We generally translate zungwa and dzinpa as “grasping and fixation” (“fixation” referring to zungwa and “grasping” referring to dzinpa). Nevertheless, they are code words for “subject” and “object,” or the “perceiver” and “perceived” aspects of our experience (that is, in reverse order—zung refers to the object, and dzin to the subject). With that in mind, many translate the phrase zung dzin as “subject and object” or, to try to capture the “grasping” sense of the verbal root, as “apprehender and apprehended.” We might do the same in a strictly philosophical context, but in the more practice oriented texts that were the core of our work with the Vidyadhara, we tried to get more at the psychological roots of dualism. This story of our understanding of the translation of these two critical terms comes from the 1980 Vajradhatu Seminary. It provides a good illustration of how dharmic and linguistic understanding interweave during the process of translation.
Vidyadhara: According to the Buddhist tradition, self preservation is described by two terms. In English, the first one is grasping, or holding, and the second one is fixation. In Tibetan, first we have zungwa which literally means “fixation.” We fixate on ourselves because we are afraid to lose us, me, altogether. The second type of problem is calleddzinpa. Dzin means “holding,” “grasping.” . . . I wonder whether our translators might have some explanation of these two words. It would be very helpful. We have been struggling with the translation of zungwa and dzinpa for a long time. Mr. Mermelstein?
Larry Mermelstein: With your permission, sir, if I understand our conversations on this, in the Tibetan term, first we have zung, or “fixation,” and then dzin, “grasping.” This order reflects how ego itself actually arises: we fixate on “other” and then, based on that, we grasp onto ourselves, our mind. Based on our belief in the other as real, an object of our fixation, we come to see ourselves as truly existent. But in our English translation, and the way you have presented it in the past, the order is switched: First comes grasping and then fixation. This order reflects a path orientation. We talk about dzinpa, or “grasping,” first because it is the first of twofold ego, the ego of self, which we cut through first. And zungwa, involving the ego of dharmas, which we call “fixation,” is talked about second because it is more basic and more difficult to cut through. It is not cut through on the hinayana path. Is that correct, sir?
Vidyadhara: I think so. You’re right. It’s always good to have translators around. [Laughter.] I have spent hours and hours with my fellow translators, honorable ones, trying to figure out how to translate dharmic terms.