March 27, 2013


On the term be’u bum, see the Bod rgya (s.v. man ngag mang po bsgrigs pa’i glegs bam chung ngu). According to Sørensen 1994: 292, n. 892, be’u bum is a corruption of dpe bum, which is an early Tibetan equivalent of Chinese bian wen or bian xiang “pictorial, transformational recitation.”

§1. Be’u bum sngon po (Bod rgya, s.v. = bka’ gdams pa’i byang chub lam rim gyi skor dge bshes po to ba’i gsung sgros ltar dol pa shes rab rgya mtshos bsgrigs pa zhig). This is mentioned also in the bKa’ gdams gsar rnying (pp. 167, 30).

§2. Be’u bum khra bo (Bod rgya, s.v. = bka’ gdams pa’i dge bshes glang thang pas dmigs pa rnams sa bcad brgyad du mdzad pa’i blo sbyong tshig brgyad ma la zer bar grags shing | sha’o sgang pa’i blo sbyong zer ba de yin nam snyam zhes thu’u bkwan chos kyi nyi ma’i grub mtha’ las bshad |). This is mentioned also in the bKa’ gdams gsar rnying (pp. 167, 31).

§3. Be’u bum dmar po, by Sha-ra-ba. See Seyfort Ruegg 2000: 26; Lamrim 2002: 396, n. 56. This is mentioned also in the bKa’ gdams gsar rnying (p. 167).

§4. Be’u bum dkar po, a medicinal work by ’Brong-rtse lHa-sras-rgya-mtsho. 

§5. Be’u bum nag po. See Martin 2011: 130, n. 38.


  1. I forgot who it was, but someone wanted to translate it as "grimoire," a term with a grim and even dark history in Europe's literature, usually associated as it is with magic of the nastier and most self-interested kinds. (Perhaps the English borrowed the French word for 'grammar' into their own language, in the process changing its meaning considerably. I'm not clear on this.)

    But most of the works in Tibetan that have this in their title are not about sorcery, actually. So I think it is not really a 'genre' term like grimoire is, but more likely to be a description of the size and format of the book itself, meaning in effect, a vade mecum, or the kind of book you could easily carry along on a mountain hike.

    I have nothing to say in favor or against the Chinese origin idea. Perhaps it is a "Tibetanization" of a foreign term, making it look less like a transcription and more like a word with Tibetan etymologies (this happens quite a lot I think). As the kind of person who tends to think along Sanskritic lines, I'd imagine it must have a Sanskrit term behind it, yet consulting the Chandra and Negi Tibetan-Skt. dictionaries, I come up with nothing.

    The Tibetan seems to be 'calf's' (be'u = Skt. vatsa) 'vessel' (bum, = bum-pa). India has a fondness for bovine metaphors, so my guess at this moment is that it really (as others have suggested; try putting all the following into the Google search box: "calf's dug" "be'u bum") means 'calf's dug.' Dug here is the English word for the nipple that hangs from the udder of the cow, not the Tibetan word for poison. I think it has a metaphorical sense, in which the owner of the remarkably small book nevertheless gains all the sustenance she needs for devotional or spiritual (or magical) purposes.

  2. Dear D, thanks for your detailed comments.


  3. Ulrike Roesler, in her article "Not a Mere Imitation" contained in A. Cardona & E. Bianchi, eds., Facets of Tibetan Religious Tradition (Firenze 2002), at p. 157 says something interesting:

    "They used titles for their works that were popular in the previous non-Budhist literature, like the title Be'u bum, 'cow's nipple', that designated different kinds of old Pre-Buddhist collections and was later on used by Rog dMar zhur ba (1059-1131) as the title for his collection of Buddhist stories (be'u bum sngon po)." (The footnote 4 is also relevant.)

    This seems to say there was a pre-existent pre-Buddhist genre of Be'u-bum. Do you know anything about that? She clearly accepts that it is a genre term (a type of literature) and not a type of physical volume. I wonder what pre-Buddhist collections she had in mind. Any idea?

    When we use the English term Handbook we basically mean a book easily held, but we do also intend it as a type of literature (in the sense that it would provide some kind of general coverage of a given topic, putting together all necessary information in an easily consulted format).