September 09, 2013

ཐམས་ཅད། ཐམ་པ། ཐེམ་པ། ལྟེམ་པ།

Is the Tibetan word thams cad (“all, entire”) a ’dod rgyal (i.e. a word without any traceable etymology, lit. perhaps “[a word in the coining of which arbitrary] wish/desire reigned or played a dominant role”) or is it a rjes sgrub (i.e. a word the etymology of which is traceable or reconstructible). If it is a rjes sgrub, is it obvious or dubious? To me at least, it seems to be a rjes sgrub, although it may not be obvious at all.  I argue that thams in thams cad is cognate with tham pa (as in bcu tham pa) and them pa having the meaning of (a) “threshold,” (b) staircase or stair, as a noun and (c) “to be full, complete, sufficient, enough,” and thus also with ltem pa “the state of being full,” ltem po or ltem ltem “full, overflowing.” The second syllable cad is to be understood in the sense of chad (often exchangeable with cad) “termination or cessation,” and is to be understood in the same way we would understand chad in yan/man/tshun/phan/ chad. It seems that thams cad thus etymologically means “complete to the degree of termination/culmination” (i.e. complete to the full extent), or, “to the extent of being  full/complete” and thus mean “to the entirety” and “all.” This, as usual, is a pure speculation, and it should be treated as such.

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