Transcending Borders: India’s Pledge to Revive Forgotten Buddhist Lore

The much-anticipated Hindi versions of five classical Tibetan Buddhist texts, originally procured for India by renowned author Rahul Sankrityayan (1893–1963) from Tibet, are now ready for printing, pending financial backing pledged by Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar, India.

The ambitious project of rendering these invaluable Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts into Hindi was undertaken by the Bihar government in tandem with the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) in 2019. This effort was aimed at opening up the profound teachings and philosophy of Buddhism to a broader demographic. In support of this mission, the Bihar government had set aside 19.4 million rupees (US$234,000) for the printing costs of the Hindi versions. As of now, the CIHTS has received the initial funding tranche of 1.55 million rupees (US$18,700).

The list of sacred texts awaiting publication includes the Karma Vibhang Sutra, the Pragyaparmitahridaya Sutra, a compendium by Acharya Dipankar Srijnana (980–1053), the Madhyamkalangkar Karika Bhashya Evam Teeka, and an assortment of other rare manuscripts.

“These are the Tibetan versions of original Sanskrit scriptures penned on palm leaves on Buddhism and its philosophy, which were housed in the ancient Nalanda and Vikramshila universities,” explained a researcher. “These manuscripts were transported to Tibet between the 7th and 11th centuries for their translation and dissemination of Buddhism. These were then translated into Tibetan under the supervision of scholars using handmade paper and natural ink.”

Prof. Geshe Ngawang Samten elucidated that the advantages of translating these Tibetan texts into Hindi would not only be enjoyed by Bihar’s populace but would extend across the nation.

The collection boasts hundreds of books, encapsulating diverse subjects such as astrology, tantra, meditation, medicine, philosophy, justice, and law. These translated works could significantly contribute to the preservation and promotion of the ancient Nalanda tradition of knowledge.

“Our vice-chancellor, Prof. Geshe Ngawang Samten, has written to the Chief Minister twice over the past year and met him in person this April in Rajgir to discuss the project and secure the second tranche of funding,” stated a CIHTS representative.

It was initially planned to launch five books on 5th May, in conjunction with Buddha Purnima, the representative mentioned.

Anjani Kumar Singh, director-general of the Bihar Museum and advisor to Chief Minister Kumar, assured that he would investigate the cause of the delay from the arts and culture department, which is in agreement with CIHTS on this endeavour.

Rahul Sankrityayan, renowned as the “father of Hindi travel literature,” was an accomplished linguist and a literary polymath. He excelled in Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan languages, and had a vast knowledge of literature, philosophy, rare books, and art.

Sankrityayan retrieved approximately 10,000 Tibetan manuscripts during his four visits to Tibet. These manuscripts, written in Sanskrit by monks and scholars at the historic Nalanda and Vikramshila universities between the seventh and twelfth centuries, found refuge in Tibet when the universities were destroyed, and the original manuscripts were lost.

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