Happy New Year!!

Drums in my heart are drummin

Ever since I was a small girl, back in the days when Poppa was enthralled with Scotland, home of the Presbyterians, I have loved the song “My Bonnie Lassie.”  Much later I learned it was also the tune of “Scotland the Brave,” a favorite military march. I think I owned the Ames Brothers record with the Bonnie Lassie version. Oh…well…I still love it and was enchanted to find it combined with another favorite “Auld Lang Syne” on a New Year’s greeting e-card from jacquielawson.com.  The lyrics below are from 


My Bonnie Lassie lyrics
Drums in my heart are drummin,
I hear the bagpipes hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin over the sea.
My heart with her she’s bringin,
I hear the blue bells ringin,
Soon we’ll be highland flingin,
My love and me.

(I’ll meet her at the shore,
Playin the pipes for her,
Dressed in a kilt and a tam o’shanter too.
Drums in my heart are drummin,
I hear the bagpipes hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin, comin to me.)

Somewhere a ship and crew,
Sails o’er the ocean blue,
Bringing, oh, bringing,
My bonnie back to me.
That’s why the drums are drummin,
That’s why the pipes are hummin,
My Bonnie Lassie’s comin, comin to me.


Sad are the lads she’s leavin,
Many a sigh they’re heavin,
Even the heather’s grievin, cryin with dew.
She’s left her native highland,
To come and live in my land,
She’ll love the folks who smile,
And say, “how-de-do”.


Editing and Proofreading


I “edit” a lot. I am a pretty good copy editor and proofreader—and do better with other people’s work than I do with my own. This skill is a left-over from long years of teaching Senior English at the local high school. Sometimes I still help former students with college papers and I’ve nurtured my step-grandchildren through several university writing classes. Once I helped a friend by copy editing an unpublished novel she wrote. However, I am not a good general editor and do not like to work with content or overall organization. Of course, that dislike helps my copy editing, as I don’t like to change meaning or to suggest how to move things around. What I like to do is make sentences clear, concise, and elegant. Amusingly–or sadly, whichever–I am better at helping others write clear, concise sentences than I am at generating same on my own.

When my son turned his dissertation into a book, I proof-read my way through four drafts. Since the content of his book was way, way above my “abstract” language and concept level, my task was to find stray commas and those annoying “the the” cut/paste errors that our eyes tend to slide over when we proofread our own work–and which spell check never finds. It’s kind of telling, I guess, that I read his book twice as a dissertation and four times in draft form and still struggle to tell people what his book is about—which is the Tibetan knowledge of levels of reality and the Noble Beings who inhabit those levels, from our earth level to the high, high realms of heaven. Trust me—this book is not bounded by Christian thinking about “going to heaven” after we die. It annoys Jim no end when I joke that the book can be summarized as “all are saved!” However, Tsong kha pa states in the book that everyone who sets his/her foot on the path can climb the Stairway to Nirvana.

One aspect of editing that I truly enjoy is working with my daughter-in-law, who has a PhD in Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. She also has a master’s degree in Japanese literature, so it’s fun to work with her, though her levels of literacy are far, far above mine. She worked her way through four drafts of her dissertation, writing in Japanese and then translating it into English. Japanese does not translate smoothly into English and my task was to show her how to smooth out her sentences into highly literate English and to help her select English words with the correct connotation. I help her by proofreading works that she publishes or presents in English, a task I truly enjoy because she writes about fascinating topics. For example, she presented a paper at a conference about the writings of a 5th century Chinese Buddhist teacher on fasting and and proper eating. Right now we are working on presentations about the history of Japanese Buddhism, another fascinating topic. My daughter-in-law is my hero; she overcame enormous obstacles in earning her Ph.D. and she continues to write and teach in the language of her adopted country, not her birth country. I have barely mastered literary English and I cannot read or write in any other language.

Last summer, I was asked to review a translation of a Chinese article on the contributions to the friendship between China and Japan enabled by the connections and sharing between Buddhist scholars. (That awkwardly worded sentence is a reflection of the article’s title.) This article was written by a Chinese scholar and translated into English by a Japanese scholar. One can readily see that a text going from Chinese to English through the mind of a Japanese scholar could have awkward constructions, incorrect pronouns, word connotation issues, wrong degrees of adjectives and adverbs, uneven syntax, incorrect verb tenses, plus other punctuation and grammar issues. When I first read the piece, I “understood” what was stated, but so many of the language aspects listed above were slightly “off.” I agreed to help smooth it out, which involved fine combing through the essay six times; I kept noticing more and more subtle errors as I smoothed out the sentences. The editing took several days of exhausting concentration. The paper then was sent back to Japan for a final edit by the translator. At Christmas, my daughter-in-law presented me with a copy of the essay, which is in an Asian journal. Okay—no names here because I am not sure how much of that tale I am allowed to tell. Mainly, I was flattered to be asked to help and enjoyed the task immensely.

Some things I have to do in order to keep my language skills “sharp” and to help edit and proofread correctly are to Google confusing language issues to see what the professors say, to refer to Write for College–part of the INK texts—for punctuation and grammar references, and to constantly consult my desk dictionary and thesaurus. The other thing I do is to read the New Yorker and other literary magazines, plus I read and re-read British novels so that the cadences of literate English ring in my mind. I find that cadence study necessary as otherwise the cadences of barely literate Washington County English tend to clutter up my mind. It’s easy to see why I rarely have time to watch TV—another place where poor language and weak literary habits abide.

A big—and rather comical problem—with my editing adventures is that I cannot spell well. I recognize misspelled words, but often don’t know how to spell them correctly. Goggle has solved many spelling problems for me: just type in the incorrect spelling and it inquires “Did you mean…..” So handy! Other than that, I find myself struggling with a dictionary, looking up possible spellings until I hit upon the correct one. So much for the look-see-with-no-phonics reading instruction of the early 1950’s. This deficiency led to many years of student hilarity about the teacher-who-could-not-spell. I used to write on the board with one hand and hold a dictionary or cue-card in the other. As as aside, that “hilarity” is one more reason why I do not miss classroom teaching.

Here’s hoping my mind and eyes hold out for several more decades. I love to edit.


Twitter Updates for 2008-11-12

  • can you transmit sore throats by email???? #

Twitter Updates for 2008-11-11

  • changing passwords…..so hard for the elderly techno-challenged…… #
  • struggling to wake up…..and it’s long after noon. #
  • off to play bridge with some retired teachers…. #

Tibetan Lamas

Geshe is a Buddhist academic degree for scholars, requiring about twenty years of study. The geshe degree is a scholarly degree and should not be confused with the spiritual function of a “lama”; a lama is a person with spiritual insights which allow him or her to spiritually guide disciples. A geshe, on the other hand, is a keeper of the Buddhist knowledge. [Wikipedia]

I hate to admit how this got started, but when I was a freshman in college at Purdue in 1962, I read a book by a “Tibetan Lama” named Lobsang Rampa. He turned out to be a plumber from Scotland writing channeled misinformation about Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Still, I was enthralled with Tibet and read what other books I could find. There wasn’t much information about Tibet available in the early 60’s, though I enjoyed reading a number of books about India, including my favorites, The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin and The Far Pavilions. Deep in my heart, I formed a wish to meet a real Tibetan lama. Living in the American Midwest, I did not think that much of a possibility.

It is interesting to experience how wishes are granted as one journeys through life. In 1982 and 1983, I went on retreats at Bethany Springs, a retreat house close by Our Lady of Gethsemane monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky. One of the monks who had lived at Gethsemane was Thomas Merton, the famous writer and peace activist, who in 1968 journeyed to Darmsala, India, to visit the young Dalai Lama, who had escaped in 1959 from the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet. In his Asian Journal, Merton wrote about his arduous trek to northern India and his profound meetings with HH, the Dalai Lama. The two, speaking through translators, found a common bond, and one meeting turned into several. Merton died of an accidental electrocution a couple of weeks later in Bangkok, Thailand, but he had set in motion a dialogue between Buddhist and Christian monks that continues to this day.

In his sophomore year at The College of William and Mary, my oldest son Jim took a class in Buddhism. He then returned home at the end of the semester and swiped my entire shelf of books on Buddhism. I was gratified to have my child become interested in a particular interest of my own, though he has still not returned the books. Jim then discovered he could study Tibetan through Indiana University’s outstanding foreign language department. He subsequently discovered a “gift” in the ability to read and translate Tibetan and later Sanskrit. Before he graduated from IU with a degree in Religious Studies, he met a lama named Geshe Sopa, who was the Director of Buddhist Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually, Jim went to live and then to study with Geshe Sopa, earning his Ph.D in Buddhist studies from the University of Wisconsin in 2001.

While Jim was a student at IU, I attended some functions at the Tibetan Cultural Center and met [receiving line kind of meeting] the Dalai Lama’s brother, Thubten Jigme Norbu, Buddhist monk, professor of Central Eurasian Studies, oldest brother of the XIVth Dalai Lama, and the 26th reincarnation of Takster Rinpoche. I read his autobiography,Tibet is My Country, which whetted further interest. I was fascinated with the ancient Tibetan beliefs, including the idea of Rinpoches, “precious ones” who incarnate again and again into the same position. According to Tibetan beliefs, the Takster Rinpoche, Professor Norbu, had incarnated 26 times as the abbot of the Kumbum monastery. How amazing to be a reincarnated lama, to be discovered while the child of a peasant as the incarnation of a high lama, and to be educated at the highest level at an important monastery, to have inherited the wealth and position of abbot, to escape from Tibet with the help of the CIA, and to end up as a professor at a university in the Midwestern United States.

Of course, Jim knew of my desire to speak with a Tibetan lama, so in 1993, when he was living at Deer Park, Geshe Sopa’s home near Madison, Wisconsin, he arranged for me to have an audience with Geshe Sopa. One does not just sit down for a chat, I discovered. When I arrived at Deer Park after an eight hour drive from Salem, I was ushered into the kitchen where four monks were making tsampa—butter sculptures made of salted tea, yak butter, and toasted barley flour. These sculptures are especially made for the December Butter Lamp Festival. When I saw what they were making, I said “tsampa,” which brought delighted smiles to their faces—-probably from my mispronunciation. I was visiting during Thanksgiving weekend and they were deep into preparation for the coming festival; the table and counter were lined with small sculptures. I later learned that one of the young monks was a rinpoche and the old monk was a high lama named Geshe Topgay.

Soon, I was escorted into Geshe Sopa’s presence; he received me formally, in monk’s robes, seated cross-legged on a platform in his room. The platform, about five feet high, was draped in crimson silk and colorful thangkas with gold embroidery. I had the disconcerting feeling of being in another time and another place. After I had bowed a greeting, he kindly asked me to sit and inquired about what I wanted to know. I was overwhelmed and could not think of anything to ask but finally managed a question about how he escaped from Tibet. I am sure that is not a question with which to use a high lama’s time, but he told me about his journey over the Himalayan mountains four months after the Dalai Lama’s, a frightening, hunger-filled journey through the high mountain passes. Then I asked him about the Neuchung Oracle, Dorje Drak-den (Nechung), the principal protector divinity of the Tibetan government and the Dalai Lama (see History of Nechung Monastery), the one who told the Dalai Lama he must leave Tibet and named the places on the path of the safe journey to India. The Dalai Lama explained this oracle’s directions in his autobiography Freedom in Exile. Again, this was an unexpected question, but Geshe Sopa responded by explaining. Slowly, I relaxed and he began to question me about my beliefs. I think he grasped that my knowledge and thoughts were very fragmented. He began to tell me the basic teachings and tenets of Buddhism, speaking gently and kindly. Eventually, Jim helped me back away from his presence and leave the room properly, still facing Geshe Sopa. I remember being dazed the rest of the evening. I met Geshe Sopa several times after that and he was always smiling and cordial. I have never forgotten that profound hour in his presence—a dream fulfilled and a true honor for me to be in the presence of this holy man.