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Looking for the words of the Buddha – Exploring the Kangyur September 13, 2007

Posted by christianbernert in Dharma, Studies.
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pechasAs beautiful, inspiring, and profound the words of the Buddha can be (and definitely are), they are at times very hard to locate. And this is not only true within the world view expounded in the teaching on the precious human life, where we are told what an incredibly rare opportunity it is to be able to dispose freely of your time, to follow qualified teachers, and to study and practice the Dharma. What I am talking about here is of a slightly different nature as you will see. Not as profound and inspiring, but nevertheless very practical, especially for the scholars among us.

I am currently working on my M.A. thesis on Rong-ston chen-po’s commentary on the rGyud bla ma (Uttaratantra, Ratnagotravibhaga), one of Maitreya’s five precious treatises. This texts teaches us what we are ultimately capable of. It explains in great detail why “we are made for buddhahood”, namely: because that is precisely our nature – called Buddhanature (the tathagatgarbha).

In the course of my research I have to identify the quotations Rong-ston draws from the sutras and shastras (scientific treatises) in order to make his points.

The Kangyur (the translations of the Buddha’s words) comprises over 100 volumes organized by subject matter. These include vinaya, prajnaparamita-sutras, avatamsaka-sutra, sutra pitaka including many shorter sutras, and so forth, as well as many volumes of tantric scriptures.

The Tengyur (the translations of the treatises on the Buddha’s words) are also arranged by topics (such as praises, prajnaparamita, madhyamaka, sutra commentaries, cittamatra, abhidharma, pramana, tantra, and so forth) and comprises over 200 volumes. The three major editions of this Tibetan Buddhist canon come from Derge, Narthang, and Beijing.

pechas2Luckily for the researcher, we have catalogues which help us identify the volume we will find the text we are looking for in, as well as the page numbers. Although I had these precious helpers with me, I took me (frustrating) ages to locate a text, let alone the quotations. Eventually an angel from my university helped me out, sending me the most useful link for this kind of research. It turned out I was looking into a different edition of the Kangyur. Voila! It could have been so obvious.

Anyway, this research made me take my first steps in this vast universe the Tibetan Buddhist canon is, and it is fascinating. There is such a wealth of material out there to help us understand our mind! Translating these texts (well!) is of paramount importance if we are to establish a firm foundation for the future of the Buddha’s Dharma in the West. I really hope we can join in effort and support each other in laying the bricks for this foundation one by one. It will take generations, and we should certainly not expect any immediately tangible results from this kind of effort, but it is definitely worthwhile and beneficial for all of us.  

For those among you brave enough to still read this blog, here are the useful links:

          Online catalogue of various Kangyur editions:


          Informations on Kangyur and Tengyur: