January 23, 2014


You know what, I am fed up of the negative etymologies of words that refer to woman. So I want to propose that bud med actually means “one who does not fall” (bud du med pa) and hence, “one who is infallible.” What do you say? Of course, I wish this were true! What I actually intend to do here is to collect some thoughts and notes on the perception of woman in Buddhism. But gosh, I have a feeling that so many people have already written so many things on Buddhism and violence, woman and gender, and so on, that there is hardly anything left for us to know or to write! But here, too, I wish it were true. One of my interests has been the ideas (and not practices!) of sbyor sgrol (inherently linked with the problem of sex and violence), a theme that is wrought with difficulties and complexities. And honestly we are far away from seeing a nuanced treatment of the theme in our secondary sources. Here are some venues for exploring the concept of women or female beings (in a Tantric context). But I will confine myself to thoughts found in Rong-zom-pa’s writings.

(a) According to the Subāhuparipṛcchātantra (cf. RZ2: 300), desiring or indulging in “a woman drawn by Mantric means” (sngags kyis bkug pa’i bud med) is like committing adultery. Such a “woman” need not be a human being for she can also be a gnod sbyin mo. The logic behind this transgression seems to be that in such an act, one has the notion of sleeping with another man’s wife. The problem of adultery or rather sexual misconduct is still valid in Tantric context (RZ2: 287). Cf. RZ2: 324 (gzhan gyi bud med bsten par bya ||).

(b) In my study of bodhicitta, I discussed briefly the Tantric perception of woman in the context of the 14 cardinal transgressions. This topic should be studied more closely.

(c) The role or perception of woman in the context of dbang gsum pa or thabs lam should be examined carefully.

(d) The jingling sound of a woman’s ornaments is a sgra’i tsher ma (RZ2: 294). Why? It is obvious.

(e) The Subāhuparipṛcchātantra (RZ2: 289) compares woman to a weapon but contextually it is clear that it is because of her physical attractiveness which can easily unsettle a meditating man. One should not go to watch women and girls (RZ2: 296). A Tantric practitioner should not touch among many other kinds of people, women (RZ2: 199). The Subāhuparipṛcchātantra is a Kriyā Tantric scripture. 

(f) It is also worth-taking a look at the concept of entrusting a Tantric scripture to a woman. 

(g) Vajra-brothers and sisters (RZ2: 315).

PS. Again a mchan bu containing a derogatory remark on chung ma (bSam gtan mig sgron, p. 19): ’dod chags zhe sdang gti mug dri dang ’grogs pa’i phyir chung ma zhes bya’o ||. But connection is still not clear.

But returning to the etymology of bud med, I now think none of our speculations proposed thus far are historically-linguistically correct. I think the one proposed in Laufer [= Chinese transcriptions of Tibetan Names] 1915: 423 is historically-linguistically more plausible. The component med in bud med has nothing to do with the verb “not to have” (or “not to be there”) but rather a kind of marker of “female” gender.


  1. I'll attach my current entry on bud-med with my notes on the subject down below. The etymology of Gro-lung-pa is intriguingly misogynistic, dwelling on woman's illusion-provoking abilities, which as we men mostly do know they do possess in considerable measure. But I'll confess that I don't really get his point with the "phud med" explanation, do you?

    bud med kyi sgra de na ni | bud med ces bya nyes mang sgyu ma'i tshang | | bdud dang sdig pa'i lag pa sems yang ba | | spre'u ltar mi brtan sgyu ma'i grong khyer sogs | | mtha' yas ston pas slu byed ming du gsungs | | yang ci'i phyir bud med ces bya zhe na | nyes pa mang bzhing rgyu mtha' yas pas sgyu mas te phud med ces bya'o | | de ni sgyu ma'i grong khyer dang grong rdal dang rgyal po'i pho brang dang yul 'khor dang rgyal srid dang yul dang sgyu ma'i 'jig rten gyi [181r] khams te | sgyu ma mtha' yas pa rgyas pa dpag tu med pa bsam gyis mi khyab pas na bud med ces bya'o | ∫ |

    •BUD MED There is an 11th-century etymology in Gro-lung-pa, Bstan-rim, fol. 180v, ff., where he also etymologizes chung ma. The idea that it means 'that which can't be put outside' (Gutschow, Being a Buddhist Nun 138, and many earlier English-language sources) is a mistaken one, founded on Das Dictionary's mistaken translation of a Tibetan passage. See the recent discussion of the term in Janet Gyatso, Spelling Mistakes, Philology and Feminist Criticism: Women and Boys in Tibetan Medicine, Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, vol. 14 (October 2008), pp. 81-98, especially p. 97.

  2. Admittedly, we will find ample evidences of androcentrism and misogyny in our sources. This is one of them. Frankly, none of his explanations seems to be somehow related with the Tibetan word bud med. I wonder if he is drawing on some Indian sources (of course in Tibetan translations). Could phud med simply be a typo for bud med? I would think it is a typo! Is the reading mang bzhing your typo or his? I remember Klong-chen-pa, too, has a derogatory etymology of chung ma: gang zhig yod pa chung du ’gro bas na || ming yang chung ma zhes bya… || (or something along this line).

  3. Yeah, you're right, I didn't copy the whole bit on chung-ma and bud-med from Gro-lung-pa, who anyways was a very strict monastic type who no doubt did his best to do his duty to avoid women, and one way he could help himself succeed in keeping away from them was to belittle them... The typo is neither mine nor (I think) his, but rather the ACIP's (they input the text two times, and I copied from only one of them). For more fun, here is a quote from a footnote I once made on the subject:
    A different etymology for the word bud-med has been proposed in Klein (1995: 51), “those not to be put out (bud med) because a woman is not to be left outside the house at night” (compare also Campbell 1996: 31-2). Modern discussions of the word inevitably take their point of departure in Das (1973: 872), which supplies a Tibetan-language etymology of unspecified origins that is surely not translated correctly. Instead, it ought to be translated, “Because their [gender] signs do not protrude (bud) outward, they are called ‘women’ (bud-med).”

  4. So it seems in Klein 1995: 51, ’bud du med pa is assumed where ’bud pa is taken to mean “to expel, chase away” (i.e. a “transitive-autonomous” verb) one of the several meanings recorded in Jäschke 1881. Also as recorded in Jäschke 1881, ’bud pa has also the meaning of “to fall down” or “to drop” (i.e. here as an intransitive-heteronomous verb). It is in this sense, people came up with the translation “protrude,” or, perhaps “to dangle” (intransitive) would also be possible. While the folk-etymology is questionable the statement “that is surely not translated correctly” is not quite correct. Our understanding of Tibetan verbs tends to be often very vague because we believe we know and do not always care to look at Jäschke. Jäschke was a well-trained philologist, and at times I have a feeling that his question marks can teach us more than our exclamations marks. :)

  5. But do you have some better translation for that unattributed sentence in Das dictionary, p. 872:
    I'm so sure it doesn't mean women aren't to be put out at night. I was hoping you might stick out your neck and make a more accurate translation. མཚན་ or མཚན་མོ་ means 'night,' but མཚན་མ་ does not. That much seems totally clear to me. So it's surely not translated correctly. Am I missing something? Because her sign is not inflatable? Help!

  6. Oh, oh! I did not realize that. So “those not to be put out (bud med) because a woman is not to be left outside the house at night” (compare also Campbell 1996: 31–2) is a translation of “mtshan ma phyi la ma bud pas bud med ces pa yin”? If this is the case, of course, it reveals the translator’s pitiful knowledge of Tibetan. My own translation would be: “Because [her] genital organ (lit. “sign,” i.e. usually gender specific or male/female sign) has not protruded outward (or does not stick out), [a female person] is called ‘no protrusion’ (bud med).”

  7. I feel a little let down that we have nothing to argue about. Perhaps someone else would like to chime in here with their objections? Gotta 'fly' (if that's the right word for how I ride my bike to work). Have a great day.