January 8–11, 2011, there was a historic International Conference in Sarnath, India of over a hundred scholars from many countries on "Translating the Tengyur: In the Tradition of the 17 Pandits of Nalanda University." It was convened by the Venerable Geshe Ngawang Samten, Vice–Chancellor of the Central University of Tibetan Studies and Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University, President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended and gave his blessing to the multi–decade project. The Venerable Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche of the 84000 project, many learned Lama–scholars and Indian Pandits of Sanskrit, and modern Buddhological scholars from US, India, England, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Mexico, spent the four days discussing the launch of the huge project of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies to translate the 4000+ works contained in the Tengyur collection of Tibetan translations of long lost Indian Buddhist Sanskrit works into English, Chinese, Hindi, and other European and Asian languages. The recovery of these important master works of ancient literature, mind science, art, medicine, psychology, philosophy, meditational technology, botany, alchemy, sociology, political science, and so forth, is of monumental importance especially to the Indian, Chinese, and world cultures, analogous to say, the importance to the Western culture of a miraculous rediscovery in accurate, say, Ethiopic, translations of the most important Aramaic, Egyptian, Greek, and Latin works of the ancient Library of Alexandria lost to fire in the 4th century CE. The American Institute of Buddhist studies has been slowly working away at this task for almost forty years, and this conference marked a kind of launch of a new collaboration between the Institute and the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. Sarnath is the site where the Buddha gave his first teaching, turning the Wheel of Dharma, as it is called, so the place is especially auspicious. Though the place and this literature is sacred to Buddhists the world over, it is important to note that, as H. H. the Dalai Lama forcefully declared, this is not a project of religious missionarization, since these texts are the scientific texts of the ancient Buddhistic civilizations, the core texts of the curriculum of the ancient university of Nalanda, and so they are major works of world knowledge, especially the "inner science" of psychology and philosophy, not testaments of religious faith.

Video of the individual conference sessions, and the presentations and papers associated with those sessions can be accessed on this site by navigating with the left side navigation menu.


Ngawang Samten (CUTS), Robert Thurman (AIBS, Columbia University)

Presided over by Ven. Prof. Ngawang Samten and Prof. Robert Thurman, the inaugural session began with opening ceremonies and auspicious welcoming comments. Key dignitaries then framed and underscored the historical significance and international importance of the Tengyur Translation Conference.


Ramshankar Tripathi, Thomas Yarnall (AIBS, Columbia University), Paul Hackett (AIBS, Columbia University)

Participants provided an historical overview of the Tibetan Tengyur, addressing such fundamental questions as: What is the Tengyur? Why is it (in particular) so important? Why translate it at all?

In answering such questions the presenters offered:

  1. A concise presentation on the importance of the Indian Buddhist monastic tradition (esp. 1st–12th c.), with special emphasis on the contributions of the 17 Paṇḍits of Nālandā
  2. A brief narrative regarding the processes involved in the translation of key Sanskrit texts into Tibetan over several centuries (7th–12th c.), the subsequent critical assessment, editing, and compilation of these translations into coherent canons called the Kangyur and Tengyur (14th c.), and the ensuing production of multiple variant printed editions and redactions over the next several centuries
  3. A brief overview of the organization and contents of the Tengyur.


PART ONE: Translations into English, Sanskrit, Hindi, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Nepali

Paul Hackett (AIBS, Columbia University), Kameshwarnath Mishra (CUTS), Lobsang Norbu Shastri (CUTS), Marcus Bingenheimer (Dharma Drum Buddhist College), Sangwhan Shin, Kazunori Sasaki, Minbahadur Shakya

PART TWO: Translations into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, and other European languages

Michael Hahn, John Canti (Padmakara Translation Group, 84000), Luis Gomez (Casa Tibet Mexico), Giacomella Orofino (Universita degli Studi di Napoli, L'Orientale), Victoria Lysenko (Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences), Andrey Terentyev (International College of Thailand, IABS), Yael Bentor (Hebrew University), Alex Berzin (Berzin Archives)

Each of the presenters spoke for about 10–15 minutes regarding the translation of Tengyur texts into his/her contemporary language. Presenters focused their comments on general/common issues pertaining to the utility and problems of past and present Tengyur translations in their target language, and on the status of ongoing and future translation efforts in their language.


Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (84000)

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche spoke on the relationship between the Kangyur and Tengyur, and on his Kangyur translation project 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha



Thomas Yarnall (AIBS, Columbia University), Christian Wedemeyer (University of Chicago Divinity School, AIBS)


Luis Gomez (Casa Tibet Mexico), Jules Levinson, Karen Lang (University of Virginia), Lhakdor (LTWA), Michael Hahn, Shrikant Bahulkar (CUTS, University of Pune, Oriental Research Institute), Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (84000), Lozang Jamspal (Columbia University, AIBS)

These two sessions seek to stimulate a dialog among all translator/scholars with the aim to begin to develop a series of criteria, standards, and guidelines which can be agreed upon—as universally as practical, possible, and desirable—

  1. to evaluate existing Tengyur translations
  2. to guide and evaluate ongoing and future translations
  3. to develop curricular materials and resources for training translators to be able to meet agreed–upon standards (and perhaps for offering some sort of “certification” to them).

Some of the issues considered, evaluated, debated, ranked, etc. include the following:

Linguistic/Knowledge Issues

  • Knowledge of Tibetan
  • Knowledge of Sanskrit language
  • Target language = native language (of translator, or of collaborator/editor)
  • Knowledge/understanding of the Dharma
  • Consultation/collaboration with native Tibetan speaker
  • Consultation/collaboration with Tibetan Lama/Geshe

Issues of Background, General Knowledge, and Style

  • Translation style (attention to this; evocative preferred to “literal,” etc.)
  • Knowledge of the history of the the text and the genre
  • Knowledge of the subject matter
  • Knowledge of related disciplines in Western/contemporary contexts
  • Introduction contextualizing the work
  • Firm grounding in emic understanding required
  • Presentation of etic perspectives OK

Text Critical Issues

  • Variant editions/redactions and canonical translations – Knowledge regarding
  • Critical editions – Knowledge regarding, and use of (and/or creation of)
  • Looking up and documenting all quotes
  • Consultation of all relevant Tengyur commentaries
  • Reference to indigenous Tibetan commentaries

Editing and Publishing Issues

  • Comprehensive editing (importance of editors and/or editorial boards)
  • Comprehensive copy–editing (importance of accuracy, consistency, conventions, and readability)
  • Formatting and presentation (aesthetic appeal; readability)
  • Indexing (importance and utility of this)
  • Glossaries, Bibliographies, and other support material (importance and utility of this)
  • Printing (hard–copy and/or electronic)
  • Distribution and marketing (optimizing visibility/awareness and availability)


Michael Hahn, Jim Blumenthal (Oregon State University, Maitripa College), Jay Garfield (Smith College), Betsy Napper (Tibetan Nuns Project, Dolma Ling institute of Buddhist Dialectics), Robert Thurman (AIBS Columbia University), Alex Berzin (Berzin Archives), Ringu Tulku, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (84000)

While the Standards and Training sessions dealt with many different (though often interrelated) general and specific issues pertaining to evaluating and guiding overall translation efforts (thus focusing on the big picture, the final product), This session had a narrower agenda, with presentations and moderated discussions focusing on the challenges, value, and prospects for the standardization of translation terminology and style in particular.



Ngawang Samten (CUTS), Robert Thurman (AIBS, Columbia University), Shrikant Bahulkar (CUTS, University of Pune, Oriental Research Institute), Thomas Yarnall (AIBS, Columbia University), Paul Hackett (AIBS, Columbia University), Annie Bien (AIBS), Huang Jing Rui (84000), Marcus Perman (Tsadra Foundation), John Canti (Padmakara Translation Group, 84000), Jeff Wallman (TBRC)


Ngawang Samten (CUTS), Robert Thurman (AIBS, Columbia University), Jan Westerhoff, Lhakdor (LTWA), Dorji Damdul (Tibet House New Delhi), Phil Stanley (Naropa University, Nitartha Institute, Tibetan and Himalayan Library), Alex Berzin (Berzin Archives), Jay Garfield (Smith College)

These two sessions engage individual translators and especially representatives from the large number of translation groups/initiatives/institutions in a dialog about how “we” (all stakeholders) can better collaborate and coordinate our efforts.


In this last session the participants reported on the discussions from the conference to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who in turn offered his own remarks.