Khyentse Vision Project & the Future of Buddhist Translation

Khyentse Vision Project executive director Dolma Gunther talks about how the Project contributes to the world of dharma translation, the launch of its new reading room, and the importance of translating Khyentse Wangpo’s works for modern practitioners.

By Mariana Restrepo

A Buddhadharma Q&A with Khyentse Vision Project executive director Dolma Gunther

Khyentse Vision Project (KVP) is a nonprofit translation initiative by Khyentse Foundation which aims to translate and make widely accessible the collected works of Buddhist scholar/teacher Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820-1892), including meditation instructions, philosophical treatises, songs, sadhanas, histories, and pith instructions from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. 

Khyentse Wangpo, together with Jamgön Kongtrul, spearheaded the nineteenth-century nonsectarian Rimé movement as an effort to collect and preserve the many traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and Bön. Their work focused on receiving, compiling, and disseminating teachings from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Without their efforts, many of those traditions would have not survived. The Khyentse Vision Project aims to embody Khyentse Wangpo’s unbiased and nonsectarian approach to the dharma, offering translations that will benefit practitioners of all Tibetan Buddhist traditions. 

Most recently, the Khyentse Vision Project launched a new interactive reading room with over 108 translations, including selections from Khyentse Wangpo’s two major collections, Collected Works (Kabum) and Seven Transmissions (Kabab Dun). 

March 1, 2024, marks Khyentse Wangpo’s Parinirvana Anniversary (Sanskrit; death and passage into nirvana). To commemorate the occasion, Khyentse Vision Project is hosting a live online event with Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche and Do Tulku Rinpoche on the power of taking devotion as the path. Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche will offer the reading transmission of “The Bestower of Supreme Wisdom,” a guru yoga for Khyentse Wangpo that he composed himself, and Do Tulku Rinpoche will give a teaching on the text and answer questions from attendees. 

Ahead of the anniversary, KVP executive director Dolma Gunther spoke with Buddhadharma deputy editor Mariana Restrepo about the Project, and how it will contribute to the world of dharma translation, the launch of its new reading room, and the importance of translating Khyentse Wangpo’s works for modern practitioners.

Mariana Restrepo: Tell us about the Khyentse Vision Project

Dolma Gunther: Khyentse Vision Project is a Khyentse Foundation initiative to translate the writings of masters from the Khyentse lineage. Our current focus is to translate and publish the collected works of the Tibetan Rimé master and treasure revealer, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo. Our mission is to make Khyentse Wangpo’s teachings widely accessible to a global community of practitioners and scholars by publishing his works freely online through our interactive reading room. 

“Translating his works will enable practitioners throughout the world to benefit not only from the incredible breadth of his Buddhist erudition, but to also connect deeply with the Khyentse lineage.”

Our team is made up of professional translators, editors, and web developers from around the world. We have a rigorous review and editorial process to guarantee consistent high-quality and reliable translations. We catalog and produce research on Khyentse Wangpo’s collections—which total over 30,000 pages—for the benefit of future translators and researchers. The project also provides translator training, creative initiatives, workshops, and online dharma talks to help readers connect with Khyentse Wangpo’s wisdom. 

This project has been part of the long-term vision of our principal advisor, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, who has prioritized supporting translation of the wisdom of all Buddhist traditions into modern languages.

Who was Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and what is the relevance of translating all of his works, and how will it benefit practitioners from the different Buddhist lineages?

Khyentse Wangpo was the abbot of Dzongsar Monastery in Tibet and is considered the previous incarnation of contemporary Buddhist masters such as Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. He is also one of the founders of Tibet’s nonsectarian Rimé movement. 

Khyentse Wangpo was renowned for going to great lengths to receive, collect, and transmit the teachings of the major and lesser-known lineage traditions. In fact, it is thanks to his efforts that some lineages were rescued from the brink of extinction and revived. He was a prolific scholar, poet, meditation master, and treasure revealer, and his works span every major genre of Tibetan Buddhism including tantric liturgies, Buddhist philosophy, Dzogchen and Mahamudra instructions, Tibetan medicine, and the arts. His treasure revelations continue to be widely practiced to this day. Translating his works will enable practitioners throughout the world to benefit not only from the incredible breadth of his Buddhist erudition and the profundity of his instructions and liturgies, but to also connect deeply with the Khyentse lineage.

What is the Rimé movement and what is its significance for today’s practitioner?

The Rimé movement was an endeavor to preserve and transmit the various lineage traditions of Tibetan Buddhism in nineteenth-century eastern Tibet. Jamgön Kongtrul and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo were the principal architects of this nonsectarian movement. Together, these masters compiled the many teachings and meditative instructions of the major and minor Tibetan lineages, paying special attention to near-extinct lineages. They transmitted these teachings to thousands of students and collected them into several large encyclopedic volumes including the Treasury of Knowledge and the Treasury of Precious Instructions (both translated into English by Tsadra Foundation and available through Shambhala Publications). 

Khyentse Wangpo’s own corpus reflects the writings of a master who truly embodied a nonsectarian spirit during a time of extreme sectarianism. His students came from Sakya, Nyingma, Geluk, Kagyu, and Jonang lineages, and included many eminent masters, like the fifteenth Karmapa and Mipham Rinpoche. Modern Tibetan teachers such as Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Rabjam Rinpoche, and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche regularly give teachings based on Khyentse Wangpo’s writings. 

The Khyentse Vision Project just launched its Reading Room with 108 translations. Please tell us more about this platform and how can practitioners make use of this resource?

Our reading room provides an innovative platform for engaging with Khyentse Wangpo’s works. Readers can use these texts for their study or practice, either by viewing the translations directly in the reading room or by downloading the texts as PDFs. In the reading room, they can easily jump to relevant sections of the text, view glossaries and notes as pop-ups, read introductions to the texts by the translators, see related materials such as online teachings and related translations, and have the option to view Tibetan and phonetics for chanted texts. 

The topics included in our publications range from poetry and pilgrimage guides to prayers and daily sadhanas related to important figures, such as Tara and Longchenpa. There are also scholastic works such as Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist lineage histories. Readers can easily search the site by genre, topic, keyword, or titles.

Our site includes a blog, information on the Khyentse lineage, a detailed catalog of Khyentse Wangpo’s corpus, as well as announcements about upcoming events. Readers can subscribe to KVP’s newsletter for regular updates on the progress of our project.  

What is the KVP approach to translation? How is the Project working to accommodate future technological developments in the field?

KVP believes that the best translations are the result of a collective effort by a skilled and dedicated team of Buddhist practitioners and scholars. Our translators locate and compare every available Tibetan version of a work and carry out extensive background research on it. Translators then have their work reviewed by a team member, line for line against the Tibetan. The translation then goes through several rounds of editing. Our editors also have knowledge of Tibetan, so in addition to polishing the English for readability, they also give important feedback regarding the meaning of the translation while referring back to the original Tibetan. It is essential that the texts read clearly and are inspiring for a modern, global readership. Eventually we hope to expand to other languages as well. Due to the metaphorical, esoteric, and often grammatically complex nature of much of Khyentse Wangpo’s writings, our translators often consult with our expert traditional scholars, project consultants, or dharma teachers to help clarify the meaning. Our translators also have in-house fortnightly workshops where they discuss with each other about difficult passages.

While we emphasize an English style that reflects the genre of each text, we also consider the intention of the text and how we can mirror this in a modern context. For example, many liturgies were originally intended to be chanted, so as to be easily memorized and practiced in a group setting. We therefore aim to ensure our practice texts are chantable, which can mean producing metered or even rhyming translations. 

KVP is building a translation memory database that aligns all translation passages with the equivalent Tibetan to aid in the translation process. We are also working on integrating computer-assisted translation (CAT) and machine learning tools. We are building a cumulative glossary that will lead to more standardized terminology, making our texts more consistent and easy to read.

Can you talk about the ways that the KVP is supporting a new generation of translators?

One of the core priorities of KVP is to support the next generation of translators. We have been able to benefit from the advice and wisdom of many great lotsawas (translators), such as the Padmakara Translation Group, in considering our standards for quality, style, and respect for tradition. Inspired by translation projects such as 84000 and Lotsawa House, and based on the guidance we’ve received from experienced translators, scholars, and dharma teachers, we have developed a system for setting standards through a detailed workflow and style guidelines. These act as tools for our translators who come from a wide range of backgrounds — many of whom have studied translation at top universities and with renowned Tibetan meditation masters. The framework for our collective translation process is designed to help translators produce high-quality work that is checked at various stages so that they can build on their accumulated knowledge over the years. Our translators then transmit their experience to junior translators through our translator training program. We hope to set a model for how a translation group can foster and support dedicated translators into the future.   

Can you tell us more about the free training and internship program offered by the KVP for future translators?

The KVP Translator Training program is a two-year program for junior translators who have already undertaken at least three years of rigorous Tibetan language training. We mentor trainees in translation methods during the first year and give them the opportunity to translate a text themselves during the second. We then offer successful interns of the program contracts for future projects with KVP. This gives aspiring translators an opportunity to learn from an experienced team and to contribute to our project in a meaningful way.

What other  innovations is the KVP bringing into the world of dharma translation?

Our website has been designed to be not merely a collection of translations, but a meaningful hub where modern practitioners can gain access to teachings related to the living tradition of the Khyentse lineage and find resources they need to support their practice. For each text we offer a wealth of related material that includes images of statues and thangkas related to the text, videos of related teachings, scholarly publications linked to the topic of the text, recordings of the texts being chanted, and artistic or musical interpretations of various songs or poems. We plan to build a timeline and interactive map on our website where our audience can trace Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s life as he traveled throughout Tibet. In addition to this, we are working with the Khyentse Archival Project to develop an online 3D gallery to showcase archival objects related to Khyentse lineage masters.

What prerequisites should translators undertake before they start working on a particular text?

Due to the profound and esoteric nature of much of the practice material in Khyentse Wangpo’s collections, we believe that engaging with the texts on the level of personal practice is essential to ensure that our translations are informed by a deeper understanding. For tantric works, translators receive the necessary transmissions and instructions from a holder of the lineage of a particular text before working on their translation. We adhere to this approach out of respect for the tradition of lineage transmission and also because we believe it creates an auspicious circumstance for translating the blessings and wisdom contained within these works. In this way, our translators and editors have both scholastic knowledge and a deep experiential connection to the text they are translating or editing.

Can you talk about the ways KVP is contributing to contemporary Buddhist culture?

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, our principal advisor, often talks about the need to make the teachings of the Buddha more relevant to a modern audience. Khyentse Wangpo’s writings are a veritable treasury of wisdom and methods to accomplish enlightenment, and we are deeply committed to bringing his legacy to life in creative and innovative ways for current and future generations. Many of Khyentse Wangpo’s treasure cycles and other practice texts are practiced by thousands of practitioners around the world. We wish to contribute to the flourishing of Vajrayana culture by not only publishing inspiring and modern translations online, but also by providing a rich multimedia experience that is engaging, informative, and meaningful for practitioners. We do this through providing related material for each text, through hosting online workshops and teachings, and through various creative initiatives, including our Verse-to-Music sessions that offer a collaborative opportunity for artists and musicians to turn Khyentse Wangpo’s poems and songs into musical clips. 

Dolma Gunther

As founder and executive director of Khyentse Vision Project, Dolma Gunther is responsible for developing and delivering the project’s strategic vision. Dolma is a lawyer, editor, translator, and film director. She studied Tibetan language in Darjeeling and University of Washington, and has over twenty-years experience translating and editing Tibetan Buddhist texts. Dolma completed three-year retreat in Chanteloube, France, and currently lives in Australia.

Lion's Roar's newest associate editor, Mariana Restrepo

Mariana Restrepo

Mariana Restrepo is deputy editor of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide (published by Lion’s Roar). She is Colombian with a Nyingma-Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist background, has an MA in Religious Studies, and currently lives in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina with her husband and two children.