Calling it a “great treasure for humanity”, Geshey Robert Thurman, who is in the country giving talks on Buddhism, said that the Tibetan translation of the Tenjur from Sanskrit is the only remaining version of an ancient work taught by the Buddha and great Indian masters where Buddhism once flourished.
Work on the Tenjur, which is in 3,626 texts in 224 volumes, has already started, but the professor said that it is the first attempt to try to do the complete translation in a uniform way, with a terminology that is standard across all the works.
“About 40 years ago when I received my PhD, the Dalai Lama and my teacher, a Mongolian Geshey, asked me to translate the Tenjur,” said Geshey Thurman at his hotel yesterday. Working closely with Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse rinpoche, who has initiated to translate the 108 volumes of Kangyur (Buddha’s words), Geshey Thurman said the Kangyur and Tenjur has to be translated to counter industrial science.
“The Kanjur has Buddha’s own words, but then people think of that as only religious like a Bible. Tenjur is more like a science – it is scientific, about inner science, about mind and how mind works,” he said. “This, the modern science doesn’t have, as they are all materialistic. So they really need these sciences, and this was one reason the Dalai Lama asked me to translate the Tenjur.”
Professor Thurman has already completed 15 to 20 works. “We have a series called the Treasury of Buddhist Sciences with Columbia University Press and published about 20 works so far. But the goal is to set up an institution in India, probably in Sarnath, where Buddha’s teaching started, to start the project.”
However, the Geshey feels that certain selections of the Tenjur can be translated in about five years, which can then be used to teach in English language schools for young Bhutanese. “Selection of very important works on logic, ethics and reasoning will be helpful in regular education, as it will teach children from a young age to reason, think rationally and critically,” he said.
“Translating these works isn’t only for the benefit of the English people, but also for young Bhutanese and young Tibetans in exile, because they speak English and they know no Choekyed or read it. So for them to read Buddhist literature, they need a good translation in English.”
In Bhutan, the professor said, because of the old fashioned Buddhist education was only for the monks and the farmers were just offering and coming to ritual and praying. “Lay people are learning and getting educated, but they aren’t educated in the Buddhist way. They are being educated in a materialistic modern way. That’s not good for a Buddhist country and so we want to create a way where lay people can get some aspects of that education,” he said, adding that he had been begging the monk body to thinks ways of teaching more simply some of the key things like logic and ethics.
Explaining why the Kanjur and Tenjur are the great treasure of humanity, the professor said that, in ancient time, around 5th and 6th century, India was the most developed place and people would come to study at Buddhist universities from Europe, China, Iran and Indonesia, where all the great universities were Buddhist and the faculty was monks. “The library from that place was really precious to humanity, and not only to Buddhists. Particularly, the Tenjur has Buddhist sciences, as the original text were not only religious, they were philosophical, medical, aesthetic (soyi rigpa) and what we call science of language today,” he said.
“Until the western people discovered Sanskrit, there didn’t have linguistic. They took it from Sanskrit what is called the modern science of linguistic.”
Asked how they would go about with the project, professor Thurman said he is hoping to create a major separate situation like the Dharma Chakra institution to keep the work going. He said that one of the problems of the 150 years of work that has gone on by academic is that each of them had their own English words for the regional Tibetan words, which comes from Sanskrit.
When the Kanjur and Tenjur were translated from Sanskrit to Tibetan, they had a certain dictionary and a king who said that they have to use one word. Therefore the words were all the same. “With our new effort, we’re going to have a single dictionary and it will be readable and uniformly across many works by many people,” he said. “Most of the translators will be Buddhist and, therefore, they’ll have a different feeling about the works and take special care, unlike scholars who didn’t care and didn’t have faith and devotion of the meaning. “
Although the project would cost millions of dollars, Professor Thurman said they would do, no matter how long it takes. “The Tibetans took 400 years because they didn’t have computers and had to travel frequently, and even in 13th century, some editing was going on. We can do more quickly, provided we have the support,” he said.
“In 30 years we’ll have a version of Tenjur and that will cost around USD10-15M. Dzongsar Khentse has a plan of 100 years to translate the Kanjur, but he can be much quicker, because a lot of preliminary works was done already.”