Creating a General Edition of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon
The Tibetan Canon General Edition Project is a joint project of Esukhia and Theksum Do-ngak Choling in Taiwan, on behalf of the Barom Kagyu Monastery in Nangchen, Tibet, and under the auspices of Trulku Tsoknyi Odzer Rinpoche and Khenpo Jigga; read more about the patrons here.
History behind the Project
Copied manually by scribes and printed using woodblocks or even metal blocks by various Tibetan rulers, institutions, monasteries, and even by Chinese Emperors, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, a.k.a. the Kangyur and Tengyur, has also been translated and revised several times throughout the history of Tibet. This has resulted in a huge number of versions, all featuring variations in words and their spellings due to scribe error, woodblock carving mistakes, and differences in translation methodology.
Although it can be said as a general rule that later versions are cleaner than earlier ones, and that woodblock prints are cleaner than manuscripts, there still remains a huge number of spelling issues that affect both the comprehension of readers and the outcome of translations. (The Narthang edition of the Tengyur, for example, are more literal—nearly word-for-word when compared to the Sanskrit—while the Derge edition is more transparent; meanwhile, though the Derge’s Kangyur is renowned for its spelling accuracy, the Derge Tengyur is infamous for its spelling mistakes.)
While “comparative editions” have been made in the past (most notably the Peydurma of the CTRC Tibetology office in China) there has yet to be a “General Edition”—an edition of the canon that determines, to the best of our ability, the original or authoritative spellings for a general audience. We’re at a unique point in time where creating such an edition is possible; on the one hand, we have access to the tools of modern linguistics and digital technology, while on the other we have the vast traditional knowledge of scholars from the four Tibetan Buddhist lineages, along with the expertise of Sanskritists.
How does the project work?
The first step in preparing this edition consists of creating and using a spellchecker to clean up the obvious spelling mistakes (differences in spellings between editions that do not affect the meaning of the text). Here, we are working alongside the best in Tibetan language IT, including Monlam in India and various universities and researchers in the West. Alongside software to compare digital editions and check spelling, this step includes several layers of human proofreading.
The second step regards spellings wherein two or more grammatically accurate options exist, but choosing one or the other would result in a discrepancy in the meaning of the text. Sanskritists and experts in Classical Chinese will consulted in the instances where we have data from versions in other languages. By resolving and recording these issues, we may refer to these corrections in similar situations where the Sanskrit originals or Chinese versions are not available.
Finally, any remaining issues will be addressed by consulting scholars from the four schools in and out of Tibet. Once all these processes have been completed, the Barom Kagyu center will publish the work in a traditional pecha format; meanwhile, Esukhia will make available, free to the public, the digital version of this critical edition. The final product will be protected by the creative commons copyright.
How far along is the project?
Last year, our team completed 80% of step 1 for the Kangyur. This year, our team is planning to complete all three steps for the collected works of the 17 Panditas and Mahasiddhas of Nalanda by the Spring of 2016; this represents about 1/3 of the total Tengyur. Starting in January 2016, we began working with linguists for the Critical Edition project; based on foundational work by SOAS’s Nathan Hill, we’re developing software to automate the proofreading the Derge Edition in order to search out lexical issues in the text. By June, we plan to begin POS (part of speech) tagging process for the Buddhist Canon so we can also search and edit syntax.