Monday, March 17, 2008


First off, please go read the Interview with Ethan Holtzman of Dengue Fever I did, which is now up at Suicide Girls. This interviewing stuff is a new thing for me that I hope to do a lot more of in the future.

OK. I need some help. Please read the following carefully before responding.

Gudo Nishijima has translated the poem "Fundamental Song of the Middle Way" by Nagarjuna from Sanskrit into English. This poem is very ancient and very difficult. It has been translated a number of times before, though I believe all of the English versions are out of print currently with the possible exception of "Verses From The Center" by Stephen Batchelor, which is not really a scholarly translation but more Mr. Batchelor's own interpretation (this is a valid thing, but it's not what Nisshijima is intending to do). Though this is the case, the out-of-print versions are not all that hard to find thru sites like Powell's, Amazon and Abe Books.

Nishijima's translation is unlike any of the others which, he believes, are all basically incorrect. He does not want his version "corrected" into something more resembling the standard translations.

Three native English speakers have worked on making Nishijima's English version comprehensible to native speakers of English. The first two walked off the job in frustration. Somehow I managed to complete the task to his satisfaction and now he would like to publish it. However I have found that I cannot do this alone.

Here are the problems.

1) The Sanskrit font used by the first guy who worked on the project has become corrupted. There are dozens of other fonts available. So please don't propose fixing the problem by pointing me to a link where I can find a Sanskrit font. The problem is that I can find no way to fix what's already been done except by re-typing every single Sanskrit word that appears in the piece. And there are a whole lot of them. I simply do not have the time to do this. Perhaps someone can come up with an easier fix. But I can't. Before you propose anything, please look at the PDF files that are linked at the end of this blog entry so you can understand precisely what the problem is. If you compare these attached files with one of the existing printed versions of the piece (please do this before proposing anything), you will notice that in numerous places the letters used are incorrect or there are simply blank spaces where letters ought to be.

2) I need a proofreader/editor. I cannot judge for myself what makes sense and what does not make sense to anyone other than me. I do not want a fan to tell me everything is great and I don't want a fan who thinks I want scathing criticism of every line to try and make me happy by critiquing every little nuance. I need a real editor, preferably (but not necessarily) someone with experience working with other authors.

3) We need a publisher. Currently we're thinking that print-on-demand is the way to go. But we're open to any and all other options.

Here are two excerpts from the book. This is the introduction:


And here is chapter 9, which I chose arbitrarily as a pretty good example of what most chapters are like:


There are 28 chapters plus the introduction and an extra chapter devoted to a four line verse that precedes the piece. Most are about this length, though a few are shorter and some are longer.

Please do not respond without reading both of these excerpts in their entirety. If you can't at least do that much you won't be able to do the rest.

The problems listed above are just the most pressing ones. There are plenty of others to be worked out. If you don't like problem solving, don't write me about this. Also don't expect to get paid for this work. In the unlikely event the book ends up making any money you'll get your share. But I don't foresee that happening and I don't have a budget to pay for the work. However, we will give anyone who helps all due credit for their work and it could look good on a resume.

Sorry to be such an ass about all this. But I've been flaked out upon by a number of people who offered to help on this project in the past and I would prefer not to waste a lot of time. If you want to help (and you're very certain you want to help) please write me at:



Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

The Jay Garfield english translation is still in print on Amazon -

It seems to be reasonable IMHO and so I wonder why the world needs another translation.

Briefly reading through the two sections you have posted up it feels like much more like a liberal interpretation rather than a translation. It feels like Gudo Nishijima promoting Gudo's ideas through the MMK.

Clearly I cannot read Sanskrit and so when I read the Garfield translation I cannot tell if it is accurate when compared with the original. I likewise cannot comment on what spin Jay Garfield put on it if any.

The Garfield translation does have an internal flow and consistency to it. This seems lacking in the Gudo Nishijima excerts even allowing for how Gudo Nishijima writes.

Instead, it feels like it's a distortion, that the text has been forced to match Gudo Nishijima's viewpoint.

Given the nature and content of the MMK I find this to be problematic.

Frankly, I think that any attempt at a retranslation of such a text is not going to happen unless the person doing the translation has a realisation to draw on which is at least as close as that which Nagarjuna had.

I suspect there are few people around who can do that and the initial text posted suggests to me that Gudo Nishijima is not one of those people.

Just my view, which as Nagarjuna demonstates in the MMK has no value.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the underlining. I mis-typed a close tag. I'll leave it be rather than put a deleted entry on the blog which will suggest all sorts of things to people.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
apophasis said...

Mike, you're right that Garfield's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way is in print, but it is worth noting that it is a translation of the Tibetan text and is framed in terms to make it accessible to those versed in western philosophical traditions. Which is far from making it useless to Buddhists or Buddhologists, but worth considering (also, if I am not mistaken, that Tibetan text is the source for most Chinese and East Asian translations, making it a very influential version of the work). His translation and commentary are both quite amenable to Zen interpretations

Inada's translation reflects a very Zen focus. Kalupahana's is focused on backing up his argument for a closer relation of Mahayana ideas and early Indian Buddhism than was generally acknowledged before. The main differences, however, seem to be in the respective commentaries rather than the transations themselves. I don't have time to read the posted excerpts in enough detail now, but if Nishijima-Sensee's version is a more practice-oriented interpretation or brings to light in English more aspects of the text, then it seems a worthwhile effort.

I don't know if I have the time to commit to the proofreader/editor job right now, though as this text is one that is trying to become my main academic interest, it's certainly tempting. How long word-count wise is the document we're looking at? And what kind of timetable are we looking at?

Anonymous said...

Zen Talk Link

Anonymous said...


Yes, I am aware. I own a copy, I checked the intro.

His translation splits interpretation from the text and presents the text first in it's entirety. That allows you to read the text in the manner in which it was intended and then to look at his intrepretation if you so choose.

With this, like many other texts I am not sure that the commentary can ever add much of value beyond providing historic context.

Any translator of such a text is caught in a double-bind of trying to translate from one language to another when languages never translate well between each other AND of trying to translate something that doesn't fit well into language anyway.

Adding a commentary onto a text which seeks to explain what the author meant when he wrote the words that he wrote is I feel a fools errand, adding words onto words when words don't work very well.

The final verse of the MMK - "Examinations of Views"

"I prostrate to Gautama who through compassion taught the true doctrine, which leads to the relinquishing of all views".

I will be forever greatful for the work that Gudo Nishijima did in translating the Shobogenzo from ancient to modern Japanese and thereon into English since it has been of immense benefit to me.

If Brad had told me that Boris the Giant Rabbit had dictated this to him whilst he slept on a mountain then I would not have written any differently, perhaps referring to "Boris the Giant Rabbit" instead.

My views, which have been stated are of course worthless and so I feel I will say nothing more.

I am not interested in wasting my time or anyone else's in defending them.

rōren said...


In chapter 9 I see occasional boxes in the (for lack of a better term) romanji of the sanskrit. I presume this is the problem you have. Its not that "every word" needs retyping, perhaps just a huge number.

What is original file written in? It may be that what is displayed as boxes has unique coding in the background. If the original file is opened in, say, a simple ascii file editor you may find that there are consistent codes used for those boxes and clever use of find and replace could fix it.

As you may know from web work the coding assumed for a page effects how it is displayed. The codes may still be in the original text. The PDF file compression is too hostile to see if this is really the case.

If you send a portion of the original file (Word perhaps?) I may be able to determine more.

I'll send a "roren" email to doubtboy in case you want to take me up on this offer.

The layout of the text is okay, but it would be nicer to see the 'translation' next to the sanskrit (a two cell table with invisible boarders) followed by the (and I'm sure there are proper terms for these bits) detailed translation notes and then the historical context stuff.


Mysterion said...


Look at THIS .pdf file to see if it helps. It may not.

For other readers of the mabhyamikasutra, here is an English language treatment, or one in German.

Smoggyrob said...

Hi everyone:

I'm one of the people who flaked on this project. I was all fired up to do it, then Brad sent me that stuff he linked to, and I cooled down quick. Every time I looked at the files I imagined how carefully Nishijima Roshi and Brad had chosen their words, and I freaked. I was so uncomfortable with the thought that I had something to offer that I didn't think about it, didn't mention it to Brad again, and so I flaked.

I don't know what it takes to be a translator's assistant, but I know I don't have it. Take the blue pill.


SuomiChris said...

I'd be willing to look at a Word file (or whatever you're using) if you like and see if I can help with the font. I'm a linguist who works on languages of the Pacific Northwest, so I'm rather familiar with font issues. I really can't tell what the problem is from a pdf file, though. At first glance, it seems that roren's solution is probably best. Select a box, find that in the document and replace it with a version of the character that you know works. There might be an easier solution; I just can't tell from a pdf.

I'd also be happy to play proofreader/editor, so long as you understand that I'll be looking at the document as a linguist and for overall clarity, and not for more editor-y type things.

Feel free to shoot me an email at suomichris(at) if you'd like me to help out.

Anonymous said...

You are a damn fine writer in your own right--
your Sat Sit reports are delectible morsels--with bite--as are your 'join us if you dare' invitations you post on Fridays.
Besides I never considered you to be a flake as such, but more of a nut, a zennish nut, an enthusiastic zen hobbiest, not to be confused with a hobbit.
For every job there is the right man.
And in more cases than one might suppose the right man for the job is a woman.

Anonymous said...

Wow Brad - exiting! Buddhism should be a living tradition!


Anonymous said...

I agree with Mike Doe about this translation. It is way off the mark, compared to all other translations I have read. The Kalupahana translation is the best I have read, and is also still in print and available from South Asia Books. The Inada translation is sometimes good, and sometimes misleading. The old Streng translation, the first I ever read, has some good moments also considering it was one of the first in the west back in the late '60s. There is also a paraphrase by Steve Hagen Roshi of Dharma Field Zen Center, offered in conjunction with their year long course in Nagarjuna. Finally, the Garfield translation is still in print though I don't believe it is as good as the Kalupahana translation. However, Garfield's commentary is excellent, and since it is from a madhyamaka viewpoint, it is right on the money, I believe, more often than most, and quite inspiring, despite sometimes seeming overly academic and Garfield's use of some unnecessarily esoteric terms when simpler words could be used instead.

Nevertheless, I think the Nishijima translation is not being consistent with the text. In the excerpt from Ch. 9 for example, there are several passages which Nishijima presents as Nagarjuna's position when in fact they probably should be seen as opponents' viewpoints which are refuted by Nagarjuna in subsequent passages. There is also a tendency to substantialize "reality" right from the very first verse, and this is at great variance with Nagarjuna's uncompromising rejection of any notion of "self" or substance. In fact, that first verse is usually presented as how we conventionally tend to view the world, namely as believint that a self is necessarily existent in order to perceive the world, a la Descartes.

Anonymous said...

In response to the comment by anonymous about the Garfield and other translations, you left out the fact that the Hagen paraphrase also includes a commentary, and both are excellent. The course offered from the Dharma Field is tremendous, providing insight and total enthusiasm for the material from a zen master.

Anonymous said...

Dude. I have a mate (Im in Australia by the way) who is an author himself - a few advaita vedanta type things, hes translated some funky texts on nonduality into a modern style, kind of street talk nonduality - he is a monk, a sweet old guy. lives not far from me in his little cottage tucked away in the backwaters. Anyways I shall ask if he would like to help you and your teacher.

Anonymous said...

PS. From Australia. My monk buddy is a Sanskrit teacher.

Andrew said...

There is actually a recent, brilliant and clear translation available from

Haven't you read this? Shame on you.

HezB said...

The wikipedia article "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" introduces some of the various subjective interpretations of the text with a merciful brevity.



Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mūlamadhyamakakārikā said...

HERE is another sanskrit version of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

Jinzang said...

The Sanskrit font used by the first guy who worked on the project has become corrupted.

The "Sanskrit font" is the Latin font with diacrits. Wherever you see an empty box (Adobe Reader) or blank space (OS X), the font embedded in the pdf file does not have a glyph for the code point of that character in the text.

You won't be able to fix the pdf file, you'll have to regenerate it from the word processor. Bring the file up in the word processor, see what it looks like, and see what font is being used. You can probably fix the problem by changing the font to another that has the glyphs needed to represent all the Latin diacrits used in Sanskrit transliteration.

I don't have a good eye for fonts, but it looks like the pdf is using Georgia or some similar pretty font. This most likely won't have the glyphs you need. If you switch to a more common font like Times you're more likely to get the glyphs you need. If all else fails, you can download and install Gentium, which has a full set of Latin diacrits.

ellen said...

I'll apply for that unpaid job.
I've been a professional proofreader and editor and been in the business for close to 25 years. I currently co-own a boutique book packaging/production firm that specializes editing, design, and production of commercial nonfiction titles. We have a coupla books on the bestseller list now.

Happy to proofread/copyedit free of charge. I'm not an academic editor and have no particular axe to grind, either, regarding content or linguistic accuracy. I practice but I'm not a total zen head. I would look for "editor-y" things, as another poster put it. Just to bring it up to professional publication level.

Lemme know if you want to send it along.

Anonymous said...

When push comes to shove the book writing process especially in its later phases WHIPS your ass. Its a big project and an important project, something a person undertaking such would want to get done write!

Most people (by grace) are simply unaware of what is involved and the depth of the rabbit hole, nor are they familiar with the dragon that lives at the bottom of that hole.

Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

mysterion.....thats what im talking about, it takes chucks out of your ass

Anonymous said...

the only thing believable about belief is that it is a belief - quote I like

Anonymous said...

3) We need a publisher. Currently we're thinking that print-on-demand is the way to go.

One possibility:

Anonymous said...

Gerry Gomez said...

Your interview was great, especially at the end:

Wow! We had a street cat who always came into where I worked in Tokyo and he was real mellow. One of the guys scanned his balls. Just put him up on the scanner and scanned 'em!
How'd they look?
All fuzzy and orange. It was pretty cool.

dood said...

seeing that i fell asleep about 4 lines into the Ch.9 exurpt you posted - i am not the one...

good luck - take care,

Mysterion said...
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rōren said...

mysterion said "It is aimed at Western philosophers, not philologists."

How can one produce a translation that is absent philologic content? That seems to be the very key to a good translation! Or does that mean the translation just doesn't tell you what philologic considerations went into producing it (e.g., no ream of foot notes following each paragraph)?

Mysterion said...
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Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

great interview...I looked up some of their stuff on iTunes...may have to buy (if I can give up my heavy rotation of Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys)

Darth said...

Dang it! Nice guys finish first.

Anonymous said...

A famous cook prepared a meal for his guest from another land.

The guest chocked on what he thought was a bone.

Had he only known it was just a noodle.

Anonymous said...

A famous cock prepared a meal for his guest from another land.

The gust chocked on what he thought was a bone.

Had he only known it was just a knowdle.

Anonymous said...

Not surprising that Nishijima considers all other translations of MMK wrong.

Why is it that most people who have discovered some truth, consider everyone else who discovered a different "truth" wrong?

Mysterion said...
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Anonymous said...

RE- Boris the Giant Rabbit - may as well have been its source. Funny how we DO attribute value to writings based on our "knowledge" of the supposed authors enlightenment.

Im not outside of this peculiar trap personally I got Brads book Sit Down Shut Up as I liked his last one.

It helped that a zen Master had given him the thumbs up.

I often watch my mind seeking comfort in outside sources. Its painful and always will be

Anonymous said...

"Nishijima's translation is unlike any of the others which, he believes, are all basically incorrect."


Psychology of "enlightenment" is... well... difficult.

babbles said...

Anonymous said...

"Nishijima's translation is unlike any of the others which, he believes, are all basically incorrect."


How dare a Buddhist teacher have the audacity to have their own opinion on the veracity of a translation! Doesn't this Nishijima clown know that he is suppose to just say things like, "Whatever you think is a-ok with me; it's all good." Such a jackass thing to even consider that other people may not have done a good job at something.

. . . Seriously, though, this type of stuff is just insanely dumb. This stuff being this new-agey thought that Buddhist practitioners, or more specifically teachers, are not allowed to have opinions. Or to be more exact that they view some things as wrong, and some things as right. I am no scholar of Buddhist scripture, but I find it totally reasonable that perhaps the first couple attempts of translating this seemingly very difficult piece of literature may have been quite difficult and as such may not reflect the most accurate translation. Hell I am reading a new translation of "War and Peace" because, *gasp*, some people thought that the previous translations were not so hot.

Why must we assume that all of the previous translations of this Buddhist piece are the most correct that can ever be achieved?

Rich said...

I just read ch 9 verse 1 and 2. I didn't know people could think like this. I would definitely buy this book unless you put the rest of the chapters on the web.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
half astrology said...

THIS is the kind of new-age thinking I recall.

New Age c. 1909

c. 1971

AASR drops 'New Age'

New Age, today...

Anonymous said...

I personally have found that "virtually" every teacher says/thinks/postulates that his/her tradition is the best - either overtly or behind closed doors (Granted I have only met a handful)

I guess if that was the path they happened to be on when awakening happened why would they not think such?

Smoggyrob said...

Hi everyone:

If you don't think your way is the best way, why are you practicing that way? Mileage may vary for others, but for you, shouldn't you be doing what you think is best?

Don't forget Brad's doing the Karuna Yoga thing tomorrow morning (Sun 22 Mar 2008 0745) in Los Feliz. Check out his post a few below this one for info.


Mysterion said...

Anonymous said...
"I personally have found that... every teacher says/thinks/postulates that his/her tradition is the best - either overtly or behind closed doors."

Exactly why I no longer teach. I never thought the unthinkable or spoke the unspeakable - that "My way is the best." Since the very CORE of Buddhism teaches "question authority," anyone who claims authority is merely practicing hypocrisy.

Buddha said, " Do not believe in traditions merely because they have been handed down, for many generations and in many places. Do not believe in anything because it is rumored and spoken by many. Do not believe because the written statement of some old sage is reproduced. Do not believe in fancies, thinking that because they are extraordinary, they must have been implanted by a deva, or a wonderful being. Only after careful observations and analysis, when a thing agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, accept it and live up to it." (Kalma Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya)

Anonymous said...

Maybe all teachings should come with a warning like I see on the shampoo bottle "If swallowed induce vomiting"

Manly Palmer Hall said...

Anonymous said...
Maybe all teachings should come with a warning like I see on the shampoo bottle "If swallowed induce vomiting"


Anonymous said...

Check out this Guy on YouTube, inspired by Brad Warner

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin said...

this is better

Anonymous said...

Of course you should practice the way you think is best, but that doesn't mean every other way is "wrong" and your way is "right"

Simplistic and dualistic, not real.

Anonymous said...

"Exactly why I no longer teach."

You taught in the past? COOL!

Anonymous said...

I went to a zazen class after reading Brads books, the young guy who runs the class is so still, he also teaches Akido. He suggested or invited that I watch an Akido class, so I did, the class was filled with peaceful feeling (or so I projected)

What struck me about this guy - and I didnt think weather or not he has Direct insight ozzing through his skin to be relevant - as those that do or seemingly do are often egocentric jerks - what I found deeply relevant was the contrast between my own fluttering mind and nervous chatter and his stillness

This gave me a contrast

Since traveling the word in my younger days I have been aware that a thing has meaning only in contrast.

Anyways I liked the Zazen class a lot.

Thanks Brad

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ursus said...

"Seeing, hearing, and other sense perceptions, are just manifested at the present moment. And before those sense perceptions go on, it is said that something real exists in the identified situation."

Somehow it does not strike me as a song or a poem. Is the precision in translation that important (or possible)? Did Nagarjuna created it with the idea that it will be analyzed letter by letter?...

Art is supposed to give esthetic pleasure, be it painting, poetry or music. Tao Te Ching or Bhagavat Gita are enjoyable to read in some translations. I am sure that poetry of Robert Burns is pleasant to read when translated to Japanese (even though the translation is not completely precise). Why deprive Nagarjuna this privilege? Just a thought...

armchairmystic said...

Excuse me if this has already been suggested: Wisdom Publications?

Anonymous said...

You should be able to find a publisher and not have to resort to print on demand. Check out university presses, budhist publishers, even new age/occult publishers. I think the interest might be higher than you think.

Also, I would consider separating out the text so one can read the english translation w/o the commentary and linguistic notes. It would be easier to read and more accessible (and more marketable). I think for a "layperson" it's overwhelming as is. You could stick all the definitions and commentary either on a facing page or at the end. So maybe have, say, the right page of our hypothetical book have the verse, left page have notes and commentary. This way you could also draw in people who might just be interested in poetry--not the biggest crowd, of course, but every bit helps.

Hope that helps.