English-language internet resources on Tibetan culture and Buddhist studies by Agita Baltgalve
During the last century Tibetan Buddhism has spread all over the world and therefore more and more people are getting interested in Tibetan culture and language , as well.
This refers also to the multiple persons who create information piles of the modern mass media, presenting their different views and interpretations of facts.
Especially about the actual topics (and Tibetan Buddhism is one of them) one finds a lot of superficial articles and misinterpretations. Therefore it is not always very easy to select the true and useful information.
In the former Soviet countries the government allowed only one side view at the reality, the one that was profitable for its interests.
This view was not obligatory false or wrong, but the problem was that it emphasized only some facts, at the same time hiding others.
One may think that this problem has completely been solved nowadays in Europe.
However, it is not. Every country, every government, be it democratic , socialist or other rule, has always a definite angle of vision, based on personal interests, personal background and possibilities.
The most striking example is the information about Buddhist practices in Chinas Tibet .
People in the exile Tibetan community complain that 90% monasteries in Tibet are destroyed, that the Tibetan Buddhist culture has been wiped out and nearly nobody is allowed to practice Buddhism .
The Chinese side maintains that everything is in order, everyone can believe in what he or she wants and that the modern Tibet is presently being built.
Yet another impression arises, when you arrive in this place by your own, see how people live there and talk to them. It turns out, that both Chinese and exile Tibetans are right, however, at the same time they both are wrong only showing one part of the reality.
This small example only illustrates, how different the information sources today are. Further, the way and methods of obtaining information are not less important.
In the most European countries, including Northern Europe , there is no tradition of a single teacher (or guru ) who assists one continuously to show the right way of the creating a world view. Perhaps, people here even do not aim at this kind of practice at all
There is a general opinion, that one should at least study from several sources and also from several teachers, in order to get a comprehensive and multilateral knowledge. So the single teacher role in Europe is quite different from that in the traditional Tibetan Buddhism .
There is also another difference between the practice of searching, getting and gathering information in former times and nowadays.
And this is the main point that I especially want to emphasize. Earlier the main information source was printed books and it was a rather hard and time-consuming work to write one and get it published.
So this work gave some kind of a guarantee and reliability. And for the main thing, a book, once published can not be changed anymore, unless the second edition follows, which means a thorough work of the improvement.
Earlier, because of the limits of communication and transportation most of publications and books came from the local production or from nearby regions. With the rush development of the communication system and different technologies it is possible now to derive information from any place of the world.
There are also many more possibilities to travel to the source country and to experience the culture and practices live.
However, these direct contacts and the personal experience in many cases are replaced by modern mass media like TV or World Wide Web where there is always something, nearly on every topic.
Therefore people rather prefer to sit down conveniently and surf through internet pages than to look for the necessary information elsewhere.
Of course, there are also many good aspects in getting acquainted with digital media. Especially if one is interested to obtain the information about some happenings in distant countries. In most cases there is even no other choice, for not everyone can go to study for example Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet or Sanskrit in India .
This is even more actual here, in the countries of Northern Europe , which are far from the places where Buddhism was practiced centuries for centuries.
Here we don’t have many teachers of the Tibetan Buddhism , so there is no chance to compare who is good, who is not.
And even if it is possible to compare, then it is often not possible to choose.
In Latvia there is even no resident Lama at all, and there are no Tibetans who could tell about their Buddhist life and experience, either.
So, actually we have only 2 solutions left:
1) to travel to a place where there are teachers and Buddhists or
2) to read books and look for the information in different Websites.
There is no doubt about what most people usually choose.
World Wide Websites includes both valuable information and, unfortunately, also many unverified facts and superstitious talk-a-talks about the happenings in distant places. This leads to a situation that many people stroll through the websites like through a supermarket, buying a little bit of this, a little bit of that. As result everybody rounds up his or her own sample packet of things: apples from Italy, garlic from China , bananas from Portugal , German sausages with Polish labels and so on. How to know that these commodities are really authentic and not fake?
The same situation can be observed online. One finds out that there are a large number of different websites of organizations who engage in Tibetan studies.
There are Tibetan Buddhist institutes who research into different aspects of Buddhist philosophy . There are universities who offer courses on Tibetan language and culture .
There are also individual scholars who do translations and research. And there are prominent Tibetan Lamas who offer Teachings (available online in written, audio or video form).
Besides, there are publishers of Tibetan scriptures and their translations. There are Tibetan communities who also provide important information about Tibetan Buddhist culture .
Furthermore there are centers of Tibetan Buddhism , who offer more actual teachings, meditation and ritual practice.
Nearly every European country has one or several places, where concerned people come together for a research or practice of Tibetan Buddhism . Many such organizations are located also in India , England and USA, but others, as a result of cooperation, exist only in the virtual reality.
In order to bring a little bit transparence into the topic I am going to present a small abstract on websites dealing with Tibetan culture and Buddhism studies.
In my paper I will include 10 websites which I have often used myself and which, over a longer period of time, have proved themselves to be trustful and to offer a large scale of valuable information. By some of them I have ordered research materials, others I have contacted per email or visited personally.
At first I would like to talk about the Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library (THDL), which was initiated in the University of Virginia, year 2000.
Like on many other websites, contributions and writings presented here, are supplied from scholars all over the world.
This site publishes multilingual studies, multimedia learning resources, and creative works concerned with environments, cultures, and histories of Tibet and the Himalaya.
The fist page contains several sections:
1. Collections cover rather different topics which are interlinked with each other.
- audio/video records
- texts, journals
- special collections
- monasteries in Tibet and Nepal
- architecture, culture, art, history
- languages, music and others.
2. References offer noteworthy bibliographical and reference works.
3. Community deals with actual events, mailing lists, forums etc.
4. Education section provides several online courses (for example under the title manual one can find the first 16 lessons from the newly published Manual of Standard Tibetan by Nicalas Tournadre and Sangda Dorje) as well as dictionaries for Tibetan, Nepali and Himalayan languages.
5. Tools offer some software programs (for example download of Tibetan script fonts).
From these I want especially introduce two items: Special collections and the Tibetan dictionary.
Special Collections house collections of audio, visual and textual content that range across thematic, historical and geographic areas, it may be the work of a photographer, an ethnographer or an explorer; or may also be a set of historical materials mainly about Himalayan areas.
The collections are changed time from time and presently one can find here photos and videos from
- Fürer-Haimendorf film collection
- Frederick Williamson expedition
- ... and others
The second item I would like to mention is to be found under the hyperlink of the Translation Tool, in full name Online Tibetan to English Dictionary and Translation Tool.
The editor of this dictionary is Andres Montano Pellegrini, a scholar of the University of Virginia with a degree in the History of Religions, specializing on Tibetan Buddhism , languages and programming.
His Tibetan-English Translation Tool is based on the digital Dictionary of Buddhist Culture developed by the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, supplied with more than ten other dictionaries, including Tibetan-Tibetan explanations, Sanskrit equivalents and even quotations from famous literary works.
The Translation Tool uses Wylie-transcription as bases and one can enter and view Tibetan words in Roman letters.
Besides it is also possible to download Tibetan fonts and display the entries in Tibetan script. In the input box one can enter words, phrases and even sentences.
If there is a connection possible between two syllables following each other, the result list shows them automatically.
As there are no word separations in Tibetan written language, this option is very convenient.
In printed dictionaries one must look at first for a syllable and only then (often on a different page) for the syllabic connections.
Translation Tool includes both words from the modern spoken Tibetan as well as from the classical or written language.
Unlike many printed Tibetan-English dictionaries which offer either one or the other.
Thus a large part of the Tibetan Buddhism terminology, place and personal names are also to be found here.
As already said before, also a Sanskrit equivalent of the word is given, which is very helpful for the comprehension of Tibetan Buddhist texts, of large part translated from Sanskrit.
The above mentioned Tibetan-English Translation Tool was originally based on the Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture was developed by the Rangjung Yeshe Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies, based in Katmandu, Nepal.
The Institute was founded in 1981 by two Tibetan teachers Kyabje Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his son Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche.
It offers courses in Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan, Sanskrit and Nepali languages. Students can earn BA and MA degrees in Buddhist Studies and Himalayan Languages.
All classes are held in the Tibetan monastery at Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal.
On the homepage there is introduction of the institute’s history, teachers and study programs.
Besides the regular studies of BA and MA in Buddhist Studies, the Institute offers also summer programs and dharma translator courses.
This Institute has also developed contacts with American scholars and as a result of the collaboration Rangjung Yeshe Publication house was founded in the USA.
The main page of the Rangjung Yeshe Publications' website includes the following sections
- Book titles
- Authors (biographies of contemporary and historical teachers)
- Glossary of Buddhist terms (with Tibetan equivalents in brackets)
- Other language editions
- Tibetan-English Dharma Dictionary (above mentioned Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture, CD-ROM Version 3)
Another Institute of Buddhist Studies which has a notable internet presence is Nitartha Institute of Buddhist Studies, located in the USA, Lynnwood.
This institute was founded in 1996 by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. Similarly to Rangjung Yeshe Insititute, this place also offers courses on Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan language, however mostly for Western people. Here scholars deal mainly with texts and teachings of Kagyupa and Nyingmapa lineages.
Attached to this Nitartha Institute of Buddhist Studies there is also a publishing house Nitartha International, based in Seattle.
The introduction page of the organization states that it provides technological and educational resources, to preserve Tibetan literature and learning; .. bring together traditional scholars, adepts, software developers and professionals .. with the main focus to support traditional Tibetan Buddhist institutions.
The publishing house offers
- Tibetan word processing software
- Different books in Tibetan and English
- Digitized Tibetan texts and texts on microfiche films
all available per order on demand.
For free use however, there is an online Tibetan-English dictionary, also developed from the above mentioned Rangjung Yeshe digital version.
The Nitartha online Tibetan dictionary is comprehensive, however in comparison to Pellegrini’s Translation Tool (mentioned before) it allows the search only of separate words in the Romanized Wylie-transcription.
The next important website belongs to the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP).
The General Site introduces the scholars and their projects. ACIP embrace an enormous work, where several organizations and many individuals are taking part.
Their digital project was started in 80-ies by Geshe Michael Roach who was the first American to complete the 20 years long scholastic program of a Tibetan monastery.
In 1993 he founded the Asian Classics Institute in New York. Now there are also cooperation centers in Arizona, Washington DC and Japan.
According to the self-introduction: The Asian Classics Input Project is dedicated to locating, cataloging and digitally preserving Tibetan and Sanskrit manuscripts that hold the philosophical, cultural, and religious heritage..
Scholars search for the surviving collections of books, and record their location and contents in catalog form. Next they copy the books and send these copies to be input onto computer media at data entry centers that have been established around the world.
At the moment already a large body of texts is available online for free, without registration.
The Research Site list the titles of the texts that are to be digitized. Many the Tibetan Buddhist canon (Kangyur and Tengyur) are already available online, but those of the Tibetan Buddhist collection Sungbum are not yet available.
The texts can be displayed in Romanized Wylie-transcription as well as in Tibetan script. Those in Roman letters are listed by titles and authors in English.
The ones in Tibetan letters can be found by Tibetan headings and Tibetan author names. The former texts are in doc-format, the latter in pdf-format.
The next site which I would like to present is Tibetan Buddhist Radio.
This could be especially useful for those interested in Buddhist teachings by contemporary Tibetan teachers.
On the main page there is a list of names and the titles of the speeches. All of the records are available in mp3-format, also for download.
Teachings are mostly in English, but also in Tibetan with an English translation. Some ritual chants and prayers also can be found here.
Besides, the website also presents a short biography of each person.
Perhaps the most important of all websites, mentioned here, is the homepage of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), based in New York, Rubin Museum of Art.
This organization was founded by E. Gene Smith in 1999, who is also the present director.
TBRC comprises 1) a Board of Directors, 2) a professional and volunteer staff and 3) a group of scholarly advisors and collaborators.
Among directors there are such well-known persons as
- Leonard van der Kujip
- Tulku Thondup Rinpoche
- Lama Zopa Rinpoche
- Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
- ... and others
Already in 80-ies and early 90-ies Gene Smith started with the digitizing of Tibetan texts.
Presently the scope of the center activities covers several simultaneous digitizing projects, largely already completed.
The digitizing refers mostly to the scanning of the images of manuscripts and printed editions, not to the digital input of texts (as in ACIP).
In this way one can handle a large quantity of texts, resulting simultaneously in the preservation of texts as well as in the spreading of their original images and contents into the world.
However, the contents of the scans are not as handy in use as digitally input texts.
Buddhist Canon Project deals with the work of scanning blockprints, reprints, and manuscripts of all ever published Kangyur and Tengyur editions (like Beijing, Derge, Cone etc.), including also special and partial editions.
This includes also the canon of the Tibetan Bon tradition.
Many of Tibetan canon editions are already located and the digitizing is complete, others, like Lithang from the 18th. century are still in search.
Classical Medicine Project occupies with digitizing the images of earlier prints and manuscripts about Tibetan and Indian medicine, as well as collecting new publications from China and India.
Nyingma Terma Project produces outlines of important works of the Nyingmapa lineage, such as terma revelations of the Kathog tradition and terma revelations of Pema Lingpa.
At the moment a large part of the scanned texts are already online. However the whole text database is available only for account holders and subscribers of TBRC Text Collection program.
Only the first 6 pages of every scripture are free for everybody.
Another very useful item that can be used without restrictions is the catalogue of all the collected texts.
This catalogue includes detailed information about the different texts and their authors.
The search is possible by titles of works, outlines, topics, places, persons and corporations.
In the result list, clicking on the name of the author, one receives also detailed information about all the other works of the as well as a short biographical note of the person in question.
Further there are important publishers of books on Tibetan Buddhism , who mostly have more or less elaborated internet presence. Well known are
- Snow Lion Publications
- Wisdom Publications
- Shambhala Publications
- Dharma Publications etc.
On the website of Snow Lion Publications one can find a useful section of links.
It contains a long list of Tibetan Buddhist centers in different countries of the world.
Thus for a further information on the topic Digital Resources on Tibetan Buddhist Studies one can refer to this list www.snowlionpub.com/pages/centers.html
Besides there are also some printed publications that list both political and cultural organization concerned with the region of Tibet.
A rather elaborate introduction is to be found in the Handbook of Tibetan Culture by Graham Coleman.
In the end of my presentation I would like to introduce also two Latvian Buddhist centers.
The Drigung Jamze Ling is housed in a small Tibetan-style temple, located in the picturesque, quiet place Baltezers, 30km from Riga.
It organization invites regularly Tibetan teachers, mostly from Drigung-Kagyupa lineage, and also doctors who offer local people their medical help.
One of the recent activities was the creation of a sand mandala by Tibetan monks.
The website is designed in Latvian, as well as in Russian and English. So, one can easily read information about the activities in this organization.
Ganden is situated in the heard of Riga and represents a suborganization of the FPMT founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe, the current spiritual leader being Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.
There are regular Buddhist ritual practices and meditation sessions are in this center.
Now and then teachers from different countries visit the center and give teachings.
Several times every year the Latvian-Australian teacher of Tibetan Buddhism Uldis Balodis visits Ganden.
This year September also the well-known Tibetan teacher Choden Rinpoche stayed in Ganden for 5 days, gave teachings and initiations
The website of this Buddhist center is presently available only in Latvian.
To conclude the trip through the digital information world, I would like to note that this virtual reality has not much visible contact with the real place, where it has been created.
In my opinion, through digital media one can get the worldly knowledge of quantity which is also valuable and necessary.
However, the true Buddhist teaching and practice must in any case also have the spirit and the aura of a teacher in person and of real people.
Besides, it makes a huge difference, if one reads digital Tibetan texts in Roman transcription or if one opens the wooden cover of a Tibetan traditional book with its own history and energy.
Another complementary experience is the sound of Buddhist chants and prayers in a monastery and the sight of everyday religious practices by monks and believers in the Far East.