Wisdom at Your Fingertips

When Technology and Translation Come Together


84000’s primary mission is to translate the Buddhist canon for diverse audiences–monastics and scholars as well as practitioners and general readers–while taking great care to make those translations accurate, available, and accessible. At the same time, 84000 strives to create a seamless and user-friendly reading experience that enhances the reader’s understanding.

At the heart of the reading experience, our translation and technology teams have developed a powerful database that drives an interactive, multi-layered reading room.

Anything you can imagine wanting to learn more about—whether it be a historic person, a geographic location, or a Buddhist term—is at your fingertips. Each text includes a trilingual glossary that is assembled into a powerful service that creates connections between the texts.

“We add in a lot of context to create a much richer digital edition. We’re really trying to create authentic translations that accurately capture important features in the texts, and at the same time situate the texts in the larger universe of Buddhist ideas,” said Jeff Wallman, 84000 director of technology.

Thousands of Data Points

Say, for example, you are reading The Heart Sūtra in the 84000 Reading Room. This famous teaching takes place on Vulture Peak Mountain and is given by the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara to Śāriputra. You’ve always wondered where Vulture Peak is and who exactly was Śāriputra. A few clicks and you learn that Vulture Peak is where many Great Vehicle teachings were delivered by the Buddha Śākyamuni. The mountain is located near Rājagṛha, India, which you learn is one of the most important locations in Buddhist history. You also learn Śāriputra was one of the Buddha’s closest disciples, known for his pure discipline and considered foremost in wisdom. As you scroll through the translation itself, you can gain insight into terms like the “five aggregates” and “emptiness.”

The integration of thousands of such data points creates a rich interlaced experience when browsing any of the 27,200-plus pages of translated text in the growing collection. 84000’s technology and translation teams collaborate on each new publication while also updating and enhancing the database, which populates the expansive glossary. Every translation receives close editorial attention and careful copyediting, and terms to link to the database are identified by our translators. Then the technical team gets to work on encoding every term, linking pieces of data together.

Work on expanding and updating the database is never-ending. “As long as people are reading the texts, we’ll be working on the database,” Wallman said.

Stay tuned for more stories in our series, “Technology and Translation,” in future newsletters.

Posted: 16 May 2024