The Importance of Sacred Texts in Tibet

Texts have been important to Tibetan culture since the seventh century, when Tibetan king Srong-btsan-sgam-po first established a written language to transmit knowledge brought from India. Since that time, Tibetan libraries have become important repositories of Buddhist literature from all over Asia, and their texts have been revered as essential guides for the Buddhist spiritual path – the inner journey to harmony and peace.

Today, the knowledge these texts contain can provide valuable guidance to all who seek stability and peace. These books are filled with the words of generations of great teachers; they are a treasury of wisdom and insight, and a cornerstone of Tibetan civilization.

The vast majority of Tibetan texts were destroyed when Tibet was invaded in 1959. Some of them were preserved due to the efforts of Tibetans, who often chose to carry books rather than food and supplies when they fled their country.

Preserving the Kanjur and Tanjur

The Tibetan Aid Project and its affiliates are keeping these important teachings alive through the preservation of the Kanjur and the Tanjur.

  • Kanjur is the traditional compilation of the Buddha’s teachings
  • Tanjur contains commentaries and related texts by Buddhist masters

After many years of research, planning, and production, Dharma Press released the Nyingma edition of the 120-volume Kanjur and Tanjur in 1981. The entire collection is printed on acid-free paper, edge-gilded to protect the pages, and bound with the highest quality materials to last hundreds of years.

The Kanjur and Tanjur texts have been distributed to libraries around the world, and entire sets were donated to Tibetan lamas and monasteries. Widespread distribution is intended to ensure that this knowledge will survive natural disasters, wars, and forced relocations, which have seriously disrupted the Tibetan tradition in the past.

Distribution of 3,000 complete copies of the Kanjur is set to begin at the World Peace Ceremony in 2010.

Compiling a Comprehensive Treasury of Tibetan Culture

The preservation of the Kanjur and Tanjur constitutes a tremendously important step in the effort to preserve and perpetuate the Tibetan culture, but these texts represent only a fraction of the wisdom of Tibet. Many thousands of texts were never assembled or preserved in the way that the Kanjur and Tanjur were. While these teachings were traditionally transmitted as a single collection, few monasteries had the complete set. The Yeshe De Text Preservation Project was founded in 1983 for the specific purpose of researching and collecting these texts. From libraries in Japan, China, India, and even Europe, as well as private collections of lamas throughout the Himalayas, the Yeshe De Project has compiled an enormous collection of Tibetan texts. This collection, named Great Treasures of Ancient Teachings, contains the work of over 400 authors and currently fills over 600 atlas-sized volumes. A hundred more volumes are in various stages of production, and still more texts are on hand awaiting review. The Great Treasures collection contains works on various elements of Tibetan religion and culture, including medicine, literature, psychology, and history.

Distributing the Teachings

The volunteer staff of the Tibetan Aid Project, Yeshe De, Dharma Publishing, and our other organizations work with the hope that this collection will restore the libraries lost in Tibet, and will forge a new, stronger future for the Tibetan people and their culture. Although the large size of the Great Treasures of Ancient Teachings collection obviously limits its distribution, we are gradually placing these texts in the hands of Tibetans who need them. The books distributed at the World Peace Ceremony are selected from this collection and distributed to the Tibetan community free of charge. A complete set of World Peace Ceremony books contains 447 volumes consisting of 2,048 unique titles by 224 different authors, and we plan to offer many more texts in the future. Since 1989, over 4.5 million of these books have been produced for free distribution to Tibetan monks, nuns, and lay people.

Yeshe De and Dharma Publishing are also working to make Tibetan teachings available to students in the West. Yeshe De has translated a limited number of Tibetan texts into Western languages. Dharma Publishing prints these books, along with several books written by Tarthang Tulku that apply the Tibetan tradition to the needs and concerns of today's Western society. The Dharma Publishing book series currently includes 22 volumes of works translated from Tibetan; books are available in 17 languages. Proceeds from the sale of these books go to support the efforts of Yeshe De to preserve, publish, and distribute Tibetan texts; this project is also the main effort to which funds raised through TAP are applied.


Beyond the beliefs of any religion, there is the truth of the human spirit.

Beyond the power of nations, there is the power of the human heart.

-- Tarthang Tulku