenomenal world, whether we say “purity” or “purified,” what I’m looking at is whether we can make sure that nobody can attack this, saying “Oh, there’s a mistake.” [reads from “Saddharma Punsters” from First Thought Best Thought by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche] Here, Trungpa Rinpoche says:
Until the philosophy is carried out between translators and interpreters,
We will have to talk about why blue is not black,
Why a round earth,
Why the solar system.
So we end up agreeing with each other, . . .
Whether we say “purity” or “purified”—if I say “purity” I can attack that, and if I say “purified” I can also debate that. Now, looking at all the angles, I think “the complete purity of the phenomenal world” is much better.
LM: Yes, I think the way Patricia originally had it is the nicest. When you say “the complete purity of the phenomenal world” to me that’s meaning fundamentally the phenomenal world is completely purity. And that is the mandala of deities.
CR: Yes, that’s how we explain it from the point of view of ground. The explanation in terms of “the thing to be purified,” “the purifier,” and “the result of purification” is from the point of view of path. If you phrase it from the point of view of ground, it can be attacked from the path point of view. If you say “purified,” it can be attacked from the ground point of view.
LM: There’s no way you’re going to make everybody happy.
CR: The tricky thing is that in Tibetan, you can bring in complete purity from any point of view. Complete purity can be primordially pure, temporarily pure—you can just put anything there.
SW: So, Rinpoche, you feel that the flavor of this text is more from ground point of view than from the path point of view?
CR: Yes. Does “complete purity” show that the real origin of the phenomenal world is purity?
NTC (group): yes.
CR: I think that if we can show that, we are safe enough.
LM: I think that’s what it says.
PK: And that would be from the point of view of ground?
CR: If we can show the actual origin of the phenomenal world being purity, obviously that is established from the ground point of view. But we can defend quite a lot.
LM: We have more ammunition with this.
CR: The reason why I’m looking at this is when we look at how Berotsana and other lotsawas (great translators) translated, even in translation there’s no way it can be attacked. So we should also make sure there is purification through the three examinations, even in the translation.
PK: So, that’s great. So, we’ll leave it as is then.
SW: (laughing) After talking with many lamas, we didn’t change a single word of this line!