We are happy to announce that the ERC has awarded a Synergy grant to Orna Almogi, Harunaga Isaacson, and Dorji Wangchuk from the Universität Hamburg (UHH) and Shai Fine from the Reichman University (RUNI) in Israel for the project “INTELLEXUS – Geology of Texts, Genealogy of Concepts, Intellectual Ecosystems: Mapping the Indic and Tibetic Buddhist Text Corpora.” A total sum of 9,902,166 Euro has been awarded (approximately 7 million Euro to UHH and 3 million Euro to RUNI) for the six-year period April 1st, 2024 – March 31, 2030.
India and Tibet have both been home to great Buddhist cultures, producing a vast quantity of learned literature in respectively Sanskrit and Tibetan. In recent years, a flood of such texts has become available, also in digital form.
Specialists have long studied Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist texts with painstaking philological-historical methods. Now, inspired by the profusion of materials that has become available, and recent advances in computer sciences (Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing in particular), a team of experienced textual scholars in Hamburg has joined forces with specialists in computer sciences from Reichman University in Israel, to carry out an innovative project which aims to develop cutting-edge computational tools to revolutionize the study of this material. Chief among these are the automatic identification and matching of concepts, both mono- and cross-lingually, tasks that go far beyond the matching of texts.
In addition to developing computational models and tools, which have the potential to bring about a transformation also in the study of similar materials from other cultures, the project will map three large Buddhist text corpora in Sanskrit and Tibetan, shedding light on their interdependence, their interactions also with other, non-Buddhist, texts, and the processes of their evolution.
The INTELLEXUS team will comprise four groups, working in close synergetic collaboration. A group focusing on Sanskrit and on textual history (geology of texts) will be led by Harunaga Isaacson; a group focusing on canonical Tibetan and on the history of ideas (genealogy of concepts) will be led by Dorji Wangchuk; a group focusing on paracanonical Tibetan and on history of textual culture (intellectual ecosystems) will be led by Orna Almogi; and a computer science group will be led by Shai Fine, with Kfir Bar supervising NLP research and development efforts.
Authors and Translators Identification Initiative (ATII)
The Khyentse Center is proud to announce the launch of the collaborative undertaking Authors and Translators Identification Initiative (ATII).
One of the goals of the BuddhaNexus project is to explore the Buddhist intellectual networks that were active both within and outside the Indic cultural sphere and that were behind the formation of the individual Buddhist scriptures and non-scriptures and of the Buddhist literary corpora containing them as a whole. Such an exploration requires first and foremost an identification, to the extent possible, of the persons involved, including Indic authors, indigenous translators, and paṇḍitas who were members of translation teams. For this purpose, the Authors and Translators Identification Initiative (ATII), which involves collaboration among several institutions and individuals, was launched at the beginning of 2021.
The goal of ATII is the creation of an open source database of all the persons (authors, translators, etc.) involved in the creation of Indic Buddhist texts and the literary corpora containing them, including particularly the Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist Canons. The ATII uses person records instead of name records, and thus disambiguates names when multiple persons have the same name or one person has multiple names. This methodology has never been applied before in the case of the Tibetan Canon.
ATII consists of a group of students and scholars based at the Universität Hamburg, who works, generally speaking, in two teams. The first team, which focuses on the Indo-Tibetan part of ATII, concentrates on identifying persons of relevance to the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, including mainly Indic authors, Tibetan lo tsā bas, and their collaborating paṇḍitas, by using primary and secondary sources. The team, which mainly consists of Orna Almogi, Nicola Bajetta, and Ryan Conlon, closely collaborates with Élie Roux from the Buddhist Digital Resource Center (BDRC). The basis of the data is BDRC’s person records and canonical texts attributions (authors and translators), which was compiled in collaboration with the Resources for Kangyur and Tengyur Studies (rKTs) project, University of Vienna. In the first stage, we extracted information from the colophons of the sDe dge edition of the bKa’ ’gyur and bsTan ’gyur and created a one of a kind database of 1050 persons (300 Tibetans and 750 non-Tibetans, including 500 authors). More than 250 person records have already been added to BUDA, and dozens of duplicate records have been merged. Many authors of Indic texts represented in the GRETIL corpus have also been added to the database during this first stage. The team has been thus far focusing on offering standardized Sanskrit names, adding dates of the persons involved (Indic authors, Tibetan translators, and paṇḍita-translators), and linking these persons to the works in whose creation or translation they were involved. In this context, the team has also created innovative tools to check the temporal coherence of the data, based on assumptions such as that the dates of a translator and a paṇḍita who worked together must necessarily overlap; translators cannot predate the author of the text they translated, and the like. The translation and authorship attributions visible now on BUDA all come from ATII, and is a significant refinement on the existing data. The data will continue to be refined until the end of the project. The data is open source and collaborations are envisioned with other projects, such as 84000.
The second team, which thus far concentrates on linking Indic persons and their works to the Chinese Buddhist Canon, includes Sebastian Nehrdich and Marco Hummel and enjoys collaboration with Michael Radich and Jamie Norrish of the Chinese Buddhist Canonical Attributions database (CBC@).
The evolution of Buddhist scriptures and the formation of the various Buddhist canons are complex processes that often stretch over a long period of time and involve numerous aspects of the societies in which they take place. Understanding these two related processes is crucial to our study of the history of Buddhism in general and of Buddhist ideas in particular. It is also instrumental in gaining an appreciation for the impact of social and cultural phenomena on intellectual and religio-philosophical developments and vice versa. It will necessarily mean at times shedding light on various issues related to these two processes, both on the macro and micro levels, such as the existence of intellectual networks, various stages in the evolution of a specific scripture, intertextuality between various scriptures, the linkage between treatises and scriptures, and the impact of various social and political aspects of society on both the evolution of scriptures and the formation of canons.
The first step towards a better understanding of the history of composition of individual texts, on the one hand, and the emergence of entire corpora of Buddhist works, on the other, is to locate in the various texts and textual corpora (approximate) textual matches and to study them from various angles. These textual matches may be cases of either acknowledged citations or “borrowed” texts with no attribution. Until not very long ago, such matches were searched for manually, but with the advent of computer technology, coupled with the ongoing digitization of Buddhist texts, faster and more accurate methods have been developed. BuddhaNexus is a powerful tool aimed at facilitating the study of the evolution of Buddhist scriptures and the formation of the various Buddhist canons by exploiting artificial neural networks in order to locate (approximate) textual matches.
BuddhaNexus is an initiative of the Khyentse Center that pools the efforts and results of several projects and individual research. The project was launched in 2019 in collaboration between Sebastian Nehrdich, Dr. Orna Almogi, and Prof. Dorji Wachunk. You can access the website here.
Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR)
The ITLR is designed to serve as a digital platform for researchers from the fields of classical Indology, Tibetology, and Buddhology when dealing with Sanskrit/Indic-Tibetan lexical items; and as a long-term basis for collaboration among scholars worldwide from these related fields. The ITLR is thus primarily a digital treasury of reliable and comprehensive Indo-Tibetan lexical data that have been put at the disposal of the broad scholarly community interested in Indian and Tibetan texts and thought. The ITLR will accumulate and store lexical items that are the products (or by-products) of research done within the framework of selected projects devoted to the investigation of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist literature of all genres
the by-products of research of individual scholars, which under normal circumstances would otherwise often end up tucked away in scholarly footnotes and thus remain largely inaccessible.
One of the long-term aims of the ITLR is to provide the necessary infrastructure for collaborative research and other forms of cooperation between scholars from the fields of Indology, Tibetology, and Buddhology, and between traditional and modern academics as well.
Which areas will be covered?
Although lexical items from the various branches of Buddhist philosophy are bound to be in the majority, the entries will not be restricted to Buddhist terminology, but will also include other Indian religio-philosophical terms, and indeed any lexical items and names that occur in the texts. In keeping with the vision of the ITLR to leave the number of entries open-ended lexical items from all fields of knowledge and literary genres will be incorporated. It is envisaged that lexical items from a whole host of fields and sub-fields will flow into the ITLR via multiple channels.
Who is involved?
The aim of the ITLR is to bring together Sanskritists, Buddhologists (with knowledge of Sanskrit or classical Tibetan), classical Tibetologists (with main research interests in Indo-Tibetan and Buddhist materials), and specialists in Digital Humanities. Fortunately, a number of colleagues from several universities and other institutions have already agreed to cooperate, either on an institutional or individual level. Beside scholars from the University of Hamburg, these include scholars from the International Institute for Digital Humanities (DHII) in Tokyo, University of Tokyo, University of Kyoto, University of Naples, Mie University, University of Oxford, Koyasan University, Nishogakusya University, Minobusan University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Leiden University, Renmin University of China, Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Istituto Italiano per l’Africa e l’Oriente in Rome and the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing. Further potential partners are being sounded out. Scholars who are interested to contribute to the ITLR are welcome to contact us.
The ITLR is the first project initiated by Prof. Dr. Dorji Wangchuk (immediately after he assumed his position at the Department for Indian and Tibetan Studies at the University of Hamburg). The first ITLR workshop, “Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR): Conception, Development, Implementation,” took place in Hamburg December 16–17, 2009. The second workshop, “Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR): “TEI Encoding for Classical Asian Texts,” took place July 12–14, 2010. A third workshop, “Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR): Experimentation and Implementation I,” is scheduled to take place in Hamburg July 19–22, 2011, and a fourth, “Indo-Tibetan Lexical Resource (ITLR): Experimentation and Implementation II,” in Tokyo in December 2011. We have been fortunate to gain support for the development of the ITLR database from the International Institute for Digital Humanities (DHII), Tokyo, and from the SAT [Saṃgaṇikīkṛtam Taiśotripiṭakam] Daizōkyō Text Database, Tokyo. Since 2010 meetings, each comprising members of the ITLR team in Hamburg, Mr. Kiyonori Nagasaki (general manager, DHII), and Dr. Toru Tomabechi (DHII), have regularly taken place (May 2010; October 2010; February 2011; May 2011), in which concrete steps towards the development and improvement of the ITLR database were agreed and followed up on. (For more details, see Cooperations).
Academic Research Program Initiative (ARPI-II)
On account of the success of the pilot project (2014–2018) followed and the first round of the Academic Research Program Initiative (ARPI-I) (2016–2020), we are pleased to announce the launch of the follow-up project (ARPI-II), which will be likewise funded by the Khyentse Foundation for a period of 4 years (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2024). The ARPI project continues to be the main means of carrying some of the most central objectives of the Khyentse Center for Tibetan Buddhist Textual Scholarship (KC-TBTS), including (a) training traditional scholars in modern historical and philological methods, (b) establishing research centers of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions in South Asia and promoting cooperation between them and the Western Academia, and (c) developing and supporting research projects with a focus on Tibetan Buddhist textual studies. ARPI-II aims at training a new batch of Tibetan scholars, alongside publication of the research result of the pilots and ARPI-I members. A peculiar characteristics of ARPI-II is its following the train-the-trainer approach, aiming at sustainable research environments in the future. Three research centers will be participating in the project, including Chökyi Lodrö Research Center (CLRC) at Dzongsar Institute (Chauntra), Ngagyur Nyingma Research Center (NNRC) at Namdroling (Mysore), and Shechen Research Division (SRD) at Shechen monastery (Kathmandu).
gSung-rten: A Glossary of Technical Terms of Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist Textual and Book Cultures
“gSung-rten” is a collaborative research project of the Khyentse Center and is devoted to the collection, documentation, investigation, and explanation of mostly traditional Tibetan technical terms dealing with Tibetan paleography, codicology, and philology or textual scholarship. The project thus focuses on various aspects of what Tibetan Buddhists refer to as the “receptacle of Speech” (gsung rten), a term that includes not only texts as intangible entities but also books as tangible realities, both of which are the main objects of research for all of us interested in gaining a nuanced and reliable understanding of the Tibetan intellectual world (Geisteswelt). Its database is planned to include (a) technical terms relevant to Tibetan paleography, codicology, and philology, (b) relevant textual passages, (c) bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and (d) images of physical objects, when applicable and feasible.
Scholars and Scribes: Leveraging Computerized Tools for Navigating an Uncharted Tibetan Buddhist Philosophical Corpus
A collaborative project between Tel Aviv University (TAU), The Blavatnik School of Computer Science, and Universität Hamburg (UHH), Asien-Afrika-Institut, the Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, financed by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF).
The project focuses on a Tibetan textual corpus known as the bKa’ gdams gsung ’bum or The Collected Writings of the bKa’-gdams-pa School, one of the three main schools that emerged during the second period of propagation of Buddhism in Tibet (ca. 11th–13th centuries) whose monasteries were famed as centers of learning. The corpus accordingly contains numerous texts of various genres that were mainly produced in the period between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries and is by and large written in a variety of dBu-med (“headless”) scripts, most of which are peculiar to this corpus. Following the rise of the dGe-lugs school and the Dalai Lama hegemony, the bKa’-gdams-pa school declined and finally disappeared; thus its textual scholarly legacy has fallen into oblivion. The bKa’ gdams gsung ’bum bears testimony to the intensity and extensity of intellectual engagement in the Tibetan Buddhist civilization, and a nuanced understanding of the Tibetan intellectual history and intellectual culture seems hardly possible without investigating this textual corpus and its content. Due to the fact that this enormous corpus has only recently been made available, most of the material contained therein has yet to be studied by modern scholars. The project aims at studying the emergence of this corpus in terms of place and time and in relation to its philosophical contents, by employing tools and methods of both textual scholarship and computer science. The project thus focuses on the development of a codicological and paleographical scheme for analyzing Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs, mainly focusing on textual corpora of the bKa’-gdams-pa tradition, and of new tools and techniques for investigating Tibetan texts in general, including their contents and forms, so as to facilitate Tibetan Buddhist textual scholarship.
In the center of our efforts of developing develop a codicological and paleographical scheme stands the bKa’-gdams material with its distinct dBu-med script including its various subtypes, with the main aim to enable identifying “joins” of separated fragments, dissolved and scattered collections, and stray manuscripts and xylographs, on the one hand, and determining periodical and regional characteristics with the help of which manuscripts and xylographs could be dated and their provenance determined, on the other. Apart from the immediate benefit of developing such a scheme for the study of the bKa’-gdams material, it is envisioned that in the future it could serve as a model and, in fact, as a basis for a more comprehensive study of the development of Tibetan scripts and script styles over the centuries and in different regions.
In regard to the textual aspect, the projects aims at developing open-source software and digital tools that will be put at the disposal of the community of scholars of Tibetan Buddhist scholarship for the study of any Tibetan written material. The envisioned functions of such software and digital tools will include the processing of not only (i) transliterated Tibetan Buddhist texts, including, for example, advanced approximate text matching methods for easily locating shared texts and citations in a huge amount of written material, and thus better our understanding of the emergence of various Buddhist corpora, but also (ii) images of manuscripts and xylographs including automatized determination of different or similar scripts and, in more advanced techniques, even of different or similar hands, and automatized determination of different or similar layouts and artistic features presented in the manuscripts and xylographs, and encoding of imaged text.
Prof. Nachum Dershowitz, TAU
Prof. Lior Wolf, TAU
Prof. Dorji Wangchuk, UHH
Dr. Orna Almogi, UHH
Eric Werner, UHH
A Canon in the Making: The History of the Formation, Production, and Transmission of the bsTan 'gyur, the Corpus of Treatises in Tibetan Translation
A project led by Dr. Orna Almogi, funded by the DFG
The main subject matter of this project is the study of the history of the formation, production, and transmission of the bsTan 'gyur from the early stages, which took place in sNar thang monastery at the beginning of the 14th century, to the later stages, which are reflected in the five available bsTan 'gyur editions. The project also aims at contributing to the better understanding of the role of editors in the three levels of formation, production, and transmission concerning Buddhist corpora within the Tibetan cultural sphere, and it is intended to be carried out on two levels: bibliographical and historical. While the study of the catalogue of the Old sNar thang edition, which was compiled by dBus pa blo gsal (b. 13th c.), one of the main editors of this first edition, stands at the centre of the bibliographical investigation, the assessment of numerous Tibetan sources among a wide range of literary genres stands in the centre of the historical investigation, particularly findings concerning the history of the production and transmission of various bsTan 'gyur editions.
Academic Research Program Initiative (ARPI)
Ever since the establishment of the Khyentse Center for Tibetan Buddhist Textual Scholarship (KC-TBTS), it has never lost sight of three of its main objectives and activities namely, (a) to train students to investigate Tibetan Buddhist texts using historical-philological tools and techniques, (b) to promote and establish cooperation between the Center and international institutions and scholars, particularly from the target regions (Tibet/China, India, Nepal, and Bhutan), and (c) to develop and support research projects with a focus on Tibetan Buddhist textual studies. The “Academic Research Program Initiative” (ARPI), funded by the Khyentse Foundation (ARPI-I: three years between 2015–2020; ARPI-II: four years between 2020–2024), is a direct outcome of the workshops conducted in South Asia by the Center since it foundation. ARPI has been conceived with the sole aim of training traditional Buddhist monk and nun scholars in pursuing modern academic (i.e. historical-philological) study of Tibetan Buddhist texts and ideas and helping to establish research centers within Tibetan Buddhist monastic institutions that will operate independently, on the one hand, and create an environment for fruitful collaboration between traditional and modern scholars from western universities, on the other. The activities of the ARPI are being carried out under the auspices of the Khyentse Center.