January 20, 2020

Trying To Solve a Philological Mystery

A master philologist is a like a master detective. I cannot claim to be a master philologist but like any philologist or a detective, I believe to have a case and I believe to have solved it. I wonder if and how convincing my solution may seem to other philologists. At least, let us say, I have a hypothesis. 
Of the four or five Indian commentaries in Tibetan translation on the Bhadracarī, the *Bhadracarīpraṇidhānarājaṭīkā is ascribed to one Indian author whose Sanskrit name has been rendered into Tibetan as “rGyan bzang po.” Whether he and Śākyamitra each composed a separate ṭīkā or whether they co-authored one ṭīkā seems worth investigating. But this issue is not significant for my present case. The issue that concerns me here is what could have been the Sanskrit name of “rGyan bzang po.” To be sure, the name in Tibetan is well attested in some of the earliest catalogues and other textual witnesses and hence it is not an issue here. Already in 1912, in his German dissertation on the Bhadracarī, Kaikioku Watanabe (Watanabe 1912: 23), reconstructed the name as “(Vi)bhūṣaṇabhadra” or Alaṃkārabhadra.” But like any good philologist, he was cautious. He conceded: “The exact form of the name of the composer remains unsettled because it is otherwise unknown” (Die genaue Form des Verfassernamens bleibt unbestimmt, weil er sonst unbekannt ist). Dan Martin in his Tibskrit has reconstructed “rGyan bzang po” as *Subhūṣita. However, in the same Tibskrit, Martin records “Bhadrapaṇa” to which he adds “Author of a commentary on the Bzang po spyod pa’i smon lam. It’s listed as no. 5515 in the Peking Tanjur. Schaik, Prayer, p. 185” (i.e. van Schaik 2009: 185). But actually in Herrmann-Pfandt 2008: 319, the bZang po spyod pa’i smon lam (P 5515) in question here has already been identified as the *Bhadracarīpraṇidhānarājaṭīkā by “rGyan bzang po.” The Sanskrit name of the author is given as Bhadrāpaṇa in Herrmann-Pfandt 2008: 319. There is a remark in German (“Identifikation eindeutig”). But there is no remark to the name of the author. The bilingual name has been indexed (pp. 466, 472) and the orthography of the name in Sanskrit is consistently “Bhadrāpaṇa.”
The question now is how can we explain the Sanskrit–Tibetan correspondence of the name. There is no difficulty with bhadra and bzang po. It has been presupposed that bhadrāpaṇa = bhadra + āpaṇa. The second component of the name cannot possibly be apaṇa. But can āpaṇa mean rgyan? According to MW (s.v. āpaṇa), it can mean “a market, a shop,” “waves” or “commerce, trade” (only in lexicons with no real usage). But there seems to be no element of Tibetan rgyan in this word. And more importantly, does the Tibetan word really mean “ornament” or “ornamented” as the earlier attempts of reconstruction presupposed? But before we answer this, let us consider the orthography “Bhadrapaṇa” that Martin gives based on van Schaik 2009: 185. And what does paṇa mean? According to MW (s.v. paṇa), it can mean “paṇa m. (ifc. f(ā).) play, gaming, playing for a stake, a bet or a wager (with gen.; loc. or ifc.; paṇaṃ√kṛ, to make a bet; paṇe ni√as, to stake at play),” “the thing staked or the sum played for, wages, hire, reward.” But would such a meaning agree with the meaning of the Tibetan word rgyan? Yes, it would. According to Jäschke 1881 (s.v. rgyan, II1–2), rgyan can, as a noun, mean “a stake or pledge at play” and “lot” and in the verbal construction (as in rgyan btsugs/rgyab) it could mean “to bet” or “to wedger.” This is also confirmed by the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. rgyan 2): rgyal dang skugs, ... sho sbag brgyab nas rgyan rgyal ba, ... dngul zong ci rigs kyi rgyan ’gyed pa, ... shing bu dang, rde’u sogs bsgrugs te rgyan rgyag pa, ... rgyal pham thob shor gyi ched du rgyan ’phen pa, ... rtsed mo thob shor gyi ched du dngul ’bor chen rgyan du btsugs pa. Thus the word rgyan in the name “rGyan bzang po” must mean something like “bet” or “lot,” and the Sanskrit name, with great probability, had been “Bhadrapaṇa,” and meant something like “Good Bet” or “Good Lot.”

May 30, 2019

སྐད་གོ་འདུན། སྐད་གོ་མདུན། སྐད་གོ་བདུན། སྐད་གོ་འཐུན། སྐད་གོ་མཐུན།

The Mahāvyutpatti contains Tibetan subtitles assigned to groups of Sanskrit words with their Tibetan renderings arranged according to a certain criterion. One such subtitle is an expression spelled in five different ways, namely, as skad go ’dun (Ishihama, no. 6240, no. 6851 according to DCN, no. 5070 according to L, no. 9435 found only in N); skad go bdun (no. 4952); skad go mdun (no. 6851 according to P); skad go mthun (no. 5070 according to PNDC); skad go ’thun (Sakaki, no. 5072). This situation invokes several questions. Because not all spelling can be correct, which spellings are more probable and which less? What does the expression mean? Even if we know vaguely know the intended meaning of the expression what could be the etymology of the expression? Peter Verhagen has followed the spelling skad go ’dun (without any comments) and rendered skad go ’dun gyi ming as “assorted terms” (Verhagen 2001: vol. 2, p. 27). The five different spellings can be reduced to two groups, namely, to skad go ’dun/mdun/bdun and skad go ’thun/mthun. We can easily eliminate bdun as a corruption caused by confusion. Possibly ’dun and mdun are cognates. As for ’thun and mthun, these seem to be acceptable orthographic variants. Verhagen is most probably right. We should read skad go ’dun and it should mean something like “miscellaneous terms.” The question is why? Firstly, we should most probably read skad go-’dun and not skad-go ’dun. Secondly, although skad go ’dun does not seem to be lexically attested or recorded elsewhere, go ’dun has been recorded in the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.  go ’dun). Importantly, the entry is marked as rnying (“archaic”). The word is said to mean (1) gang mos (“random/arbitrary”), (2) sna tshogs (“various/miscellaneous”), (3) ’dag rdzas (“soap”), and (4) tshogs pa or ’du ba (“accumulation/collection”). All meanings except third would suit our context. The meanings provided by the Tshig mdzod chen mo are also confirmed by bTsan-lha’s gSer gyi me long (s.vv. go ’dun & go ’thun). According to this work, we can also accept go ’dun and go ’thun as orthographic variants. This is by no means surprising. We have been told that in old Tibetan documents, the first three letters of the same Tibetan alphabetic section (varga: sde pa) can be changeable without affecting the meaning. I suspect that also thun in stong thun is somehow related to our ’dun/’thun. So it turns out that skad go ’dun/’thun should mean something like “miscellaneous/arbitrary collection of terms.”
         The etymology of go ’dun/’thun, however, is uncertain. I speculate that go here is to be understood as in the case of go skabsgo mtshams, and go ’phang and it means something like “occasion, location, and position” and here perhaps as “random/arbitrary with regard to time, place, and context.” As for ’dun and ’thun, I surmise that they are nominalized forms of ’du ba (“to assemble”) and ’thu ba (“to hand-pick, to select”). The expression go ’dun/’thun may be etymologically understood as “random/arbitrary collection/selection.”

April 01, 2019


In the Mahāvyutpatti (Sakaki, no. 1623; Ishihama, no. 1629), the Sanskrit akalmāṣa has been rendered into Tibetan as thun tshags ma yin pa. But what does the Tibetan word mean? No other Tibetan lexical source seems to have recorded this word. The components thun and tshags are, of course, lexically attested but these together do not yield the sense required by the present context. Both the PWK and PW record “Akalmāṣa” but only as a proper name, that is, as the name of a son of the 4th Manu. The MW, however, adds the meaning “spotless” (providing a single source). The BHSD (s.v. akalmāṣa) provides some more information: “akalmāṣa, adj. (= Pali akammāsa), pure (lit. not variegated; in this sense once in ŚB., otherwise in Skt. only as n. pr.): Mv i.211.11 = ii.15.10, along with pariśuddha, of brahmacarya; i.239.5–6, of ceto-praṇidhāna; iii.343.2, of Buddha’s voice.” Based on these sources, we can conclude that the word thun tshags ma yin pa should mean something like dri ma med pa. Hirano 1966 (i.e. Takashi Hirano, An Index to the Bodhicaryāvatārapañjikā, Chapter IX. Tokyo: Suzuki Research Foundation, 1966) does record the word akalmāṣa but the Tibetan equivalent here is dri ma (followed by a question mark). I did not check the pertinent Tibetan passage but it seems to be a corruption of dri ma med pa (caused by the omission of med pa). Such a meaning would be confirmed by the meaning of the Sanskrit word. But can we be sure that Tibetan translators understood thun tshags ma yin pa as dri ma med pa? A quick search in the TBRC database yields several hits that would support such a meaning. In the contextually relevant passages, this word has been used as an adjective qualifying śīla (i.e. thun tshags ma yin pa’i tshul khrims) and several other synonyms and quasi-synonyms have been used such as skyon medma myams pama dres pama nogs panog nog por ma gyur pa, and  ’dren [= ’dres?] mar ma gyur pa. But the question is why has been the Tibetan word thun tshags ma yin pa used to express “immaculate” or “impeccable”? The Tibetan word thun seems to mean something like “temporal or spatial segment” and tshags something like “temporal or spatial gap.” One can thus imagine why a “sieve” has been called a tshags in Tibetan. But why would an impeccable/immaculate ethical-ascetical integrity (śīla) called thun tshags ma yin pa’i tshul khrims? I feel that theoretically thun tshags yin pa’i tshul khrims (such an expression may, however, not be found) would be a kind of śīla that is “perforated” and thus “punctured” (i.e. with full of holes such a sieve, basket, or a net which cannot contain water) and thun tshags ma yin pa’i tshul khrims would be a kind of śīla that is “not perforated” or “not punctured” and hence is “faultless” (skyon med pa), “undamaged” (ma myams pa), “unadulterated” (ma ’dres pa / ’dren [= ’dres?] mar ma gyur pa), and “unsullied” (ma nogs pa / nog nog por ma gyur pa). The Sanskrit akalmāṣa is said to literally mean “not variegated” (see above). This would make sense if we are willing to consider a “blank sheet of white paper/cloth” (without any stain or spot) “pure” and a sheet of white paper/cloth that is spotted with “variegated” colors or stains “impure.”