Classical Tibetan Language Study

Registration Is Now Open for the 2017 Classical Tibetan Study Intensive with Bill Magee, PhD ~ Click here for Course Descriptions, a Short Introductory Video, and Details on How To Join Us this Summer in Portland!

Classical Tibetan at Maitripa College

Maitripa College Classical Tibetan students participate in the “Opening of the Kangyur” – a reading from each of the Buddhist sutras in the corpus of teachings called the “Kangyur”. Maitripa Monlam (Great Prayer Festival)

Maitripa College encourages all students to develop skills in reading, understanding and working with a wide range of classical texts in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Studying texts in their original language is a core of traditional religious studies, and to that end, Maitripa College is committed to developing a program of excellence in Tibetan language.

Beginning from the alphabet, with an early emphasis on pronunciation and reading aloud, students will progress to foundations of grammar, all while building fluency with vocabulary drawn from the texts and traditions studied in philosophy and meditation courses. Students in the MA program will have the ability to refer directly to sources written in Classical Tibetan, and will have familiarity with philosophical, historical, and literary genres. Students also have the opportunity to master the fundamentals of translation methodology, and to work closely in translation seminars with Yangsi Rinpoche.

Classical Tibetan language studies are foundational for the student and scholar preparing for graduate work or research, and for those interested in meeting the growing need for translators of the Buddhist canon and commentaries. Tibetan language study enriches the dharma practitioner’s  prayers, rituals and meditations, and opens access to the entirety of Tibetan studies from philosophy and ritual to medicine, literature, history and culture.

A minimum of one year of classical Tibetan study at Maitripa is required in the MA degree curriculum, and is encouraged for MDiv students. Tibetan language classes are also open to Continuing Education students.

Tibetan Programs

Maitripa has offered a variety of unique opportunities for the study of classical Tibetan language with both highly qualified western and Tibetan teachers, including the comprehensive and successful Summer Intensive.

After over 100 instructional hours in eight weeks in grammar and textual study, students are prepared for reading seminars with Geshe Lharapmpa, Yangsi Rinpoche. Graduate students may elect the Canonical Languages and Literature degree concentration, demonstrating depth in coursework in Tibetan language and courses with close readings of canonical texts in translation. Dr. James Blumenthal also taught Tibetan, and supervised MA Thesis students engaged with translation and philosophic subjects in the past.

Maitripa College Classical Tibetan students also have cultural, religious, and pedagogical opportunities to use their language training.  They regularly participate in the “Opening of the Kangyur” ceremony during the Maitripa Monlam (Great Prayer Festival) or other major holiday each year.

Advanced Tibetan language students may have pedagogical training opportunities as instructors or assistants for the continuing education class, Introduction to Speaking, Reading and Writing Tibetan Language,  a non-credit introduction to the Tibetan language, alphabet, reading and writing for those interested preparing for formal language study, personal interest, and Tibetan culture and Buddhism. Through such public programs and classes, meditation hall with complete kangyur and tengyur, and research library collections, students are encouraged to engage with traditional texts in their pecha form.  Students and community members are instilled with an understanding of the high regard with which Tibetan Buddhists venerate texts as the words of the Buddha and lineages of scholar-practitioners, and the immense efforts that have gone in to the salvage, preservation, and translation of these works.

Tibetan language study is a gateway to the richness of a civilization. Maitripa empowers the motivated student to engage with teachers, texts, and practices with original language skills, helping prepare them for translation work, retreat, doctoral studies, or serving the ritual or ministerial needs of others.

President Yangsi Rinpoche’s vision for the Tibetan language program at Maitripa is to establish a translation group that will publish works from the Nalanda tradition which have not yet been translated into any western language.

Tibet’s Literary & Textual Traditions

Tibetan language texts date back at least as early as the eighth century, when teams of scholar-translators secured the importation and adoption of Buddhism from India through their translation of key Sanskrit texts. In fact, Tibet has, in these translations, preserved ancient Indian Buddhist knowledge subsequently lost in the Buddha’s homeland.

Tibetan Buddhist culture highly values physical texts as symbolic of the words of the Buddha himself, as well as the venerated commentaries and collected speech of lineages of teachers. Tibet’s centuries-old printing press technology, still employed today (alongside digital projects), entails carving texts in mirror-image script into woodblocks, which are then inked and pressed onto handmade paper. Folios of loose pages are held together wrapped in cloths, as you can see in the Maitripa College Jokhang and Library. Woodblocks were stored in regional and local printing presses which are treated just like temples, and printed texts are sacred and essential components of practice places from hermitage shrines to monastic assembly halls.

The Tibetan literary corpus features extensive philosophical treatises and meditation practice scriptures, but also includes copious works in the fields of history, medicine, astrology, biography, grammar, poetics, geography and folk culture songs, epics and tales. It is impossible today to know what percentage of Tibetan texts have been permanently lost to the tragedies of the 20th century, but it is estimated that less than ten percent of extant Tibetan texts have been translated into Western languages!