Distinguished Professor, Donald Lopez, Reviews 84000

As a project that strives to translate the entire Tibetan Buddhist Canon for the general educated reader, maintaining the quality and readability of our translations is a non-negotiable. While we strive to maintain the highest academic standards in our research, methodology, and accuracy, we also try to make the language of our English publications accessible to the educated general reader. And where possible, translators are encouraged to fulfil requirements in keeping with Buddhist traditions, such as receiving empowerments and transmissions. We believe these to be important aspects in ensuring the continuation of a 2500-year living tradition. With this in mind, we regularly invite renowned experts in the field to review our publications in the presence of the translators and members of the editorial team, and offer advice and suggestions for our work.

Taking our cue from non-profit organizations (working in all sorts of different domains) who commission independent, external reviews of their work in order to get objective feedback, we took a step further late last year and invited Prof. Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan, to review not only our translations but the quality and pace of the project as a whole, with a focus on translations, introductions, dissemination, organization and funding. Prof. Lopez spent a whole month absorbing the contents of the Reading Room and generally immersing himself in the project, exploring it from corner to corner.

He admitted to us that when the project was first planned twelve years ago he had not been enthusiastic about the idea, but that his exploration of the results so far had agreeably surprised him. In his executive summary Prof. Lopez writes:

Buddhism has been a religion of translation since the Buddha instructed his monks to preach the dharma in the local languages of their communities. The translation of the canon, however defined, has been essential to the dissemination of Buddhism across Asia, with the Pāli canon serving Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, the Chinese canon serving China, Korea, and Japan, and the Tibetan canon serving Tibet and Mongolia. The 84000 project is therefore an essential undertaking in the dissemination of Buddhism in the West, where an English-language canon will provide a basis for translations into other European languages. Although lacking the substantial state support that made the Chinese and Tibetan canons possible, 84000 has made an auspicious and admirable beginning.

The purpose of his review was not to produce a public endorsement of our work but to provide detailed feedback on our progress, approach, methodologies, organizational structure, and funding, that we can apply to improve what we are doing as a project. Positive though it is overall, his review suggests improvements to be made on the consistency of quality of the translations we publish and advises a shift of emphasis away from our original “crowd sourcing” translation model to one in which all translations are produced by an expanded and reorganized in-house team, with translations from well-established translators continuing to be accepted.

On the translators’ introductions preceding the published translation of the sūtras, Lopez writes:

Previous canons have lacked introductions to each text. However, the introductions to the 84000 translations will be essential to the success and longevity of the project. It can be assumed that the introductions will be read more often than the translations themselves and that the quality of the introduction will be the primary factor determining whether the translation is read. The report suggests that particular attention therefore be paid to the introductions, reviewing all existing introductions to ensure a consistent style, format, and readability.

With regards to widening dissemination of our work, Prof. Lopez—like our Founding Chair, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche—places great emphasis on the role of academia:

In order to increase the audience of 84000 and the influence of the translations, it is essential that a younger readership beyond the various Buddhist communities be attracted. To that end, 84000 should endeavor to integrate its translations into the reading assignments of college and university courses. This can be achieved by designing modules on a range of topics studied in courses on Buddhism. Such modules would provide a range of readings tailored to the topic as well as exercises that would allow students to explore the canon on their own.

Included in his review are Prof. Lopez’s suggestions on nurturing future translators, as well as advice on the merits of an endowment to ensure the sustainability of such a long-term project.

We are immensely grateful to Prof. Lopez for his time and insights, for the encouragement he has given us, and especially for the valuable advice he has provided for the continued evolution of the project.

Posted: 16 Nov 2021