August 05, 2014

འདྲོབ་སྐྱོང་། འདྲོས་སྐྱོང་།

My esteemed readers, I hope you are well. Being entangled with all kinds of ought-to-be-fulfilled and not-yet-fulfilled obligations, I hardly find the time to delve into my hobby of speculation and reflection. There are more serious things in the world to do, aren’t there?  And yet, here is some speculation/reflection.

I have a feeling (and of course I know that feelings are not pramāṇa) that Tibetans have forgotten some words they once used to use. Or, let us say, some words fell into oblivion. Translated literature (especially if there are parallel Sanskrit texts) can help to recover (and revive) some of those obsolete words. Let us consider here ’drob skyong. If we understand its meaning, what I intend to say would be redundant. Let us pretend that we don’t know what ’drob skyong is. We might look up in a dictionary such as the Tshig mdzod chen mo, and we would not find it. But we will find ’drobs, which is supposed to be an obsolete (rnying) word for drang po (“straight” or “upright,” be it literally or metaphorically). But honestly it is not quite convincing. Interestingly, we do find the word in the brDa yig gsar bsgrigs  (s.v. ’drob), which states ”said to be a name of an ancient sage” (sngon gyi drang srong zhig gi ming du bshad). We might like to check OTDO. No, there is not a single hit. Let us look up Jäschke, our old Christian missionary friend and a well-trained philologist. It says “the keeper of light” (?) and Schmidt is given as his source. But significant is his question mark. In general, I claim that Jäschke’s question mark has more weight than our triple exclamation marks. I know some people do not like Jäschke. We do not have to like him. A philologist or someone who is pro-philology will come to like him mainly because of his cautiousness and academic honesty. Ultimately, we would realize that ’Drob-skyong-gi-bu (patronymic) is a rendering of Sanskrit Kāśyapa (Mahāvyutpatti, no. 3455). But we also know that Kāśyapa has been commonly translated as ’Od-srung, that is, Tibetans have understood the name to have been derived from the verbal root kāś (“to shine”). Accordingly, we understand that ’drob = ’od. So Jäschke’s or Schmidt’s understanding of ’drob skyong as “the keeper of light” seems to make perfect sense. That is, ’drob skyong or ’od srung is understood as “one who skyong/srung (“guards”) the ’drob/’od (“light”). Edgerton also translates as the  name as ”light-guard” (from Tibetan ’Od-srungs). But it turns out that this is but only one side of the story.

I know that Kāśyapa in Mahāvyutpatti-A, no. 3455 (= Mahāvyutpatti-B, no. 3453) has been rendered as ’Drob-skyong-(gyi-)bu (according to the reading in sDe-dge, Co-ne, and Leningrad MS) and as ’Dros-skyong-bu (according to Peking and sNar-thang).  I must admit that I dismissed the second reading as corrupt. In addition, Kaśyapa in Mahāvyutpatti-A, no. 3456 (= Mahāvyutpatti-B, no. 3454) is rendered as ’Drob-skyong. These two cases clearly suggest, as proposed by Dan, that Kāśyapa here is patronymic, and that the root seems to be indeed kaś  (“to go, to move”) and not kāś (“to shine, to appear“). So, if we assume that Kāśyapa is derived from kaś (“to go”), ’drob or ‘dros must either have the meaning of ’gro or ’gros, or, ’drob and ’dros must be corrupt forms of ’gro and ’gros. The transition from ’gros to ’dros would be easily explainable. Dan’s Tibskrit alludes to ’Gro-skyong-bu (Kāśyapa) mentioned in the mKhas pa’i dga’ ston (p. 1514). Dan’s theory is that ’Gro-ba-skyong became ’Grob-skyong, and it eventually became ’Drob-skyong. One attempt at explanation is that Kāśyapa (derived from kaś) was rendered as ’Gros-skyong (“Gait-Guard”) and that became ’Dros-skyong. And yet another wild speculation is that Tibetan translators interpreted that Kāśyapa was derived from the root kaś meaning “to strike” and ’Drob-skyong used to mean ’Brob-skyong. Cf. Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. ’brob pa); brDa yig gsar bsgrigs  (s.vv. brobsphrobsbrabsbrab’brab). If to summarize my new theory, which replaces the old one, Tibetan translators had two interpretations of the name Kāśyapa: (a) They considered that it was derived from the root kāś, in which case they translated as it as ’Od-srung. (b) They also considered that it has been derived from the root kaś (“to strike/whip” or “to stride/move”) in which case they translated it as ’Brob/’Gros-skyong-bu, the meanings of which eventually fell into oblivion.


  1. Great to see you back! I think more likely Kāśyapa is a patronymic ultimately going back to Sanskrit root kaś, meaning 'to go.' I have a note on the nihilist heretic Purāṇa Kāśyapa ('Od srungs rdzogs byed), in Tibskrit. It says — 'Gro skyong gi bu Rdzogs byed. Placed among philosophers with annihilationist views. Mimaki, Dbus pa text, folio 7r.2. It could all come down to one missing (or missed) punctuation point.

  2. PS: Well, no, I didn't mean that *everything* comes down the punctuation mark. You would also have to change 'Dro-ba-skyong to the like-sounding 'Gro-ba-skyong to make my theory stick (or hold water, if you prefer).
    I checked with the old Japan printing of the Mahāvyutpatti nos. 3455 & 3456, where 'drob skyong and 'dros skyong are given as alternative readings. Maybe we would have to check the woodblock prints.

  3. Dear Dan, thanks. I will reconsider and reformulate my main text accordingly. D.