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11-11-10 - On not being a translator with Kaz

The "Lost and Found in Translation" weekend (see below) went wonderfully well. One thing I realized was what a great contribution Peter Levitt had made to the project to translate and publish the complete Shobogenzo all together. Thanks Peter - and thanks to those who went before him, working tirelessly with Kaz Tanahashi since 1973 to get the job done. I don't know who they all are - Mel Weitsman, Dan Welch, Ed Brown, Katherine Thanas, Alan Senauke - who else? Reb Anderson I bet.

I met Kaz back in 76 I think. I'd returned from Tassajara  Zen Mt. Center to run the new Green Gulch Green Grocer in SF. We not only met at the SFZC, we met socially at Mike Phillips' and Carol Rae's and around the Bay Area.

Maybe it was 77, after I'd left the store and was living half in Bolinas and half in SF or Muir Beach (to be near son Kelly and ZC) that he asked me. That's the year he started this phase of his Dogen translating (which he'd begun in 1960). Kaz told me he was going to work on the Shobogenzo translation and asked me if I'd like to work with him as he needed native English speakers to do it right. He knew I'd studied modern Japanese and the old Buddhist Japanese and we got along. It was a great opportunity. In 1969 I'd studied Japanese at the Monterey Inst. of Foreign Studies (now the Monterey Inst. of International Studies) with a wonderful Japanese woman named Jun Mink. There's a whole bunch to say about this but I'll skip it for now.

When I returned to Tassajara for the Winter-Spring practice period of 1970, I started studying everything there that was Japanese - starting with the poem on the han (wooden board hit to announce zazen etc), other short chants. I was lucky to have the Japanese priests, Ryogen Yoshimura, and Kobun Chino to a lesser extent to help me. Then I delved into the Sandokai while Suzuki lectured on it and met with him briefly before and after each lecture. I wrote the characters on the blackboard for each of his lectures. He asked me to sit next to him and do it but I refused - he tried to insist but I absolutely refused. Later that summer I studied the Eko, the brief chants after the sutras delivered by one student or priest we called the kokyo, dedicating the merit of the sutra. I made a study book for each of these projects showing the basic meaning of each character (beautifully penned by Yoshimura and/or Kobun), the translations of the lines by Suzuki and other sources. There was no original or interpretive work on my part. When I was head monk and director in 1974 and 75, there were no Japanese there to study with but I did what I could with Dogen's Genjokoan and Fukanzazengi and made a study book for each - showing the characters, basic meaning of each from various dictionaries, and translation of the lines from available versions like Masao Abe's. I signed them Kisan (my Zen name is Kisan Zenyu, the latter the one Suzuki underlined - though he never used it nor I) made copies for the ZC libraries, and forgot it. Oh - I remember that Trudy Hartman did tons of typing for me on the this later project - it was a lot of work - thanks Trudy. It was all done at night and on days off, nothing official.

At some point I realized that all the hours I'd put into this study were just a tiny beginning. I had the image of climbing a great mountain only to find upon reaching what I thought was the top, that there was a far greater mountain left to ascend and I realized that upon reaching the top of it there would be another then another. That's enough of that, I thought.

So when Kaz asked me, I politely declined. Maybe by then I was in Bolinas writing songs. I don't know. Through the years Kaz and I have touched base many times and supported each other in small ways in our many ventures. But I never worked with him on his momentous translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo. And this weekend a number of times I felt a tinge of regret that this was so, regret not as in wish I'd done different, but as in a slight sadness that that's the way I wanted it and still want it.


Back to Peter Levitt. He's a poet and Zen teacher.

Here's his web site.

He's a lay entrusted teacher (from Norman Fischer) in the Salt Spring Zen Circle, Salt Spring Island, BC. Appropriately, considering his translation work, his Zen name is Eihei Peter Levitt.  Contact is levgram@gmail.com and/or [two-five-zero-537-9567].


10-30-10 - 50 years of work brings age-old wisdom to West by Don Lattin, Special to The Chronicle, an article on Kazuaki Tanahashi. The recent publication of Kaz's Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Shobo Genzo is one focus of this interview/article. Latin writes:

At Tanahashi's side was a freshly published, two-volume, 1,171-page translation of Dogen's masterwork, "Treasury of the True Dharma Eye" - the culmination of his 50-year collaboration with Japanese scholars and some of the Zen Center's best and brightest American teachers. Tanahashi has spent his entire adult life putting together this profound and poetic rendering - the complete works of one of Buddhism's most important teachers.

The publication of this great work is also the focus of the SFZC sponsored Zen Translation Forum called "Lost and Found in Translation" over the weekend of Novemeber 6-7.

Go to Kaz Tanahashi cuke interview with more relevant links from there.

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