Photo: Tibetan Canon Pecha Printed by Wooden Carving Block by Yuan Ren

To read the Buddha’s words in one’s own language is the wish of most every Buddhist practitioner. Therefore, it is said that translating sutras and shastras generates a great deal of merit. In 2010, 84000 was launched in support of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s mission of translating the Tibetan Buddhist canon into modern languages, focusing on English. Through the support of KF and thousands of donors, 84000 has translated 8,546 pecha pages into English, with an additional 22,011 in progress.

The Chinese Buddhist canon is another ancient collection of sutras and shastras of great importance to both Buddhists and scholars around the world. However, the Tibetan Buddhist canon contains a good number of precious sutras and shastras that are not present in Chinese because texts were translated into the two languages in different eras.

Translating these Tibetan texts into Chinese has been the wish of Chinese-Tibetan translators for generations. From the Song dynasty in the 10th century to the Qing dynasty in the 19th century, translators have translated Tibetan Buddhist texts into Chinese, but the number of these translations remains limited. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has committed Khyentse Foundation to take on the grand mission of translating the Tibetan canon into Chinese, benefiting all Chinese-speaking practitioners. KF sees this as the next great translation project after 84000.

Pilot Project: Safeguarding for Perfection

In spring 2017, KF launched a pilot project to translate the Tibetan canon into Chinese. Although the scale of the pilot was not comparable with what was accomplished in the ancient times, the experienced team, led by Professor Jin-Song Hsiao, accomplished all of its objectives of its first year and gained valuable experience. Eighteen sutras and one shastra, a total of 189 Tibetan pecha pages, were translated.

The pilot translators were knowledgeable in Buddhist philosophy and fluent in both Chinese and Tibetan. In addition, Tibetan scholars ensured that the translation authentically expressed the Buddhist philosophy expounded in the original Tibetan texts. Chinese Buddhist scholars helped polish the final Chinese translation. Although the workflow is meticulous and extremely time consuming, we believe it is the only way to ensure that the translation of the Buddhist texts is as close to perfect as possible.

Translating Buddhist texts needs to consider many questions. For example, should the translators use the classical Chinese of traditional Buddhist canons, or should they use modern Chinese? Should the terminologies be transliterated, as usually done in the Chinese Buddhist canon, or with the meaning of the words, as usually done in the Tibetan canon? Most of the translators, editors, and reviewers are engaged in multiple projects and have limited time. What is the best way to communicate efficiently and stay on schedule? Discussion and reflection on questions like these is crucial to the next phase of the project.

Photo: Xuan Zang led the translating of Buddhist texts in the Tang Dynasty

The First Phase

Phase one of the project will focus on the translation of the exoteric part of the Kangyur that is not currently included in the Chinese canon (approximately 5,162 pecha pages, see Figure 1 below) and selected parts of the Tengyur.

Figure 1, Number of pages yet to be translated from Tibetan into Chinese

KF will invite translation teams to apply for the texts they would like to translate through an open grant application process. More information will be coming soon.

The Urgency to Cultivate Translators

Through the pilot project, KF became aware of the shortage of Chinese-Tibetan translators. Training a Buddhist translator and establishing a translation team takes time and depends on the experience of the team members and guidance from mentors. To translate all of the missing Tibetan Buddhist texts into Chinese in the next 100 years, organizers need at least 15 outstanding translation teams, and additional editors who can review and finalize the translation. The cultivation of translators is of utmost importance and cannot be delayed (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2, Number of years to translate the Kangyur and Tengyur

KF has been working with Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts since 2014 and Fa-Guang Institute of Buddhist Studies since 2015 to cultivate translators. Classes on translating the Tibetan Buddhist canon have been added at both institutes, and students can apply for scholarships to take more classes related to the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The two schools have already groomed a handful of junior translators who will be a part of the initial translation work.

Photo: Members of the 2018 translator’s training program at the Fa-Guang Institute of Buddhist Studies.

KF also offers opportunities for Tibetan scholars to study the Chinese Buddhist canon and learn the Chinese language. We hope that these scholars will become the principal advisors on the Tibetan Buddhist canon for the translation project, continuing the tradition of a close working relationship between great Indian Buddhist masters and translators.

Photo: Intensive Tibetan classes.

In March 2014, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave a short speech on the importance of translating the Tibetan canon into Chinese, watch the full speech.