Khyentse Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the renowned Bhutanese lama, filmmaker, and author Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, announced that it has awarded this year’s Khyentse Foundation Fellowship to the respected Dharma teacher and translator Erik Pema Kunsang.
The Khyentse Foundation Fellowship is the highest honor among the foundation’s four annual awards for individuals in recognition of academic excellence in Buddhist studies.
“A prolific translator, Erik has put together numerous Dharma books. Notable examples include The Light of Wisdom (volumes 1–5) by Padmasambhava and Jamgon Kongtrul; Blazing Splendor: The Memoirs of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche; and Mirror of Mindfulness, a commentary on the bardo states by Tsele Natsok Rangdrol,” Khyentse Foundation said in an announcement shared with BDG. “We are grateful for his invaluable translation of these precious Dharma texts and for his other contributions to the field, such as his editorial work for 84000* and lately, mentoring the translators for Khyentse Vision Project.** The foundation is overjoyed to nominate Erik as the 2022 Khyentse Fellow.”
The foundation gives out four annual awards for academic achievement: Academic Excellence in Buddhist Studies; Prize for Outstanding Translation; Award for Outstanding PhD Dissertation in Buddhist Studies, Europe and Asia; and the Khyentse Foundation Fellowship.
“The Khyentse Foundation Fellowship, the foundation’s highest and most esteemed award, was established in 2011 to recognize individuals who have devoted their life and career to preserve, promote, and uphold the Buddhadharma,” the foundation explained. “Past recipients of the fellowship include Alak Zenkar Rinpoche (Tudeng Nima), Prof. Peter Skilling, Ven. Prof. Dhammajoti, and others.”
Khyentse Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche in 2001. Its aim is to promote the Buddha’s teaching and support all traditions of Buddhist study and practice. The foundation’s activities include major text preservation and translation projects, support for monastic colleges in Asia, a worldwide scholarship and awards program, and development of Buddhist studies at major universities, alongside training and development for Buddhist teachers and developing new modes of Dharma-inspired education for children.
Khyentse Foundation’s achievements over the last 20 years include: more than 15 million pages of Buddhist texts preserved and made available online; education provided for the children of more than 1,000 families; support for Buddhist studies at more than 35 major universities through endowed chairs and professorships, graduate support, and the establishment of Buddhist studies centers; more than US$1 million in sponsorship for Buddhist teacher-training granted; sacred Buddhist texts translated into more than 15 languages, thanks to the efforts of 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha, the Kumarajiva Project, and the Khyentse Vision Project; over US$1.8 million in funding granted to uphold Buddhism in its mother countries, including grassroots partnerships to revitalize interest in Buddhism in India; more than 2,000 scholarships and awards in recognition of excellence in Buddhist study and practice; support for over 3,000 monks and nuns to maintain the tradition of Buddhist scholarship in a monastic setting; and more than 120 open-access Ashoka and Trisong grants distributed to support Dharma and well-being programs.
In a videoed response to being honored by Khyentse Foundation, Kunsang offered the following advice from the experiences of his personal practice:
What I really focused on in this life is the pith instructions of Padmasambhava. That is like being in the same room, at his feet, when Yeshe Tsogyal’s writing comes forth. To read them and try to [reflect their instructions] back into our languages is like being in their presence. It’s been the most satisfying moments in my life. That is one thing.
Another is translating for the great Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, who poured out from his wisdom mind the Hearing Lineage of the Great Perfection. I received it from beginning to end, and I have never tired of that [teaching] for a single moment. That has been a great source of enjoyment and satisfaction to help him pass that on to countless other people. . . .
When you relax in yourself and imagine your guru in your heart, you can pour forth—I’m saying this to all the translators—the same meaning in your own language as it was in the original, so try to do that. And also, remember the right attitude, that this work is not for temporary benefit, it’s for the lasting good of all sentient beings.
Born Erik Hein Schmidt in Denmark, Kunsang is a renowned Dharma teacher and an accomplished translator of tantric texts and pith instructions of the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. He has translated more than 50 volumes of Tibetan texts and oral teachings. Additionally, Kunsang has served as assistant and translator to Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and his sons since the late 1970s, and was instrumental in facilitating several revered masters to teach in the West.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche shared the following words of tribute on Erik Pema Kunsang:
From the time I was a teenager trying to learn Danish from him, I have known this man and occasionally even observed him. In all that time, I have noticed that he was not going astray. He went from one great master to another, each one of whom was the Buddha in person.
During all this time, this man has not wasted his time but instead gained profound Buddhist knowledge and subsequently became a great translator. But all that does not really move me. What moves me most is that, in my humble opinion, he has become a genuine Dharma practitioner. And that is very rare today, even among Tibetans.
I don’t say this lightly and had to think really hard before saying it. So, coming from someone like me with a mountain-like ego and pride, I hope people will take a bit seriously my deep appreciation for Erik Pema Kunsang.(Khyentse Foundation)
Born in Bhutan in 1961, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is the son of Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and was a close student of the Nyingma master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–91). He is recognized as the third incarnation of the 19th century Tibetan terton Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820–1892), founder of the Khyentse lineage, and the immediate incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö (1893–1959).
In addition to Khyentse Foundation, Rinpoche’s projects include Siddhartha’s Intent, an international collective of Buddhist groups supporting Rinpoche’s Buddhadharma activities by organizing teachings and retreats, distributing and archiving recorded teachings, and transcribing, editing, and translating manuscripts and practice texts; 84000, a non-profit global initiative to translate the words of the Buddha and make them available to all; Lotus Outreach, which directs a range of projects to ensure the education, health, and safety of vulnerable women and children in the developing world; and Lhomon Society, which promotes sustainable development in Bhutan through education.
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