By the Trikāya Translation Committee.

Lillian Too’s Illegal Mahashri Sutra Plaques

The Mahashri Sutra Plaque
Lillian Too’s Mahashri Plaque — clearly my translation.

The above picture is the Mahashri Sutra plaque. It shows that Lillian Too used my translation. See my translation at:

http://tibetantranslations.com/2009/04/15/the-mahashri-sutra/, or at the link to the right under Top Posts.

There are also versions of my translation of the Mahashri Sutra available for viewing at http://www.mahashrisutra.com and http://www.scribd.com

SUMMARY (The Cold Facts, and the Main Point):

Lillian Too used my translation of the Mahashri Sutra to sell plaques for $96 each. She did not ask my permission, offer me any compensation, or credit me as translator, even though she knew me personally. After I exposed her illegal and unethical use of my translation for her business, she refused to communicate with me.

Lillian and I had a previous translation deal lasting for about two months, which Lillian had ended suddenly, angrily, and seemingly irrationally, and  she did not really provide me with good reasons as to why she was ending the project. Then, she actually asked for the money back that I had already worked for. During the time I was working on the project, she insisted on paying a very minimal price and was basically very cheap (especially for a multi-millionaire), was very demanding in general, and worst of all was very dishonest in her true intentions of having me translate one of the Zungdus or “Compendiums of Dharanis” — it was solely so that she could make money by using the mantras and sutras for profit, selling Feng Shui items by marketing the Buddha Dharma.

For those of who you don’t know Lillian, she is a multi-millionaire, quite famous Feng Shui master and author.

When I asked her about the Mahashri Sutra Plaques, she said that Lama Zopa Rinpoche had given it to her years ago. This was not true, as it was obviously my translation. My translation was the only one existent. Lama Zopa’s was nothing like the plaque. She had written me emails talking about my translation of the Mahashri Sutra specifically in the past, and it was actually one of the reasons that she originally wanted me to work for her. She was quite taken with my translation of the Mahashri Sutra (obviously). There is a not a speck of doubt that it is my translation.

After this, I never received another response from her personally again, and her company was not helpful either. Her company actually wrote to me and said that the use of the work did not violate copyright law (which it does), and basically said that they didn’t owe me anything, not even an apology, or a promise not to do it again — later as I found out, because she still had intentions to use my work — she is still selling keychains that presumably have my translation of the Mahashri Sutra in them (using a different name for the same sutra)!

Lillian later removed the Mahashri Sutra Plaque from her online website. There was some information that the item had been retracted completely, although this has never been completely verified. Again, I have received no information about the item from Lillian or her company, not even a notice about the status of the item.

Thus, Lillian did indirectly admit to using my translation, both through 1) taking the product offline (and presumably discontinuing it) after I exposed it, and 2) through her company’s response that their use of it “did not violate copyright law”.

Since the original writing of this article, I have since attempted over email to apologize to Lillian Too for my part in whatever led her to these actions. I have assured her that I have no big agenda here, other than a thoughtful and fair reponse to my very valid concerns.

At the very least, I need a letter from her company stating that they will not use my intellectual property in the future. Of course, compensation would also be good and appropriate.

If there is anyone out there who knows Lillian personally, or gets the chance to meet her, I urge you to ask her about this issue. I have had no success in my communications with her, her company, or any of her associates. You can also email her at lillianlpk@gmail.com.

What baffles me is Lillian’s refusal to address the issue. She has already basically admitted to doing it, so why not give me the courtesy of an apology, promise to not do it again, and maybe even some fair compensation? Or perhaps even work out a business deal that could benefit both of us?

I truly think that my concerns are real, valid, and transcend any narrow grasping at my own translation work. These issues are very real and of concern to everyone.

In particular, I think that this is a case of translators needing to be made more aware, and to stand up for their rights.

What’s the most sad about this whole issue, beyond having anything to do with me, is that there are influential Buddhists out there who think it is acceptable to do these kinds of things to Dharma translators.

It’s a sad microcosm of the overall attitude of a lot of people, who have no real appreciation for the immense work that translators do, and feel it is their right to utilize the work of translators while showing no respect or sensitivity to their legal and moral rights to their work, even to the point of making hundreds of thousands of dollars off their work without even offering them a single cent or even crediting them as translator.

O You Translators (and artists and writers of all kinds) out there — be careful who you work with, and try to protect your work!

Erick Sherab Zangpo

PS In response to some of the negative responses I have received over this article… it is not my intention to harm Lillian Too. If you think deeply about this issue, I feel that you will see that it is the right thing to do to continue to spread the message about this.  As I mentioned above, this has to do with much more than just me. It is a matter of ethics and principles that apply to everyone. I will gladly drop the whole thing and take down this article the moment that Lillian Too resolves this issue in a normal fashion. I feel it is actually the compassionate thing to do for Lillian Too’s sake as well — keeping this article up until she acts responsibly for her own actions.

Furthermore, in answer to the responses which have claimed that “sutra translations don’t belong to anyone” and “Lillian Too is spreading the Dharma through the Mahashri Sutra Plaques”:

In today’s modern world, any translation done is protected by law. The Buddha also stated that one should respect the laws of the land.

I do understand that there is a cultural difference here, especially in Chinese culture, which has traditionally not given Buddhist translators much credit or money, because 1) the translators were/are usually monks who are not supposed to be working anyway, and 2) because the sutra translations are usually done for free distributions or directly for a Buddhist publication society. The situation is different with translators who come from other cultures.

I do not think that the Chinese translators of the Tang dynasty would have been very happy to see their translations of the Mahayana sutras being used to sell products, without their permission or offering any recognition or compensation. In fact, even today, the ancient Tibetan translators from Sanskrit are still credited at the end of the texts.

My translation was and is also provided for free distribution on my website. However, it is also protected by copyright, which means that if it is going to be re-published in any form, and especially if it is going to be used for commercial sale, then it is protected by law. Moreover, if you are going to use someone else’s work for your own profit, it is in Buddhist terms unethical not to ask them their permission or to not give them at least some compensation. The point is that she should have asked to use the translation, and worked out a deal with me that was fair.

The fact that she did nothing to reconcile my concerns to me reveals that her intentions were not to spread the Dharma but to make money.

The intent of my making the translation available online was to spread the sutra, not so someone could use my translation to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You may argue that Lillian Too is spreading the Dharma. I say, Sure, but spreading it in the WRONG WAY — a way which shows no respect towards Dharma translators. In my view, any merit that she is making by “spreading the Dharma” is canceled out by the fact that she is treating the source of her business with no compassion.

Lastly, there is one final, very important point: Lillian’s actions also showed great disrespect to the Mahashri Sutra itself. Why? Because if she really cared about the integrity of the sutra, she would have made sure that it was the best possible translation available. She would have contacted the translator, and (in addition to getting his permission and compensating him), would have asked him to make sure that the translation was completely free of mistakes, and that he had gone over it with Buddhist scholars. The accuracy or quality or authenticity of the translation did not seem to be a concern of Lillian’s.

Had I know that the Mahashri Sutra was going to be put on plaques and sold to thousands of people, who are going to be praying and reciting it every day, I would have made sure that it was the best translation possible. I was not given this opportunity.

Along the same lines, I also think that her not showing respect for the translator shows that she did not really respect the text, either. The translator is in a sense the transmitter of the text. Not appreciating that undermines the integrity of the scripture.

Thus, Lillian Too has also shown disrespect to the Mahashri Sutra itself.

Below are the original articles.

Note 2: Lillian Too has removed the Mahashri plaques from her website. It is possible that she has also removed the item entirely from her stock. So, Lillian Too has indirectly admitted her guilt in using my translation without my permission.

Nonetheless, at this point I would not be surprised if she is still planning on selling them through some other avenue.

However, I have not received any satisfactory message from either her or her company.  It is quite possible that she has only taken the item off the site in order to hide the evidence. I am currently searching for someone who has the plaque, so that better pictures can be taken. However, in the above picture you can see that the plaque was my translation. If you or anyone you know owns one of the Mahashri Sutra plaques, please contact me at emptyelephant@yahoo.com.

I am not satisfied in this situation, as Lillian Too has

1) Not openly admitted to having used my work, and is flatly denying any illegality,  nor has the immorality of her actions been addressed,

2) Nor has she or her company offered me any promise that they will not use my intellectual property in the future,

3) Nor has any financial compensation been offered for her illegal and immoral actions.

Sadly, thus far Lillian Too has not taken the chance to do the right thing.

Original Message: Lillian Too, the famous Feng Shui author and teacher, has used my translation of the Mahashri Sutra in order to sell Mahashri Sutra plaques for $96/each. She did not contact me, offer me any compensation, or even credit me as the translator. Please see her website at:

http://www.fsmegamall.com/index.php?l=product_detail&p=2247

(note: the product has since been removed from the ‘World of Feng Shui’ site.

She is selling it in both red and black. This is most definitely my translation.

I want to clarify a few things.  Lillian Too and I had a previous relationship — I worked for her as a translator, translating one of the Zungdus, giant collections of sutras, mantras, and dharanis. She knew very well that I would not approve of using my translation of the Mahashri Sutra for sale. She did not bother to contact me, and so obviously did not offer any compensation, and did not even credit me as the translator on the plaques. Lillian Too knew me, and thus especially should have contacted me. The Mahashri Sutra was NOT one of the texts that I translated for the Zungdu project.

I translated this sutra almost a year ago, in America, in April of 2009. Shortly after the translation was finished, a website was made, http://www.mahashrisutra.com. The translation has also been posted on many other websites, aside from this one, such as on http://www.scribd.com

Also, I want to explain something about our previous business  relationship. A month or so into the Zungdu project, Lillian Too got extremely angry for some reason. I was trying to get a modestly fair deal, and she threw a fit and trashed the project. At the beginning of the project she had given me a $1000 advance. I had already turned in translation work that was almost equivalent to $1000. She actually asked for my hard-earned money back! Of course, I didn’t give it back to her. She then told me that she didn’t want to speak to me again. Honestly, I was very confused as to why she was being so negative towards me. I don’t understand what I did wrong to her. It was a very disturbing situation, and a sad end to what otherwise could have been a good project.

In addition, she was not honest and straightforward about how she was going to use my translations, although I asked very specifically. She has used another of my translations, the Heart Mantra of Vairochana, for yet another plaque that she is still selling on the same website. However, because I did translate this for her, I am not going to make a big deal about it. Nonetheless, it is further evidence of her dealings.

And now, this. Lillian Too took my translation of the Mahashri Sutra, my legal intellectual property, didn’t ask me about it, slapped it on some plaques, did not credit me as the translator, and made $96/pop for my work.

Thus, this new development of using my translations for her personal gain is actually not all that surprising.  Nonetheless, it is morally wrong, especially because it involves a Mahayana Buddhist Sutra (which she is profiting from financially).

I would appreciate if people who sympathize with my cause could write to Lillian Too and demand that she admit the truth, promise to not use my intellectual property in the future, and pay me fairly to compensate for this immoral and illegal activity. You can email her at lillianlpk@gmail.com. You can also post on her Facebook fan pages. She has erased her Facebook profile recently, presumably to hide from the flood of emails that she was getting from concerned individuals.

This woman is a multi-millionaire (or billionaire) who is very consciously taking advantage of a poor young Dharma translator living in India, using his work without offering them anything, not even credit, in order to make tons of money off the Buddha Dharma. I am a poor Tibetan language student living in India, working with good motivation to benefit the Dharma and sentient beings. I barely get by. I am here merely to study and translate and benefit others. I offer the translations on this site for others to read and use, but not for them to profit from, publish, or sell without my permission. That is illegal, and moreover highly immoral.

This situation makes me very sad, and I hope that some justice is done. Please write to Lillian Too and request that she be held accountable for her actions.

As a friend recently put it, “Using a Buddhist sutra for gaining wealth in order to gain wealth for herself, at the cost of cheating the person who translated that sutra out of his.”

Erick Sherab Zangpo
http://emptyelephant.wordpress.com

PS Another reason that this is wrong is that there are possibly mistakes in that translation. I did not think that other people would publish or use it for sale without asking me. Had I known I would have made a polished final version.

***UPDATE***

Lillian finally responded by email, by lying and saying that the translation was from Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I quote her words exactly:

Sorry it was not yours it was from lama Zopa

Lama Zopa’s rough translation is on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive. Mine is on my website. If you take a look at the plaques, you will see that it is definitely my translation.

Here is Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s version, which Lillian Too claims is the version used on the plaques. Scroll down 2/3 down the page, under the “Improving Business” article, till you see “The Sutra of the Female Arya Great Glorified One”:

http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect=article&id=299&chid=1360

(if this link doesn’t work, go to http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php, click on “Teachings”, then “Advice from Lama Zopa Rinpoche”, then “Misfortune”, then “Practices for Sucess”. At the top of the this page, click on “Business Success” and scroll down to the “Improving Business” letter)

Here is my version on my website:

http://tibetantranslations.com/2009/04/15/the-mahashri-sutra/

There is also a version on http://www.mahashrisutra.com and another on http://www.scribd.com

Here is the plaque:

http://www.fsmegamall.com/index.php?l=product_detail&p=2247 (link now defunct as the product has been removed, however, I have one picture displayed above and others on my laptop; it is also viewable in one of the most recent issues of Feng Shui World magazine)

A cursory look at the plaque will show you that she used my version, not Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s. It is crystal clear.

There is not another translation of this sutra, so there are no other possibilities. Lillian Too has knowingly used my work without my permission, a translation of a Buddhist sutra,  in order to use it for her own profit, and then said that her guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche,  gave it to her.

Please spread the word. Lillian Too has used my intellectual property (a translation of a Buddhist scripture), without asking my permission or offering me any compensation, for her own personal gain, and offered me nothing in return.

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