Seek Out – Opening the Vast Tibetan Tradition
The Tibetan literary heritage stretches back more than 1,300 years. Its influence is seen throughout the Himalayan region from Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, and Mongolia to as far west as modern-day Iran. While general knowledge about Tibetan cultural and religious life is common today, few have plumbed the depths of the literature, and much remains to be discovered.
The heart of TBRC’s mission is to seek out texts and gather them in a single place. The Tibetan literary heritage is immense and includes traditional medicine, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, art, history, geography, biography, grammar, folk culture, poetics, and extensive philosophical and religious treatises.
However, while TBRC estimates that it holds 80 percent of the best-known texts, this is perhaps only 25 percent of the total writings by Tibetan masters. As lost libraries are unearthed, TBRC receives and preserves them, in an effort to make whole an immense body of literature that has been broken apart.
Preserve – Building a Digital Home
Digital preservation is the basis of TBRC. We scan more than one million pages a year at our scanning centers in Cambridge, MA and Chengdu, China and have scanned more than 9 million pages since the founding of TBRC.
The preservation process is labor intensive. To create a digital text, TBRC scans the ink-print copy one page at a time. Each page is then reviewed to ensure that it is legible. As pages are scanned and checked, they are published into a digital library. The result is a library that is secure, error-free, and accessible. Of 9 million pages scanned up to December 2012, there were 112 errors.
At the current rate, the entire TBRC collection and a majority of our acquired texts will be scanned in 5 year’s time. After that, ongoing work will be required to capture newly discovered literature, develop and deepen access to our library, and upgrade systems to keep pace with the latest technology.
Organize – Mapping the Tibetan Mind
The literary heritage of Tibet is a living oral tradition based on the transmission of texts from one generation to the next. Throughout Tibetan history, kings and great lamas sustained these traditions by assembling woodblock texts and manuscripts in monastic and institutional libraries. Today, these libraries continue to support the oral and textual traditions and, in turn, protect their continuity. TBRC faithfully captures the richness of the literary traditions.
As standard library practices cannot adequately classify Tibetan texts, TBRC developed new methods to address their unique configuration. These methods create a map of the structure, intent, and historical context of the literature. Scholars continually update and improve these maps, add detailed information, and in the process create a vital and enduring Tibetan library.
Lhasa, Tibet Courtesy of Lois Conner
Disseminate – Ensuring Global Access
TBRC preserves literature, but ultimately it is a community that sustains a tradition. In order for that to be possible, people must have access to the literature. TBRC estimates that there are roughly 1,000 monasteries and more than 250,000 monks, lamas, and interested readers who could benefit from direct access to the TBRC Library. This interest will increase over time as more individuals discover the literature. Toward this goal, TBRC is building a library that provides:
- Password access through a public website.
- A special subscription program for university scholars and academics that provides access within institutional settings.
- Hard drive installations for monasteries in areas where internet connections are not available.
- Access for holders of Tibet’s wisdom traditions wherever they may be.