August 06, 2012


Most Tibetan scholars seem to have taken for granted that lo tsā ba is a contraction (or rather corruption) of Sanskrit lokacakṣu and hence rendered as ’jig rten mig (“eye of the world”) or occasionally also as ’jig rten mig ’byed (“eye-opener of the world”). Professor Michael Hahn in our recent Symposium on “Cross-Cultural Transmission of Buddhist Texts: Theories and Practices of Translation” (, however, pointed out that lo tsā ba and lo mi tsā ba can well be words like tha dad pa and tha mi dad pa (see our entry here), the meanings of which have long been forgotten. But he did not elaborate on this. I suggested that lo in lo tsā ba might mean “language,” to which he commented: “Even better.” I am sure he has something more up his sleeves. We shall have to wait and see. 

But in the mean time, I thought of making a wild speculation (in support of Hahn’s theory). First, as I suggested Hahn, I would assume that lo means “language.” Second, what could have tsā ba and mi tsā ba once meant? I speculate that tsā ba is a derivation or corruption of cha ba meaning “to know or to be knowledgeable.” See the brDa rnying tshig mdzod (p. 403), where myi cha ba is said to mean “not to know or not to be knowledgeable” (mi shes pa). See also the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.). Is there an expression in Tibetan that runs something like: ya mi cha ba? One needs to check on this. So according to this speculation lo tsā ba is “one who is knowledgeable about languages” and lo mi tsā ba is “one who is not knowledgeable about languages.” So much for now.

Beckwith is said to have suggested that the word lo tsā ba is perhaps somehow connected with the Old Newari littsāvi (liccāvi). See Verhagen 2010 (i.e. “Notes Apropos…”): 466, n. 466, n. 5. But meaning what?


  1. Dear Dorj,

    I haven't the slightest idea (mi cha-ba) if your idea is the correct one or not, but I was never especially convinced by the Lokacaksu (World Eye, or Eye of the Nation/People) idea, either, although I always thought it was fun and meaningful. One problem, it doesn't explain the tstsh consonant cluster that is very often used to spell it, which would necessitate a cch cluster in Sanskrit, wouldn't it? (This spelling seems to argue against a *Tibetanistic* interpretation in favor of an Indic one, also.) Still, when we have such an interesting fresh idea by Prof. Hahn we have to take it very seriously indeed. We know he wouldn't speak without a great deal of reflection, so the least we should do is turn it over many times in our minds, like we do with a precious trinket offered by the Tibetan sidewalk salesmen in Simla, and pick it up and look at it from every angle before we decide to make an offer or just put it back on the blanket where we found it. I'll get back with you on which direction I'll be taking, if any at all.

    One question: Did you mean to type lo mi tsā ba, or lo mi lo tsā ba? Is it found somewhere spelled just in that way?


  2. Dear Dan,

    The point you raised regarding the consonant cluster, I think, is indeed an important one. It would be interesting to find out (a) when the orthography with the consonant cluster occurs, and (b) how consistent and significant is the orthography. A possibility is that the word lo cha ba could have been given a new orthography (with the consonant cluster) with the assumption that it is a Sanskrit word or derived from Sanskrit.

    The last question concerns a typo which has been corrected.