Archive for the ‘Digital Resources’ Category

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.”

Adarsha on iTunes

Karmapa Flag


The Karmapa announced this project in 2014 and although it is still in development, this app is already up and running well on the iPad for searching the Jiang Kangyur in Tibetan script. It looks like they will be adding the Tengyur and other sources soon. A website for easy access on any computer is also in development and can be found at


From the description on their website:

Congratulations to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa and all those at the Dharma Treasure Association working on this project!

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 1.10.50 PM

The Tsadra Foundation website has been completely redesigned and updated with information about all our areas of activity.




Higher Education:


Home Page:

Update on Buddhist Studies resources on the web:

There are some new additions to Marcus Bingenheimer’s excellent resource “Glossaries for Buddhist Studies.”


DPS – Digital Preservation Society

For the stunning price of $4,700 you can order 7 DVDs of the high quality digitized them spang ma edition held in the National Library of Mongolia. The Peking edition is 5 DVDs for $3,700.

them spang ma Kangyur

them spang ma Kangyur

From their website:

Since 2007 the digitizing of the Tempangma (rgyal rtse’i them spang ma/them spang ma/them spangs ma/Thempangma/them-spangs-ma) manuscript of the Kangyur and the Peking edition of the Kangyur held by the National Library of Mongolia has been undertaken as a joint project by

This joint project is coordinated by Kawachen, based in Tokyo.

There were a few glitches to work out, but Q & A sessions are planned for Tuesday’s at 2PM (New York Time?).

In case you haven’t heard, TBRC has launched a new and improved website.

You will need to re-register and formally request full access again. It is quite easy and response time is short (24hrs or so). Just click on “LOGIN?REGISTER” at the top right corner of the screen. When you get to the login screen, click the tab labeled “Register (new user)” and fill out the form, remembering to check the box next to Request Full Access.

An important note for people who have been previously accessing the texts at TBRC (from Jeff Wallman):

“One very important change is that we completely rewrote our authentication module. The net change is that all password account holders will need to register themselves. This should be easier to manage since account holders can choose their own user name and password.

In addition, we ask that you formally request full access to text downloads. This is necessary because we want to keep a record of account holder names, emails, and interests, but also so that we can improve the performance of the application. You might be pleasantly surprised that the new interface to the digital texts (we call it the digital pecha viewer “DPV”) is easier to use!”


Every Friday afternoon at the University of Washington a group of scholars and students gather their laptops, electronic tablets, projectors, and infrared images of ancient birch bark scrolls and hike up to a windowless room on the mezzanine floor of Gowen Hall for some not so old-fashioned detective work. The objective of their sleuthing is to coax a little meaning from the most ancient Buddhist manuscripts known to still exist. An image of one piece of one side of a birch bark scroll (the original buried in the vaults of the British Library) is projected on the wall and the group attempts to decipher the small scribblings of an ancient scribe.

Read the rest of this entry »

The University of Washington – Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project:

Rediscovering the Worlds’ Oldest Buddhist Manuscripts

I. Origin of the Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project

The Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project (EBMP) was constituted in 1996 to study a collection of Buddhist manuscripts dating from the first century a.d. which had recently been discovered in Afghanistan and acquired by the British Library. The British Library contacted Professor Richard Salomon of the University of Washington’s Department of Asian Languages and Literature requesting that he supervise the study and publication of these unique documents, and shortly thereafter an agreement was signed between the library and the university, establishing the EBMP with Professor Salomon as director of the project and Professor Collett Cox as assistant director. Subsequently, a contract was drawn up between the EBMP and the University of Washington Press for the publication of the results of the research in a new series entitled “Gandhāran Buddhist Manuscripts.” To date, six volumes in this series have been published by EBMP research scholars, with a seventh to be issued shortly.

Read the rest of this entry »

In case you were not aware, there is a list of easily searchable Tibetan personal names referenced in the Blue Annals here:

Blue Annals Personal Names Databases

This page provides links to pages of names organized in Tibetan alphabetical order, each of which gives the Wylie, reference page, Tibetan rendering, and phonetic rendering (THL) for each name. I hope this can be of use if you were not already aware of it.



Many of you probably know THDL, but if you haven’t kept up with their machinations you may find it difficult to find information on this huge resource. The first thing to know is that THDL is no longer THDL, it is called THL (Tibetan Himalayan Library) and it is no longer housed (even in parts) at It is now officially only at The journal for International Association of Tibetan Studies is here.

Although one might fall prey to the hope that things have become easier to find on THL now that it has fewer letters, simply recall the old adage about hope and fear and settle in for a session of learning experiences. Other than the pretty pictures, THL has also provided us with the experience of not being able to find half of the things that one used to be able to find on the old site. This is because some pages and resources are still in transition and will arrive at their new homes soon.

Read the rest of this entry »