Course Descriptions

The following course descriptions outline basic course requirements only. More detailed information regarding elective coursework and other course requirements will be available during individual consultations. The requirements need to be completed within two consecutive semesters. The program’s objective is to give students a framework from which they develop skills in translation and deeper understanding of Buddhist concepts.

Unit Layout


Fall Semester

Spring Semester


Translating the Dharma


4 units

(2 hrs in classroom; 6 hrs lab*/wk)


4 units

(2 hrs in classroom; 6 hrs lab*/wk)

8 units


Reading Seminar


3 units


3 units

6 units

Hermeneutics of Self 




2 units

2 units

Canonical Languages


2 units



2 units


Translation Workshop


2 units


2 units

4 units


11 units

11 units

22 units

* 6 hrs lab: Translation Lab (3 hrs) and Spiritual Practices (3 hrs: 2 hours of ceremonial recitation + 1 hour of meditation)


Translating the Dharma: Theories, Ethics, and Skills    TRNC 11 / TRNC 12

This course introduces basic translation theories and ethics, as well as research skills and resources, terminology management, and teamwork skills integrating the BTTS Four Committee process. This course will also introduce students to selected contemporary scholarship in translation studies. Students will be invited to consider how the Dharma might be translated into different disciplines. They will be encouraged to move away from meaning-based linguistic equivalence to produce translations that reach out to the modern mind and serve as catalysts for transformation. In the lab component, students will receive guidance and work closely with their advisors on individual translation projects, applying principles and skills of interpretation and translation learned in this course and/or in the Hermeneutics courses of the DRBU MA program. An individual translation project is required to complete this program. (read syllabus)

Reading Seminar  TRNC 21 / TRNC 22

This course is designed to enhance students’ translation skills through the appreciation of poetic forms, literary devices, and cultural context in great works selected from various genres, traditions, and ages (see sample reading list below). Through shared inquiry, students will explore primary texts both in their source language as well as in multiple translations, comparing different ways of interpreting and conveying meaning. Some literary selections will be presented by guest lecturers. At the end of the semester students will present their individual translation projects, in which they analyze how particular translation choices impact what is conveyed to the reader.(read syllabus

Hermeneutics of Self TRNC 31

This course is designed to introduce students to the more subjective dimension of Buddhist translation—how understanding and interpreting is determined by the presuppositions and beliefs of the interpreter. Hermeneutics of Self is concerned with determining the psychological, emotional, and mental conditions that make both understanding and misunderstanding possible. Through the study of biographies and autobiographical records of eminent Buddhist translator-practitioners, personal diaries, journals, poetry, and lived-encounters we explore how in their effort to produce accurate translations of texts, they also struggled to uncover and transform the unexamined biases and predispositions that might cloud their work.

As a corollary to translation work and close reading of primary texts, students will engage in contemplative practice and self-cultivation exercises embedded and advocated in the texts they are translating, and mindful service emulating the translators whose lives they are studying. This hermeneutical approach, where intellectual inquiry is enhanced through meditative exercises, aims to give students a holistic appreciation of what it means to be a translator-practitioner as understood and derived from Buddhist sources. The insights acquired through these readings along with direct laboratory experience provide a study-practice hermeneutical dimension that students may reference in their translation work in the program. (read syllabus)

Translation Workshop TRNC 41 / TRNC 42

Inspired by the Buddhist translation assemblies held in imperial China, the Translation Workshop is a laboratory for live translation practice in a group setting. Under the supervision of instructors, students work in teams with more experienced translators in a process of primary translation, bilingual review, and editing of selected canonical texts. During workshop, students will practice doing research and building terminology lists, including alternative translations, which the entire class will standardize to ensure consistency of translation. Students will be evaluated both on their individual translation capacity as well as on their development of interpersonal skills and team spirit. (read syllabus)

Canonical Languages TRNC 52
Buddhist Chinese

This course is designed to introduce the basic features of Buddhist Chinese and to solidify students’ foundation in Classical Chinese. We begin with a series of lessons that introduce the principal rules behind Chinese characters, basic grammar, and common structures in Chinese Buddhist scriptures. Buddhist technical terms and Chinese Buddhist idioms will be investigated to lay a foundation for understanding texts. Students will study a selection of Buddhist scriptures translated by earlier translators, such as An Shigao (148-180 CE), Dharmaraksa (233-316), Gautama Saṅghadeva (c. 300), Buddhabhadra (359-429), Dharmakṣema (385-433) and Kumārajīva (344-413). Each lesson will include exercises in translating text passages from Classical Chinese into English. Through reading, memorizing, and translating texts in the original Chinese, students will more directly experience the voicing of the ideas of Buddhist Chinese. (read syllabus

Buddhist Sanskrit
This course is designed to introduce the basic linguistic characteristics of Sanskrit: alphabets, sounds, and sentence structure. Students will learn how to look up Sanskrit words in a Sanskrit-English dictionary, how to parse compounds, and how to make the best choice from among different variations, and how to interpret and select the best meaning from them. From these exercises, students will gain some basic knowledge to do research in their translation of Buddhist texts. The Sanskrit versions of familiar texts such as the Heart Sutra and Amitabha Sutra will be used to further students’ confidence in their future research endeavors.

Faculty and Staff (listed alphabetically by their first names):

Brenda Li earned an MA in Buddhist Classics at DRBU in 2019 and currently works at DRBU as an IITBT Fellow and a University Outreach Manager. She completed her BA in Neuroscience and Behavior at Wesleyan University. Prior to coming to DRBU, she worked as a mental health counselor and case manager. While working at a psychiatric crisis clinic, she also offered interpretation services for Spanish and Mandarin speakers. She is excited by the process of translating meaning across people and cultures.

Bhikshuni Heng Yi, Director of IITBT, will serve as Certificate Program Administrator and faculty of record for Translation Workshop. She will oversee group translation work. Bhikshuni Heng Yi entered monastic order in 1993 and was ordained in 1995 under the guidance of the late Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. She holds an MA in Asian Studies from California State University - Long Beach, and a PhD in Buddhist Studies from UCLA. Since 2011, she has been an Assistant Professor at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, teaching courses on Mahayana sutras and shastras. She has been a translator, reviewer, and translation team leader for the Buddhist Text Translation Society. She aspires to help develop a Buddhist Text Translation Institute as a space for those with talent in languages to be trained and to translate Buddhist texts as a form of spiritual practice. Read more…

Bhikshuni Heng Yin, Assistant Director of IITBT, grew up in Austin, Texas. While a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin, her encounter with Master Hua and his disciples inspired her to transfer to Dharma Realm Buddhist University. Shortly thereafter she became a monastic disciple under Master Hua. Living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, she had the opportunity to help translate and publish Buddhist texts, to serve as principal at Instilling Goodness and Developing Virtue Schools, and to teach at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. She will advise students on their individual translation projects.

Justin Howe is an IITBT Fellow. He earned his Masters in Buddhist Classics from DRBU and is now an online doctoral student of Clemson University's Rhetoric, Communication, and Information Design program. He is a contributing editor for IITBT's recent translations of the Wonderful Dharma Lotus Sutra and Vimalakirti Sutra, as well as the forthcoming "Ten Dedications" chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra. He is grateful for the opportunity to serve Venerable Master Hsuan Hua’s vows to translate the Dharma into every language.

Michael Lu is a graduate of Stanford University Class of 2021 with an M.S. in Electrical Engineering, after obtaining a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Minor in German Studies from Stanford in 2019. Prior to university, he attended Developing Virtue Boys’ School at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas from 4th grade until graduation. He has been learning and practicing to be a Chinese-English interpreter and translator since 6th grade, participating in translations of the Lotus Sutra, the Ten Dedications chapter of the Avatamsaka Sutra, Reflections in the Water-Mirror: Turning the Tides of Destiny, the Venerable Master Hua’s biography, and other texts, as well as doing live interpretation of Dharma talks given at the Buddha Hall. Since university, he has been helping with Vajra Bodhi Sea (DRBA’s monthly journal) article translations and occasional talks at Gold Sage Monastery. He was a TA for the Translation Seminar in 2014, 2016, and 2019 and a Lab Assistant for DRBU’s Graduate Translation Certificate Program. 

Yang Liu, an IITBT Fellow, holds a MBBS (US MD Equivalent) in Clinical Medicine from Beijing University Medical Center, and a M.S. in Biostatistics from University of Illinois at Chicago. She has worked on various translation projects for the Buddhist Text Translation Society, including the Lotus Sutra, the Avatamasaka Sutra, Song of Enlightenment, and Words of Wisdom. She teaches Chinese in Instilling Goodness Elementary School and Developing Virtue Secondary School at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Yi-Huan Shih holds a MA in Performance Studies from the New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Her fields of study include the Avant Garde theater, Performance in Everyday Life, Performance and Healing, intercultural, inter-generic and interdisciplinary performing arts. She also holds a BA in Mass Communication with a focus on radio and TV production and newspaper and magazine publishing. After graduate school, she applied for internships in a New York Advertising & Marketing company, International Daily newspapers and World TV station. Later, she became a news broadcaster, producer and daily show host at New York Chinese Radio Station. In her spare time, she also worked as a commercial voice-over actress. Ever since she discovered "Three Steps, One Bow" pilgrimage journals by Rev. Heng Sure and Heng Ch'au (Martin Verhoeven) and Avatamsaka Sutra, she realized that she has found the most genuine and beautiful and avant-garde "Art". An active volunteer in the Buddhist Text Translation Society since 2009. An instructor of the Dharma Realm Buddhist University since 2014.

Guest Lecturers (listed alphabetically by their first names):

Douglas M. Powers 

Ernest Waugh

Fedde de Vries is currently a PhD candidate in the Group in Buddhist Studies at UC Berkeley. He holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Leiden University, the Netherlands (2012), and an M.A. in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley (2015). After obtaining his M.A. he spent a year at Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Ukiah, California, as resident translator. His primary research interest is the thought of the prolific Tang-dynasty exegete Master Chengguan. He works mostly with Chinese although over the years he has studied a number of languages such as Sanskrit, Latin, French and Japanese. Fedde has been involved with the community at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas since 2009. He has participated in various translation projects including parts of the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, Biographies of the Patriarchs, and instructional talks by Master Hua. His translation of the Sutra to King Malla has been published in Religion East and West.

Bhikshuni Heng Chih, Professor Emerita of DRBU, taught Buddhist philosophy at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia,  for six years. She is a founding member of the Buddhist Text Translation Society (BTTS) and since its inception in 1971 has served on all its four committees, helping prepare English publications of Buddhist texts and Master Hua’s commentaries on Mahayana Sutras and Shastras. She is one of the world’s most senior Buddhist nuns and in her decades of service has helped train many others in the monastic way of life. Read more...

Reverend Heng Sure

Huali Yuan has been an instructor in DRBU since 2015. With a Ph.D in environmental engineering, she is devoted to liberal arts education. She has been involved in developing curriculum and teaching classes in different strands, such as Chinese language, science, chinese classics I-III, and her main areas of interest are Avatamsaka Sutra, Surangama Sutra and Chinese Classics. Yijing (The Book of Changes) is her recent discovery which she gradually becomes fascinated by its wisdom and beauty. Besides teaching, she loves nature, cooking and music.

James Roberts is an Instructor in Liberal Arts and Buddhist Classics at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. His interests are primarily in translation and aesthetics, including translating Buddhist Liturgy and understanding how aesthetics are understood and valued in different Buddhist cultures and historical contexts. He holds degrees in Music, Physics, and Buddhist Classics, and has published a number of translations and musical works.  

Bhikshu Jin Chuan

Lauren Bausch

Martin Verhoeven, Ex Officio is Professor of Buddhist Classics and Dean of Academics at DRBU, with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and past teaching or lecturing experience at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the Graduate Theological Union. Also a longtime disciple of the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua. Read more...

Meghan Sweet is DRBU's Director of University Relations and has taught at DRBU since 2018. She is currently a PhD student in rhetoric at Clemson University and holds an MA in Buddhist Classics from DRBU and a BA in Religion from George Washington University. Before DRBU she worked in web technology and on a climate change documentary film. Her research interests include language and self-experience, phenomenology, and contemplative pedagogy. 

Ron Epstein

Sarah J. Babcock has been a disciple of the Venerable Master Hua since 1993. She was introduced to Buddhism and Chinese language while attending the elementary and secondary school at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and later earned her B.A. in Chinese Language from University of California, Berkeley. She spent three years teaching modern Chinese at Dharma Realm Buddhist University in its legacy program. Recently, she completed her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara. Her degree focused on Song dynasty literature and cultural history. Her dissertation, “The Aesthetics of Non-Discrimination: Chinese Poetics and Social Critique in Huihong's Night Chats from Chilly Hut (c. 1121)” discussed how the Buddhist monk Huihong used his miscellany, Night Chats, to develop Song dynasty poetry criticism and portray monastic and literati figures of his day. Sarah joined the DRBU faculty in Fall 2019. Besides her formal study of Chinese, Sarah often discusses Chinese poetry and Buddhist texts with her father, who translated for the Venerable Master Hua in the early 70s in San Francisco.

Sean Kerr 

Snjezana Akpinar

Susan Rounds

Special Lecturers:

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American Buddhist monk who has devoted a lifetime to study, practice, and service. After completing his PhD in philosophy, he traveled to Sri Lanka, where he received novice ordination in 1972 and bhikkhu ordination in 1973, both under the eminent scholar-monk Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. For the last forty years Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi has immersed himself in the Pali Canon and is a respected interpreter of its content and meaning. He has many important publications to his credit, either as author, editor, or translator. His English translations of the Majjhima Nikaya and Samyutta Nikaya (Wisdom Publications, 1995 and 2000) have become favorites of Western students of the Dharma. In 2008, together with several of his students, Ven. Bodhi founded Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit supporting hunger relief, sustainable agriculture, and education in countries suffering from chronic poverty and malnutrition.

Charles Egan (B.A., Yale; Ph.D., Princeton) is Department Chair and professor of Chinese in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and has also served as director of the SF State Chinese Flagship Program since its founding in 2009. He has published extensively on the evolution of Chinese classical poetic genres and is a frequent translator. His book, Clouds Thick, Whereabouts Unknown: Poems by Zen Monks of China (Columbia University Press), was awarded the 2011 Lucien Stryk Prize in Asian Translation by the American Literary Translators Association. In 2021 he published Voices of Angel Island: Inscriptions and Immigrant Poetry, 1910-1945 (Bloomsbury Academic), a new anthology of inscriptions and poetry from or about the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco Bay.

Chris Wen-Chao Li received his masters and doctoral degrees in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology from Oxford University, where his research focused on Mandarin sound change and Chinese phonology. He is the author of A Diachronically-Motivated Segmental Phonology of Mandarin Chinese (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), The Routledge Course in Chinese Media Literacy (London: Routledge, 2016) and numerous scholarly treatises on language and translation. His translations of Chinese prose and poetry have appeared in Renditions (Hong Kong) and The Chinese Pen (Taipei), and Asia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies (London). His current research interests include sound change, language contact, diglossia, standardization, phonological translation, and domesticating translation strategies.