Tibetan literature generally refers to literature written in the Tibetan language or arising out of Tibetan culture. Historically, Tibetan has served as a trans-regional literary language that has been used, at different times, from Tibet to Mongolia, Russia, and present-day Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan. Today, the term Tibetan literature can also be applied to any work by an ethnic Tibetan person or arising out of Tibetan folk culture; contemporary Tibetan writers sometimes use Chinese, English, or other languages to compose their work.
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Tibet possesses a literature that stretches back over 1300 years. It is one of the great literary traditions of Asia, in terms of both its size and range of influence. From ancient pillar inscriptions, to manuscripts sealed away in long-forgotten caves, to block-printed texts on every imaginable subject piled high in monastic libraries, the Tibetan corpus numbers tens of thousands of works. It has exercised an abiding influence not only in Tibet itself, but in the larger cultural area at one time dominated by Tibet, which includes Mongolia, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and parts of northern Pakistan, northern India, western China and southern Russia.
Tibetan literature is now better known in the West than ever before. Translations of Tibetan works fill entire shelves in some Western bookstores, and courses on Tibetan religion and culture have become a fixture, rather than a rarity, at many universities.
Despite this increase in Western knowledge of Tibetan literature, its study is still, relatively speaking, in its infancy—especially in comparison to the work that has been done on the literatures of India, China and Japan. Only a tiny portion of the vast Tibetan corpus has been translated into or discussed in Western languages, and the works that have been translated are overwhelmingly on religious and philosophical subjects.
"Editors’ Introduction" by José Ignacio Cabezón and Roger R. Jackson. From Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre (1996), pp. 11-37. external linkWhile most of Tibet's cultural institutions and literary canon derive from India or are based on one or other of her models, a notable exception is the intense preoccupation of Tibet's men of letters with history and historiography.
"Tibetan Historiography" by Leonard W. J. van der Kuijp. From Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre (1996), p. 40.external link
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