May 16, 2012


On the Etymology of zhe sa:

Chung-tshe-ring in an online article in Tibetan (i.e. Zhe sa zhes pa’i tshig don dang khyab khong) records three possible speculative etymologies of the Tibetan word zhe sa.  First, zhe sa is derived from rje sa, that is, “object of respect” (rjed par bya’i ba’i yul), where rjed par byed (in Old Tibetan) is said to be synonymous with mchod par byed. Second, zhe sa means “field or one in whom (sa) or the object for which one has respect from the bottom of one’s mind (zhe)” (zhe bsam pa’i gting nas rang gi mos gus yod pa’i sa’am yul). Third, zhe means “field (sa) or object which is worth respecting from [the depth of one’s] yid, sems, or, zhe ‘mind’ (yid can [= dam?] zhe’am sems kyis gus par ’os pa’i sa’am yul). The author then provides his assessment of all three etymologies.

For details, please read:


  1. Hi D,

    I don't know if it helps with the etymology, but in the Tibetan translation of the Buddhacārita, chap. 3, verse 24, zhe-sa is used to translate Skt. gaurava, which is translated as 'respect' (of course the Skt. is related to guru, with its sense of heaviness and venerableness). I guess it's a 13th-century translation, if that might make a difference one way or another (D. Jackson wrote an article about how it was translated).


  2. Dear D,

    I don’t know, too, if and to what extent the translation of gaurava as zhe sa or gus pa would help us determine the etymology of zhe sa. We know that Tibetan translators knew that both gaurava and zhe sa or gus pa meant “respectability” or “reverence,” as in “na tu gauravāt = [blang bar bya] yi gus phyir min || (in Tattvasaṃgraha 3588). The question that remains is what zhe and sa actually mean, or why zhe and sa? Nonetheless, it is interesting to see how different translators chose to translate one and the same Sanskrit word.

    I still have to write my paper. :)