Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm feeling obscured

I've seen the term shes bya'i sgrib pa translated in two somewhat different ways:

1. cognitive obscuration, knowledge obscuration in the sense of erroneous knowledge obscuring the nature of mind. I understand the erroneous knowledge to be the belief in the self-identity of individuals and the self-identity of phenomena.

2. obstructions to omniscience, obscuration of the knowable, obstruction to objects of knowledge

In #1, the shes bya obscure the nature of mind and have a negative connotation. In #2 the shes bya seem to be equated with true knowledge and thus have a positive connotation.

So here's the question: how should we understand the shes bya in shes bya'i sgrib pa?


Tyler Dewar said...

Good question, Gerry. I understand the term basically in the second way, as in obscurations to what can be known. Even still, I would use cognitive obscurations as a translation, because they are obscurations of (related to) cognition, i.e. that which obscures the cognition of all knowable objects.

Marcus Perman said...

Sorry I fell off the bandwagon for a bit, but I'm Back! I asked Ringu Tulku about this when he was visiting Seattle and he also said that the second way is the way to understand the term. It seems to me, from a simple reader's perspective, if you say "cognitive obscuration" it implies an obscuration that is cognitive, i.e. the first meaning you mention, which is the incorrect meaning. However, if it is clearly defined in the text and/or you write out "that which obscures the cognition of all knowable objects," then the reader can understand it easily. "Obscuration to knowledge" has also been used, and I think this phrase is actually easier to relate to for the average reader. shes bya can mean knowledge or field of knowledge, although it would be best if one could stick to "knowable object" or "objects of knowledge", however I do not think this is practical here. Mr. Duff gives "Knowables obscuration" or "obscuration to knowables", which is basically silly if you want your writing to be read and understood by English speakers. This kind of literalness is simply impractical when the term is not really a special essential term. Sometimes people argue for an impractical or unique Tibetlish word for philosophically important or special terms for which one might like to purposely provide the reader with a unique term or phrase, or leave it in Sanskrit, so that it's special definition is highlighted. In this case, I think one is hard pressed to argue that this term really needs some kind of special ambiguity. Regardless of his impracticality, Duff does give this insight: "...Finally, this has been translated as "cognitive obscuration" or "obscuration to omniscience" but these translations, which translate the term shes bya'i "knowable" as shes pa'i "cognition or omniscience" of a Buddha are also incorrect."