An Illuminated History of the Asian Classics Input Project
The idea for the Asian Classics Input Project is born at the Pyne Hall offices of the Department of Classics of Princeton University.
Princeton Department of Classics chairman, Prof. Samuel D. Atkins (1911-2002), an expert of Greek, Latin, & Sanskrit, joins the Project Advisory Board; as does Prof. William LaFleur (1936-2010), of the University of California at Los Angeles.
Extraordinary scholar and visionary Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin (1921-2004) becomes the inspiration and chief literary advisor to the Project. He selects our logo and motto, based on a 2500-year-old text, Chanting the Names of Manjushri: Torch of Knowledge, Lamp of the World
Input methods of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae project, which digitalized the entire Greek literature, studied by ACIP staff at the offices of KICO, the Korean Information Company of Seoul; as well as systems used by Mahidol University to input the Thai Buddhist corpus, in Bangkok.
Founding team of the ACIP project assembled: Director, Michael Roach, Princeton University graduate & liaison; Assistant Director, Robert Taylor PhD, of the U.S. Department of Transportation; John Malpas, developer of West Chinese input software; Steve Bruzgulis, inventor of first Tibetan word processor; and Ven. Thupten Pelgye, overseas input center manager. Robert Chilton, still assisting the Project 27 years later (as are Taylor & Roach), provides invaluable technical expertise, especially as Unicode is developed as a universal standard for computer fonts.
Funding and logistical support begins from longtime donors Andin International Diamond Corporation of New York; and Rashi Gempil Ling Kalmyk Mongolian Society of New Jersey, USA
Robert Lacey (1946-2013) and Michael Roach begin typing in the first ACIP text, in a tiny, run-down office space in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City. This first book entered is the native Tibetan catalog to the Kangyur Collection of about 1,000 books by the Buddha, from ancient Asia. The catalog is about 100 pages long.
ACIP receives a grant from the Hewlett-Packard Foundation to build its first data entry center in Asia.
ACIP licenses the Tibetan and Sanskrit listings of the U.S. Library of Congress and converts them to easily searchable form for public release; ACIP staff are selected for advising the Library of Congress on future purchases of Tibetan-language materials, and produce a catalog of 1,100 titles for acquisition.+
ACIP completes input, at its own expense, of an English-Tibetan dictionary to be used by refugee children in Tibetan elementary and high schools.
The first public release of ACIP data (all releases for 25 years have been offered free of charge) is made on several large floppy disks sent through the mail to each user!
The release consists of 10 books, including all five of the ancient Indian classics covered during the geshe course in Tibetan monasteries, as well as the native catalogs to the Kangyur & Tengyur Collections of all the 4,600 Buddhist books which survive from ancient India, in Tibetan translation.
ACIP licenses Oxford University and Linguistic Information Research Institute of Tokyo to release its digital materials without charge to users.
Publication of Supplementary Texts for the Study of the Perfection of Wisdom at Sera Mey Tibetan Monastic University; this is the first hard-copy book published with ACIP data and technical assistance, and is provided free of charge to Tibetan students and teachers worldwide to preserve these important monastic textbooks from the 15th to the 19th centuries. These works had been lost, but were located by the Project in the St Petersburg Library. The printing format developed for this 2-volume work has become the standard for digital publishing throughout the Tibetan-speaking world, with thousands of texts published since then.
ACIP completes complimentary input of the massive, 3200-page Great Dictionary of the Tibetan Language—by far the best Tibetan-Tibetan dictionary every written, and including the corresponding Chinese—for researchers at the University of London’s SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies).
Second release of ACIP data, this time with 50 classical Asian texts, including important works by Je Tsongkapa (1357-1419), Tibet’s greatest author. This release is mailed out free, to each user, on 12 big floppy disks!
ACIP concludes an agreement with the Russian Academy of Sciences to create a joint catalog of the massive Tibetan manuscript collection at the Oriental Library of St Petersburg; a similar agreement is penned with the University of St Petersburg, and work begins, under the joint directorship of Dr. Lev Savitsky and Michael Roach, with input team of Thupten Pelgye, Jampa Namdrol, and Ngawang Kheatsun—with a grant from the Buddhist Cultural Exchange Research Institute of Yuisho Ji, Japan.
Release of the TibEasy application developed by staff programmer Edward Softky for viewing ACIP data in native Asian scripts. Publication of The Logic Primer of Rato, one of the most important monastic textbooks of Tibet, from the 15th century, with a rare commentary that had been missing and was recovered and preserved by ACIP
ACIP staff locate and input a copy of a massive Tibetan spiritual classic entitled The Great Book on the Steps of the Teaching, written by Geshe Drolungpa Lodru Jungne (c. 1100ad), an extremely rare text which was one of the most important in Tibetan history.
It’s interesting to note that this book had been “rediscovered” once before, 600 years earlier, by Je Tsongkapa himself—the traditional painting here records the scene. A hard copy book is subsequently published from the data, for public distribution, and the book is now widely available to Tibetans once again.
Chemical Bank of New York (now part of JP Morgan Chase), America’s second largest bank, decides to update its computer systems and donates a large quantity of older desktop computers to ACIP. In a major effort, this equipment is transported to the input centers in India by staff of the Asian Classics Institute. Mongolian-American businesswoman Vera Badmaev makes it all happen.
Third public release of ACIP data; now available on the new 3.5” floppy disks! The release manual includes the first ACIP map of a hypertext essay in Asian philosophy, and a prediction of electronic books—as well as rare Tibetan texts and the first release of the ACIP Graphics Collection of woodblock prints. Ven. Lhundup Sherab assumes role of South Asian Field Office manager.
ACIP becomes one of the elite research facilities to receive grants from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities, for its continued preservation of the classical literature of ancient Asia.
The Asian Classics Institute of New York begins using ACIP data for its well-known series of 36 bilingual textbooks for the study of classical Asian philosophy and literature. ACI programs are now found throughout the world.
An Overview of the Middle Way, written by Kedrup Tenpa Dargye (1493-1568), becomes the first book printed by Tibetans from ACIP data without any technical assistance from ACIP staff. And then they are off and running on thousands more!
ACIP receives its first grant from the Institute for the Advanced Studies of World Religions, for preserving important ancient Asian texts.
Wired magazine prints a hip, insightful article about the Project entitled “Digital Dharma”.
Agreement concluded with the National Library of Mongolia to catalog, scan, and preserve a treasure trove of an estimated 200,000 ancient Tibetan manuscripts.
Xerox Corporation selects ACIP as one of the three best-run projects of its kind in the world, and commissions a brief documentary of the Project from Walter Cronkite’s firm, to be shown during Xerox executive trainings. The film, “Share the Knowledge,” also receives multiple airings on The Learning Channel.
ACIP interim release entitled “Woodblock to Laser” on a completely new technology, implemented with the help of Hewlett Packard, called the CD-ROM. Not many users know what a CD is, and ACIP has to help them acquire CD drives to read the disks!
Microlytics Software Corporation, leaving the computer business, gives ACIP permission to continue developing its Gofer search engine to give its users advanced searching capabilities when using the ACIP text database. This development continues to the present day, under the direction of Ted Lemon, an extraordinarily gifted American programmer. Gofer is extremely fast, because ACIP data has always been input using ASCII characters—the basic letters found inside all computers; which makes for compact, precise, and future-proofed data.
AsiaView, a full-fledged word processor for viewing, searching, and incorporating ACIP data into documents, is developed by staff programmer Eric Colombel. Geshe Ngawang Rigdol begins a long and extraordinarily fruitful tenure as manager of the ACIP South Asian Field Office.
In the early years, all computer typing of the ancient texts was done by Tibetan refugee monks at centers in the re-established monasteries of south and western India. At the request of unemployed refugees in the nearby settlements, the Project begins training and equipping people outside of the monasteries. In the more than 15 years since, the production from these local centers—largely staffed by refugee women with families—has come to be the greatest percentage of ACIP data, with the highest accuracy. It has also provided one of the main sources of income for impoverished Tibetan refugees.
ACIP Release 4, entitled A Thousand Books of Wisdom, includes just that—by far the biggest leap in ACIP’s output to date. The Project receives a major anonymous grant to produce a 700-page release manual including a revolutionary method of categorizing all of ancient Tibetan literature; methods for advanced computer searches of Asian literature; and a comprehensive description of standards for the digitalization of this literature into the future. This will be the last printed ACIP manual—releases are now done completely online, to save paper and to allow individual texts to be released immediately, as soon as each one is digitalized and cataloged.
John Brady, an executive with Lillian Vernon Corporation of New York, begins a successful 10-year tenure as ACIP Director. Gordon Aston, a talented Tibetologist from New Zealand, begins his now 15-year career on staff with the Project, a driving force for completing digitalization of the Kangyur and Tengyur Collections.
The Project announces Release 5, which now includes 25 megabytes of data, or about 18,000 pages of ancient classics. The Great Book on the Steps of the Path (Lamrim Chenmo), written by Je Tsongkapa in 1402 and one of Tibet’s greatest books, is one of the works completed. The St Petersburg Catalog of Tibetan Literature is up to 8,000 titles on this release.
E. Gene Smith (1936-2010), veteran administrator with the Library of Congress and greatest Tibetologist of modern times, who saved tens of thousands of ancient classics, opens the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in New York City. ACIP begins a fruitful long-term collaboration with TBRC, which has since scanned millions of pages and kindly made them available to the public.
ACIP begins active work in cataloging the extremely valuable collections of ancient texts in some 20 monastic libraries of the ancient mountain kingdom of Ladakh. The catalog is completed by 2007, and scanning has been under way for several years. One goal of this program is to locate definitive information about repeated reports that Jesus studied in this area during the “missing years” of his life.
ACIP opens its first Sanskrit input center, under the directorship of the talented Santosh Dwivedi, in Varanasi, India. This will allow the Project to locate and preserve the original palm leaf manuscripts that provided the models for the hundreds of thousands of Tibetan sacred works.
Sonam Lhamo, one of the first female, refugee input operators for ACIP, becomes manager of the primary centers for the input of ancient Tibetan. She is a determined and capable leader who travels between the offices by motorbike.
ACIP opens its Kerala Text Preservation Center in south India; under the directorship of Dr. N.V. Ramachandran, a passionate and lifelong saver of India’s ancient literary traditions, the center has completed hundreds of thousands of scans.
ACIP teams up with the Digital Preservation Society of Japan to release a scanned version of the Tempangma—which literally means, “Books that Are Not Allowed to Leave this Room.” This is an extremely rare version of the Kangyur collection of about 1,000 books from India of 500bc, in Tibetan translation, and held quietly in Mongolia for centuries.
ACIP announces Release 6, entitled simply Searchable, which emphasizes how the Project’s data, unlike simple scanned images, can be in seconds searched for information. It includes an update to the St Petersburg Catalog, which by this date is up to 100,000 titles; the Catalog of the Mongolian National Library has reached 35,000.
ACIP begins cataloging and scanning operations at the Kaivalyadham Library in Lonavala, between Mumbai and Pune in west India. This is one of India’s great modern libraries, founded in 1924, with holdings of some 26,000 important Sanskrit and other writings.
Through the efforts of Jason Dunbar, a talented Tibetologist originally from Australia whose hard work for the Project has resulted in the saving of countless valuable works, ACIP releases the complete collected works of Choney Lama Drakpa Shedrup (1674-1748): some 250 separate titles. These works had been missing and are some of the greatest spiritual writings on the planet.
Publication of King of the Dharma, a definitive bilingual biography of Je Tsongkapa, using ACIP data for the Tibetan sections.
Dan Stivers, Founder and CEO of Network Hardware Corporation, becomes ACIP Director, bringing valuable technology and business skills to the Project.
The computer journal Tech Frontiers Reports publishes an article featuring ACIP staff programmer Aaron Cram’s pioneering work on a software app named ACE: the Asian Classics Explorer. This actually connects digital books created by ACIP to the corresponding scans of the ancient originals provided by organizations such as TBRC. You can follow along with the easy English letters of transcribed Tibetan, as you view the original ancient carvings that match it.
After almost 20 years of continuous work, the Catalog of Tibetan Manuscripts held at the St Petersburg Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences is completed. It records extensive details of 141,000 ancient Tibetan works and is quite possibly the most extensive catalog ever compiled of classical Asian literature. If printed, it would extend to 80 very thick volumes! Three of the original staff—Dr Lev Savitsky, Ngawang Kheatsun, and Jampa Namdrol—are responsible for seeing the work through to the end.
Under the leadership of Dan Stivers and Santosh Dwivedi, ACIP completes the construction of the first floor of a dedicated scan and input center in Varanasi. This now allows for centralized administration of all of our South Asian operations, through Mr. Dwivedi, the South Asia Field Director. In the same year, Dan Stivers personally directs an effort to wire the National Library of Mongolia with fiber-optic cable, which will allow greater productivity for preserving one of the largest collections of ancient Buddhist texts in the world.
All publicly released books to date are, for the first time, made available in Tibetan script on the ACIP website, through the great work of Jason Dunbar.
Geshe Michael Roach and Tibetan scholar Eric Brinkman complete the details of the subject category scheme first proposed by ACIP almost 15 years before. Each cataloged book is now on its proper virtual shelf in the digital library, and can be found even by a person working only in English—although the books themselves are still in Tibetan or Sanskrit.
Phil Baker, long-time textual expert and programmer with ACIP, completes an online search application called “ACIP Document Search,” to allow for searches of the ACIP Library with filters by text, author, historical period, proximity, and subject. This means you could, for example, search for all mentions of the “Wheel of Life” during the century in which Je Tsongkapa lived, near any discussions of the emotion of anger which helps perpetuate this wheel.
Dan Stivers designs a new, super-efficient, low-voltage computer just for inputting ACIP data in the difficult conditions of our overseas entry centers. This humble little jewel replaces antique, broken-down desktop computers that were already old when they were donated to the Project in the 1990’s by Chemical Bank of New York.
ACIP celebrates its 25th anniversary with a gala ceremony at the beautiful Prince George Ballroom in New York. On this occasion, we announce that after 26 years of continuous work, we have completed the input of the entire Kangyur and Tengyur collections of ancient Buddhist literature which survived from India in Tibetan translation. The 4,600 works of this collection take the combined total of pages input by the project close to half a million. Guests at the reception each receive a single flash drive which contains the entire 4,600 books: a testament to the efficiency of how the Project stores its data. Much of this particular effort was brought to its completion through the devoted labor of Gordon Aston and Jason Dunbar, as well as our family of overseas entry operators.
John Brady emerges from a three-year, three-month, three-day retreat at Diamond Mountain. After a brief reorientation period, he again assumes the reins of ACIP. Brady initiates a vigorous program of international travel, bringing the ACIP message to new audiences in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. He travels to Mongolia to re-establish relations with the Mongolian National Library, the holder of an important collection of ancient Buddhist texts.
After 10 years of work, ACIP succeeds in establishing official NGO status through the efforts of the director of our Varanasi office, Santosh Dwivedi. This allows the expansion of our project-based mission in South Asia and a deeper implementation of our long-term vision. We can now hire, educate and train local residents in our five other India locations. This significantly increases our database input and enables ACIP to reach and serve more people with richer, deeper database offerings.
We formally hire 14 new US-based employees to translate texts, improve hyper-text functionality, and do database programming. The ACIP vision moves forward into the next generation.
John Brady travels to visit all six centers in India and meets with their directors to re-evaluate the vision and direction for the next five years. We begin to create a plan for health insurance and retirement programs for all South Asia employees, and activate international attention to the challenge of raising funds to implement this plan.
ACIP creates a high-quality 13-minute video to update scholars, donors and friends about the full scope of each part of our 30-year odyssey to preserve and distribute precious ancient wisdom texts.
ACIP moves its headquarters from New York City, where it had been based since 1987, to new offices in the recently completed Red Western Tower in Sedona, Arizona, which also houses the Asian Classics Institute (ACI) and the Sedona College of International Management (SCIM). The ancient teachings that ACIP finds and preserves serve as the basis for the SCIM curriculum, including the modern business classes being taught by The Diamond Cutter Institute at our new college and in dozens of countries around the world.
ACIP opens negotiations to tap a rich source of Sanskrit Buddhist material in Nepal, working with the Nagarjuna Institute in Kathmandu. We purchase land in Varanasi for the purpose of establishing a college of Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese language study. The vision is to create a new generation of translators worldwide, to preserve and disseminate the Buddhist tradition that is in great danger of being lost as the older generation of Tibetan scholars fades away.
ACIP holds its first international translator program in Sedona, opening its doors to 11 qualified translators training to process and produce translations of the great treatises on Buddhism into English, Spanish, German, Russian and modern Mandarin. The first 5 day Soft Power event in Shenzhen, China, officially launches ACIP’s Chinese translation program, with over 50 attending.