Religion is a way of life for Rimpoche Tenzing Jangbu Sherpa of Tengboche. Although daily rituals at the monastery keep him occupied, a year ago he began working on a Sherpa dictionary. He met two Koreans working on a similar project last year, and while he appreciated their efforts, the rimpoche worried that words would be distorted by foreigners who may not have the necessary grip of the language. It spurred him to begin his own Sherpa dictionary. "I have already finished the basic work," says the chief abbot, pointing to files where he has a handwritten collection of Sherpa words.The rimpoche is pleased with a computer a local politician donated for word processing.
He knows he has a bigger challenge to face-dealing with linguists. "That's the tough part," says the rimpoche. "There are no easy meanings of Sherpa words in English and Nepali." He is aware that the dictionary may not recieve formal status without endorsement from linguists. "I have read Sherpa books for a long time but only recently realised how difficult translations can be." Once the work is finished, even non-Sherpas will understand the language. Known for his work in environmental conservation, the rimpoche is now working at preserving the integrity of his people. He is concerned that a day may come when the Sherpas will have forgotten their language and will need to turn to what foreigners have put together, but his greatest worry is a lack of funds. So far he has managed to make ends meet from what the monastery receives for religious ceremonies. "This won't work longterm and I worry about how I'll finish the dictionary," he says.