RESPONSE TO PUBLIC STATEMENT BY BENCHEN LIBRARY REGARDING TRANSLATIONS AND FACEBOOK GROUPS
12th October 2019
Benchen Monastery Library have issued an official letter, on 11 October 2019, which is not signed personally by HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche, regarding ‘unauthorised’ Facebook pages, and the permission and copyright for translations of texts composed by HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche. Here is my response to this letter:
The ‘dozens of unauthorised pages’ this letter refers to have been, and were created, prior to the ‘Followers of HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche’ FB group I created in May 2019, and in addition, were set up by members of the Benchen monastic community (or their friends) themselves. So they appear to be complaining about the activity of their own sangha and community.
There was never any intention or suggestion by myself, or others, that my ‘followers’ group was an authorised FB page and in addition, many great masters have such fan groups in existence, which have not been demanded to be closed down by their respective monasteries. Also, as I have had a personal and close connection with Rinpoche himself, as a friend and translator (we have been in almost daily contact on wechat), and there was no such fan group for Rinpoche, I saw no major issues with creating one. When it was first created it was liked and shared by many members of the Benchen monastery community and members of his own family. This initially friendly and welcoming attitude suddenly changed to one of hostility and aggression towards me as a woman and translator, and the main motivation for that change needs to be clearly explained by Rinpoche and/or the monastery.
The translation work I have done and published already of short texts or sadhanas by (or about) HE Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche have all had his express and personal transmission, instruction and support. Rinpoche also gave me the transmission and permission to translate the Shentong text (Music of the Ultimate Sphere) in October 2018 and gave instructions over wechat and in personal meetings at Benchen monastery in May 2019. I have audio recordings of those meetings and the wechat messages relating to his instruction and advice on other translations I have done. He told me in several messages that he was very happy with the translations I had done and they were ‘excellent’ and ‘beautiful’. In March 2019, Rinpoche also offered me financial support for the translation work when we met in Bhutan. In September 2019, Rinpoche also told me personally over wechat and in calls, that he would meet me the first week of October 2019 at the Nepal monastery to continue helping with the text, his health permitting. Therefore, as significant amounts of my own time and money have been spent on the translation of the Shentong text, I do intend to complete the translation of it and will seek Rinpoche’s instruction on it in the future as well.
It sets an extraodinary legal precedent, if applied, for a monastery publisher to say that they, and only they alone, can give permission to translate and publish texts. Particularly if the author.composer (in this case Sangye Nyenpa Rinpoche) has given express permission and transmission to a translator to translate their teaching/text. At the very least, the author and publisher should have joint copyright. I have not come across any such official letter before, forbidding translations without the permission of the publisher alone. In the academic world, for example, many scholars and translators, translate and publish texts even without the oral transmission and instruction of the lama or a lineage master, never mind getting the permission of the monastic publisher. Also, let us not forget that these are Dharma texts under discussion, not worldly texts written and published for a profit basis and so on. The wishes of Rinpoche and that of some members of the Benchen community seem to be in contradiction and opposition.
As a published Dharma translator, with an academic background in the subject, I have already spent a significant amount of time (and my own expense) translating the Shentong text (I have finished half of it) and Rinpoche gave me the transmission, instruction and permission to translate it. Therefore, any suggestion by Benchen Monastery or anyone else that I do not have the authority to translate or publish such a text is a mistake and potentially libellous. I also took the translator’s commitment to complete the text regardless of the obstacles that may arise, based on Rinpoche’s own actions supporting me and the translation activity. Therefore, for Benchen Library to try and force me, or any translator to abandon that is not only unprecedented but also unethical. It should be for Rinpoche himself to decide who he gives permission to translate a text and who he wishes to support on that. In addition, why could Benchen Library not have issued this letter to me personally, months ago when I started translating the Shentong text with Rinpoche’s support? Why do they choose now to do it now and in such a public manner?
When I first met Rinpoche last year, it was apparent then, that very few of Rinpoche’s teachings or Tibetan texts have been published, translated or transcribed into English. At first I found this very hard to understand, but now the reason is becoming clearer. If a few Benchen monks with little personal access to Rinpoche, are literally dictating to scholars, translators and Rinpoche himself, who can translate and publish his works then of course, very little will, and can, be done. They state in their letter that: ”We are therefore dedicated to input, edit and publish them in modern book format or release online as eBooks.” However, there have been many years to do this and so far there have been no e-books, or new translations and transcriptions of his works and teachings in English.
7. The online threats, bullying and silencing of my voice on Facebook, the disabling and loss of my personal FB account ‘Adele Zangmo’ as well as the slanderous accusations and slurs against my character as a woman, translator, Dharma practitioner and so on (by a few Benchen monks and people using anonymous FB profiles) are clearly motivated by a wish to control everything Rinpoche says and does and to block any activity he is involved in that they do not have explicit control over. For more on that please see my previous post. The comments targeted at me as a woman are aggressive, sexist and misogynist. In addition, as there are clearly some serious allegations surfacing regarding Rinpoche’s conduct (possibly over decades) towards female followers and women he has met, any such allegations should be investigated objectively and impartially nonetheless and Benchen Monastery has a legal and moral obligation to respond privately to any complaints or grievances by men or women against Rinpoche and/or members of the Benchen monastic community. For example, earlier this year, I was also messaged on Facebook by ‘Sunny Ng’ and ‘Gillian C Kin’ telling me about such allegations, and have met several women independently in person, who all tried to warn me about Rinpoche and his conduct towards women, giving clear and specific examples with names and places. These allegations upset me a great deal to read and hear about and still do.
I do hope that these matters can be resolved in a peaceful, compassionate and humane manner that is consistent with the purposes and spirit of the Buddha Dharma and any slanderous accusations, disrespectful, bullying and unethical activity towards myself (and other female followers (and their Dharma friends)) cease and desist as soon as possible. I am also now seeking legal advice, not only on the above matters, but also as I have lost all access to my FB account and personal data in it and need to recover it, as well as resolve the issue that I cannot create a new FB account without it being immediately disabled without explanation. The fact that this has all happened at the same time as these other matters is no coincidence as far as I am concerned.
None of my previous letters sent to Benchen monastery administration about these matters have been responded to.
Adele Tomlin, 12th October 2019