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.”


January 23, 2019

Much Ado About chos bar and chos bar sa

Sometimes it is frustrating not to be able to clarify things that are seemingly simple and trivial. One such small thing is the Tibetan word chos bar or chos bar sa. To be sure, the word chos bar or chos bar sa does not seem to be recorded in any lexicon and no explanation can be found. Obviously authors of Tibetan works, in which these expressions occur, have taken for granted that its meaning or usage is understood. Prof. Katsumi Mimaki asked the other day if I knew what chos bar sa could mean. His point of departure is the following statement from the Deb ther sngon po: mkhas pa chen po ’jam pa’i dbyangs …re zhig chos bar sar ’dre rdzu byas nas slob dpon la bsdigs bskur bas | …. Prof. Mimaki now points out that Roerich has translated chos bar sar as “at the end of a class (evening)” and Harrison as “in the sacred courtyard (?)” (notably with a question mark). Seyfort Ruegg and Fukuda did not translate it at all. While Roerich’s translation is closer to our understanding of chos bar sar, which is clearly understood temporally rather than spatially, I think our understanding is certainly different. Below I shall venture to propose a hasty translation of my own.
            Thanks to the TBRC/BDRC, I was able to examine the contexts of various passages where the pertinent expression/s can be found. In the mean time, I posted an enquiry to the WeChat group of researchers who are being trained under the Academic Research Program Initiative (ARPI) of the Khyentse Center for Tibetan Buddhist Textual Scholarship (KC-TBTS) of the Department of Indian and Tibetan Studies, Universität Hamburg. I told the group that I have only a very vague idea of the expression but I did not want to influence them. mKhan-po bKra-shis-rdo-rje (or bKra-rdo), one of the ARPI pilots, promptly suggested chos gung seng (“teaching vacation”). I told the group that mKhan-po’s suggestion seems plausible but I shall study all the possible contexts and get back to them. mKhan-po’s suggestion is much better and more specific than mine. On the basis of a few expressions, my initial impression was that chos bar la phebs and grwa skor la phebs reveal a close affinity with each other not only syntactically but perhaps also semantically. But before I could delve into the matter further, I received mKhan-po bKra-rdo’s suggestion, and all I could do was to examine all possible cases and to see if mKhan-po’s suggestion can be confirmed. And yes, mKhan-po’s suggestion seems to be absolutely correct! This is a small but a significant case which demonstrates how knowledge-oriented scholars—be they be trained in a university in the modern system or in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastic seminary—can benefit from each other. In this case, I am sure Harrison, Seyfort Ruegg, Mimaki, and I can take the suggestion of mKhan-po bKra-rdo with a great deal of appreciation and gratitude. One of the visions of the ARPI project is to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western (I am aware of the difficulties entailing from the employment of the East–West dichotomy) scholars devoted to gaining a nuanced knowledge of (mainly Indo-Tibetan) Buddhist texts and ideas and move forward together with a single goal of maximizing the accuracy and reliability of knowledge about Buddhism.
          Let us return to the expression chos bar. Based on the TBRC/BDRC search, I list here a wide range of compounds or phrases: chos bar la phebs/byon/’gro/bzhugschos bar phebschos bar gtong/mdzadchos bar la ’grochos ’bar (la) bzhugschos bar gyi ringchos bar gyi mtshan mochos bar gyi tshechos bar yin pasphyogs phyogs su chos bar bskor baschos bar grol mtshamschos bar sachos bar sa mdzadchos bar mdzad pa’i gnas, and so on. Considering these instances, it becomes clear that it is a term used in the traditional Tibetan Buddhist seminaries, and the closest meaning and rendering of it that I can think of is “semester break” or “semester vacation” (German: Semesterferien = vorlesungsfreie Zeit), “outside of term-time,” and so forth. Perhaps one may translate it as (Tibetan Buddhist) “seminarial vacation.” The syllable chos is to be understood as “Dharmic teaching-and-learning” in an institutionalized Tibetan Buddhist monastic seminary. The syllable bar is clearly to be understood in the sense of bar seng or gung seng (“intermission,” “interlude,” and “recess”). How should we understand chos bar sa? It is contextually clear that we should understand chos bar sa as chos bar mdzad pa’i gnas (“a place/location where one spends one’s seminarial vacation”). In a non-seminarial context, it would have been something like a “vacation/holiday home/seat.”  And the phrase chos bar sa mdzad (mentioned above) is clearly meant in the sense of “[Someone] made [some place] a  seat of seminarial vacation.” What about expressions such as chos bar bteg/s/’debs which seem to be somewhat unclear and which might undermine our understanding? My feeling is that chos bar bteg/s/’debs seems to be simply a variant of chos bar la theg/s, which would be a central Tibetan dialectical preference for chos bar phebs/byon/’gro. Thanks to Prof. Mimaki for raising the question and thanks to mKhan-po bKra-rdo for his valuable insight!

’Gos-lo gZhon-nu-dpal, Deb sngon (vol. 1, p. 410.8–12): “Also the great scholar ’Jams-pa’i-dbyangs was his (i.e. Rig-ral’s) disciple. This being the case, [the former and latter are initially staying together]. Once (re zhig) in a vacation venue [or a place where they were spending their vacation] (chos bar sar), [however, ’Jams-pa’i-dbyangs] masqueraded himself as a demon and frightened the teacher (i.e. Rig-ral) as a result of which [he] was heavily rebuked, [namely,] to the extent that [he] could not stay [with the teacher] and thus stayed in Sa-skya [instead]. Consequently/Subsequently, he was invited by the Mongol [ruler] and became (or functioned as) the court chaplain of the Buyantu King” (mkhas pa chen po ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyang khong gi slob ma yin pa las re zhig chos bar sar ’dre rdzu byas nas slob dpon la bsdigs bskur bas | shin tu bka’ bkyon nas drung du ’dug dbang ma byung bas sa skyar bzhugs pas | hor gyis gdan drangs nas bhū yan du rgyal po’i mchod gnas mdzad |).

Roerich (or perhaps dGe-’dun-chos-’phel) seems to have understood chos bar as “interval” (between daily teaching sessions) rather than as “vacation.” This is not impossible especially because “interval” or “recess” is rather relative. But most of the instances seem to indicate not “daily break” or “sessional break” but rather “seasonal break.” It could be “summer break,” “spring break,” or “winter break.”

PS. Dr. Heimbel has also come to understand the expression in a way that supports our current understanding.

October 01, 2018

Etymology of the Tibetan Word for “Guest”

A guest in Tibetan is called a mgron po. But have we reflected why? The clue seems to lie in its orthographic variant ’gron po. But again we may like to know the etymology of ’gron po. The etymology seems to be obvious. We just have to cognize and recognize it. It is clearly derived from ’gro ba (“to go/travel”). But why ’gron? Well, one can observe the phenomenon of nominalizing a verb (including what I call an “adjectival verb”) by changing its postscript (rjes ’jug) to an n-postscript. One simple example should suffice. Take the verb skyi ba “to borrow” (e.g. money).  One can nominalize it to skyin pa, and hence it would mean something like “what one owes someone” and hence it would mean, for example, “money that one owes someone including the ensuing interest.” Thus a “traveller” is a ’gron po. We also have to remember that a “guest” is necessarily a “traveller.” We also know that prescripts (sngon ’jug)  and m are interchangeable although m-prescript seems to have become a standard and hence mgron. Nominalizing particle po makes the word mgron po clear that it refers to a “traveller” and a “guest.”

July 05, 2018

On the Etymology of “Me ma mur”

The Tibetan rendering of kukūla, the name of one of the four peripheral (hot) hells (nye ’khor gyi dmyal ba), is me ma mur. We also know that saṃsāra is occasionally compared to a me ma mur gyi ’obs (“infernal pit of hot embers/ashes”) and dug sbrul gyi tshang (“basket of poisonous snakes”). My concern here is the etymology of me ma mur. It is clear that this word belongs to the category of Tibetan nouns that have the structure “X ma Y” (i.e. “neither X nor Y but in a way both X and Y”). We know the value of X here and thus the word me ma mur would mean “neither fire nor mur.” But what is mur? bTsan-lha’s brDa dkrol gser gyi me long (s.v. me ma mur) does not help us to understand the etymology. The Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. mdag ma), however, understands me ma mur as me ma thal (“neither fire nor ash”). It makes perfect sense. But do we know mur in the sense of “ash”? I do not. bTsan-lha records a word mur thom me, which is explained as mi gsal bar gyur pa (“which has become inconspicuous”). Perhaps mur in me ma mur should be understood as “inconspicuous” or “dormant” as opposed to “conspicuous” or “active.” Thus me ma mur may be understood as “neither [conspicuous] flame (me) nor inconspicuous (i.e. extinguished) [fire] (mur).” Does the meaning of me ma mur (“neither [conspicuous] flame nor inconspicuous [fire]”) incidentally reflect an idea that is reminiscent of the old Vedic notion that fire, when extinguished, does not really cease to exist but somehow becomes inconspicuous?