Kangyur Resounding: From East To West

The reading of the Kangyur in its entirety is considered a highly meritorious practice in the Tibetan tradition. Practiced annually by all Tibetan monasteries, the monks read the 70,000 pages aloud, transforming the written words of the Buddha into sound. With the altruistic intention of the practitioners – the readers and the patrons – it is said that the sound benefits all beings as it pervades space.

In May of 2012 in Washington, DC, 84000 held the first public reading of the Kangyur with a new sound – English. Found in Translation: An 84000 Sutra Resounding was the inaugural recitation of the sutras in their English translation in a style meant to reflect the traditional practice.

The practice involves many monks reading aloud the different volumes of the Tibetan Buddhist Kangyur simultaneously; their voices carry the words of the Buddha and reverberate throughout the monastery and beyond. Depending upon the number of monks involved, the reading can take from one to three months. Due to the sheer magnitude of the task and the significant cost involved to sponsor all participating monks throughout the reading, it is a rare ceremony outside of the Himalayan monasteries.

Often commissioned as an offering, the Kangyur resounding is also a means by which the wealthier patrons of a monastery can dedicate merit to loved ones or to particular causes. As explained by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche in a recent interview, “It’s a Tibetan tradition where people want to accumulate merit, or if they have some obstacles in order to remove the obstacle, they go to monastery and request the lamas to recite whole Tripitaka”.

Rabjam Rinpoche explains the methods and benefits of a resounding:

…so there’s a few ways of doing it. One is we call it zhal che (zhal phye), means “just opening”. And one is dag tshar (dag tshar), means “reading completely”. Zhal che is they open all the volumes, and they read little by little by little, just to make connection. And dag tshar is reading from beginning to end, word by word, and by doing so, I think, it’s not only kind of reading power.

But when you read, the monks or even some lay practitioner, when you read you get some understanding of the teaching of the Buddha, and I think that what makes a difference.

Found in Translation: An 84000 Sutra Resounding was held at Friends Meeting of Washington, DC, and lasted approximately two hours. Though the reading included just a portion of the sutras that are currently available in English, the participants got a sense of the experience that Buddhist monks have had for centuries.

During her opening speech, Chodrung Kunga enthused that the resounding was “part of this historic transmission of the Dharma into English in this new land.” Led by Venerable Khenpo Kalsang Gyaltsen, Western students of Buddhism, people with interfaith interests, Himalayan community members, and the cross-culturally curious all came together to read in the authentic spirit of a traditional resounding.

Click here for a visual and audio experience of the resounding event.

84000 continues to fund translators in their efforts to make the Buddha’s teachings available in English and other modern languages. Future resoundings will incorporate the ever-expanding list of available translations in English, and over time will more exactly mirror the traditional practice of reciting the Kangyur in its entirety.

“The last thing we want to do is make translations that are objects of reverence but are not used. We must use our translations in study and practice.”
~Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche

Posted: 21 Sep 2012