Progress in Tibetan and Buddhological Studies at Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary

In this new series on academic development we take a look at some of Khyentse Foundation’s longer-term projects, reviewing the purpose of each and discussing the outcomes.

In this new series on academic development we take a look at some of Khyentse Foundation’s longer-term projects, reviewing the purpose of each and discussing the outcomes.

We are delighted to share the latest progress report from Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in Hungary, the beneficiary of an ongoing Khyentse Foundation grant. The grant is awarded for the project “Development of Buddhist Studies in Hungary and the Hungarian Tripitaka Project” (2021–26), an extension of two previous projects by the Budapest Centre for Buddhist Studies (BCBS) at ELTE that spanned 2013–16 and 2016–21.

From humble beginnings with the establishment of the BCBS in 2013, we have grown to the extent of having a dedicated Department of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at our university. Such remarkable development would have been nearly impossible without the generous support of Khyentse Foundation. — Gergely Orosz, PhD, research fellow, BCBS

While the BCBS was established as recently as 2013, the university in fact has a longstanding connection with Tibet. The first Tibetan–English dictionary and grammar book of the Tibetan language in English were compiled by the Hungarian philologist and Orientalist Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (1784–1842), and Tibetan has been taught at ELTE since 1942, the centenary of Kőrös’s death.

The primary objective of the three BCBS projects is to advance the fields of Buddhology and Tibetology at ELTE, including creating comprehensive educational programs such as minors in Buddhism and Tibetan, a BA in Tibetan, an MA in Buddhist Studies, and a PhD in Buddhist Philology. Khyentse Foundation’s sponsorship has played a significant role in achieving this goal. The foundation’s earlier grants enabled the BCBS to successfully launch the MA in Buddhist Studies, leading to the creation of the Department of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in May 2019. Today, the program is not only available to Hungarian students but also offers an English-language program for international scholars. In the academic year 2022–23 an English-language PhD program was created, offering a PhD in Buddhist Philology in addition to the existing Buddhist Philology PhD in Hungarian.

The academic offerings have been warmly received. During the previous academic year the Tibetan minor had four students, the Buddhist minor had thirty, the Tibetan BA had five students with eight new applicants, and the Buddhist Studies MA had three students with four new applicants.

Alongside these formal programs, in 2022–23 the BCBS organized six other courses taught by a full-time employee funded by the project. These courses, addressing topics such as the age of the Tibetan empire and the life and works of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, are integral to the department’s curriculum. Guest lecturer Professor Michiro Ama of Otani University in Japan also delivered a week-long intensive class on Japanese Pure Land Buddhism, with financial support from the Komatsu Chiko Foundation in Japan.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2022–23 the BCBS organized eight Khyentse Lectures, surpassing the number initially proposed in the project. Established in 2015, the Khyentse Lecture Series generally invites two Hungarian and one international scholar per semester to lecture on Tibetan and/or Buddhist subjects.

The department also coorganized the 2-day biennial international conference “Animals, Plants, and Bioethics”—the fourth international conference on aspects of Mongolian Buddhism—which featured 57 papers presented by noted Hungarian and international scholars and Buddhist monastics. The annual Hungarian Buddhological Conference took place in June, this year with 10 presentations. An issue of the BCBS’s periodical Bibliotheca Buddhica Budapestinensis, containing selected articles from past conferences, is nearing completion. A book by Krisztina Teleki, The Reminiscences of Old Mongolian Monks: Interviews about Mongolia’s Buddhist Monasteries in the Early 20th Century, was published by ELTE in 2022.

The second key objective, the Hungarian Tripitaka Project, aims to create a corpus of essential Buddhist texts in Hungarian. Despite progress being slower than expected due to a lack of Buddhist terminology in Hungarian and frequent contradictions between the Sanskrit variants and their Tibetan and Chinese translations, the dedicated efforts of Hungarian scholars specialized in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Classical Chinese, and other classical Buddhist languages promise a hopeful future for this initiative.

Khyentse Foundation is excited to be a part of this remarkable journey towards the advancement of Buddhist studies in Hungary. The success of ELTE and the BCBS exemplifies the power of collaboration, dedication, and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to our supporters and donors, without whom such accomplishments would not be possible. We eagerly anticipate sharing more success stories from this project and others in the future.

Image above: Participants at the Fourth International Conference on Aspects of Mongolian Buddhism, October 20–21, 2022. Photo courtesy Eötvös Loránd University.