The Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies has now been awarded to more than 20 students in 10 universities worldwide. As the program enters its third year, it is clear that the recipients to date are truly the Buddhist scholars, translators, and researchers of the future. It is also clear that the award offers valuable encouragement and validation to the students who receive it, as expressed by Venerable Karmananda, a Buddhist monk born in Bangladesh, who received the award at the University of Hong in 2011. “Such awards indeed become sources of renewed inspiration, continuous aspiration, and much-needed encouragement for the recipients to go forward in their learning. I am glad Khyentse Foundation is standing for these ideals!”

The award, initiated by Khyentse Foundation advisor Professor Peter Skilling, was established in 2010 at four universities: the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Sydney, and the University of Hamburg, and has now been extended to universities in China, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Canada.

The award is in line with Khyentse Foundation’s vision to promote and encourage Buddhist scholarship around the world by recognizing excellence in Buddhist studies, especially expertise in the classical languages of Buddhist traditions.  The recipients are identified by their departmental faculty and each receives an award of US$1,000 at a departmental ceremony.

Although the award recipients come from diverse backgrounds, they share a common desire to illuminate, understand, and contribute to the rich intellectual traditions of studying the teachings of the Buddha. A number of the Khyentse Foundation award recipients are making important contributions to the translation, publication, and understanding of ancient Buddhist texts. Their skills in ancient languages, especially Pali and Sanskrit, are remarkable, and their research provides an important historical context for the study of Buddhism.

Who are these brilliant scholars, and how are they contributing to the flourishing of the academic study of Buddhism?

The first recipient of the award was Samantha Ann Catella of UC Berkeley on March 11, 2010. With a major in molecular environmental biology and a minor in Buddhist studies, Samantha says, “I want to pursue a career in conservation biology using ecology to understand natural systems in order to inform effective management plans. Eventually, if things go my way, I hope to do work of this nature in Tibet or thereabouts.”

Li Ying from Peking University, the fifth award recipient, is involved in translating the Pali Canon into Chinese, under a program in cooperation with the Dhammakaya University of Thailand. In addition to her translation work and the study of Gandhari Buddhist texts, she plans to use her Khmer language skills to explore Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia. Professor Duan of Peking University writes, “Li Ying’s dissertation will mainly be in the field of the development of Cambodian Buddhism. To my knowledge, this will be the first scientific dissertation in China dealing with Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia.”

Pi Jianjun, also from Peking University, has under supervision deciphered for publication three newly discovered, secular Kharosthi documents from ancient Central Asia. His plan for further research on Kharosthi has great significance for translating Buddhist writings from Central Asia that are more than 1,500 years old. His work is also significant for understanding the area’s history in terms of Buddhadharma. He writes, “I am determined to go to Germany for Tocharian study as a PhD student. I will turn to full account my Sanskrit language ability to acquire knowledge of the Tocharian language, so as to investigate Buddhism in Chinese Turkistan.”

In 2010, Blair Silverlock from the University of Sydney received the Khyentse Foundation award for his outstanding achievement in Buddhist studies, Sanskrit, and Pali. Blair plans to complete his PhD with a research focus on the translation, study, and publication of Buddhist texts written in the Gandhari language that originate from Afghanistan and date back to the 2nd century AD.

Through their academic skills and research, KF award recipients enable others to comprehend important Buddhist manuscripts and texts. Ms Akako Nakamura, the 2011 recipient from the University of Hamburg, has nearly completed her PhD, with a dissertation on the concept of Buddhahood, or “awakening,” as found in the Bodhisattvabhumi, Mahayanasutralamkara, and Buddhabhumisutra, along with their commentaries. Her detailed study of awakening contributes to the understanding of one of the most important concepts of Mahayana Buddhism.

Rachel Epstein, a candidate for a doctoral degree in Japanese literature at the University of Pennsylvania, writes, “I aim to become intimate with texts of Buddhism, in order to apprehend broader conceptions of poetic form, the praxis of poetry, the meanings of translation, and the agency of language.”

Understanding the history of Buddhism involves examining Buddhist literature and art. Miki Morita, also from the University of Pennsylvania, is focusing her PhD research on Central Asian religious art, with a special concentration on Buddhist art in northwestern China from the 9th century to the 14th century. She is especially interested in Uyghur Buddhist art and its interaction with Chinese, Near Eastern, and other Central Asian religious art, as well as cultural exchange between the East and the West.

Several Khyentse Foundation award recipients, such as Miss Sararat Navato from Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, are interested in Buddhist inscriptions. Ian McCrabb from the University of Sydney, received high marks for his master’s thesis, which examined donative formulae in Buddhist reliquary inscriptions from Gandhara written in the Kharoshti language. Ian is currently working on his PhD at the University of Sydney, focusing on methodologies for the analysis of reliquary inscriptions, ritual practices, and the religious significance of relic establishment in Gandhara during this formative period of the Mahayana.

Photo: Khyentse Foundation Award for Excellence in Buddhist Studies winner Manoj Suranga Perera accepts his certificate and prize from the Vice Chancellor at University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. Also pictured are Rev. Prof. N. Gnanaratana and Prof. Udita Garusingha, the Head of the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies.