English Translation Fellows

"In Part Three of Book Six, A Systematic Presentation of the Cause-Based Philosophical Vehicles, Jamgön Kongtrul presents an overview of the main aspects of the Hinayana and Mahayana systems (leaving out the Vajrayana segment of the Mahayana), and highlights the important points of their approaches. These are ‘cause-based yanas’ (rgyu’i theg pa), in contrast to the ‘result-based yanas’ (’bras bu’i theg pa), which is a common name for the Vajrayana. As Jamgön Kongtrul says, cause-based yanas employ ‘that by which we travel,’ a cryptic phrase meaning that these yanas use the causes of buddhahood as their path. Result-based paths use ‘where we are traveling to’ as their means; that is, their method is the result itself: the wisdoms and pure appearances of buddhahood. (Result-based approaches are treated in Part Four of Book Six, Systems of Buddhist Tantra.) Speaking generally, from a Hinayana perspective, the causes are the renunciation of samsara, the cultivation of ethical conduct, and the realization of the absence of a self of persons (pudgalanairatmya, gang zag gi bdag med). The Mahayana adds to that list the cultivation of the six paramitas and the realization of the absence of a self-entity of phenomena (dharmanairatmya, chos kyi bdag med).

These yanas are also called ‘philosophical’ (lakshasa, mtshan nyid). The term translated here as ‘philosophical’ in other contexts is translated as ‘characteristics,’ ‘defining characteristics,’ or ‘dialectics.’ In Chapter Five of this book, Jamgön Kongtrul states that the Paramitayana part of the Mahayana ‘is called a philosophical [yana] because it portrays (mtshon par byed pa) the path and its attributes that directly connect us to the unified state of Vajradhara, the final fruition.’ Thus the term refers to these yanas’ descriptions of the characteristics that make up the path. They do this by means of categorizations and definitions, analysis and reason, rather than faith and devotion. Here, the application of the term is broad since it covers the early Buddhist schools through Madhyamaka, including the Madhyamaka character of Secret Mantra."

—Elizabeth Callahan, from the Introduction to The Treasury of Knowledge: Book VI, Part 3; Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy, Jamgön Kongtrul

Elizabeth M. Callahan

Contemplative training and Tibetan studies from 1980 to 1990, which included three-year retreat at Kagyu Thubten Chöling, New York; has studied with, and interpreted for, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche from 1985 to present; studied and interpreted at Nitartha Institute, 1996 to 1999. Tsadra Foundation Fellow since 2002.

Had Elizabeth Callahan never encountered Buddhism, she thinks that she would have “found another way to work toward eliminating ignorance and prejudice in people’s minds.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, she finds herself inspired by “anything and anyone that demonstrates unbiased clarity, compassion and/or emptiness: from the geothermal pools of Yellowstone to selfless acts of kindness …”

That being said, Elizabeth is an adept translator with a particular inclination toward Mahamudra. Her aforementioned ideals resonate in her work, as she aspires that readers of her translations will gain “an understanding of the subtleties of Buddhist thought that leads them to open-mindedness; an appreciation of viewing things from many angles; a strong sense of joy, clarity, and emptiness.” Even, moreover, if the Tibetan texts may be “dry, dense, or complex,” she is deeply determined to make the material “accessible to an intelligent reader.”

Elizabeth feels that translations are vital at this time, noting that, “Although many of us say we practice the Vajrayana, in general, our understanding of it is weak.” To remedy this, “We need access to the texts of the traditions, not just the oral instructions.”

Elizabeth has a sense of purpose, one that harmonizes with her hopeful vision that Western Buddhists will come to offer greater support to senior practitioners and Western teachers, all in the context of eventually providing a “more nuanced understanding of the view and the way to practice.”

Previously Published Translations

•  Mahamudra: Ocean of Definitive Meaning, the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje

Completed Projects as a Tsadra Foundation Fellow

•  The Treasury of Knowledge: Book VI, Part 3; Frameworks of Buddhist Philosophy, Jamgön Kongtrul

•  The Profound Inner Reality by the Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje

Current Projects as a Tsadra Foundation Fellow

•  Mahamudra Compendium: Moonbeams; Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance


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