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The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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The Contribution of the Tibetan Oral and Textual Heritage to Global Understanding: Progress and Prospects

Alexander Berzin
New Delhi, India, December 2009

Tibetan culture arose dependently on many civilizations: Zhang-zhung, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Persian, Khotanese, and Turki­c. It did not remain static and isolated, however, but spread and interacted with many other nearby peoples along the Silk Route, in the Mongol regions, northern China, and the Himalayas. In so doing, it contributed significantly to global understanding throughout the years. As a result, the multifaceted Tibetan culture and language has played a unifying role in Central Asia and the Himalayan regions similar to that of Roman culture and Latin in medieval Europe.

Since the mid-twentieth century, many aspects of Tibetan culture have been spreading further abroad, so that now it has a truly global reach. This has been spurred by the arrival of the exile Tibetan community in India and Nepal and the proliferation of materials and opportunities available for learning the Tibetan language and cultural aspects.

Moreover, to promote understanding and exchange spiritual methods, Tibetan masters have been engaging in dialogues with the spiritual leaders of most of the world religions. They have also been sharing their vast stores of knowledge and experience with leading scientists, psychologists, philosophers, and business and political leaders.

Continuing contributions by Tibetan culture to global understanding depend on the preservation of its various elements in their traditional forms and in evolved aspects as they interact with and adapt to other cultures. Concerning Tibet’s oral and textual heritage, numerous organizations and projects have been microfilming, scanning or digitizing, and publishing Tibetan texts both in printed form and on the Internet. Others have been recording oral teachings by great Tibetan masters and making them available in audio, video, and DVD format. Moreover, numerous individuals and organizations have been translating these oral and textual materials and publishing them in printed and online versions. Many non-Tibetans have trained and become Buddhist and Bon teachers. Their published writings and oral teachings reveal the cultural adaptations and the evolution of study tools that facilitate global understanding of the spiritual knowledge and wisdom of Tibet.

The Berzin Archives, with its free-of-charge multilingual website, has been at the forefront of the efforts to promote this global understanding. With well over a half a million visitors a year, it comprises Dr. Berzin’s writings, teachings, and translations concerning the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, the history of Buddhism, Tibetan and Central Asian history, Tibetan medicine and astrology, and Buddhist-Muslim relations. It preserves in translation many unique materials of his teachers: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, and Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. At the end of 2009, it contains approximately 1400 written and 700 audio items in six languages – English, German, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian. Preparations are well underway for additional Chinese and French sections.

To promote interreligious harmony and understanding of Tibetan culture, Berzin Archives is reaching out specifically to the Muslim world by undertaking the translation of relevant material from its website into Arabic and Urdu, with future plans to expand to Farsi, Turkish, and Indonesian. In ways such as these, a truly global understanding of Tibetan culture may help contribute to world peace.