Posts Tagged ‘Conferences’

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

The Society for Tantric Studies met in September this year at the Little America Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The site of the STS Conference, Flagstaff, Arizona

Last week the Tsadra Scouts were sent to observe “academic Tantrikas” in their natural environment, The Society for Tantric Studies Conference. Composed of a relatively small group of scholars, the Society of Tantric Studies includes professors and independent scholars from several areas, mostly specialists in what we might calll “Hindu” Tantra and Buddhist Tantra. The attendees of the conference were quite diverse in terms of chosen topic, professional standing, and expertise. Although in previous years Tibetan studies was better represented, this year’s conference saw mostly Sanskrit specialists focused on Indology, Kaśmir Śaivism, Sāṃkhya, modern representations of Tantra, and comparative religions. The small numbers (perhaps 30 people) and the setting contributed to a comfortable and intimate feeling even though the topics people focused on were rather disparate. One presenter launched into a discussion of the concept of “core disgust” from a modern psychological perspective (very interesting in fact) while another discussed Satanism and modern Western esoteric traditions, and a third discussed early Śaivite divination manuals from a philological perspective. A master’s student gave a fascinating talk on the meaning and role of intellectuals using Seventeenth-century Sanskrit intellectuals as an example and established scholars David White and Gavin Flood both presented on the Netra-tantra. All of this variety contributed to a truly fascinating, if somewhat disjointed, academic conference. The variety also allowed us to observe the many behaviors and activities of academic Tantrikas in the wilds of Arizona.

One of the most fascinating presentations was on Abhinavagupta‘s ideas about aesthetics and it’s relationship to ethics. Professor Loriliai Biernacki proposed that through understanding Abhinavagupta we can see how ethics may be born out of the state of aesthetic wonder. She described the fascinating idea of rasa in Abhinavagupta’s aesthetics- an “undifferentiated dense mass of wonder.” The idea being, roughly, that through developing proper aesthetic sensibilities by connecting with this experience of wonder, ethical sensibility is also developed. Emphasizing the ethical element of aesthetic experience seemed a fascinating direction to me and the excellent discussion lit a fire of interest in Abhinavagupta’s ideas. I hope to read Dr. Biernacki’s paper as soon as it is available.

In “Erotic Forms of Ganeśa” professor Bühnemann showed surprising and fascinating images of the elephant-headed god in many different artistic contexts (Buddhist and Hindu sculpture and painting) in several countries (India, Nepal, Tibet, Korea, Japan). I had never seen nor heard that the Nyingma tradition had Thankas with Ganeśa in them, but the images themselves were even more interesting than that revelation. In one Thanka Ganeśa appears to be standing on the hands of a cat-woman who is either performing fellatio or drinking excretions from his linga while she menstruates into skull cups held by servants upon which she is standing. Apparently this tantric alchemical process allows for the practitioner to collect jewels from the skull cups, representing the attainment of the desired wealth, for which one would be propitiating Ganeśa in the first place.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, Arizona

Netra-Tanra at the crossroads of the demonological cosmopolis.”

The keynote speaker, Professor David Gordon White, gave an engaging paper on the Netra-tantra spanning most of the evening on the opening day of the conference. The Netra-tantra is a text from Kashmir datable to the early 9th century CE. The Netra-tantra was referenced by Abhanavagupta several times and there is an extant detailed commentary on the text by his student Kshemaraja. The 19th and longest chapter is on demonology and this was the focus of Professor White’s talk. He stated that, “Like the Svacchanda Tantra and probably most tantras, the Netra is a composite work with at least two highly visible layers of redaction, the first of these is a demonological layer which comprises unadorned descriptions of demons, symptoms of demonological possession, and techniques for countering the same. This stratum of the text comprises a pragmatic technical guide to certain types of tantric ritual… the second layer of redaction which structures the text, for better or for worse, into a coherent and unified thesis is devoted to the deity Amritesha and more importantly to his all powerful conqueror of death mantra, which controls, routes, and slays demons with total accuracy…” Dr. White’s contention seems to be that the first layer is really the core of the text and that later layers, as well as commentarial traditions, manipulate the demonological data so as to further their own purposes. White’s analysis was of course considerably more complex than anything I’ll mention here but suffice it to say that demonology appears to have played an important role in the formation of tantric texts and tantra itself and that scholars will probably be spending more time on demonology in the future. To get a sense of how different Dr. White’s well-researched academic discussion of the Netra-tantra is, take a look at what is presented here:

The Academic Tantrikas’ Society for Tantric Studies

At a breakfast at an AAR in the late 1980s Glen Hayes, Charlie Orzeck and Jim Sanford decided to start a conference for Tantric studies. Alex Wayman was in attendance at the first conference held at the University of North Carolina retreat center. Since then the Society for Tantric Studies has steadily held conferences every three years or so, but due to the formation of a section at the AAR annual conference it appears they will meet less often. Hopefully, despite the small size of the conference, the next meeting will include more presentations from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective.

Before closing this little note on the conference and hopefully returning to blogging some of the very interesting papers at the IATS conference, I would like to note that the organizers of the conference, Glen Hayes and Paul Donnelly, were very friendly and open and I thank them heartily for their hospitality.

‘Tools of the Trade’ of the Tibetan Translators
Peter Verhagen, Leiden University, The Netherlands

(12th Seminar of the IATS, Vancouver, BC, August 16th, 2010)

Peter Verhagen presented a list of textual sources that he believes the early Tibetan translators of Indian Buddhist texts relied upon as “tools of the trade”. I beg his pardon, and hope he doesn’t mind that I share this list here, as it was made publicly available by him at the conference and I think others will be interested. These are the texts he discussed and the citations he provided in a hand out:

1) Mahāvyutpatti = bye brag tu rtogs byed chen po
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. co, f. 1r1-131r8

2) sgra byor bam po gnyis pa
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol co, f. 131v1-160r7

3) khri lde srong btsan sad na legs (799-815) > ‘translation’ edict 814 CE

4) khri srong lde btsan (755-797) >’translation’ edict 795 (or 783) CE

5) *Sv-alpa-vyutpatti = bye brag tu rtogs byed chung ngu

9) Dhātupāṭha

– CG 21: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 112v6-122v2 (Tohoku no. 4429)

– CG 22: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. (lung ston pa ka lā pa’i) byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 63r3-75r7 (Tohoku no. 4285)

– CG 25: Dhātu-kāya, Tib. (tsandra pa’i) byings kyi tshogs
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 71r5-78r7 (Tohoku no. 4277)

– CG 30: Kalāpa-dhātu-sūtra, Tib. ka lā pa’i byings kyi mdo
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 1v1-10r7 (Tohoku no. 4422)

– CG 32: *Dhātu-sūtra, Tib. byings kyi mdo (brda sprod pa tsandra pa’i byings kyi tshogs kyi gleg bam gyi mdo)
sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. no, f. 21v2-31v4 (Tohoku no. 4424)

– CG 45: Pāṇini-dhātu-sūtra, Tib. Pā ṇi ni’i byings kyi mdo
Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. pho, f. 342v2-358r5 (Otani no. 5913) [sde dge: deest]

10) Gaṇapāṭha

– CG 2: Viṃśaty-upasarga-vṛtti, Tib. nye bar (b)sgyur ba nyi shu pa’i ‘grel pa
(a) Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 36v4-41v1 (Otani no. 5768); snar thang vol. le, f. 35v1-39v7; dga’ ldan vol. le, f. 43r1-49r2
(b) sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol re. f. 30r1-34r2 (Tohoku no. 4270); Co ne vol. re, f. 32r1-36v3

– CG 18: Prayoga-mukha-vṛtti, Tib. rab tu sbyor ba’i sgo’i ‘grel pa

  • sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. she, f. 244r1-250v6 (Tohoku no. 4292)
  • co ne bstan ‘gyur vol. she, f. 246r1-252v6
  • Peking bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 238v1-245v6 (Otani no. 5781)
  • snar thang bstan ‘gyur vol. le, f. 222v1-230r6

– CG 26: Saṃbandha-siddhy-abhidhāna-prakriyā,
Tib. ‘brel ba grub pa zhes bya ba’i rab tu byed pa

  • sde dge bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 78v1-106r5 (Tohoku no. 4278)
  • co ne bstan ‘gyur vol. re, f. 85v4-114v4
  • Peking & snar thang bstan ‘gyur: deest

This morning (Monday August 16th) marked the commencement of the 12th IATS conference. The opening included a general welcome by Tsering Shakya; followed by a brief welcome, a few jokes about wearing ties, and an exhortation to find a way to transmit the important knowledge held by “the world’s brain trust on Tibet” to wider audiences by Paul Evans. More welcomes followed with Pitman Potter making a comment about the IATS program being the culmination of the development of the Tibetan studies program at UBC and great support was shown for Tsering Skakya’s heroic work helping to make this year’s IATS a reality. After three light speeches, Charles Ramble gave the official IATS presidential welcoming address.

Dr. Ramble began on a somber and touching note by recognizing those colleagues who had passed on since the last IATS conference. A minute of silence was observed and then Dr. Ramble reminded us all of those colleagues who could not attend due to political issues, refusal of permissions to travel, or visa denials. Perhaps this kind of sensitivity is one of the great qualities that lead Dr. Ramble to be elected the president of IATS in the first place. Then again, he may also have got in on his wit, which was displayed in style after beginning on a serious note. Dr. Ramble extended his metaphor of relating attending IATS conferences to the ancient olympic games so far that it managed to come back around and delight everyone.

One of the most interesting things I would like to highlight from his speech was the time he spent making note of the fact that “scholars and work groups not associated with universities constitute a vital part of Tibetan studies.” He noted clearly that some of the most significant developments in Tibetan studies occur outside of academia and this work rarely appears in academic journals. However, he noted, IATS conferences are places where “unsung heroes” can present their research. And speaking of publishing… Some of the IATS conference proceedings are being made into digital texts! Some are already finished and others may be made available online, “in the future”, at This most exciting news rounded out the speech, along with the words, “let the games begin.”
………..                                                                              ………..                                                                                       ………..
Monday, August 16th, Panel 4: Contributions to Tibetan Literature: Texts, Genres and Generic Terms

There were really too many great papers to discuss here, but I must admit to feeling that the most enjoyable was Giacomella Orofino’s “The Long Voyage of a Trickster Story from Ancient Greece to Tibet“.

Unfortunately I missed most of Dan Martin’s lively discussion entitled, “Literary Tributes and Meaningful Attributions: A New History of the Ding-ri-ba verses of Pha Dam-pa Sangs-rgyas.” Here he discussed some of his findings related to his research on the different versions of The Tingri Hundred: The Last Will and Testament of Padampa Sanggyé. (pha rje btsun dam pa sangs rgyas kyi zhal gdams ding ri brgya rtsa ma).  In fact, Padampa’s Tingri testament is found in several versions of varying length, not just in 100 sections as the title indicates. One of the point’s I was able to catch at the tail end of Dan’s talk was that he found evidence of a kind of “moralizing” of the later versions of the texts, and the older terms were progressively updated in different versions, which seemed to get smaller over time as well.

While other papers opened a discussion about genre much was provisional and nothing particularly concrete came out of the discussions that I heard. One interesting paper was given by Peter Verhagen of Leiden University entitled “Tools of the Trade of the Tibetan Translators.” This paper included a list of texts which Dr. Verhagen believes were used as tools by the early Tibetan translators of Sanskrit texts.


After a long day of fascinating panels, in which one and all suffered without air-conditioning, a wonderful banquet was held out of doors at the beautiful Museum of Anthropology.
We were lead through the museum and
I was even treated to a short description of the creation story of the Haida people of the Northwest.
Here, Raven is seen coaxing the first peoples out of their clam shell. According to this fascinating version of the creation story, human beings are here reluctantly and were perhaps even tricked into living on the Earth. Raven is like Coyote of the plains, or in Tibet, perhaps we could say the trickster ཉི་ཆོས་བཟང་པོ་ (Nyi chos bzang po) or ཨ་ཁུ་སྟོ་པ་ (a khu bstan pa).
Inside the museum…
….boats in the air?
Tomorrow I hope to have the time to blog about several of the fascinating papers given at the Madhyamaka panel which saw Kevin Vose, Yael Bentor, Jeffery Hopkins, Tom Tillemanns, Jose Cabezon, Donald Lopez and quite a few other “rock stars” of Tibetan Buddhist studies all in one room. There were no fist fights but the verbal banter, eye rolling, and smirking was something special to behold. Tune in next time for some in-depth reporting  😉

The 2010 International Association of Tibetan Studies Conference will open tomorrow morning in Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC in Vancouver. The UBC campus has already been filled with a veritable who’s who of Tibetan Studies and I am looking forward to listening to as many of these eminent scholars as possible. Tomorrow will include a welcoming ceremony including addresses by professor Tsering Shakya and Dr. Charles Ramble. I will then spend most of the day at the Contributions to Tibetan Literature: Texts, Genres and Generic Terms panel, which will include papers titled:

” “Collected Writings” (gsung ‘bum) in Tibetan Literature: Towards a Systematic Study of Their Compilation, Redaction and Composition and its Use for Genre Classifications,” Tools of the Trade of the Tibetan Translators,” and  “Classifying Literature or Organizing Knowledge? Some General Remarks on Genre Classifications in Tibetan Literature.”

A more complete list of panels can be found here.

Do leave me a note if there is some discussion you simply must hear about, otherwise I will be attending things I am interested in, such as the Madhyamaka panel, the Tibetological Library and Archive Resources panel, and Buddhist Texts and Philosophy, and The History of the Rang-stong/Gzhan-stong, and the list goes on. It is impossible to attend all of the truly fascinating panels at this years IATS, but I hope to be able to discuss a few of the most interesting here on this blog over the course of the next week.

The UK Association for Buddhist Studies will have its conference this year Tuesday and Wednesday, July 6th and 7th at the University of Leeds.

“Historiography, adaptation and contemporary practice” – at the Michael Sadler Building, University of Leeds.



  • Prof. Steven Collins (Chicago): “No-self, gender, and madness”
  • Dr Joanna Cook (Cambridge): “Remaking Thai Buddhism through international pilgrimage”
  • Prof. Duncan McCargo (Leeds): “Buddhism, legitimacy and violence in southern Thailand”
  • Dr Catherine Newell (SOAS): “The new Buddhist missionaries: the global ambitions of Thailand’s Dhammakaya temples”
  • Dr James Taylor (Adelaide): “Mobility and resistance; modern monastic questers”
  • Dr James Benn (McMaster): “A Chinese apocryphal sutra in its eighth-century context”
  • Prof. Ann Heirman (Ghent): “Speech is silver, silence is golden? Speech and silence in the Buddhist sagha”
  • Dr John Kieschnick (Bristol): “The adjudication of sources in traditional Chinese Buddhist historiography”
  • Dr Francesca Tarocco (Manchester): “Buddhist images in modern China”

Film showing

  • Dr Patrice Ladwig (Max Planck Institute): “The last friend of the corpse: funerals, morticians and crematoria in Chiang Mai”

Postgraduate presentations

  • Jane Caple (Leeds): “Contemporary revival and development of Tibetan Buddhist monasticism in eastern Qinghai (Amdo)”
  • Berthe Jansen (Oxford): “Buddhist and non-Buddhist themes contained in Tibetan wedding recitations”
  • Lewis Doney (SOAS): “The daṇḍa-swinging Dharmarāja: early Tibetan appropriations of Indian Buddhist narratives”
  • Frederick Chen (Oxford): “A pagan god transformed into a Buddhist god or a Buddhist god transformed into a Chinese god?”

Also featuring surprise musical performance
Registration (please register before end of June 2010): £45 (UKABS/WREAC £30; students £20).
Register before 31 May for a £5 discount. Fee includes lunch & dinner on 6 July and lunch on 7 July.
Further information and registration: or
Organising committee: Martin Seeger, Francesca Tarocco, Ian Harris, Jane Caple