Why Study Tibetan?

Why Study Tibetan?

A Language Created for Translating Dharma

Translation literally means “to carry across.” It is said that the Tibetan language was created with the purpose of translating Dharma texts. Translations into English are still works in progress and in the process of being improved upon.

“The terminology and understanding of translators at present is not adequate to convey certain meanings of the Dharma.” — Tarthang Tulku, Milking the Painted Cow (2005)


“In general, when translating any Buddhist teachings from Tibetan into English, especially precious wisdom teachings, there is a language problem, since it is difficult to connect substantial, nihilistic ordinary expressions with insubstantial wisdom expressions.

Dharma words are connected to mind, mind is connected to wisdom, and wisdom is intangible. Therefore, whoever translates Dharma must try predominately to write about the intangible qualities of wisdom . . . If words are chosen with the misinterpretation of substantial word habit, these qualities can be turned into ordinary intellectual, philosophical, or material conceptions.

For those who like to study or practice Buddhism, it is of great benefit to learn literary Tibetan rather than reading translations, since it is the most vast and profound language in the world in this generation for conveying pure spiritual meaning.”   [Paragraph breaks added.]

— Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, Sunlight Speech That Dispels the Darkness of Doubt (2015)