Meeting with Sanskrit Scholar Dr. Lewis Lancaster
September 27, 2019
The ACIP team traveled to Los Angeles to meet with well-known Sanskrit scholar Dr. Lewis Lancaster and his colleague, Dr. Miroj Shakya, at the University of the West to discuss mutual projects on the preservation of manuscripts, databases and how organizations can work together to develop tools, share data and resources.
The team had the opportunity to attend classes with Dr. Lancaster on The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, his lifelong interest.
Sonam Lhamo: 22 Years Dedicated to Preserving Ancient Texts
Sonam Lhamo has been managing our input centers in South India for 22 years.
Beginning in a small settlement outside Mysore, with just a handful of operators inputting texts from local libraries, our operations have now expanded to three full time centers in the area: Bylakuppe, TDL, and Hunsur.
These centers are primarily staffed by talented and dedicated women. Some centers, now on a second generation of employment, see daughters of first generation workers, still engaging in the preservation of their heritage.
We are fortunate to have Sonam Lhamo, an extremely talented and devoted manager, ensuring that every book is input quickly and accurately.
Sonam Lhamo was born in 1969. She was originally from Bylakuppe. Her first job at a young age was in a government office in Kathmandu, Nepal. There she came down with tuberculosis and had to move back to India for treatment. She miraculously survived the disease which has taken the lives of many of her family members and friends. After her recovery, she moved back to Bylakuppe where she first obtained a position at the first ACIP input center. Four years later, she met John Brady. He recognized her tremendous ability and asked her to manage all three input centers in South India; the Bylakuppe Input Center, the TDL Input Center, and Hunsur Input Center.
A very strong and dedicated woman, Sonam has devoted her life to saving the ancient manuscripts of her culture. Not having a family life, she devoted many years to her job, which is rare for a traditional woman. A beautiful ripening occurred for Sonam when Jampa Sherab was hired as an input operator at the TDL center. It was love at first sight for Sonam and Jampa. They have been happily married since 2013.
She and Jampa work at the TDL Center with six women inputters. The Hunsur Center currently has eight employees and the Bylakuppe Center employs six. Their current work includes inputting the collected works of Choney Lama Drakpa Shedrup, a great 15th-century scholar whose commentary on the Diamond Cutter Sutra is the first published, translated work by the Diamond Cutter Classics translation team. Bylakuppe is also currently inputting other important works that support research and translation.
In July 2018, Sonam and Jampa joined our Sanskrit team on a visit to Kathmandu, Nepal, to assist in training a new staff at the Nagarjuna Institute of Buddhist Studies (NIBS). Accompanying this journey was Dr. Nour Ibrahim from Romania who leads our partner project Threads of Wisdom. Threads of Wisdom helps to physically preserve manuscripts that ACIP digitally preserves, providing hand-sewn book covers made by underprivileged women. Our success in South India has inspired us to focus on underprivileged women at the NIBS project.
The Monumental Project at the National Library of Mongolia
Thanks to a generous grant from Khyentse Foundation, we are entering Phase III of the National Library of Mongolia project, in collaboration with our partner Buddhist Digital Resource Center. The NLM project seeks to preserve and make accessible the historic Tibetan collection at the National Library of Mongolia. In 2018, we started Phase I. During this phase, we hand-counted each volume in the Library and discovered far more than what we initially estimated. We counted 41,000 volumes, which constitutes approximately 300,00-500,000 titles. Many of these volumes have not been opened in over 100 years.
In Phase II, which ended in July 2019, we began operations. We hired employees, established workflow processes, purchased and installed state-of-the-art technical equipment, and began digitizing texts . At the beginning of Phase III this summer, we are entering into production phase, we doubled our staff, and began the hard work of inputting 41,000 volumes. The work is estimated to take 6 years. With funding secured only for 3 years, we need your help to complete this historic project.
ACIP Launches Initiative to Preserve Texts in Ancient Scripts in Nepal
In August 2019, our Sanskrit team began inputting the Lankavatara Sutra in Prachalit script. Most Sanskrit works in Nepal are written in rare, ancient scripts that are not well understood by Nepalese. In collaboration with the Nagarjuna Institute of Buddhist Studies (NIBS), we began training young Nepalese to read and transcribe ancient scripts such as Prachalit, Ranjana and Bhujimol. This enables the young Nepalese not only to learn about and preserve their own culture, but also to earn a salary and gain valuable skills.
In July, the first 12 students graduated from our six-month Prachalit training course. The course was run by Professor Kiran Shakya, a scholar of ancient scripts at NIBS. Five women graduates were selected for ongoing transcription work. Our plan is to locate important Nepalese manuscript, here in Nepal and around the world and transcribe them at our center at NIBS.
Sanskrit Center in Kerala, India
Dr. N.V. Ramachandran, a Vedic scholar and preservation specialist, heads our Sanskrit Center in Kerala. Dr. Ramachandran travels all over Southern India seeking rare and valuable collections of ancient Sanskrit texts to scan and preserve. His skills and experience with textual photography enable him to create high-quality images of ancient texts with minimal exposure of the texts to further deterioration.
Currently, at the Kerala Center there are eight staff working. They perform digital imaging of manuscripts and 19th and 20th century books. Six people are working on image correction and enhancement and one person is cataloguing. There are many different kinds of manuscripts in both palm leaf and paper, as well as antique books. They use several different sizes and kinds of cameras to accomplish these diverse tasks.
Varanasi Input Center
Dr. Santosh Dwivedi manages our Sanskrit input center in Varanasi. The Varanasi center is focused on preserving the cultural heritage of India by inputting Sanskrit texts. Most recently, their team has been inputting classics from the Kangyur and Tengyur that have been identified by Je Tsongkapa and other great scholars. There are currently eleven inputters at the Varanasi Center.
Dr. Dwivedi is also working on establishing a Sanskrit college in Varanasi to train foreign students in Sanskrit. It was his late father’s dream to establish such a college. We purchased a plot of land next to the Varanasi center for this purpose.
Dickyi Larsoe (TDL) Input Center
There are now seven employees at the TDL center, managed by Sonam Lhamo. This month they have completed inputting the Blue Annals, a very important book written in 1476 by Go Lotsawa Zhonnu-pel. It is a historical survey focusing on the dissemination of various sectarian spiritual traditions throughout Tibet.
Hunsur Input Center
The Hunsur Input team is working on the Tibetan Russian English Dictionary by Yuri Roerich, a prominent 20th century Tibetologist. The Hunsur Center currently has eight employees.
Bylakuppe Input Center
The Bylakuppe center is inputting the Nartang Tengyur. There can be subtle and major differences between editions of the Tengyur and Kangyur. We believe there is great benefit in having multiple editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur in our database. This will enable them scholars, translators and researchers compare information that could be lost if only one edition was preserved.
Ways to Support
ACIP is doing exciting work around the world to help find and preserve the ancient wisdom texts endangered by environmental and cultural change and upheaval. We’re making these works available for free online on our website. And we hire, whenever possible, women from underserved or impoverished communities, train them to scan, catalog, and transcribe, and give them salaries and benefits to enrich their lives and the lives of their families.
But ACIP needs your help to keep helping others. We make it as easy as possible. Your help can come in many ways and many amounts:
- A simple one-time gift in any amount
- Signing up for our dollar-a-day program–we will charge your credit card or debit card $30.41 a month — a dollar a day.
- Committing to a regular monthly donation–any amount–large or small, will help greatly
Many of you are current, generous donors who have been supporting ACIP for a long time. Our heartfelt thanks go out to you. You make our work possible. We could not do it without you.
Thank you for your support and generosity. It means a lot to us.
John C. Brady
Asian Classics Input Project