Department of Buddhist Studies

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Languages 語言

Below is a brief overview of the department’s basic language courses, each followed by a famous quote from the sutras. Language course requirements vary depending on specialization. Basic language classes are followed by advanced guided readings courses in which students will continue their study by exploring primary source material (sutras or commentaries), as well as English and Japanese academic articles.


Teachers: Prof. Weijen Teng (鄧偉仁), Ven. Jienhong (見弘法師), Luke Gibson (齊哲睦)


The Sanskrit course (梵文文法) is one of the program’s basic language courses and is divided between a 6-week intensive summer course (9 hours per week) and a semester-long course in the Fall semester. This course seeks to (1) equip students with basic reading skills, teach how to read devanāgarī script and gain familiarity with basic syntax and grammar, (2) cultivate the students’ feel for the language through regular chanting practice, and (3) introduce students to some cultural and historical background information as well as discuss basic notions of linguistics. The course makes use of M. Deshpande’s Samskrta-Subodhini A Sanskrit Primer (University of Michigan Centers For South And Language: 1999) as the primary textbook. In addition to its gradual and systematic introduction to the Sanskrit language, this book includes audio recordings by the author, devanāgarī script throughout and a basic presentation of traditional Sanskrit grammatical terminology and concepts.

yaḥ pratītyasamutpādaḥ śūnyatāṃ tāṃ pracakṣmahe |
sā prajñaptir upādāya pratipat saiva madhyamā ||
眾因緣生法  我說即是無
亦為是假名  亦是中道義

(Whatever is dependently co-arisen, that is explained to be emptiness. That, being a dependent designation, is itself the middle way)


Teachers: Prof. Kuo-pin Chuang (莊國彬), prof. Tzung-kuen Wen (溫宗堃)


Of all the Buddhist canons (三藏) preserved in Indic languages, the Pali canon of the Therāvada school of Buddhism is the only complete canon that has been passed down to us. Due to the historical circumstances in which this language appeared and the nature of oral transmission, Pali, in contrast to Sanskrit, displays a unique mix of spoken and literary forms of expression. Although it is unlikely that Pali was the actual language used by the Buddha, it is without a doubt the closest. For these reasons, studying Pali gives us a direct access to Buddhavacana, the words of the Buddha. In addition, in the process of learning Pali, students get a sense of the relationship between Sanskrit and Prakrit languages (local Indian dialects such as Pali) which helps in turn with the study of early Mahāyāna scriptures. The Spring Pali grammar course builds on the Fall semester Sanskrit course and includes an introduction to Pali grammar and the reading a various passages from the suttas. The textbook used is Prof. James W. Gair’s A New Course in Reading Pali: Entering the Word of the Buddha. In addition to the study of grammar, students learn to memorize and recite memorable passages from the canon to help them internalize a sense of the language’s structure. Following the introductory course, students can then take the course Reading in Pali Buddhist Texts, where they will be engaged in the reading of complete suttas from one of five collections (nikāya).

‘svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo, sandiṭṭhiko, akāliko, ehipassiko, opanayiko, paccataṃ veditabbo viññūhī’ti.’

(The Dhamma is well declared by the Blessed One: visible here and now, immediate, inviting one to come and see, effective, to be individually experienced by the wise)

Classical Tibetan

Teachers: Prof. Bensheng Liao (廖本聖), Prof. Ching Hsuan Mei (梅靜軒), Prof. Sonam Wangyal (蘇南望傑)


According to tradition, during the seventh century the king of Tibet sent a group of scholars to India to create a syllabic alphabet based on the devanāgarī script and formalize Tibetan grammar. The history of the language’s formation accounts for the great resemblance between Sanskrit and classical Tibetan. The course in Tibetan grammar will help students overcome the various challenges one encounters, such as mastering the rules of spelling and grammar, understanding a text’s internal logic, and acquiring background knowledge necessary for thorough textual comprehension. In addition to gaining access to tantric literature, the learner of Tibetan will also be able to engage in rigorous philological textual study of Mahāyāna scriptures by comparing Tibetan translations with Chinese and, when available, Sanskrit versions.

dri ma dang bcas de bzhin nyid de la/ /de bzhin gshegs pa’i snying po zhes bya yi/
/dri ma med pa’i de bzhin nyid de la/ /de bzhin gshegs pa’i chos sku zhes bya’o//

(Tathatā with defilements is called the tathāgatagarbha,Tathatā without defilements is called the dharmakāya of the Tathāgata)


Teachers: Prof. Lan Joyce (藍碧珠), Prof. Nogawa (野川博之)


Owing to both the quantity and quality of Japanese scholarship in Buddhist studies, acquiring an ability to access such a vast body of knowledge is crucial for following contemporary Buddhist studies research, and affords students an alternative academic perspective to complement Western scholarship. The basic course in Japanese grammar (日文文法) takes two semesters to complete and starts with of a rudimentary introduction to the Japanese syllabic alphabets and grammatical structures. Once these foundations have been laid, an article is chosen and students are given sentences, and eventually paragraphs, to analyze and translate as homework assignments before they are discussed in class. An exclusive focus on reading comprehension paired with this hands-on approach allows students to quickly build up familiarity with the syntactic patterns and vocabulary characteristic of academic papers. Textbooks used includes Prof. Maofeng Cai’s Grammar of Modern Spoken Japanese (現代日語的口語文法) and Dictionary of Japanese Sentence Patterns (日本語句型辭典).