Graduate-level Certificate Program: Certificate in Buddhist Translation

IITBT Mission

The International Institute for the Translation of Buddhist Texts (IITBT) is a vibrant community engaged in the translation of Buddhist texts along with Buddhist practice, modeled after the translation assemblies led by master translators throughout Buddhist history.

When Buddhism first came to China from India, one of the most important tasks required for its establishment was the translation of the Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese. This work involved a great many people, such as the renowned monk National Master Kumarajiva (fifth century), who led an assembly of over 800 people to work on the translation of the Tripitaka (Buddhist canon) for over a decade. Because of the work of individuals such as these, nearly the entire Tripitaka of over a thousand texts exists to the present day in Chinese. 

Emulating the translation assemblies of ancient times, the IITBT brings together talented individuals from many disciplines and cultures, in a collaborative endeavor to bring the Buddhist canon into English and other languages.

Certificate Program Overview

The Graduate Certificate in Buddhist Translation is an integrated two-semester program that combines translation of Buddhist texts from Chinese into English with study, practice, and service in a monastic setting. It offers a range of subjects and skills: translation theory and methodology, cultural and historical contextualization, and practical translation experience. It provides a theoretical grounding along with a wealth of hands-on translation experience. Furthermore, the discussion and group translation work essential to the pedagogy encourage the development of interpersonal and collaborative skills and attitudes and a maturation of the individual valuable in almost any career path and workplace setting.

This maturation of the individual is the primary aim of the program, rather than the development of skills or knowledge per se. In this sense, the IITBT program differs from other translation programs in focusing not on technical expertise but human depth and social and ethical sensibility. Skills and knowledge are valuable and beneficial tools in the hands of someone with the maturity to wield them responsibly. The certificate program aims to help develop such persons by the path of translation, which exposes students to group work, close and sustained study of primary texts, a multitude of cultures and systems of thought and expression, and self-cultivation in the grand traditions of collective human wisdom.

The program will introduce students to the procedures of the Four Committees as established by Venerable Master Hsuan Hua: (1) primary translation (direct translation from source to target language), (2) revision (bilingual review for accuracy and coherency), (3) editing and polishing (creating a smooth and readable text in the target language), and (4) certification (verifying that the translation is consistent with the Buddha’s teachings).

The IITBT Certificate Program in Buddhist Translation is innovative and experimental. Formal DRBU academic credit may not be available in its pilot stage of operation. A formal certificate will be conferred once the program review process is completed.

II. Admission Requirements

While students’ translation work will be evaluated on an individual basis, a large portion of the translation work produced within this Program will be done collaboratively by groups engaged in shared inquiry. The collaborative nature of group translation does not require all individuals to meet the same qualifications; rather, we look out for those who contribute special skills and talents to complement the strengths of the group. We also look for students who demonstrate good interpersonal and teamwork skills. 

The Graduate Certificate in Buddhist Translation is a graduate level program. Before applying, applicants need to have at least a undergraduate degree or the equivalent, and demonstrate graduate level capacity in reading and writing. In order to produce high quality translation that accurately conveys the meanings of the source text while also appealing to the modern mind, students applying to this Program should meet at least three of the following prerequisites, as identified by the Diagnostic Test:

1. A high level of proficiency in the English language, including sensitivity to cultural nuances.  

2. At least one year of Classical Chinese, or ability to read Buddhist Chinese texts (for students whose native language is not Chinese).  

3. Knowledge of basic Buddhist philosophy and concepts.

4. Competency in fields such as western philosophy and psychology (as these can inform one’s translations and make them convincing to the western modern psyche)

Those skilled in other languages and interested in Buddhist translation may inquire about other opportunities at IITBT.

All applicants are required to take a timed, 120 minute Diagnostic Test.

Non-native English Speakers

Native or Near-native English Speakers

Section I – Essays (40%)
(writing skills test)

   English 280-330 words

   English 330-380 words

Section II – Translation/Editing (40%)
(translation/editing skills test)

Chinese → English

English → Chinese

Section III – Abstract (20%)
(analytical skills test)

English text to be summarized in your native language

Section IV – Buddhist Knowledge (20%)

(basic Buddhist concepts test)

 Students admitted into the Graduate Certificate in Buddhist Translation are required to attend a 7-day Seminar on Reading and Translating Buddhist Texts offered immediately prior to the beginning of the Fall semester.

III. Program Outcomes, Goals, and Curriculum

Program Learning Outcomes (PLO)

1. Exercise ethical sensibility.

2. Articulate insights gained from major Buddhist methods and practices, close reading, and translation of texts and their implications for the personal, social, and natural worlds. 

3. Create clear, accurate, nuanced translations adapted to various audiences.


Program Goals 

The Graduate Certificate in Buddhist Translation will enable students to:

-          Deepen their understanding of Buddhism through the practice of translation.

-          Use key resources such as dictionaries, the electronic Tripitaka, and online databases.

-          Develop skills in one or more of the various aspects of the translation process: primary translation, revision, editing and polishing.

-          Have first-hand experience with various forms of spiritual practices.

-          Acquire experience in both individual and team-based translation and decision-making.



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

Translating the Dharma: Theories, Ethics, and Skills33 (2hrs in classroom;
3hrs lab)/wk
Reading Seminar3

3 (3 hrs/wk)

Hermeneutics of Self-Transformation  5

5 (2hrs in classroom;
9hrs lab*)/wk

Translation Workshop22 (6 hrs/wk)

Total units


13 (25 hrs/wk)

* 9hrs lab:
Community Service (3 hrs)
Practices (6 hrs): 3 hours of ceremonial recitation + 3 hours 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 develop students’ knowledge of and appreciation for the literary and poetic structure of written works, through close reading, careful analysis, and shared inquiry discussion of selected passages from Western classics, Chinese classics, and Buddhist classics. Students will study primary sources, both in their source language as well as in multiple existing translations, to clarify how the written work conveys meaning and, further, how the conveyed meaning has implications for the personal, social, and natural worlds. Students will have the opportunity to explore the practice of close reading through close translation of selected passages of texts, with a particular focus on how translation choices impact what is conveyed to the reader and the effect it has. (read syllabus

Hermeneutics of Self TRNC 31/ TRNC32
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)

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

Brenda Li recently earned an MA in Buddhist Classics at DRBU and is an IITBT Fellow. She completed her BA in Neuroscience and Behavior at Wesleyan University. Prior to coming to DRBU, she worked in mental health as a counselor and case manager. While working at a psychiatric crisis clinic, she had experience offering 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. Read more…

Bhikshuni Heng YinAssistant 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 recently earned an MA in Buddhist Classics at DRBU and is an IITBT Fellow. He has a BA in Theater from Lehigh University. Following his undergraduate studies, he made theater for several years in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of two plays. Justin is grateful for the opportunity to put his literary experience in the service of Master Hsuan Hua’s vows to translate the Dharma into every language. For the last year, he has helped BTTS on several English-language translation projects. He also served as a TA for the 2018 Translation Seminar. He looks forward to many more translation projects in the future!

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 SutraSong 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.

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 Huayan author Master Chengguan. He works mostly with Chinese and Sanskrit although over the years he has studied a number of languages such as Latin, French and Japanese. Since 2009, 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. Besides Buddhism, Fedde is interested in a variety of religious and philosophical traditions as well as Western philosophy.

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...

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...

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


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.

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.

V. Campus Life & Requirements

  • Students are not required to live on campus. Students living in dormitories should abide by the rules outlined in the “Rules of Residence” described on page 68 of University  Catalog.
  • Students are expected to follow the DRBU Code of Conduct and the Five Precepts (not killing, not stealing, no inappropriate sexual behavior, no lying, and no intoxicants or illegal substances) on campus and conduct themselves in an appropriate manner in the surrounding communities. Details outlined in the “Student Code of Conduct” on page 67 of the University  Catalog will also apply.
  • Students are eligible for all library services and all activities organized by Office of Campus Life.

VI. Admissions

Application is available to downloadApplication materials are submitted by email to We currently do not accept transfer students. 

Application must be submitted by July 21, 2020. Late application will be considered only under special circumstances and with approval from Program Director. Once the application is received and processed, students will receive instruction via email to log on and submit the online Early Diagnostic Test for evaluation. All admitted students are required to attend the 7-day Seminar on Reading and Translating Buddhist Texts. Therefore, please apply early to allow us enough time to process your application. For more information and other inquiries, please contact:

VII. Tuition and Fees

Total for Program 2020-2021 (two 15 wk - semesters)

Room and Board Fees$7,000

Total Direct Cost


Financial aid (scholarship and/or grant) is available. Eligible applicants are welcome to applyProgram students are not required to live on campus. Payment of room and board fees entitles the student to the use of a double room and 21 meals per week for the duration of the semester. Tuition and room and board fees are refundable. For more information, refer to the refund policy on page 51 of the University Catalog.

Estimated Other Expenses
In addition to tuition and room and board fees, there are other expenses that a student and his or her family will need to plan for. These include:

 Books and Supplies
The average cost for books and supplies is approximately $300 per year.

 Personal Incidental Expenses
This category covers routine expenses that will be incurred during the school year for things such as laundry, personal items, and entertainment. We estimate $500 to be a reasonable amount for these expenses during the school year.

Students may travel home during the school year. The expense of traveling will vary according to the location of the student’s home and the mode of transportation. It is reasonable to assume travel expenses of $500 for students from within California and $1,000 for students from other states.

 Health Insurance
Students should factor in the cost of basic medical insurance as part of their total expenses. DRBU does not provide medical insurance. Students are required to submit proof of medical coverage prior to enrollment. 

 Miscellaneous Expenses
This category includes other expenditures such as clothing, personal computer, phone, etc. We estimate students’ miscellaneous expenses to be $1,500-$2,000 per year. However, it is possible to spend far less than this amount for students with conservative spending habits.


Other Fees and Charges
In addition to tuition and room and board fees, there are other expenses that a student will need to plan for: 

  • Auditing fees: $200 per unit

  • Cap and gown: cost

  • Damage to University property: cost

  • ID card replacement: $10 per card

  • Library overdue fines [per item]: $1 per day, maximum $50

  • Library lost item replacement fees, $100 per item

  • Key replacement, $25–$50 per key

  • Room & board during summer months, if the student wishes to remain on campus, $500 per month

  • Student Tuition Recovery Fund [STRF] fees, $0.50 per $1,000 institutional charges

  • Transcript fees, $6 per copy

VIII. Financial Aid 

Students accepted into this translation program may apply for an IITBT Sweet Dew Scholarship. IITBT scholarships are granted based on merit and financial need.

In addition to IITBT scholarships, students may also apply for Service Scholarship and University Grants. Students who are awarded a full Service Scholarship are expected to work 13 hours per week (in addition to the three weekly hours of Community Service in the curriculum) in such areas as food service, building maintenance, grounds maintenance, the library, office clerical work, or translation. If a student does not perform his or her Service Scholarship duties in a satisfactory manner, as determined by his or her supervisor(s), the student may be found ineligible for financial assistance (Service Scholarship) from the University in subsequent semester.

Incoming students must complete their Application for Financial Aid within 30 days of receiving the letter of acceptance from the Program.

IX. International Students

Dharma Realm Buddhist University is approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement to admit non-immigrant foreign students. However, the Graduate Certificate Program in Buddhist Translation currently does not accept international students. Students who are US citizens or Permanent Residents may enroll. Some types of non-immigrant visas (other than the visitor visa) may qualify. DRBU does not vouch for student status. No fees or charges associated with student visas will be assessed to, collected from, or transmitted on behalf of DRBU students. For further information, contact the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid – 707-621-7000 ext 4200 or by email at