Columbia University Grant

Columbia University

01-02 grant

The Infinity Foundation is pleased to announce its bestowal of a start-up grant in conjunction with Tibet House, in support of the establishment of the Global Renaissance Institute: An Institute for the Advanced Study of the Inner Arts and Sciences in the Modern University


To cross-fertilize between the modern sciences and professions and the insights and methodologies of the classical Inner Sciences (Sanskrit adhyatmavidya), as developed within the spiritual institutions of the world’s religions, so as to generate a second, Global Renaissance.


As the European Renaissance resulted from the encounter of the medieval scholars and artists with the natural philosophy or science of classical Greece, so this second, Global Renaissance will occur from the encounter of modern scientists and artists or professionals with the spiritual arts and sciences of all the world’s religions, but especially those of classical India, as preserved and further developed in Tibet.

The modern sciences have developed enormously in recent centuries, but they now seem to have reached the outer limits imposed by their chosen ideology of materialism. They have analyzed the world into infinitesimal pieces, and they have no idea how to reassemble them into a humanly meaningful whole. The arts or professions based on them also suffer from this de-spiritualized, de-humanized fragmentation.

The Inner Science traditions, preserved (sometimes nearly invisibly) within most religious institutions, have maintained the profound holistic insight essential to the core of science, and have cultivated ways of integrating all analytical sciences and making them useful to beings through viable arts and professions. Working scientists at modern universities need continuous, long-term access to Inner Sciences and Inner Scientists right on campus. While impact and progress will be remarkable from the very first activities of the Institute, its goal, the Global Renaissance itself, will be achieved during the coming century.

The Institute is developing its center at Columbia University, building on the presence there of the Center for Buddhist Studies and the Center for the Study of Science and Religion, at the heart of the beast of modernity in New York City. The Institute will be initiating a long-range program of study, research, and dialogue by creating new, interfacing professorships, entertaining scholars in residence, holding regular, seminal conferences (see below) with a practical as well as theoretical focus, and publishing original works in Inner Science in the modern setting, proceedings of conferences, and so forth. The Institute will also fund Inner Science Institutions around the world, helping them attract their best young minds, strengthen and expand their curricula, implement modern language studies to facilitate dialogue, and so forth.


Tanjur Translation Project
Global Renaissance Institute (GRI)
Columbia University Center for Buddhist Studies/American Institute of Buddhist Studies (AIBS)
Tibet House U.S. (TH)

Project Overview: The Tanjur and its Importance

The Tanjur (bstan ‘gyur) is a vast collection of classical Indian Sanskrit literature from the first millennium C.E., mostly lost in the original and preserved in Tibetan translation systematically completed by hundreds of teams of Indian and Tibetan translators during the 7th-12th centuries. Its 224 volumes include over 3,600 key master treatises (shastras) by more than 700 authors in all of India’s “outer” arts and sciences – including philosophy, logic and epistemology, physics and metaphysics, medicine, astronomy, socio-political theory, ethics, art, poetry and poetic theory, narrative and drama, grammar, linguistics, and lexicography – as well as all of her “inner” arts and sciences – including certain aspects of philosophy and epistemology, psychology and mind science, meditation, yoga, and other models for and techniques of personal transformation. Its comprehensive range of topics makes it difficult to classify the contents of the Tanjur as only “Buddhist” or even only “religious.” Indeed, the Tanjur is perhaps best thought of as a textual distillation of a major part of India’s classical cultural heritage as preserved in its great medieval Buddhist university libraries (which amassed over one hundred times the holdings of the Library of Alexandria). It bears recollecting that only about 5-10% of its contents are extant in the original Sanskrit, and that while the bulk of the Kanjur (Buddhist scriptures proper) was translated into Chinese, only about 1% of the Tanjur was translated into Chinese. Thus, the vast majority of the Indian shastric literature contained in the Tanjur has been preserved only in this Tibetan collection.

The ambitious goal of the Tanjur Translation Project is to develop and maintain the necessary institutional infrastructure to provide long-term guidance, coordination, and support for international teams of scholars to produce critical editions, comparative and critical studies, and standardized, modern-language translations of every text in the Tibetan Tanjur. An important guiding principle will be that these treasures are to be truly translated, that is, they are to be presented in such a way that their invaluable knowledge will be made accessible and relevant both to scholars (from multiple disciplines) as well as to the general public. These translations can and must benefit humanity at large.

Acknowledging that scholars have managed to translate perhaps only 5% of the Tanjur into any modern language over the past century or so, this project could be assumed to take several more generations to complete. However, it is our hope that given the urgency and rare opportunity of our current circumstances, this important endeavor can now solicit and receive sufficient funding for a coordinated, international team of scholars to realistically translate the bulk of this invaluable corpus over the next generation.

Genesis and History of the Tanjur Translation Project

The scope and goals of the Tanjur Translation Project fit both the broader mandates of the recently established Global Renaissance Institute (GRI) as well as the more narrowly defined mandates of the long-established American Institute of Buddhist Studies (AIBS), formally affiliated with Columbia University’s Center for Buddhist Studies (CBS), and of GRI’s founding sponsors, the Infinity Foundation (IF) and Tibet House US (THUS). Thus, the proposed Tanjur Translation Project will be a GRI/AIBS/CBS/IF/THUS joint venture.

The Global Renaissance Institute (GRI)
The Global Renaissance Institute (GRI) was founded in 2000 with generous support from the Infinity Foundation and Tibet House U.S. (see below). GRI’s express mission is “to cross-fertilize the modern sciences and professions with the insights and methodologies of the classical Inner Sciences (Sanskrit adhyatmavidya), as developed within the spiritual institutions of the world’s religions.” GRI has developed its center at Columbia University, building on the presence there of Columbia’s Center for Buddhist Studies (CBS), the affiliated American Institute of Buddhist Studies (AIBS), and on many other felicitous synchronicities, at the heart of the beast of modernity in New York City. GRI will be initiating a long-range program of study, research, and dialogue by creating new, interfacing professorships, entertaining scholars in residence, holding regular, seminal conferences with a practical as well as theoretical focus, and publishing original works in Inner Science in the modern setting, proceedings of conferences, and so forth. The Institute will also fund Inner Science Institutions around the world, helping them attract their best young minds, strengthen and expand their curricula, implement modern language studies to facilitate dialogue, and so forth.

American Institute of Buddhist Studies (AIBS)
In 1972 Dr. Robert Thurman and Christopher George founded the American Institute of Buddhist Studies (AIBS) in New Jersey to fulfill Geshe Wangyal’s mandate that the entire Tanjur be translated into English. With full comprehension of the enormity of this task, and with generous start-up funding from Dr. C.T. Shen’s Institute for the Advanced Study of World Religions (IASWR), the AIBS was established to create the necessary institutional framework within which such a major project could at least be organized and begun. An AIBS team of scholars then did begin the translation of several important shastras.

Headed by Prof. Thurman at Geshe Wangyal’s request, the AIBS then moved to and remained active in Amherst, Massachusetts from 1976-1988 before finally settling with Prof. Thurman at Columbia University in New York City (1988-present). There he established Columbia’s Center for Buddhist Studies (CBS) with the founding directive also to translate key Buddhist texts (Indic shastras as well as other Asian Buddhist texts), and he formally affiliated CBS with AIBS. Collaborative translation work has gradually continued under the joint auspices of these organizations.

Since the founding of AIBS almost three decades ago, Indo-Tibetan scholarship has progressed markedly and a new generation of highly skilled and dedicated scholars has emerged. With improved critical and technological tools, scholars are producing new translations, revising the pioneering works of their predecessors, and sharpening the critical edge of Buddhological, textual, and comparative methodologies. Thus, GRI and AIBS believe that the time is now ripe to bring to fruition the vision of Geshe Wangyal and the mandates of these affiliated institutions. While it is clear that no individual or even small team could hope to translate even a hundredth of the Tanjur, we firmly believe that the necessary resources (human, and soon material) now exist to organize and maintain a structure or framework to guide and direct the completion of this necessary enterprise, the critical translation of the entire Tanjur into English and other modern languages.

GRI Sponsors: The Infinity Foundation and Tibet House U.S.
According to its Mission Statement, the Infinity Foundation is in general “committed to practices and policies that better the lives of all people.” In particular, it seeks to do this through funding projects dedicated to “creating, disseminating, and expanding a body of knowledge which clarifies or integrates philosophy, religion, science, psychology and non-traditional mystical disciplines; and bridging Eastern philosophies with Western thought.” Thus, the stated goals of the Infinity Foundation are extremely consonant with those of GRI, and GRI has been most fortunate to receive this Foundation’s support.

Tibet House U.S. was co-founded by Prof. Thurman in New York (1987) at the request of H.H. the Dalai Lama, with the mission to protect and preserve the living cultural tradition of Tibet. This tradition has for centuries traced many of its cultural roots to the “Noble Land” (Aryavarta) of mother India, and thus Tibet House’s mandate includes the preservation of the “Indic” traditions in general. While this mandate is clearly related to the mandates of GRI and AIBS, until recently Tibet House (and Prof. Thurman) has had to focus largely on fundraising and other initiatives to protect and preserve the sources (including the people themselves) of these rich traditions. Now that Tibet House has become more firmly established, it is prepared to join forces with GRI and AIBS to embark on the preservation and translation of an important part of India’s and Tibet’s textual heritage, the Tanjur shastric treasury.

Proposal and Strategies for Tanjur Translation

Conferences on Indic Contributions
Infinity Foundation and GRI are hosting a sustained series of conferences over the next ten years to highlight Indic contributions to global civilizations. A central theme of these conferences will be the re-evaluation of these contributions (acknowledged and unacknowledged, understood and misrepresented) to global knowledge and civilization. Indic arts and sciences are a living tradition, a lived perspective that must be learned from authentic teachers. These teachers are the national treasures of India and Tibet, honored by them much as we honor our astronauts, as courageous explorers who ventured beyond the outer limits of conventional reality and successfully returned with knowledge of immense practical value. This lived and living perspective will be manifest throughout the conference.

Moreover, one important instantiation of this living tradition is of course preserved in the written record, and it is this subset of knowledge that concerns the Tanjur Translation Project. Thus, a key set of related panels and round table discussions will consist of Indian, Tibetan, East Asian, and Western scholars who will evaluate the presentation and representation (i.e., the interpretation) of India’s ideas and methodologies as encoded in her rich textual heritage. Scholars will be invited to form working groups in different disciplinary and topic areas. In addition to Indo-Tibetan specialists and translators, non-translators from related Western disciplines (e.g., epistemology, cognitive psychology, etc.) will also be invited. So, for example, we will convene a panel of specialists in Indo-Tibetan epistemology (pramana, tshad ma) and Western traditions of epistemology to begin (1) to develop innovative new conventions for translation in this discipline, and (2) to determine a prioritized list for the translation of the relevant Tanjur texts, to compile all supporting bibliographic information, and to embark on such translations.

(1) Support for Context-Sensitive Lexical Comparison and Translation
To facilitate the discussion and debate regarding the use of terminology within each field and context, we will develop and maintain a multilingual online lexical database with entries for different terms in different contexts. The core of this database will be formed through categories and terminological equivalents gleaned from our translation of the classical multilingual lexicons developed by the great translators of the past (e.g., the ninth century Sanskrit-Tibetan Mahavyutpatti and sgra-sbyor bam-po gnyis-pa, and the eighteenth century Sanskrit-Tibetan-Mongolian lexicon the dag-yig mkhas-pa’i ‘byung-gnas supervised by Jangya Rolway Dorje and used to translate the Tanjur into Mongolian). Though today it may be unlikely that all Indian and Tibetan scholars will agree on all terms, it is hoped that they will be able to reach consensus on a range of acceptable translations for given terms in given contexts. These results can then be logged on an ongoing basis in this online database for all to access, critique, and so forth. In conformity with the modern, global vision of GRI, particular attention will be paid to terminological valences and connections with related contemporary disciplines to nurture and encourage cross-cultural exchange and to maximize mutual benefit. In this way the deep insights of Indic epistemology or psychology, for example, can be freed from their usual relegated status of “Buddhist studies” (or worse, Indic curiosities) and brought into meaningful dialogue with related disciplines in the modern academic and professional spheres. Equally importantly, as mentioned above, we intend to truly translate these texts, that is, to free them from their usual “scholarly/academic” sphere so as to make them meaningfully accessible and relevant to members of the general public sphere. Such cross-fertilization of disciplines and spheres, GRI maintains, has the real potential to trigger a truly global renaissance.

(2) Textual Prioritization, Bibliographic Support, and Translation
To facilitate the second objective mentioned above, we will collaborate with initiatives at the University of Virginia and Naropa Institute to produce an online database of all relevant data for the eight major editions of the entire Kanjur and Tanjur (the names and dates of texts, authors, translators and revisers, each text’s location and length, etc.). We will then gradually compile and add to this all related modern bibliographical references for each text (extant editions, translations, studies, dissertations, etc. in all modern languages). To accelerate this bibliographical work we will renew our relation with Dr. C.T. Shen’s Institute, now operated by the Buddhist Association of America to enable us to utilize and continue the valuable bibliographical work begun at the IASWR. With such comprehensive information at their disposal, scholars should be able for the first time to systematically determine translation needs and priorities.

For texts as yet unedited, untranslated, and perhaps little studied, a critical edition will be generated, an English translation will be produced, and supporting critical essays will be written to introduce the text and to place it in its broader historical and theoretical context. In addition, for each text teams will enter into the database chapter outlines (sa bcad or dkar chag) in Sanskrit, Tibetan and English and compose brief content summaries. Tanjur texts for which there are extant critical editions, translations, studies, and so forth will be critically assessed as well; if such a text is in need of revision, such will be debated and carried out (having obtained relevant and necessary permissions). In all such cases of revision the original editor(s) or translator(s) will be honored for their pioneering work, and (if still alive) whenever possible included in the revision process. Moreover, we will interface with other individuals and teams already working on various Tanjur translations to ensure that we avoid duplication of effort, as well as to ensure that the highest level of scholarly standards are being implemented (that all available Sanskrit and Tibetan editions and modern translations are being consulted, that current critical methodologies are being employed, that context-sensitive appraisal of terminology is being developed, and so forth). Finally, we will also encourage and facilitate efforts already begun to translate these classical Indic shastras from Tibetan back into modern Indic languages (scholarly Sanskrit, Hindi) so that Indians might become inspired to acknowledge and proudly reappropriate their invaluable and largely lost “Buddhic” heritage.

Final products produced directly under our auspices will be published through our Institute’s publishing label (GRI/AIBS/TH) and will be made available both in traditional paper form as well as in emerging electronic formats for online distribution.

Project Summary to Date

The Tanjur Translation Project itself has begun with funding from foundations such as the IASWR and more recently (through its support of GRI) the Infinity Foundation, from government agencies such as the NEH, and from knowledgeable private donors, whose grants have sponsored activities in research, translation, education, and publication. While it is hard to calculate the cost to society of educating over the last decades the dozens of scholars who will work on the project, we have raised and spent over three million dollars throughout the last 29 years to bring us to this current stage of the project.

Our initial goal will be to target and translate key shastric texts used within the core curriculum of the Indo-Tibetan traditions, before finally progressing on to the remainder of the Tanjur. We currently have the following texts in penultimate draft form ready for imminent publication: Mahayana-sutra-alamkara and its vyakhya by Maitreya/Asanga and Vasubandhu (AIBS team); Yuktishasthika and its vrttii by Nagarjuna and Candrakirti (J. Loizzo); Caryamelapakapradipa and other texts by Aryadeva (C. Wedemeyer); Kalacakra-tantra (ch. II) with Vimalaprabha commentary (Vesna Wallace). In addition, we have the following texts in rough draft form needing further work for publication in the mid-future: Bodhisattvabhumi, Mahayana-samgraha, and Abhidharma-samuccaya by Asanga (Thurman and Cutillo); Mulamadhyamakakarika by Nagarjuna (Thurman); Samdhinirmocana-sutra (Thurman and Cutillo); Kalacakra-tantra (ch. IV) with Vimalaprabha commentary (Vesna Wallace); Kalacakra-tantra (ch. V) with Vimalaprabha commentary (J. Hartzel, V. Wallace); assorted Cakrasamvara-tantra treatises (D. Gray).

Finally, we have completed draft translations of numerous other texts at one time or another. We would now like to interface with other translators who have done work on these same texts to see that reliable and consistent translations and studies of them are produced. Thus, for example, we are prepared to interface and work with other scholars who have done work on Maitreya’s Abhisamaya-alamkara, Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakosha, and numerous other treatises.

96-97 grants, 97-98 grants, 98-99 grants

These grants were used for the following two topics:
1) Non-Duality Project, 2) The Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia.

The Non-Duality grant was used to support advanced courses specially dedicated to the issue of non-dualism. A seminar entitled “Nonduality in Indian and Tibetan Thought” was taught in the Fall of 1998 by Prof.s Gary Tubb and Robert Thurman with the assistance of two graduate students, Tom Yarnall and Joe Loizzo. Also offered were two advanced Sanskrit courses involving reading Advaita Vedanta and other primary texts on non-duality. This course was a great success and was repeated in the Spring of 2000.

The Center for Buddhist Studies grant is being used for translating and publishing key Indian and Tibetan works, along with commentary and essays on how these teachings might contribute to contemporary discourses. The objective is to provide primary educational and reference material to scholars, students, and lay persons in the Western world that would enable them to understand and benefit from the findings of the Indic inner sciences.