Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

Summer Intensive Tibetan Courses

Are you looking to develop your Tibetan language skills? Opportunities abound for language study this summer in the United States and South Asia. Most programs offer either classical or colloquial courses, and many are offered for credit through affiliated universities. Online courses are also available in self-study and interactive formats and are a great way to get started right away.


Tsadra Foundation’s Research Center will offer for the first time a short intensive program this summer during the last two weeks of August (13 – 25). The courses, offered for three levels of students–beginning, intermediate, and advanced–will combine the study of spoken and written Tibetan with opportunities to develop skills in translation and oral interpretation for advanced students. Lama Sarah Harding will teach the advanced reading class and Doctor Jules Levinson will facilitate oral interpretation practice from Tibetan to English. Visit the website for more information.

Colloquial Tibetan Studies

University of Virginia’s Summer Language Institute offers an intensive course in colloquial Tibetan which runs for eight weeks (June 17 – August 10) and is hosted on campus at UVa in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. Franziska Oertle, who has taught Tibetan at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Nepal and the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics near Dharamsala, India, will be teaching alongside her colleague Gen Phuntsok Dorje this summer. The course is offered for the equivalent of twelve academic credits, but also for non-credit-earning study. More information can be found here. 

University of Wisconsin’s South Asia Summer Language Institute will also offer summer intensive courses in modern South Asian languages, including colloquial Tibetan and Sanskrit, from June 18 through August 10 in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. Apply for this program here. 

For those interested in travel to South Asia, two notable programs for colloquial Tibetan language study are Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu University’s Centre for Buddhist Studies (RYI) and Esukhia. RYI also offers classical Tibetan courses on campus in Kathmandu.

RYI’s summer intensive programs offer three levels–beginner, intermediate, and advanced–of colloquial and classical Tibetan, and two levels–beginner and intermediate–of Sanskrit. These programs run from June 13 through August 10. Students have the option to live with Tibetan host families, experience the bustling city of Kathmandu, and explore sacred sites in the surrounding valleys. Read more information about these courses and apply for them here. 

Esukhia, based in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India, runs a summer intensive program in Ladakh for either one or two months of study starting July 2 and running through August 25. This program features homestay experiences with Tibetan families living in the small town of Choglamsar just outside of Leh. Visit Esukhia’s website here. 

Classical Tibetan Studies

Studying classical Tibetan is also a possibility in an intensive format this summer, both for-credit and not-for-credit. Maitripa College, in Portland, Oregon, offers intensive classical Tibetan language study which introduces students to vocabulary and grammatical structures and guides them through translating portions of texts by the end of the eight weeks. Read more about Maitripa’s program here. 

Rangjung Yeshe Gomde California offers an intermediate-level classical Tibetan course through the Dharmachakra School of Translation which is accredited by Kathmandu University. The course is based on Rangjung Yeshe Institute’s summer intensive courses, but available with the backdrop of the Eel River in the coastal range of Northern California. Find more information about this program here. 

Another program in California, USA, The Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages, will offer second-year classical Tibetan and Sanskrit this summer. The program is best suited for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Read more about this course here. 

Online Study

If you are unable to travel this summer, not to worry! Possibilities for online study are plentiful.

The University of Toronto offers two levels of classical Tibetan study based on Joe Wilson’s Translating Buddhism from Tibetan entirely online. The introductory course is twelve weeks long and will introduce you to the needed grammatical structures to learn to translate from Tibetan to English. Students can work with a moderator and study for credit through the University of Toronto. If you are not seeking credit, the entire course is freely available for self-study. You can begin studying at any time by visiting this website.

Esukhia offers one-on-one colloquial Tibetan classes online over Skype using a curriculum they developed based on vigorous research into language learning pedagogy. Sign up and start studying immediately.

Rangjung Yeshe Institute also offers two semesters of classical Tibetan courses online and a self-study Tibetan alphabet course. Completing the two semester-length online courses will prepare you to attend most intermediate-level classical Tibetan courses. Both semesters can be taken for academic credit and feature a course moderator in addition to the online course materials. The courses can also be taken on a self-study basis. Read about the courses and apply for them here. 

David Curtis offers courses in classical Tibetan via teleconference through the Tibetan Language Institute. A new round of David’s courses begins in April. Sign up here. 

Neljorma Tendron teaches four levels of online classes which are focused on comprehension of dharma terminology with the aim of reading and understanding one’s liturgical practice texts. Visit her website here for more information. 

Sonam Chusang, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, hosts beginning classes in the Tibetan alphabet, pronunciation, and spelling, and a beginning level of both colloquial and classical Tibetan. You can read more about these classes here.

Naropa Students Enjoy Lunch with Master Translators

Master translators Wulstan Fletcher and Elizabeth Callahan visited Naropa University to speak with students about the process of translation from Tibetan to English, and the motivations that led them to pursue such work.

The conversation occurred as part of Naropa University’s Indo-Tibetan Lunch Seminar Series, organized and hosted by Dr. Amelia Hall, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, which fosters discussion among students across disciplines—art, Indo-Tibetan studies with Tibetan and/or Sanskrit language—and encourages them to explore different ways to study language in general, and Tibetan and Sanskrit in particular.

Elizabeth began by describing her motivation to learn Tibetan: she was interested in practicing Tibetan Buddhism and understanding what she was practicing. Over the course of her six years of retreat, she gradually learned to serve as an interpreter for Tibetan teachers and became a translator of practice texts. After completing retreat, she fell into being a translator because she wanted to develop a better understanding of emptiness, the rituals associated with Buddhist practice, and the “point” of meditation and saw a way to do that through the practice of translation.

“Translation can be a skillful way to approach in-depth study.”
-Elizabeth Callahan


Following Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s encouragement to understand the text from the practitioner’s perspective, Elizabeth took translation as the path early on. She explained the importance of working closely with masters of the lineage and students of the same teacher to produce translations. She described a model to approach the translation of Tibetan materials to English to benefit oneself and others equally: absorb yourself in the text–practice, study, and research, then the product of the translation contributes to others being able to practice.

Elizabeth closed her comments with an encouragement to students to, “Bring <your knowledge of Tibetan> to a point where it is useful for you if you are interested to practice. Train until, when you pick up a text, you have 90% comprehension, and that you’re fluent enough in colloquial Tibetan that you can ask questions to get to 100%.”  

Wulstan began by introducing himself to the group as “The Reluctant Translator”. Completely self-taught, Wulstan completed three-year retreat and worked on technical translations until Tsadra offered support for him to work full time. From his perspective, translation is part of one’s bodhisattva commitment to help people who will never be in a position to learn the language, giving them access to a wonderful tradition that is still alive. “Translation is breaking the shell so people can eat the kernel, or taking the stone off the well so people can get to the water.”

Wulstan then shifted to sharing his love of language. He explained that the classical Tibetan of the texts, which is quite different from the modern spoken language, is a learned language, like Latin was in the middle ages. It has remained fairly stable and unchanged over the centuries. The written Tibetan of a modern author like Dudjom Rinpoche is in many respects the same as that of Longchenpa, who lived in the fourteenth century. As writers, they are virtual contemporaries even though they are separated by six centuries. This means that, once you have learned to read Tibetan, you have access to vast literature spanning over a thousand years.

“If you think Buddhadharma is valuable, translate. You can’t know what the benefit will be—maybe you’re giving a tool to someone who can use it much better than you could!”
-Wulstan Fletcher


Exploring the Craft of Translation

Elizabeth and Wulstan answered thoughtful questions from the students about what to do when experiencing a block or facing something you don’t understand. Wulstan urged students to read slowly and not to lose heart. He explained that while Tibetan grammar is not complicated, its syntax is strange and confusing to speakers of an Indo-European language like our own. Tibetan is not written in sentences in the way that English is—centerd on a main verb with principal and relative clauses all clearly connected. Thanks to its use of particles and its unrestricted capacity for subordination, Tibetan is often written in extended, river-like periods which can be very long indeed—alarmingly so for the beginner. Nevertheless, it is important to get used to the way Tibetan writers arrange their ideas and to read their sentences in the way Tibetans do rather than jumping around trying to piece together bits of sense, more or less guessing how they should be put together. It’s only when you have grasped the meaning of the Tibetan that you can then put it into English, dividing up the Tibetan into shorter manageable statements. This isn’t easy and takes a lot of practice, so it’s important to be patient and not get discouraged. Then, because the syntactical structure of the two languages is so different, it is important to “step away” from the original Tibetan and recast the meaning into a natural English form. When the translation process is complete, the text should read as clearly and easily as a text composed in English. This is part of being kind to the reader which, above all, Elizabeth and Wulstan reminded the students to do by thinking of their audience when translating. 

Both translators spoke of the importance of mastering of one’s own language—cultivating a knowledge of English literature to know stylistically what is good. They encouraged the students to read literature, to love English, to read the poets, and cherish the language. By translating, one is contributing to the corpus of literature in our own language.

They offered a step-by-step approach to working with a translation:

  1. Use dictionaries and online resources like Columbia University’s Buddhist Canon Research Database with searchable unicode text, the BDRC database, and the Tibetan Himalayan Translation Tool online;
  2. Work with context and play with how to say things in different ways;
  3. Continue the research process: “Read around” the text by engaging with relevant texts and scholarly materials to help build context; and
  4. Ask questions: understanding the author’s life could inform your translation.

The conversation ended with an encouraging comment from Elizabeth to the young translators: “If you feel drawn to learn Tibetan and become a translator, do it. You’ll find a way.”

~ Shambhala Publications Book Launch ~

The Just King

The Tibetan Buddhist Classic on Leading an Ethical Life

By Jamgön Mipham, Translated by José Ignacio Cabezón

The Buddhist luminary Jamgön Mipham wrote a letter on leadership to the king of Dergé, whose small kingdom straddled China and Tibet during a particularly turbulent period. This work stresses compassion, impartiality, self-control, and virtue as essential for long-lasting success—whether as a leader or an individual trying to live a meaningful life. Both present-day leaders and those they lead will find this classic work, finally available in English, profoundly illuminating on political, societal, and personal levels.

Join us for some refreshments, snacks, and a discussion with Professor José Cabezón on ethical leadership according to the great Tibetan master Mipham.

When: June 4, 6pm

Where: Shambhala Publications event space and book store, 4720 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80301

Two sessions at the upcoming Translation & Transmission Conference will be open to the public. Seating is limited. Please register by following the links at the bottom of the sessions you’re interested in attending.

1 ~ Approaches to Transmission in the West: A Discussion with Contemporary Shedra Students

with Robert Miller, Katrin Querl, Simon Houlton, Matt Weiss & Gerd Klintschar

Public Session 1 • Room 204, 2nd Floor • 2:30 PM, June 2, 2017

For westerners looking to study at the highest level in the Tibetan Buddhist World, there are significant barriers. Would you enroll in a Tibetan monastic college in India or Nepal? Meet four westerners who did just that, several of whom still continue their rigorous decade of study today. This session will be a public discussion with Robert Miller, who was director of education at a monastery in India, and four western students from Tibetan monastic colleges: Katrin Querl (Drikung Kagyu College, Dehra Dun), Simon Houlton (Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala), Matt Weiss (Sera Je Monastic University, Bylakuppe), and Gerd Klintschar (Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Kathmandu).

Register for Public Session #1 here!


2 ~ Approaches to Transmission in the West: New Voices & Old Traditions

with Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel, Ari Goldfield, Sarah Plazas & Gyurme Avertin

Public Session 2 • Wittemeyer Hall • 4:45 PM, June 2, 2017

What does genuine transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the west look like? How can we be active participants in this process? What role do translators and western teachers have in this globalized process? What is transmission, really? Two western teachers and two translators will discuss all these issues and more in this wonderful meeting of minds.

Register for Public Session #2 here!



Oct 26, 2012

Dear friends,

We are delighted to announce that the final volume of the ten-volume Treasury of Knowledge Series has now been published. This brings to completion a project begun by the previous Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche and his students over 25 years ago, and is – to quote Roger Jackson in his article to appear in Buddhadharma – “a signal event in the transmission of Buddhism to the West”.

We would like to take a moment to acknowledge not only the translators who completed this work, but also the great number of individuals who participated in the early translation efforts in Bodhgaya and Sonada, India, in the early years, the many Rinpoches and Khenpos who offered their encouragement and assistance throughout the translation process, and those who offered sponsorship in first difficult years.

Tsadra Foundation was established in 2000 and very quickly decided this was a project worthy of its support. Collaborating with Bokar Tulku Rinpoche (who had taken over responsibility for the project from the previous Kalu Rinpoche) and with Snow Lion Publications we were able to provide stable financial and logistical support to move the project ahead.

Today we see the fruit of all these years of effort, dedication and commitment. We invite you all to take a moment and join us in celebrating this extraordinary accomplishment. Attached below you will find Roger Jackson’s full article that will appear in the Winter 2012 Edition of Buddhadharma: The Buddhist Practitioner’s Quarterly.


Eric Colombel

and the Directors of Tsadra Foundation

Treasury of Knowledge Review by Roger Jackson





The Review article by Roger Jackson

from Buddhadharma: The Buddhist Practitioner’s Quarterly, Winter 2012 edition.

Dr. Art Engle gave a presentation on his work at the recent Tsadra Foundation Fellows and Grantees Conference entitled “Observations on Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhūmi.” During his talk he discussed the translation of rigs pa as “application” instead of “reason” in the context of “The Four Applications” (Wyl: rigs pa bzhi; Tib: རིགས་པ་བཞི་ ; Skt: catasro yuktayaḥ). Here he provides us with his notes, translations, and the associated text citations:


The Four Applications

[Note: The following passage is an excerpt from Ārya Asaṅga’s The Listener’s Stage (S: Śrāvakabhūmiḥ, T: Nyan thos kyi sa). It forms part of a larger discussion on what are referred to as thirteen “requisites” (S: sambhāraḥ, T: tshogs) for attaining freedom from attachment. The two activities of listening to and reflecting upon the true Dharma taken together represent the tenth of these qualities. Asaṅga’s description of the four applications (S: catasro yuktayaḥ, T: rigs pa bzhi) appears in his explanation of the second of two methods for engaging in the practice of reflection. It is here that we find Asaṅga stating that the term yukti is synonymous with yoga (T: sbyor ba) and upāya (T: thabs), any of which could be rendered in this context as an “application,” a “means,” or an “expedient.” It is for this reason that I have translated the term as “application,” rather than the more commonly seen rendering “reason.” The Sanskrit of the text that appears below is not well edited and contains a number of corruptions; nevertheless, it is helpful in the effort of attempting to render an accurate English translation. Another important primary source for the four applications is a passage that appears in Chapter Ten of the Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra.]


cintanā katamā | yathāpīhaikatyas tān eva yathā śrutān dharmān ekākī rahogataḥ | ṣaḍ acintyāni sthānāni tad yathā, (1) ātmacintāṁ, (2) sattvacintāṁ, (3) lokacintāṁ, (4) satvā(ttvā)nāṁ karmavipākacintāṁ, (5) dhyāyināṁ dhyāyiviṣayaṁ (6) buddhānāṁ buddhaviṣayaṁ varjayitvā (viśodhayitvā ?) svalakṣaṇataḥ | sāmānyalakṣaṇataś ca cintayati |


What is reflection (S: cintanā, T: sems pa)?
It is [described] as follows: Here a person goes alone to a solitary place and, after having cultivated the six inconceivable topics—that is, reflection upon the self, reflection upon beings, reflection upon the world, reflection upon the ripening of beings’ deeds, the objects of meditation that pertain to those who practice meditation, and the objects of a Buddha that are possessed by Buddhas—he [or she] reflects upon the individual and general characteristics of those teachings [that have been heard] in the same manner that he [or she] heard them.


sā punaḥ cintā dvividhā gaṇanākārāsahagaṇanāyogena dharmeṇa | tulanākārama(rā), yuktyā guṇadoṣaparīkṣaṇākārā [ca][|] sa cet skandhapratisaṁyuktāṁ deśanāṁ cintayati | sa ced anyatamānyatamāṁ pūrvvaniviṣṭāṁ deśanāṁ cintayaty ābhyāṁ cintayati |


Moreover, this reflection is of two types: (1) [reflection] upon teachings using a method that is a form of counting and (2) [reflection upon teaching] by means of a form of deliberation that consists of examining the good and bad qualities [of a particular topic]. If [someone] reflects upon a teaching that relates to the aggregates, or reflects upon any other teaching that was previously given, he [or she] reflects upon it using [either of] these two [methods].

Read the rest of this entry »

Opening Chants

The International Conference on Tengyur Translation in the Tradition of the 17 Pandits of Nalanda

The conference began on January 8th with chants offered in three languages: Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. Students at the Central University of Tibetan Studies are now able to study Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Hindi, as well as other modern languages. Recently awarded university status (2009), the institution was established in 1967 and is now directed by Geshe Ngawang Samten, who played a key role in the proceedings of this conference. The previous director, Samdong Rinpoche, was also present and gave a speech as the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The university was an excellent host for the conference, despite the pervasive cold, and I’m sure everyone especially appreciated all the students and staff who helped provide hot tea and crackers each day. The tech staff also had their hands full as many people chose to prepare PowerPoint presentations. Even with the power going out daily they kept things running rather smoothly.

Shrikant Bahulkar oversaw the opening ceremonies and participants heard welcoming words from Geshe Ngawang Samten, Tenzin Bob Thurman, HH Gaden Tri Rinpoche, and others. After the opening speeches, and tea to warm us up, we heard from Tom Yarnall, Christian Wedemeyer and Paul Hackett. The topic of this opening session was to be an overview of the Tengyur, it’s history, composition, and so forth. From Dr. Wedemeyer we heard more about the history and formation of the Tengyurs and from Dr. Hackett we heard details of the composition of the various Tengyurs. From Dr. Yarnall we received an interesting argument that basically presented the particular way in which it seemed the conference conveners were conceiving of their project to “Translate the Tengyur.”  The argument relied upon an interesting way of conceiving of Tibetan Buddhism and clearly described why the translation of the Tengyur is important and relevant to today’s scholars. What we heard was an introduction to one way of talking about the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as preserving the ancient Indian academic world of Nālandā, Vikramaśīlā, and so forth. Although I cannot repeat all of Yarnall’s discussion here, similar logic was presented on the official Tengyur Translation Website and it is worth repeating because it is interesting to note the kind of rhetoric used:

(1) That although the great Indian institutions such as Nālandā, Vikramaśīlā, and so on were ostensibly run by Buddhists, they were not only (or even primarily) Buddhist religious institutions; that they rather were multi-cultural, multi-tradition, cosmopolitan institutions, and hence true “universities” (as also argued by S. Dutt, L. Joshi, and others); (2) That as such, the many centuries of Buddhist arts/sciences developed in these institutions and recorded in the Sanskrit śāstras compiled therein took place in a vibrant, contentious, multi-tradition milieu in which each point had to be argued and defended; i.e., this was not a context such as Tibet (or other “Buddhist countries”) in which Buddhists were speaking virtually exclusively with other Buddhists, and thus could take for granted at least some common assumptions, perspectives, methodologies, and so on (rather, no premise or point could be taken for granted in the Indian context); (3) That therefore the Tengyur—as the repository of many of these śāstras (in Tibetan translation) which record the discourse that occurred in such a pluralistic environment very similar to our own contemporary, multi-cultural global environment—is uniquely important and relevant today (indeed, HH noted that in this way it may be even more relevant/accessible than many of the texts in the Kangyur); and (4) That therefore, the translation of the Tibetan Tengyur into modern languages and the publication of well-edited and annotated editions of these translations should be a prime priority for contemporary Buddhist scholars and institutions. (Taken from the official Tengyur Translation Website)


Dr. Yarnall (University of Columbia)

In his talk, Dr. Yarnall described the great academic institutions of ancient India in some detail, and linked their achievements with the texts preserved in the Tibetan Tengyur. He also presented a quote from the Dalai Lama in which he identifies himself as holding the tradition of Nālandā and not particularly that of the Mahāyāna or Varjayāna. Perhaps I am simply ignorant of this trend in the discourse, but I found it very interesting that the Dalai Lama and others who are scholars, students and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism were associating themselves so strongly with their idea(l) of Nālandā University. Every participant at the conference was given a new CUTS publication, a poem by the Dalai Lama praising the Seventeen Pandits of Nālandā, published in Tibetan, Chinese, English and Hindi. The overall effect of this, along with Dr. Thurmans interjections, was the sense that the real reason for translating the Tengyur is that it is supposed to be a faithful source for understanding the “scientific” tradition of Nālandā, which in turn is representative of an “authentic” Indian culture whose “inner sciences” pacified the barbarian lands of central and east Asia and will likewise pacify the West. Note also that the AIBS publication series is titled a “Treasury of Buddhist Sciences.” I personally rather like the idea of ancient liberal arts colleges producing texts on the inner and outer sciences of India and I like pushing the ideal of a modern pluralistic environment of scholarly debate. However, even disregarding the liberal use of the term “science,” I was left with the feeling that there is probably more to the story. I have not researched the actual evidence we have for reconstructing the scholastic culture of Nālandā, but perhaps someone reading this could post some more information about it online.



Dr. Wedemeyer (University of Chicago)

Dr. Wedemeyer provided a nuanced look at the idea of “the Tengyur.” He began with the now famous joke about the student who angrily told a theologian, “If the King James Bible was good enough for Jesus, It’s good enough for me!” Which might now be rendered in our context as, “If the Dege edition of the Kangyur and Tengyur were good enough for the Buddha, they’re good enough for me.” I doubt many scholars or translators have the exact same thinking with regard to the Tengyur or Kangyur, but a lack of understanding about the complexity of the development of these collections, and their content, seems to be widespread.

The many Tengyurs are collections of texts that developed over considerable amounts of time in various places in Tibet. The library at Nālandā did not have a “Tengyur” section. It is not until centuries after Nālandā’s heyday that we begin to see the creation of Kangyurs and Tengyurs in Tibet. Dr. Wedemeyer described the Tengyur more as a genre than a fixed set of scripture. In his opening remarks, Wedemeyer said, “The distinction between Kangyur and Tengyur is itself a relatively late construction, the two were probably not distinguished before the production of the circa 1310 Old Narthang Manuscript Kangyur. That is, the very existence of the Tengyur as a separate collection from that of the Kangyur is itself a human choice, one which we may chose to follow or not. Furthermore, it would seem that the idea… the concept of a collection of writings of Indian authors distinct from the revealed Sutras and Tantras appeared before anyone thought to physically prepare this collection separately from the (?) literature. The earliest records of a Tengyur found so far seems to be sometime after 1270 by o rgyan pa rin chen dpal, who notably speaks of Tengyurs in the plural. In the following century this mode of organizing Buddhist literature took off. We read of the textual transmission, the lung, of the Kangyur and Tengyur being given around Sakya in 1300. Later a Golden Tengyur was produced in Sakya in 1322-24. And most famously perhaps, Bu ston consecrated the Zhwa lu Tengyur in 1335….Very recently two Tengyur catalogs composed by the 3rd Karmapa have come to light, whose content and whose structure vary significantly from alternative redactions….Tengyurs were often both marked by local character, individualistic productions reflecting the tastes and allegiances of their authors, and open ended, works were added and subtracted at various times in their histories….As an aside, the Kalacakra was occasionally included in the Tengyur. Bu ston notes this in his Zhwa lu Tengyur catalog, but argues that its inclusion in the Tengyur is auspicious. And so one might regard as auspicious the inclusion of a translation of part of the Kalacakra by Vesna Wallace, which inaugurates the AIBS Tengyur publication series…

The formation of the Tibetan Tengyurs is not a simple story and so the translation—or perhaps we should speak of the “creation” of a ” Western Tengyur,” for it most certainly will be a creative production—will not be a simple story. The formation of some of the texts in the Tengyur are not simply a matter of an author composing a text in “Sanskrit” and having it translated into Tibetan. Colophons have been modified, text added or removed. Some texts come from Chinese, Tibetan or other sources. It is not always obvious who composed the texts, or even who translated them. There are duplicates included in the collections in different sections and multiple different translations of texts are included as well. Medicine, poetry, logic, ethics—you might even find a text on basket weaving—all are included. The early redactors of the Tibetan canons were focused more on an attempt to be comprehensive, than an attempt to create an authoritative, exclusive bible of Buddhism. In fact, there are non-Buddhist materials included in the Tengyur. While some texts most certainly represent what we would likely judge to be the height of philosophical and religious thinking, others may be surprisingly obscure and obtuse. It seems that some people erroneously assume that the works of Candrakirti and Nagarjuna and other philosophers are proof enough that all of the Tengyur will be worth reading. I think many modern Buddhists will find this is not the case. This, in itself, is not a problem. It simply makes the translation of the entire Tengyur a complex affair.  The translation of all the texts collected in all the Tengyurs would be an amazing scholarly feat worth the effort, if only for the things translators and specialists would learn in the process. It would probably be one of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of humanities scholarship and I hope that the many great scholars at the Tengyur Translation Conference are able to guide such a project towards completion.

Throughout the conference I think it was made clear that few people participating there had a simplistic view of the contents of the Tengyur. In his opening talk, Dr. Yarnall proposed that “multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches” should be used when translating the texts of the Tengyur in order to insure quality translations that preserve the spirit of the multicultural scholastic approach he believes was found at the historic Nālandā University. Furthermore, he suggested, translators should be trained in multicultural approaches and their translations should be aimed not merely at Buddhist practitioners, but at the world at large. This is a fascinating approach and I look forward to seeing how this may be made possible while translators work on these texts with geshes and khenpos and lamas who are steeped in their traditions. In fact, in this globalized era, such a project will certainly become an interesting example of multiculturalism and the process itself will have a great deal to teach us. Perhaps just as much, or more, than the translations themselves.

As I noted in a previous post, several presenters mentioned the idea of needing critical editions of texts for quality translations to be made. It seemed that most people leaned towards the idea that as many variant versions of a text from as many languages as possible were necessary in order to produce the kind of quality translations people wanted to see (or at least, that’s what people said out loud). However, as soon as someone with a practical head for budgets looks at the project of translating ALL the texts included in ALL the various Tengyurs, the thought of creating critical editions, or even referring to all the versions of a text during translation, may cause quite a bit of disquiet. Funding issues aside, the first problem is a lack of qualified translators who can work in Pali, Chinese, Sanskrit and Tibetan. Perhaps there can be new university programs designed to produce Tengyur text translators? Or perhaps, translators and scholars can take advantage of modern technology and use online programs to collaborate on translations, allowing specialists in each of the various canonical languages to contribute expertise to a particular translation. Perhaps the project can be taken slowly and the proper attention paid to detail. In the current climate, it seems more likely that many translations will be made using one Tibetan version of a text with modern Tibetan commentaries from a particular tradition used to elucidate the meaning. These translations will not be as much about translating the original Indian texts as they will be about transmitting a particular Tibetan tradition associated with said texts. Thus, these translations will produce new Tengyurs for a new age. These new Tengyurs will sprout like mushrooms wherever donors can be found and one day we will have a conference about how to collect all the “really authentic” ones into a big database and translate them. I, for one, shall continue to hope that quality shall win out over the quantity focused translation projects, but only time will tell.


Day One of the Tengyur Translation Conference in Atisha Hall, CUTS

See the other post from Marcus on the Tengyur Translation Conference here.


See the follow up to this blog post here.

Tengyur Translation Conference Banner


The crowd on the opening day of the conference in Atisha Hall

The “Tengyur Translation Conference: In the Tradition of the 17 Pandits of Nalanda,” was held at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS, formerly CIHTS) in Sarnath, India, with the support and attendance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Scholars, teachers, translators and Tibetan Lamas from many traditions attended the four day affair in the unusually cold January weather, which made Atisha Hall a large refrigerator throughout the proceedings. Despite the need to speak at the podium wearing North Face jackets and scarves, participants gave some excellent presentations and many lively discussions marked this important scholarly venture. Jointly held by CUTS and AIBS (American Institute of Buddhist Studies, Columbia, New York), the conference was to be a meeting of some of the best minds in Buddhist studies on the project of translating the entire Tengyur section of the Tibetan Canon. Such a project presents many organizational, theoretical, philological and economic problems, some of which were touched upon by various presenters. In fact, a key purpose for the conference was the assessment and discussion of such issues amongst a learned body of scholars.

Dr. Robert Thurman

The conference came together in large part due to the efforts of Robert Thurman’s “crew” at AIBS and the University of Columbia, Annie Bien and Tom Yarnall, and on the CUTS side, Shrikant Bahulkar and Ven. Ngawang Samten. Hats off to all those seen and unseen who provided for all the participants and laid the ground for the conference.

Dr. Thurman made a point to note that this conference was really the third in a set of conferences he felt built on one another, the first being the translator conference in Boulder and the second the Khyentse Foundation conference in Bir. This and other comments may have led some participants to wonder about the relationship between the organizations involved in each of these conferences, organizations which are in fact quite distinct. Although the stated projects and goals of each conference were somewhat different, probably the most important thing that links each of these conferences is the opportunity they provide for an ongoing dialog among translators and scholars who work with Tibetan texts. This, I think, is the most important outcome of these conferences and I hope it can continue. Regardless of the various organizations, politics and attempts at institution building, the translators, scholars and scholar-practitioners who attend these conferences benefit greatly from the time they share together. Every person I asked about the conference responded as most do at the conferences I have attended over the past few years: The most important aspect of the conference is the time outside of the scheduled events where they meet with colleagues and discuss finer points or are introduced to new people and ideas. However ephemeral and unquantifiable, it appears that the unchaperoned times are the real reason to attend such a conference.

One of the more concrete outcomes of the conference was the reports that were made on the state of translating Buddhist texts into a whole host of languages. Participants arrived from many countries to discuss translations of primarily Tibetan texts into English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Nepali, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, and other European languages. It was an impressive list really and particularly interesting to hear about the efforts of Nepali and Hindi translators. There were a number of calls from the audience to place more focus on the importance of translating Buddhist texts into the modern languages of India, as this was where the Buddha’s teaching originated. Ngawang Samten noted that at the Central University of Tibetan Studies about 60 texts have been translated into Hindi so that key commentaries are available to Indian peoples. Although it was a little difficult to piece together a clear picture of the state of Tengyur text translation around the world, the picture painted seemed to indicate that quite a lot of work is currently underway. While some presenters described the long history of translation efforts into their mother tongues (German, French, English), others decried a sad state of affairs (Spanish, Hindi). Although there appears to be work happening around the world, compared to the mountain of texts that exist as a part of the several known Tengyur catalogs, the world’s Tibetan translators still have a long way to go. One important point that was made by quite a number of delegates at the conference was that the key factor in translating texts into their language was not seen to be money or support, but expertise and training. There simply are not enough well-trained translators capable of working on what are some of the most difficult texts in Buddhist literature. Translating Tengyur texts is not just a matter of gathering together a group of people who are excited about the project and who know a little Tibetan. Time and again scholars at the conference noted the importance of establishing schools or finding other ways to support the development of truly qualified translators. The lack of qualified translators is felt not only in Spanish or Hindi or Russian, but in every language. What to do about it is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed by any organizational body wanting to tackle such an ambitious project.

Betsy Napper, who gave some of the most practical advice, suggested that a training program could be developed in which the younger generation of translators worked on draft translations of texts and then handed off their work to elder translators. Before any actual translation work should be done, however, she suggested the project be taken on in a modular way, first developing online and bibliographic tools, then creating groups to develop critical editions of texts, and so forth.

Alexander Berzin also presented practical advice for tackling the immense project by discussing lessons learned developing his “Berzin Archives” website. Truly an amazing accomplishment, the large network of translators, transcribers, editors, proofreaders, and other specialists that Dr. Berzin has developed provides a constantly evolving archive of translations and teachings on Buddhism in many languages worldwide. Dr. Berzin was therefore able to give specific advice about the development of tools for managing work-flow, tools for managing translation in many disparate languages – such as a wiki that all translators could log into – interlinked glossaries that allow standardization of terminology, separate online glossaries for readers, and so on.

The Dalai Lama himself also offered some interesting advice: Collect all the texts from the Asian canons (Chinese, Korean, Pali, Sanskrit, Tibetan) and make sure that the texts missing from one are included in another. Once a “complete” canon is available, then translate that into modern western languages.

It remains to be seen what advice will be taken to heart as various projects to translate the Kangyur and Tengyur develop around the world. Robert Thurman’s American Institute of Buddhist Studies was the driving force behind this conference and they have been working on the project of translating texts from the Tengyur for some time. Their mission statement, as reported by Dr. Thurman at the opening of the conference, is “To create and support the necessary institutional framework within which to produce critical, readable, contemporary translations of the 3,600+ classical source texts of the “liberating arts and sciences” of the Indo-Tibetan civilization.” This is truly a massive undertaking and one that will need the support of many scholars and translators world-wide if it is to even begin to make headway. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of this exciting project in the coming years.

A seat waits for His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Om arapacana dhîh

Discussion on the Intermediate State
in the Mahâvibhâsha

Translated from the Chinese version by Xuanzang
Apidamo da pibosha lun, T 1545, vol. 27, p. 356-64

– Why have the venerable ones included a discussion about the intermediate state 中有 in this varga (納息 category) ?
– In order to put an end to heresies and manifest the right view. Indeed, some, like the Vibhâjyavâdins 分別論者, maintain that birth in the three worlds does not imply any intermediate state. Others explain that it is sure that birth in the Worlds of Desire and Form imply an intermediate state : such is the view of the Logicians ( ? 應理論者).
– What, then, are the criteria of the Vibhâjyavâdins allowing them to assert the non-existence of the intermediate state ?
– They refer to textual evidence 至教量 by quoting a sûtra 契經 which says that one who has committed one of the five actions « with immediate retribution » 五無間業 will for sure be immediately reborn in hell. This immediate rebirth in hell is a clear proof of the non-existence of any intermediate state. A gâthâ 伽他 says :
« You who are reborn today, you quit your lofty position
And utterly decline to approach Yamarâja 琰魔王.
You’d like to go forwards but have no provisions 資量,
And if you want to rest in between, you’ll find no place to stop over. »
This « no place to stop in between » 中間無所止處 allows them to ascertain the non-existence of this intermediate state.
Answering to our objections, they also prove 說過難證 this non-existence saying : as there is no gap between a form and its reflection 影光中無間隙, in the same way there is no gap between death and rebirth. How do you, Logicians, they say, prove the existence of an intermediate state with valid criteria ?
– We use a valid cognition derived from an authoritative text which says that « the one who enters its mother’s womb must have a direct experience of three things : 1) the mother’s body must be in time and fit 時調適 ; 2) father and mother must unite ; and 3) the gandharva 健達縛 must appear right in front of them. » So, what gandharva could it be if not a being in the intermediate state ? Who or what could make this experience once the previous aggregates are destroyed ? A being in the intermediate state is thus referred to as the gandharva.
Moreover, since texts mention « parinirvâna in between » 中般涅槃, if there is no intermediate state, how is such a parinirvâna possible ?
Another text reads : « When this body is destroyed and the next is not yet born, a mental sentient being, stopped by desire, engages in appropriation. » 意成有情依止於愛而設施取。
If the Bhagavân spoke thus, we can be definitely sure that there must be an intermediate state. If it were not the case, what would this « mental sentient being » refer to ?
Moreover, their denial can be countered by other evidences, for instance : if an individual dies here [in Jambudvîpa] to be reborn in the Northern Continent of Uttarakuru, etc. 北俱盧等, and if there is nothing like an intermediate state, there will be an interruption between the destruction of its present body and the birth in the next one. In that case, the next body would exist unpreceded and this one would be nothing in spite of its existence – thus goes the nature of things 法亦應爾. What basically does not exist would exist and the existing would return to nothingness. But as such defect is impossible, we have another evidence of the necessary existence of the intermediate state.

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John says: As threatened in my speech last week, I’m posting the following little list of very basic terms for which I’d really like to find a coherent set of English words to use in the context of the buddha-nature teachings. I have included a few common renderings and some random jottings, and would be most grateful for any suggestions (even negative ones) or other forms of input: clues, references, definitions, whatever. Thanks!

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