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Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

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10-09-12 - Tom Cabarga sends this about his father translating Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind into Spanish

The Spanish translation of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that my father did still seems to be available online. The copy I have at home is from 1987 and lists Editorial Estaciones as the Publisher, but inside the copyright is by La Frambuesa, SA.

My father, Demetrio Augustin Cabarga, did translations from English into Spanish for many years, mostly for the U.S. government. I got the idea of asking him to translate the book when I was at Tassajara in the late 70s. He would send me sections from time to time to look over, and I would read them a sentence at a time in English and Spanish to see if they seemed to be saying the same thing, as I understood it (my Spanish isn't great -- fortunately, the language of the book is very simple). I had mentioned this to Richard Baker.

A gentleman who worked with the publisher in Argentina came by the City Center seven or eight years later and Baker Roshi sent him down to talk to me in the Page Street bookstore where I was working in the basement of the building at the time. My father was retired and working on the translation when the urge struck him -- there was no pressure because no possibility of publication had arisen. He was a lifelong Roman Catholic and I don't think he quite knew what to make of it, but he understood it, and even found it parts of it interesting. I had a typed manuscript of about 4/5 of the book and my father finally sent me the rest of it written by hand. He had rheumatoid arthritis in his hands and couldn't type anymore. I turned the typescript and manuscript over to the aforementioned gentleman, whose name I don't remember, and figured it was up to him at that point. A year or so later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a paperback copy of Mente Zen, Mente de Principiante.

My father worked for many years in the Pan American Union, the Organization of American States, so he came into contact with folks from all over the hemisphere. On several occasions he mentioned to me that there is a different Spanish in each country, which meant that when translating he had to try to write in a language that was "neutral" -- not Mexican, not Peruvian, etc. He himself had been born in Cuba, educated in Spain, and came to the U.S. when he was 19. I ran into this problem after the book was published when a couple of Latin Americans at Zen Center told me at different times that the translation seemed to be accurate, but it didn't sound idiomatically natural to them. I suppose that's to be expected.

I think at least one other person, whose name you may know (from Mexico?), also translated parts of the book, but the only one I ever saw in print was the one from Argentina done by my father.


Tom was around the SFZC for years. He's married to Pat Phelan, teacher of the Chaple Hill ZC. Tom did a lot of work with Shunryu Suzuki lectures. Thanks Tom. - dc