July 04, 2013


Just a quick note. We know that certain Buddhist terms in Tibet assumes a secondary meaning and usage. One such example is rten ’brel. The primary meaning of rten ’brel is retained. The secondary meaning, that is, in the sense of “auspicious coincidence,” has been perhaps developed in Tibet. Another example woud be rnam thar. The primary meaning would be “(nirvāṇic) release or release (from saṃsāric bondage).” While the primary meaning has been retained in Tibet, we know of the secondary or perhaps derived meaning and usage, namely, in the sense of “biography/hagiography.” Many scholars have written on the Tibetan biographical or hagiographical literature or genre. But the shift from the primary to secondary meaning seem to require a bit more explanation. According to the secondary meaning, a rnam thar of person X is the “account of the person X’s release (from the bondage of saṃsāra).” But is such a usage attested in Indian sources? This is the question here. One would tend to answer in the negative, and perhaps justifiably so, and particularly not in the sene of the “account of the person X’s release (from the bondage of saṃsāra),” where the person X is a historical figure. But if we consider expressions such as “The Byams pa’i rnam par thar pa states that…,” or, dpal ’byung ba yi rnam thar las || bla ma bstan (sic) pa’i tshul ltar bslab || (BoCa 5.103), it is clear that the term vimokṣa in the Maitreyavimokṣa and Śrīsambhavavimokṣa can easily be understood or interpreted  in the sense of “biography” or “hagiography.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi D, How's it going up in cold country? Peter Roberts (as you probably know) has a nice discussion about rnam-thar in his Rechungpa book.
    My idea? Well, it's not my original idea, but I like to imagine that it is a disguised borrowing from a Sumerian/Akkadian word for 'destiny,' namtar. But I guess you'll then want to ask the question if the word namtar was used in the sense of a 'biography' in Mesopotamia. I wouldn't be able to answer that one.
    I wonder why Tibetans didn't translate the Sanskrit carita genre with rnam-thar rather than like they did, with spyod-pa. Even the word mdzad-pa (in the sense of deeds) would have worked better, don't you think? Yours, D.