Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Robin Kornman (1947-2007) Translator of Gesar of Ling

Professor Robin Kornman, reknowned Tibetan translator and scholar of the Tibetan Gesar of Ling epic died peacefully on July 31 after a long illness. Robin was a life-long student of the late Tibetan master, Chogyam Trungpa, founder of Naropa University, whom he met in his youth. As a translator of Tibetan literature, Robin was part of the Nalanda translation team who worked on The Rain of Wisdom, one of the first collections of Tibetan poetry translated into English.

For decades Robin devoted his life to working on translating the
Gesar of Ling epic
, the longest epic in world literature believed to be over 1000 years old and still widely performed through out Central Asia. While a number of translations exist of the Gesar epic, Robin's unique gift and exacting scholarship rivals many of these translations. For an exquisite taste of his elegant language, click here, to access some examples. The Gesar of Ling represents a living Heroic epic cycle where the forces of good and evil are played out in the human realm. In Robin's own words:

The Tibetan Epic of Gesar of Ling is an immense oral epic which is still sung by bards. It exists in literally hundreds of volumes, some of them transcriptions of bardic performances, others original compositions.

The Gesar is a vast treasury of Inner Asian literary culture. It is still sung today in Tibet and is known in different languages and editions along the Silk Route and throughout the Far East. It contains long sections of prose narration alternating with hundreds of epic ballads and examples of every sort of poetry in the Tibetan repertoire, both folk and classical. In size it is like The Arabian Nights. In its breadth, unity, and seriousness, it is like the Homeric epics or the Mahabharata.
It tells the story of a enlightened warrior named Gesar. At the beginning of the epic he is a Buddhist deity named Good News, living peaceably in a Buddhist heaven. The Tibetan tantric sorceror, Padmasambhava, and the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, attempt to involve him in worldly affairs. These events are reported in the extremely metaphysical first volume of the epic, the Lha gLing or The Divine Land of Ling.

During the years I worked for the poet, Allen Ginsberg, Robin met with Allen on a number of occasions for feedback on his translations into English. For a fine article on Robin, read Larry Mermelstein's recollection.