January 03, 2012


nyi tshe ba:

The Tibetan expression nyi tshe ba has been employed, at least according to Negi, to render the following Sanskrit words: (1) eva (perhaps here “mere”), (2) mātram (“only,” “simply”), (3) pratyekam (“one at a time,” “singly, for every single one”), (4) pradeśa (“a short while,” “a short span (measured from the tip of the thumb to that of the forefinger)“ (5) prādeśikam (“local, limited”), and (6) prādeśin “a span long” (MW, s.vv.). Some important compounds containing the word nyi tshe ba are: (a) nyi tshe ba nyid yid la byed pa (prādeśikamanasikāra), (b) nyi tshe ba’i byang chub (pratyekabodhi), and (c) nyi tshe ba’i sems can dmyal ba (pratyekanarakasattva). See also nyi tshe ba spyod pa / nyi tshe spyod pa (pradeśakārin)  (Mahāvyutpatti, no. 1610), which perhaps means someone who is committed to short-term or limited spiritual practice.

In the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.), the etymology of nyi tshe ba has been suggested as “single-day lifespan” (nyin gang gi tshe) and its basic meanings as phyogs re ba (“one-sided” or “partial” or thor bu “fragmentary” or minute “phran tshegs.” Some compounds recorded there are nyi tshe ba’i theg pa (i.e. Hīnayāna), nyi tshe’i sangs rgyas (i.e. a pratyekabuddha), and then of course, nyi tshe ba’i dmyal ba. Dan Martin, by drawing on various sources, has suggested four meanings of nyi tshe ba, namely, (1) “approximate,” (2) “trivial,” (3) “individually tailored,” and (4) “insignificant.”

Of the Sanskrit pertinent words, pratyeka and prādeśika seem to be more significant for discussing the meanings of nyi tshe ba. While etymologically nyi tshe ba (if interpreted as bahuvrīhi compound) does seem to mean something like “that which is characterized by a single-day lifespan.” Etymologically, nyi tshe ba  might sound as though it expresses only “temporal” but not “spatial” limitation but semantically it is clear that Tibetan authors did understand it as expressing a limitation in scope of time, place, and significance. What seems to be lacking in Tibetan translation is that the meaning of pratyeka (as in pratyekabodhi or pratyekabuddha) is no longer conveyed by nyi tshe ba. I, for my part, would like to suggest that in the case of pratyekabodhi and pratyekabuddha, we should rather understand as “awakening [attained] for and by oneself” and “one who has become awakened for and by himself,” respectively. The insignificance suggested by the Tibetan nyi tshe ba will have to be deduced, perhaps by interpreting it as “awakening [merely attained] for and by oneself” and “one who has become awakened [merely] for and by himself.” In the case of pratyekanaraka/pratyekanarakasattva, the literal meaning of “one at a time” may be applicable inasmuch as the mChims chen (p. 294.9–15), by citing the Carmavastu, states that a pratyekanarakasattva experiences “one at a time” or “each day and night” (nyin zhag re la) hellish pains and pleasures of higher existences interchangeably (’dres mar). I did not look up in the Abhidharmakośabhāya itself. In conclusion, while we shall have to leave up to the Sanskritists to enlighten us on the pertinent Sanskrit terms, I would assume that the etymology of nyi tshe ba (as a bahuvrīhi) could remain as “one whose lifespan is a single-day” and that semantically it expresses a “finite scope of time, place, or significance,” which may include all four meanings suggested by Dan Martin.

PS. brDa dkrol (s.v. nyi tse) “partial” (phyogs re) or “slight” (cung zad).

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