84000: A translation project for the entire Buddhist canon


84000 translation project

The largest collection of Buddhist scriptures exists in the Tibetan version of the canon, called the Kangyur and the Tengyur. The Kangyur contains not only texts recognized as texts that correspond with the Theravada tradition originally written in Pali, but also texts from Chinese translations, although most of the scriptures contained in the canon that are considered words of the Buddha are Mahayana texts made from translations of the Indian originals in Sanskrit. The reason why the Tibetan canon is the largest is that it also contains all of the commentaries from the Indian masters, which form the Tengyur section of the canon. The Tengyur itself is three times the size of the Kangyur, or the scriptures themselves. The Kangyur comprises around 1,000 texts while the Tengyur contains around 3,000. The Kangyur and Tengyur are also expanded by containing texts from the third major school of Buddhism, Tantrayana or Vajrayana, of which Tibetan Buddhism is the major form of practice. Therefore, of all the texts that exist in Buddhism, only texts from schools like Shingon and Zen are missing from the Kangyur and Tengyur.

Now, the Tengyur and Kangyur are in the process of being translated into English, a monumental task of translating all “84000” pages (actually closer to 200,000 when one includes the Tengyur) of the Buddha’s teachings from the classical Tibetan. This project was initiated by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a very insightful, ambitious, and dedicated teacher. I believe this project will be immensely beneficial to anyone interested in learning from the Buddhist tradition and all Buddhists. The translation is still a work in progress: only around 90 texts have been translated so far. However, this will only grow with time and donations.


Erik Satie’s Nocturnes


It is said that Satie reached the heights of his compositional abilities late in life, and I have to wholeheartedly agree. While most people are only aware of the Gymnopedies and a few other compositions by Satie, the Nocturnes are by far my different. At only 13 minutes combined length, they represent a huge leap forward in tonal composition style, breaking away from Satie’s earlier light and meditational atmosphere and embrace the melancholic and heartbreakingly sad. It’s incredible to me how sad these pieces are, like recalling a memory of a bygone era. One is immediately transported into the quiet night streets of early 20th century France, snow falling on a hill…the mental image it conjures up may differ depending on the person, but one thing is for sure, the chord structure and harmony is definitely innovative. The blog post I have linked to below says this on the subject:

“It was not without good reason that the label ‘outsider’ stuck to Satie. As of his earliest compositions he was in search of alternatives to the tonal harmony that was still the unquestioned convention when he began his training at the Paris Conservatoire (1879–87). This search runs like a red thread through all of his works, and was certainly absolutely independent of the stylistic orientation of individual works, reaching indeed, as we know, from echoes of the medieval and exotic to the then popular cabaret music.”

This last comment is particularly intriguing to me. Without going too in-depth into the harmonic style and complexity of the Nocturnes (which I am definitely not able to do with justice), I find the connection between medieval harmony and Erik Satie to be accurate just from my musically trained ear. The style in the Nocturnes, for example, has a certain gravity about it that invokes a kind of sacred atmosphere. To be more musically specific, in almost all of Satie’s pieces, the left and right hand are given almost complete independence: either the left hand is playing chords and the melody floats on top, or often there are two independent melody lines played by the left and right hands. This latter technique occurs in the Nocturnes and evokes a medieval-style chorus with interweaving melodies. I am reminded of a particular piece (not available on Youtube) that also happens to be written by a Frenchman, called Veni Creator Spiritus by Perotin- one of the earliest known composers we have a name for! Perhaps the great Satie was influenced by the chanting that could still be heard in Notre Dame Cathedral where Satie was choir master. Who knows?




The “mystery” of the infinite

As I have developed in other blog posts, the infinite is essentially boring so humanity invents ways to make it not boring. The debate of the universe being infinite vs. finite is interesting, but its probably infinite according to current cosmology. The nature in which its infinite is somewhat interesting, but to me, whether the universe is one universe in a nest of bubble universes or a infinite flat plane of universe is somewhat inconsequential. One has to be empirically correct, but philosophically it is essentially the same, but only at first glance.

The “bubble universe” or multiverse theory has one strength, as far as I can gleam- it introduces the cosmogony into the cosmology. In other words, it posits a way in which universes can be created and destroyed. Realizing that the known universe has a beginning, we can only speculate that it has an ending and is impermanent. The “bubble universe” theory has the advantage of postulating a dynamic system. The only downside I can think of is that it is almost too aesthetically pleasing and may amount to some form of anthropomorphism- in other words, its a pretty vision of what we would want Reality to look like. Can we see the beauty in an infinite expanse of nothingness or vacuum lying outside the observable universe? Its possible, but I personally would rather Reality to go on without me, for things to keep emerging and dying in an endless cycle.

The Bubble universe becomes even more probable if one consider that the Big Bang becomes not an “unexplainable event”, as Stephen Hawking was liable to believe at one point, but a causal event. Would I go so far as to “endorse” the Bubble universe/multiverse theory? I would say that it is the most attractive one currently available because it gives the universe a reason for being which is simply a matter of physics.

Let us imagine, however, a day millions of years in the future of humanity. We have discovered and proven the theory of the Bubble multiverse by seeing past the observable universe. Then we realize: what is one level above that multiverse? Is this series of bubbles in another bubble? 

You see the problem. An infinite nested series of bubbles. We are back at the same problem of infinity. The multiverse theory doesn’t solve the problem of the bubbles unless somehow that series of bubbles were finite or maybe countably infinite. What is more probable however is that this “bubbles within bubbles”, what classic Buddhist philosophy calls interpenetration and what can somewhat be mathematically described as having fractal geometry, is the nature of Reality. Reality simply goes on forever, but in a way in which patterns repeat over and over.

In my mind, we have yet to truly grasp the magnitude of infinity. By its very nature, what we are seeing as the entire observable universe is not only a tiny fraction of reality, it is an infinitesimal portion of it. No matter how big of a chunk you grab, whether it be half the universe, 6 universes, 100 billion universes, 100 billion multiverses…you get the picture.

That is why the ultimate explanation or causal picture of Reality as it is is by no means explained by the Big Bang. Am I positing a deity? No, there is no need to evoke omniscient beings and consciousnesses. Reality is as such, and its suchness is will always be tautological. It exists because it existed in the past…this created this, that created that. Try to “zoom out” and ask “well what created the whole thing?” and an answer will ultimately never be achieved. Or, by contrast, you could simply say “nothing created the whole thing, there never was nothing”. This latter answer leaves humans generally feeling like they are missing something, it feels emptywhich is why I believe its the right answer. Saying, “it just is” goes against the very metaphor of discovery which drives Western civilization and scientific knowledge. It implies that the only reason for new discoveries is utilitarian, and there is no grander teleological narrative, which is probably the case!

What is there left to discover? Everything and nothing, depending on your point of view. The multiverse leaves open some intriguing philosophical or existential possibilities. But by and large, we must recognize and confront the fact that the universe is the way it is, and our knowledge of it will not significantly change it in any way. In other words, we will be born, we will die, and the universe will continue to go. Thinking at these grand levels of cosmological scale is fun, but after awhile, you are forced epistemologically back down to earth.


The frightening, unacceptable nature of the infinite


The article linked to above covers the most plausible science of what lies beyond the observable universe. The theory is that if the theory of the inflationary universe is correct (and all evidence points to the fact that it is correct) than the universe is at least 250 times larger than what is currently observable. To begin with, the size of the observable universe is around 90 billion light years wide. That means it would take light, which moves almost exactly 300,000 km/s (kilometers, not meters) 90 billion years to traverse the diameter of the universe. To quote the article:

“Since special relativity states that nothing can move faster than a photon, many people misinterpret this to mean that the observable Universe must be 13.75 billion light years across. In fact, it is much larger. Not only has space been expanding since the big bang, but the rate of expansion has been steadily increasing due to the influence of dark energy. Since special relativity doesn’t factor in the expansion of space itself, cosmologists estimate that the oldest photons have travelled a distance of 45 billion light years since the big bang. That means that our observable Universe is on the order of 90 billion light years wide.”

Therefore, the universe is expands even faster than the speed of light, and because of that certain parts of the universe are forever beyond our light cone. Because of this, they are even beyond the realm of causal interaction- everything beyond the 90 billion light year diameter of the universe cannot interact with the observable universe except perhaps through gravity.

Let’s expand further: if the theory of the inflationary universe correct, then the universe is at least 250x larger than what is currently observable (somewhere on the order of 100 sextillion light years across). But why, then, can the universe not be infinitely large?

It seems we are faced with a contradiction. It seems impossible to empirically prove that the universe goes on forever because of physical constraints and the sheer logical fact that it would not be possible to observe an infinite distance in the first place because conceivably, one could always say “perhaps the end is still beyond that”. If it can be a priori proven from mathematical principles seems dubious at best- the debate rages on between those who say the universe is flat or curved. However, most current data favors a flat and therefore spatially infinite universe.

This idea of measuring the spatial curvature of the universe however does not take into account the fact that at some point beyond the observable horizon of the universe the curvature suddenly increases or is so close to 0 but not being 0 that it is impossible to tell. Thus the problem of infinitesimals meets the infinite.

However, the article expresses a kind of reticence to pronounce that the universe is probably infinite. It is simply “too hard to accept”- they would rather go with the title “universe could be 250 times bigger than what we can see.” For some reason, it is more shocking to say that the universe is 250 times rather than infinitely larger than expected. Somehow, infinity gets reduced to 0. How is this possible? Because infinity, as an endless repetition, is essentially boring. I’ve written about this before, but strictly speaking, humans cannot truly comprehend the infinite, and so they collapse into concepts that are seemingly opposite to it, such as nothingness. Something that is infinitely larger than something is now beyond human comparison, and therefore cannot be gawked at. What is funny is that this is even done by cosmologists.

Take this Quora answer by a mathematics professor, repeating the standard line that the number of electrons in the universe is 10^80 and therefore it is countable and finite:


If all the evidence points to an infinite universe, even though it is essentially not possible to prove otherwise, it will never be proclaimed as a fact. Why? There is still more to explore! Infinity violates the boundaries of science- it introduces the metaphysical into the mathematical. If the universe is infinite, what type of infinity is it? Countably infinite? Uncountably infinite?

These are questions that will probably never be answered, but my money is on uncountably infinite. Why? Because the “boundary” of what consider the universe isn’t actually a boundary at all. I’ve pointed out the narrow-mindedness of physicists before when it comes to theories of the universe and the most abstruse theories out there (string theory, holographic theory). There are only boundaries it seems when it comes to the human imagination (of some humans). Even I don’t believe these are insurmountable barriers to human knowledge. I do not believe, as Leonard Susskind claims, it is simply impossible to understand things like quantum physics directly or intuitively. The human brain is a finite organ in space and time, but it has the astounding ability to conceptually grasp things even beyond what is considered “normal life”.

The fundamental Buddhist insight- that what we see is not how reality truly is- is absolutely fundamentally correct. Everything we know about reality points to this, because there are simply things we cannot see- atoms, worlds far beyond our own. The structure of things, their nature, is not possible to grasp with the five senses alone- Plato and the great thinkers of the past knew that very well just from their experience- they knew there was something more to what we see. However, the Platonic vision of reality is also fundamentally limited. Concepts like nirvana or even “the universe” are also only ultimately constructs. Reality as it is is beyond at least average conceptual understanding. Where the real conceptual leap must occur is into the realm of what Buddhist philosophy calls “non-conceptual thought”, which to the rationalist mind is simply an error. Such a thing is not possible. However, if we were to gain some sort of insight into the nature of things like “uncountably infinite” we would in fact have to go beyond our normal concepts for things which operate in terms of metaphors which only apply to the here and now.

To conclude, when thinking of the idea of the uncountable, the mind encounters accepting a limit. It tries to convert the idea of uncountable to something more mundane, like “countable if given an infinite amount of time”. But this is not a correct definition of uncountable. Therefore, if we were to truly accept something of the order of “the universe is uncountably infinite” we would have to accept things like “a theory of everything is not possible”. And yet, science continues to grasp for this theory. And the question is obviously- why? Because the search for truth seems to be something inherent to humanity. Perhaps this particular strain of searching is historically contingent, but modern physics and science now desperately wants this TOE.

My theory is that the TOE stands ultimately for the purpose of science itself, its floating signifier, a signifier which is beyond the bounds of all the other signifiers. The TOE, if thought to be obtained, would not be in fact the TOE. Instead, there would be an illusory nesting egg effect- “TOEs” inside of TOEs. Ultimately, paradoxes will always plague science, as long as it continues to exist.


Imee Ooi: Dharma artist

Imee Ooi is an artist who makes songs of Buddhist mantras, sutras, and dharanis. Her music has an amazingly peaceful and pure quality. Her version of the Heart Sutra in Sanskrit and Mandarin have always meant a lot to me. Sometimes it is only through things like music that we can truly understand the meaning of things like emptiness or impermanence. That is really my only access to the transcendent, through these kind of crutches. I reach back to my experiences listening to the most beautiful music and how it made me feel to understand the nature of existence, its mystery and loveliness. It is through music and art that we can access these hidden depths of consciousness, much better than mind altering drugs for instance. Sometimes you will get that understanding by yourself, sitting on a mountain, sitting by the ocean. We live in a blessed era where we can access these feelings of bliss sometimes by clicking a button. But is this too much of a good thing? I believe if used in moderation, this kind of music can be used to pacify and subdue the minds of suffering beings.

Dharma Art, art deliberately made to benefit and subdue the suffering minds of beings, is the highest art form. The Medicine Buddha in particular is for those in deep suffering. May this song be for all those who need it the most, the poor, the hungry, the sick. May your suffering be released, and may you abide forever in bliss