Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Written in 1984

"Two hundred years before us and before our quarrels and questions, in the Tibet of the eighteenth century, under the Fifth Dalai Lama, a notable event took place. One day His Holiness saw, from a window of the Potala, his palace-temple monastery, an extraordinary sight: in accordance with Buddhist ritual, the goddess Tara was circling the wall surrounding the building. The next day at the same hour the same thing happened, and again on the days that followed. After a week of watching, the Dalai Lama and his monks discovered that every day, just when the goddess appeared, a poor old man also walked around the wall, reciting his prayers. The old man was questioned: he was reciting a prayer in verse to Tara, which in turn was a translation of a Sanskrit text in praise of Prajnā Pārāmitā. These two words mean Perfect Wisdom, an expression that designates emptiness. It is a concept that Mahayana Buddhism has personalized in a female divinity of inexpressible beauty. The theologians had the old man recite the text. They at once discovered that the poor man was repeating a faulty translation, so they made him learn the correct one. From that day forth, Tara was never seen again." --
Octavio Paz, in his wonderful essay, "Reading and Contemplation" appearing in
Convergences, published in 1987. The superb translation is by Helen R. Lane, to whom the essay is dedicated.

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