Tibetan Literature Collections at the UVa Library

The University of Virginia Library houses one of the most extensive collections of Tibetan-language literature in North America. The over ten thousand volumes held in the Library represent the full range of Tibetan literary creativity, from the earliest Tibetan documents produced at Dunhuang during the Tibetan imperial period to the modern free-verse poetry of twenty-first century Tibetan writers. Developed over a period of four decades, the Library’s collection is continually augmented with new acquisitions from the Tibetan areas of China, India, Bhutan, Mongolia, and elsewhere. As one of the major centers for Tibetan studies in North America, the University is committed to maintaining a world-class scholarly resource for the study of Tibetan literature.

Print holdings

The Tibetan collection is comprised largely of the complete set of Public Law 480 (PL480) Tibetan publications produced by Tibetan publishers in India since the 1960s and purchased through the Library of Congress, as well as more recent acquisitions of reprints and new works published throughout the PRC and elsewhere since the early 1980s. Most volumes from India are bound or loose-leaf facsimile reproductions of Tibetan manuscripts and blockprints, while those from the PRC are typically modern international format books. The University Library is one of only a dozen or so institutions worldwide that holds a complete PL480 collection.

Canonical Holdings

Of note are the Library’s extensive holdings in Tibetan Buddhist canonical literature, that is, literature traditionally considered to be translated from Indian languages such as Sanskrit and Pali, Chinese, and Central Asian languages such as Zhangzhung and Khotanese. The canons of the Library include a complete print edition of the Bonpo Tengyur (bon po brten ‘gyur), three print editions of the Collected Tantras of the Ancients (rnying ma rgyud ‘bum), and over twelve editions of the Kangyur and Tengyur:

  • Chengdu Comparative Tengyur: International book format (incomplete, vols. 1, 5, 9, 13-14, 16, 17-18, 31, 33, 48 only)
  • Chon Tengyur: microfiche
  • Dege Kangyur: Karmapa reprint edition; TBRC electronic facscimile; Nyingma edition
  • Dege Tengyur: Karmapa reprint edition; TBRC electronic facscimile; Nyingma edition
  • Lhasa Kangyur: PL480 reprint; TBRC electronic facscimile; microfiche
  • Lhasa Golden Tengyur: TBRC electronic facsimile
  • Narthang Kangyur: microfiche
  • Narthang Tengyur: Indian reprint (incomplete, vo. 1-80 only)
  • Peking Kangyur: Suzuki reprint (two complete sets)
  • Peking Tengyur: Suzuki reprint (two complete sets)
  • Phugdrag Kangyur: microfiche
  • Stog Palace Kangyur: PL480 reprint; TBRC electronic facscimile
  • Tokyo Tengyur: reprint of Dege edition (dbu ma, sems tsam, and tshad ma only)
  • Urga Kangyur: PL480 reprint

Other Collections

The PL480 collection at the University of Virginia (and elsewhere) also contains numerous other major collections of Tibetan literature. Prime examples include the important multi-volume anthologies of Tibetan ritual and contemplative literature compiled by members of the non-sectarian movement in Kham during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: The Five Treasuries (mdzod lnga) of Kontrul, including his famous Treasury of Precious Revelation (rin chen gter mdzod); the Collected Tantra Systems (rgyud sde kun btus); the Explanations of the Path together with the Result for Disciples and the Public (lam ‘bras slob bshad dand tshogs bshad); and the Extensive Oral Teachings (bka’ ma rgyas pa) in its several redactions. The Library also holds the collected works of hundreds of major Tibetan authors active from the twelfth through the twenty-first centuries.

Modern Literature

The Library continues to acquire Tibetan literature published in the PRC and elsewhere, and much of this new publication is comprised of new forms of contemporary literature. The Library’s holdings in modern Tibetan literature include select newspaper and periodicals holdings, as well as extensive modern publications of contemporary Tibetan poetry, fiction, arts, philosophy, and religion.

Electronic Holdings

The Library also subscribes to the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s Core Text Collection. This program provides PDF files of many PL480 publications as well as more recently available blockprints and manuscripts. Currently the TBRC has published its fifth of a projected ten or more collections of approximately one thousand volumes each. The University of Virginia will continue its subscription to the TBRC indefinitely.

Rare manuscripts

The Small Special Collections library has several dozen Tibetan manuscripts. Many of these were recently acquired with the generous donation to the Library from the Institute for Advanced Studies in World Religions. The Special Collections holdings include a unique manuscript of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, finely crafted in gold ink upon black paper.

Other unique holdings

The Library also holds a complete set of the University of Washington microfilm collection of Tibetan texts. This collection was assembled by Mr. E. Gene Smith in the early 1960s from holdings throughout North America and Europe. Despite the fact that this collection is nearly fifty years old, it contains numerous blockprints that remain unpublished, as well as a major selection of Dunhuang Tibetan texts housed at the British Library.

Usage and Availability

The Tibetan collections are available to current UVa students, faculty, staff, and research associates. Most print materials are stored in a secure facility in Alderman Library, and some periodicals are housed in the Alderman open stacks. To browse or utilize print resources, contact Nawang Thokmey at nt5y@virginia.edu. The TBRC Core Text Collection texts are accessible in the office of Nawang Thokmey, on disc in the reference section of Alderman Library, and online at www.tbrc.org. All electronic reproductions and texts produced by the Tibetan and Himalayan Library are available at www.thdl.org.