The Kangyur and Tengyur are the vast corpus of Buddhist literature. The Kangyur are the Buddha’s teachings and the Tengyur are the commentaries written over by Indian masters. Over the course of centuries, Tibetan translators translated this entire corpus into Tibetan and now this literature, which originally came from India, survives only in the Tibetan language.
There’s a new project to translate the Tibetan Kangyur and Tengyur into English. This project was started in 2010 and the director of the project is Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The project is called “84000: Translating the Kangyur and Tengyur.” The first big meeting to discuss this project was held in October 2013 in Bodh Gaya, India. At the meeting, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said this regarding the goal of the project, “It’s been around 2500 years since the Buddha passed away. And yet, the number of people who are paying attention to the Buddha and his teachings are actually increasing. There’s a great diversity among these people and it is important for those who are his disciples to support and help these people. The best way that we can help them is by making the dharma accessible to them.”
Regarding this Kangyur and Tengyur translation project, there’s a lot of debate happening among ordinary Tibetans. On Facebook and on various sites, there’s a variety of opinions in Tibetan.
On Tsenpo website in Tibet, someone named Palchen Dhondup wrote an opinion piece called, “The Kangyur and Tengyur that Dzongsar Khyentse is Selling to the West.” In the piece he wrote, “I have heard that someone named Dzongsar Khyentse has put together a big organization to translate the Kangyur and Tengyur into English. I don’t have anything to say about what’s wrong with him, but for someone who is kissing the ass of Westerners, snatching the bowl away from Tibetans will allow him to make a living for himself. But he is very brave to reduce the life span of the Tibetan language. From what I know, since the study of Gedun Chophel began in the field of Tibetan Studies, there have been about a hundred non-Tibetans who studying Tibetan. Since Gedun Chophel’s “gtam rgyud gser gyi thang ma” was translated into English [as "Grains of Gold"] this year, there is no longer anyone studying Tibetan among researchers of Gedun Chophel.”
He continued, “The writings of Sun Tzu and Confucius are spreading all over the world, and the related institutes and the benefits all accrue to the Chinese people and China reaps a great many advantages from this. Because of this spread, the influence and reach of the Chinese language has also increased. Will Tibet get any such benefits from offering the Kangyur and Tengyur to the western world?
As if in answer to Palchen Dhondup’s essay, someone named Rigpe Reldri has written a piece about this project on Tsenpo site as well with the title, “Translating the Kangyur and Tengyur into the Language of the 21st Century is like the Earlier Translations Undertaken by the Dharma Kings.”
He wrote, “From century to century, the dharma kings and the translators expended all their wealth and resources to translate the Buddha’s teachings and the Buddhist commentaries into Tibetan and this Kangyur and Tengyur is our most precious wealth. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says time and again that this precious wealth of ours is something that belongs to the world, and I realize that. Even now, this precious wealth which belong to the world remains in the Tibetan language and less than 0.1 percent of the world’s population has the ability and opportunity to access it.”
The essay continued, “It seems like some narrow minded people are saying that translating the Kangyur and Tengyur into English will become a cause for decline of the Tibetan language or that we will lose the ownership over the Kangyur and Tengyur to other people and other such nonsense. Actually these comments don’t even deserve responses. But because rather than following the wisdom which distinguishes between right and wrong, our society prefers to follow gossip and prejudiced talk, I am forced to clarify. We don’t have to worry that translating the Kangyur and Tengyur and transferring this literature into English will empty the Tibetan language. The teachings and the commentaries that are in Tibetan will remain intact as they are.”
Around a hundred and forty translators are working on this project. The work is projected to take about a hundred years. Millions of dollars will be spent and are being spent. As we begin to translate the canon out of Tibetan, are we also, at the same time, translating foreign literature into Tibetan?
(Translated by Tenzin Dickyi and Dhondup Tashi Rekjong)