Magnitude of Tibetan Literature
Tibetan literary culture stretches back as far as one thousand three hundred years. While general knowledge about Tibetan cultural and religious life is common today, few have plumbed the depths of this literature, and much remains to be discovered.
As a whole, the Tibetan literary corpus is immense. Scholars estimate that there were at least 500,000 volumes written or translated into Tibetan from the ninth century onward. A sizable portion of this extraordinary literary achievement disappeared before 1951 due to natural and man-made causes: fire, flood, and pestilence as well as wars and sectarian bans. As a result of conflicts and insurgencies in the late 50s, early 60s, and the subsequent Cultural Revolution, most of the great monastic universities and their libraries were reduced to rubble.
Conservative estimates hold that 100,000 to 200,000 volumes remain. Manuscripts in largely unexplored archives inside Tibet such as the Potala Library and Sakya Monastery may push this figure closer to the 200,000 volume range. While it is estimated that 80% of the best-known texts survive, this is likely only 25% of the total writings by Tibetan authors. As lost libraries are unearthed, there are ongoing efforts to collect and preserve this fragmented literature, so that we might make this immense corpus whole again.
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