Last week Khyentse Foundation launch the Kumarajiva Project, an exciting new translation effort which aims to support the continued study and practice of the Buddhadharma in Chinese-speaking societies by expanding the Chinese treasury of Buddhist texts. The Kumarajiva Project shares 84000’s recognition that translation is crucial in ensuring the continued longevity and preservation of the Buddhadharma, and we are delighted that each of our translation efforts will together make the Buddha’s wisdom available to the world.
The following article was first published in the July 2019 Khyentse Foundation Focus Newsletter.
The Kumarajiva Project and 84000: What’s the Difference?
Khyentse Foundation began its translation efforts in 2008 when it became clear that only 5% of the Tibetan Buddhist canon had been translated into modern languages. With this realization, Khyentse Foundation incubated and launched the now-thriving 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, a 100-year initiative focused on translating the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon into modern languages, beginning with English. The first phase of 84000 is focusing on the translation of the sutrasand tantras of the Kangyur; phase two will concentrate on the translation of the shastras of the Tengyur.
A voluminous and treasured Chinese Buddhist canon already exists. Despite its similarity in size to the Tibetan canon, quite a large number of texts exist in one of the canons but not in the other. With the aspiration to completely preserve the teachings of the Buddha in as many languages as possible, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and Khyentse Foundation are now focusing on expanding the Chinese treasury of Buddhist texts to include all of the texts in the Tibetan canon that are not available in the Chinese canon. The focus of the Kumarajiva Project for the next 60 years is to translate these outstanding Tibetan texts, the bulk of which are the shastras (the commentarial texts of the great Indian masters), from Tibetan into Chinese. Eventually, the project will also translate the texts from other Buddhist canons, such as Sanskrit and Pali, into Chinese.
With regard to the Tibetan Buddhist canon—the main area of overlap between the two projects—84000 is currently translating all 230,000 pages of the canon from Classical Tibetan into English, while the Kumarajiva Project focuses on translating the approximately 130,000 pages that are not included in the Chinese canon from Classical Tibetan into Chinese. In some cases, both projects will need to translate the same texts and will work together when possible.
84000 and the Kumarajiva Project face many of the same challenges, mainly those relating to the massive body of Classical Tibetan texts in a language that very few people know and understand. Related difficulties include determining which version or versions of existing texts to use, how much annotation to provide with complex texts that require context to understand, and how best to translate specific terms that have multiple meanings. 84000 has an excellent outline of the facts and figures about the Kangyur and Tengyur.
Yet the two projects also face very different challenges. For one, 84000 is intended for westerners who don’t yet have an established canon of their own, and therefore have few, if any, authentic and authoritative ways to access the Buddhadharma. The Kumarajiva Project, on the other hand, is intended for speakers of Chinese. Buddhism is already deeply rooted in Chinese culture with an established, revered canon, which many consider complete and perfect as it is. Further, the Chinese canon, having been compiled over 19 centuries, has its own languages, styles, and characteristics. To add to the Chinese collection of Buddha’s teachings in a way that both respects the texts of the Chinese canon and also makes the newly translated texts accessible to modern Buddhist readers requires skill and sensitivity.
The Kumarajiva Project is extremely grateful to 84000 for so generously sharing its experience and expertise from its groundbreaking translation effort that began over a decade ago. It is because of 84000’s help with strategy, planning, protocol, and potential pitfalls that the Kumarajiva Project has been able to launch in such a relatively short time. The Kumarajiva Project and 84000 expect to have an ongoing, collaborative, and continuous relationship with one another.