The MA Tibetan Language Track

The Tibetan Language Track of the MA in Buddhist Studies is a structured course of classical Tibetan language study in combination with philosophy and meditation instruction designed to give the student a strong foundation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition through immersion in texts of the tradition.

This course of study can be used as preparation for deeper engagement in textual translation, to further contextualize one’s work in the world, and/or as a frame for personal spiritual journey. Immersion in the textual tradition of Tibetan Buddhism is a powerful method to learn its philosophy, practice, and connection to the world.  The Tibetan Language Track can be taken as a stand-alone sequence of courses at the graduate level or as part of the Master of Arts of Buddhist Studies.

What is Classical Tibetan?

Classical Tibetan (as opposed to colloquial Tibetan, the spoken language) is primarily textual. Its script and grammar were developed and standardized beginning in the 7th century in order to facilitate translation of the Indian Buddhist corpus. Since many Sanskrit Buddhist texts were lost during medieval invasions of India, their Tibetan translations are surviving repositories—often all that is left—of the irreplaceable teachings of the great Indian masters. Moreover, Tibetans went on to create a vast commentarial literature of their own. In this course, the focus is on Tibetan as written by Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist monks in and around the 15th century.

Why Study Classical Tibetan Language?

To study Tibetan is to study Buddhism. Knowledge of Tibetan allows students to understand the original meanings of texts, prayers, rituals, and meditations at a depth inaccessible to those with no understanding of the language. When a person becomes their own translator, their point of view opens; their viewpoint expands. José Cabezón, PhD (XIVth Dalai Lama Professor of Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California, Santa Barbara and founding board member of Maitripa College), says studying Tibetan language at the textual level is one of the best ways to learn the practice and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism: “A text reading class is one of the few opportunities that students have to really engage with Tibetan literature in a serious and careful fashion.” Tibetan language studies are foundational for the student and scholar preparing for graduate work or research.

Learning Tibetan language opens access to the entirety of Tibetan studies from philosophy and ritual to medicine, literature, history, and culture. Students 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.

Yangsi Rinpoche’s Vision

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

Maitripa College President Yangsi Rinpoche leads Tibetan language students  in the “Opening of the Kangyur” – a reading from each of the Buddhist sutras in the corpus of teachings called the “Kangyur” – during the Maitripa College Monlam (Great Prayer Festival).

Tibetan Summer Intensive

The Classical Tibetan Summer Intensive is a foundational introductory course for all those wishing to translate or to engage in research on a scholarly level. It is among the world’s leading intensive literary Tibetan programs, providing students with a complete introduction to the classical Tibetan language

Taught by Professor Bill Magee of Maitripa College and the UMA Institute, students learn the language through reading and debating their textbooks; the very same textbooks studied in the great monastic colleges of Tibet. The students approach their readings as a way to improve both their language skills and their logical abilities. It is an amazingly effective teaching method which, Bill points out, is why the Tibetans employed it.  Bill’s approach to language learning features a critical presentation of Tibetan grammar and syntax adapted from Joe Wilson’s Translating Buddhism from Tibetan. Greater proficiency is achieved in a short time through the study and practice of Tibetan monastic debates, both from original texts and on Maitripa College’s custom-made debate software. Summer readings include texts on valid cognition and reasoning, minds and mental factors, and the nature of reality. Class focuses first on Je Tsongkhapa’s verse and prose, then on equally influential authors important to the Jonang and Nyingma lineages, from the 13th to the 20th centuries.

The content of this unique course cannot be found elsewhere in the United States. Follow the button above for full descriptions and links to register for this summer’s program.

Professor Bill Magee (center) with Maitripa students

From the Students . . .

In previous years I spent a little time getting to know the Tibetan language but I had no formal training. I entered Bill’s class with an open mind and no expectations but rather with a hope of developing a greater foundation in the language that could grow and evolve over time.  . . >CONTINUE TO READ

“Studying Tibetan language at the textual level is one of the best ways to learn the practice and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism…” -José Cabezón, PhD, XIVth Dalai Lama Professor of Tibetan Buddhism at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a founding member of the Board of Trustees of Maitripa College