Saturday, December 31, 2005

Simple Words - NGES 'BYUNG

We only need to go through two new words in order to understand the second line of zhen pa bzhi bral, as the format of the grammar is the same for the four lines. Next is nges 'byung, renunciation.

This word is a good example of how Tibetans use smaller words and concepts to build new words. nges means to understand, be certain about, remember. We encountered 'byung before: will arise, will occur, will happen. So you could also translate nges 'byung as definite emergence.

However, the concept is to have a definite understanding the problem of Sanskrit Samsara, or in Tibetan 'khor ba. 'khor ba actually tells us the problem, 'khor ba means to turn in a circle, cyclic existence, 'khor is wheel. As long as one is stuck in a cyclic existence of suffering, and one does not accept this, then there's no nges 'byung. When one understands this and wants out from 'khor ba, then one has 'nges 'byung.

In the lam rim teachings this is the measure of someone being a practitioner of the lower scope, i.e. they have developed nges 'byung. lam rim is by the way stages of the path. lam means path, and rim means stages, but think of a missing genitive gyi particle beween, or lam gyi rim, so it becomes stages of the path. It's very common in Tibetan to shorten various expressions down to a few key words.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Simple Words - KHAMS

Ok, let's start on the second zhen pa bzhi bral. khams is a good word to learn, it means realm, region, element (five elements), providence. So you need to figure out what the word really means concerning the context, or how it's used.

In this case, we are really looking at khams gsum, realms-three, or the three realms. Usually in Abhdharma literature the world is divided into three parts:

* desire realm, 'dod pa'i khams, Sanskrit Kamadhatu
* form realm, gzugs khams, Sanskrit Rupadhatu
* formless realm, gzugs med kyi khams, Sanskrit Arupyadhatu, note med is another negation form; in Sanskrit the prefix a- is used.

'dod pa'i khams is the realm inhabited by humans, animals, hungry ghosts, hell beings, and lesser deities. Those in this realm are there because they spend most of their time related to desire - 'dod pa. You might say the beings there are experts on desire, so they end up in 'dod pa'i khams.

gzugs khams is a higher level of existence, based on meditational practices to transcend desire and to refine the form. For gzugs khams beings, 'dod pa'i khams is dirty, filty and unpleasant.

gzugs med kyi khams is an even higher level of existance, based on meditational background in even transcending form. Such beings just dwell in their minds, have no form, and considers this existence the ultimate peak of experience. Alas, that experience will wear off at some point.

Homework, look around in Jetsun Drakpa Gyeltsen's commentary on zhen pa bzhi bral, as well as in the Abhidharma-kosha text for references to khams gsum or other khams references.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

zhen pa bzhi bral - first line

  1. OK, this is the first of the four attachments to be free from. tse 'di as mentioned before is this life, la is pointing to this life from something on the right side, or zhen. zhen is attachment, na is a particle defining when, and what it points to on the right side is chos pa, dharma practitioner, however it's negated, so it's no dharma practitioner.

One way to fully translate this is: You are no dharma practitioner if you are attached to this life.

As for the meaning, there are many, the obvious one is that one is pleasant with one's life, thus is not achieving for any spiritual realizations. Another view Jetsun Drakpa Gyeltsen points out in his commentary is that anyone who takes for granted what is presented as how things are, by parents, school teachers, friends, politicians, and so on, they are not trying to figure out themselves how the world really works, thus they are not dharma practitioners.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Grammar - Negations, MA, MI, MIN, MED

In Tibetan you have two tiny words placed in front of the verb that will be negated, ma and mi. ma is used for past and imperative verbs; mi for present and future verbs. As for adjectives, sometimes ma is used, sometimes mi!

When looking for negations, you need to make you you don't mix it with a word that uses a ma syllable -- for example bla ma (lama, teacher) is where ma is part of the word, not a negation with the next word.

ma rig pa - ignorance, or not understanding
mi skye ba - not arising
mi rtag pa - changing, this is sometimes translated as impermanent, but rtag pa means not changing. This is especially tricky with the definition of a changing thing.
mi bden pa - not true, bden pa - true

Two special forms of negations -- is not -- are ma yin, is not, that is shortened to min, and med that is the negation of yod. You will see min and med used in various places, especially verses, and in zhen pa bzhi bral.

Homework, find examples of negations in Jetsun Drakpa Gyeltsen's zhen pa bzhi bral commentary.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Frequently Asked Questions

Please read this from time to time, and especially if you are new to this blog. Any new entries will show up as the first entries.

Q: I just found this blog, how should I catch up?
Just go back to the archive entries from November and read backwards. There's no rush, at some point you might catch up or not, but it's more important to learn the basics as future entries build on top of old ones.

Q: I would like to see how the Tibetan words look like?
I've been experimenting with Unicode Tibetan strings, and it could be made to work, after a lot of pain, and installation of the right fonts. Alas, the Windows and Mac platforms, still today, are not working properly concerning Tibetan glyphs. Until then, the entries are here as Wylie encoded text -- it's good to learn Wylie, anyway, as a lot of Tibetan material is presented on the web as Wylie encoded text.

Latest news is that Windows Vista fully supports stacked Tibetan letters, and eventually the next MacOSX version, so we might switch over to Unicode when there's a bigger penetration of these systems amongst users.

Q: But I would still like to type in the Tibetan words mentioned here?
Excellent question. I recommend using TibScanner, mentioned in this blog post. Type in the wylie into the window, after installing the needed fonts (the TibScanner page has the information), and you should see the text rendered as real Tibetan.

Q: I've tried to learn Tibetan before, but it takes so long to learn it...
It depends per individual. However, the rule to learn a language, or a craft, or playing the guitar, or painting, is to spend 10-20 minutes every day or more on it. This is far better than a huge vacation effort that is then forgotten later. This constant pattern recognition will create the needed causes for you to learn it. This, and especially helping someone else out with teaching them a language, a craft, and so on.

Q: How could I ever learn the grammar?
Well, some grammar is good to know, but it's more important to learn the linguistic patterns. The Tibetans took the grammar from Sanskrit, so it's highly confusing to map the grammar rules to us here in the West. There are many brave approaches, but most of them invent new terms and forces us to learn them.

Note that if you just want to read and translate texts, you should be able to see the big picture patterns after a while. Then based on these patterns it's good for you to learn more of the use, so you see more patterns. This is the approach taken here. Personally I understand the need for learning the grammar, but it does not need to become a burden.

Q: Why are some posts repeats?
I'm going through the original postings, adding bitmaps with Tibetan fonts, and othewise updating the entries. Depending on the blog reader setup, you could tell it (such s Bloglines which I recommend) to ignore repeat postings. Anyway, repetition is good!

Q: What's this mixture of Tibetan and English?
You mean sentences where Tibetan dang English bkra nams are mixed together? It's a way to see patterns, to recognize Tibetan words, the more you see a mixture and longer sets of Tibetan words, the sooner you start recognizing them in any Tibetan text.

Q: Why no articles on learning how to recognize and write Tibetan letters?
There are many excellent web sites available showing how the Tibetan fonts look like, and how to recognize them. So please use those and support those who make such sites.

This site is mostly focused on a practical pattern approach to see words, grammar and sentences in use so that very soon you get the feeling and understanding how classical Tibetan works.

Q: What does jigtenmig mean?
See this blog article. I apologize for the non-Wylie spelling of jig, ('jig), but I wanted an easy word to remember (translator), and also easy to do Internet searches on.

Verbs - YIN versus YOD

OK, in order to figure out the last part of the first line of zhen pa bzhi bral, we need to learn about the verb is and negations.

As mentioned before, is could have two Tibetan forms, yin and yod. What's the difference?

yin is used when something is:

dkar po kha dok yin - white is a color, remember the object-qualifier-verb rule to figure out what is white and what is color.

yod is used when something exists:

bum pa yod - pots do exist!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Grammar - Locative Particle NA Part 1

na is a so called Locative Partice, it locates something from the right to the left. For example right to the na particle is a verb, and it's pointing to the location on the left side.

There are two possible dimensions it locates, time or place. Usually a good quick word to use for translation is when.

Here are some examples of place:

khams gsum na - in the three realms
dkyil 'khor na - (reside) in the mandala

Here are some concerning time:

dus na - when (the) time (is)
de'i tshe na - at that time

However, na is a very flexible particle, expect it to be used in all kinds of other variations, such as

kha cig na - when some (do something) , kha cig - some
kho na - when alone, kho - he or she

and especially! zhen na - when attached (to)

Actually, expect to see and hear 'o na a lot, it means in that case, if that is so, very common in some commentary texts. There are many common expressions with na, so this article needs part 2.

Homework, go through the Jetsun Drakpa Gyeltsen commentary on zhen pa bzhi bral and find examples of na, especially zhen na.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tools -

I've used the service for a while now, and it's really neat! Basically it's a service where you could place all your bookmarks into an account at this web site. There are ways to quickly take any web URL and mark it for

I could now have all my bookmarks available from any system I want, I just log into and have access to them all. The bookmarks are backed up, too!

Furthermore, I could tag the bookmarks with meaningful tags. I could also export the listings for others to read or bookmark themselves.

Here's all the jigtenmig referred Tibetan texts and listings, so far. Feel free to bookmark that page as I will update it along the way when I mention or refer to other online texts or listings. I also added this URL to the right side of the blog: Texts and Listings.

Simple Words - TSHE

tshe is a very good word to learn, you see it here and there. tshe means life, but also time. when, at this time, at this occasion. So you need to figure out the context, does it mean life as in life-force, or a specific time point.

A common expression is tshe 'di la, from before we know that 'di means this, and la is an oblique particle, or as I like to think of it, an alias particle, pointing at the expression to the left from something on its right side (or a pointer for you C programmer fanatics).

To translate tshe 'di la we need to know what la points at so we need more information to fully translate this expression. For example, tshe could mean life, so it could be translated to this life. Furthermore, what is life referring to, this life as existence, or a life-time of work, the life we live, or something else? This will be more important when we finish the first line of zhen pa bzhi bral that starts tshe 'di la. But usually tshe 'di means this life from the point of view of one's existence.

Other expressions using tshe:
tshe gong ma - previous lives
tshe gang - entire life, gang - here means complete
tshe dbang skur - long life empowerment

Homework: Find tshe and tshe 'di la in Jetsun Drakpa Gyelsen's commentary on zhen pa bzhi bral. Note that in ACIP notation the letter is spelled as ts in instead of Wylie tsh, hence look for TSE and TSE 'DI LA.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Lo Jong Text - ZHEN PA BZHI BRAL, Part 2

In the Sakya tradition, the text actually starts with the simple statement:


bu means son. bu mo means daugher. In Tibetan there could be different words for the same thing, depending if you are talking 'upwards' or 'downwards'. Upwards means that you are talking to a higher level being, your parents, teacher, HH Dalai Lama, bodhisattva, enlightened being. Downwards means that a higher level person is talking to you about the word. bu and bu mo are when a higher level person is addressing a lower one. The opposite is if a lower level person is addressing a higher one, then the words are sras and sras mo.

For example, rgyal sras means spiritual heir, or Buddha-son, this is a synonym for Bodhisattva, as Buddhas are born from Bodhisattvas. In Sanskrit this is jinaputra, jina means Buddha or The Victiorious One, an putra means son (ex Shariputra).

Going back to why this blo sbyong starts with bu: Sachen Kunga Nyingpo as a 12-year old son was told by his teacher that as a heir to a great spiritual father he should also start doing practices. As one of the practices Sachen Kunga Nyingpo undertook was a long retreat on Manjushri. And actually Manjushri manifested for the boy, and first stated bu (as Manjushri is on a higher level than Sachen Kunga Nyingpo).

After this Manjushri stated the famous four lines of blo sbyong. And we will start tackling through the words and grammar, starting with the first ... zhen pa brel!

Homework: If not sure, do research on Manjushri. Find out the Tibetan name for Manjushri. (Maybe you know a monk, nun, or teacher by that name, already?)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


OK, let's start on the four-line Sakya (sa skya) blo sbyong text. The name of this text is zhenpa bzhi bral, this advice was given to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo by Manjushri himself.

zhen is is a verb, to grasp, desire, and when making it a noun, zhen pa, it becomes attachment.

bzhi is number four in Tibetan.

bral is a verb, to be free, parted from, separated from. bral ba is the noun of this verb, separation, freedom.

Another good thing know about nouns and their qualifiers is the order, noun-qualifier; thus zhen pa bzhi is attachments four, or four attachments. It's also very common to not include any plural statements such as rnams, as zhen pa bzhi indicates that the noun is plural.

The verb is at the end (see earlier article about sentence ordering). So, one translation of this title is To Be Free From the Four Attachments, even if it's quite OK to rephrase free to Freedom -- Freedom From the Four Attachments. I've also seen other translations such as Parting from the Four Attachments. If the meaning is clear and does not distort the original title, the translator has some liberties to change the words so it is easier for the reader to understand the main meaning. This is also the reason translators should take commentaries from qualified lineage teachers to learn the topic if possible inside out.

Try to do web searches to find commentaries and translations, including original texts around this blo sbyong text.

Next, we will talk about the history of this blo sbyong, and then go through each of the four attachments and how to be free of them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Basic Sentence Structures - The Verb "Is"

It's good to repeat from time to time! Let's just look at a very basic sentence structure, such as "HH Dalai Lama is a Buddhist."

In Tibetan, this could be: ye shes nor bu chos pa yin. HH Dalai Lama is known by Tibetans as ye shes nor bu, it's one of many titles and names, they don't call him Dalai Lama directly!

chos pa means dharma practitioner, remember the system of making words from other words by adding pa, po, ma or mo...

The last word is the verb yin, is, to be. Note there's another 'is' verb, this is yod, to exist. There are rules when yin or yod should be used -- more about that later.

Going back to the typical sentence structure, in Tibetan you state: HH Dalai Lama buddhist is. In other words, you have subject-object-verb. When translating, it's very common to first look at the starting point of the sentence, then skip to the verb, and go backwards, as the particles also point backwards. You should also be aware of nested sentences where a particle is pointing at a whole group of smaller parts, but that's a later story. Also, some sentences start with a connecting word, so don't always assume that the subject is the first word in a sentence.

Another word for dharma practitioner is nang pa. nang means inside, so nang pa could also be roughly defined as an insider. It's actually a good word, Buddhists are looking for solutions for problems inside their minds, not outside.

Homework: Spell out the same sentence using nang pa instead. Figure out what ye shes nor bu is when translated. Go through the Compendium of All Trainings by Master Shantideva, and find short sentences ending with yin, and figure out the subject, object and verb.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Reading Title Texts - SGRUB THABS

Continuing learning how to figure out what titles mean, another common form of scriptural literature is sgrub thabs. Many might know this by the Sanskrit name, sadhana. The figurative translation is 'means of achievement method'. The sgrub thabs is a set of instructions, if followed correctly, then results will manifest. Most of sgrub thabs are Tantra texts, I better say most, as there might be Sutra-level sgrub thabs I'm not aware of.

Some Tibetan teachers were very profilic sgrub thabs authors, sometimes they took existing ones, and recombined them, or rearranged them, shortened them requested by practitioners, or creatively rearranged them, even combining multiple sgrub thabs texts into a single one.

Going back to Je Tsongkhapa's listing of works over at TBRC, there are some sgrub thabs listed. dbyangs can ma'i sgrub thabs , this is a practice text related to dbyangs can ma, or Saraswati in Sanskrit. Saraswati is the Tantric practice related to learning, music and creativity.

gsang 'dus sgrub thabs is a Guhyasamaja (gsang 'dus) practice text. Guhyasamaja is a very important Tantric practice in the Gelug tradition; the Tantric system is taught based on this Tantra.

'jigs byed chen po'i sgrub thabs is the practice of Bhairava, also known as Yamantaka, rdo rje 'jigs byed. 'jigs means to be terrifying, fearsome, byed as we looked before was to coming to, make, create. So you could roughly translate this as the one who becomes fearsome, the fearsome one. Anyone seen a picture of Yamantaka knows this. Now, the terror is not directed as poor sentient beings, rather towards stamping out the mental afflictions in the practitioners mind. By the way, 'jig means broken, and rten means basis, so 'jig rten is the physical world, or the broken world -- as changing things constantly change...

Here's a link to TBRC to look at more sgrub thabs. Note that practice texts are also sometimes called las byang. Another name used for ritual texts is cho ga, this related to performing a specific ritual.


I think next we should go through a very famous four-liner blo sbyong (LO JONG) verse from the Sakya tradition, it covers the whole Buddhist path, so it's good to learn and memorize, as well as analyze the words and the grammar in these verses.

So what's blo sbyong? Remember that in Sanskrit and Tibetan there are many words for mind. We looked as sems and yid already. Another word for mind is blo.

sbyong is a verb, means to purify, develop, practice, train.

There are many versions of how to translate blo sbyong, developing the mind, mind training, cultivating a good heart. It seems mind training is a very common translation.

Maybe it's best to know what blo sbyong really is -- this to understand why it has been translated with so many terms. This system of mind training was introduced by Atisha to Tibet. It was for a long time an ear-whispered training method, the concepts behind blo sbyong, to put aside one's own needs all the time and just develop a mind thinking of others was just too radical for the environment and cultures of that time.

The result from such blo sbyong training is ultimately to develop bodhichitta, byang chub kyi sems (mind of enlightenment), so this is where the notation of cultivating ot developing a good heart comes from.

Usually blo sbyong texts are short, small summarized notations. You could print them out and put them as magnet stickers on your fridge!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Reading Title Texts - BSTOD PA

OK, let's learn to read titles of pages, so when you look through indexes and listings of works, you get a feeling what the text contains.

The first interesting word is bstod pa, means praise, hymn, eulogy, praises in verse. It's amazing how many such texts the Tibetan scholars and lamas have produced, and still produce.

Let's look at two very famous Tibetan scholars and their works, Sakya Pandita and Je Tsongkhapa. Here's the listing of works by Sakya Pandita at TBRC. And here's the listing of works by Je Tsongkhapa at TBRC.

Let's go first and look at Sakya Pandita's works. There are plenty of bstod pa texts, let's see birwa pa la bstod pa. birwa pa is the Tibetan name for Virupa, a very important Indian mahasiddha in the Sakya tradition. Virupa's Vajra Verses is the foundation for the whole Lamdre cycle of instructions leading to full enlightenment. It is common to write hymns and praises to famous teachers in the lineage. Sakya Pandita also wrote a praise to his root guru, his uncle Jetsun Drakpa Gyetsen, grags pa rgyal mtshan gyi bstod pa . It is said that Sakya Pandita had the purest guru devotion and took care of his uncle by all means, and this lead to Sakya Pandita becoming the highest possible scholar later.

Another praise Sakya Pandita wrote is sgrol ma la bstod pa, this is a praise to Tara, a Tantric deity. This is another example of a praise to a Tantric deity.

Going to Je Tsongkhapa's bstod pa texts, a very, very famous one is rten 'brel bstod pa . This is the Praise to Dependent-Origination. Je Tsongkhapa wrote this at his later days, and supposedly it clarifies the positions he had about emptiness to avoid his view becoming too nihilistic. This is another example of a praise to a concept or idea! You could also find bstod pa texts praising famous texts, Perfection of Wisdom sutras, and so on.

You could take a look at other praises listed on these pages, and with a dictionary, online or offline (check out the earlier mentioned Tibscanner!) you could figure out what the praise texts are about.

For even more bstod pa texts, see this page at TBRC.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Homework - Number 1

OK, below is a full sentence in Tibetan, describing the key point behind everything. Try to translate it using previous postings on the blog. If problems make a comment and I will give hints along the way.Why the homework? As with anything else in life, the best learning experience is to try to solve something, and learn something personally along the way. Besides, it's fun!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Simple Words - RGYU, BYUNG

We are building up to a homework assignment shortly, before that we just need two more common words.

As mentioned, rgyu means cause, or it could sometimes be translated as reason, seed, causal factor and anything else related to a cause. You should encounter this word quite a lot, especially in commentaries related to logic, middle way, perfection of wisdom, karma, and much more.

The other word is byung, this is a verb, means happened (past tense), took place, occurred, appeared. A very common verb!

OK, a note, do not confuse this verb with 'byung, note the ' at the beginning. Even if this short-a letter is not pronounced, 'byung means will happen (future tense), emerge, become manifest, and so forth. Sometimes this verb is also used in a noun, such as 'byung rkyen, another word for cause, reason, incident. rkyen is condition, the difference usually is that rgyu is the primary cause, and rkyen is secondary condition.

Next we will have a very famous sentence that describes the Buddhist philosophy how all things in the world appear. But you need to use the earlier blog entries to decipher this profound realization.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Grammar - Genitive Particle Part 3

Ok, last part in the genitive article series, for the time being.

If the last letter in the syllable is a vowel, the genitive particle takes the simple form of 'i. Depending on the syllable the pronunciation also could change, let's say the word ends with o, and you add 'i, then the pronunciation becomes umlaut-o, the vowel sound in the English word birth.

sgom pa'i lam - path of meditation, sgom pa is meditation
gnyen po'i rtog pa - power of the anti-dote, rtog pa - power.
skye ba'i rgyu - cause of rebirth, rgyu is cause, skye ba is birth (remember skye...)

Note: Remember the word rgyu, we will use this word soon in a complete sentence!

zab mo'i chos - profound dharma teachings, zab mo is profound.

Finally, there's an ancient form of the genitive particle, yi, this is used especially in verses as it could shorten down the syllables with one, to fit into a seven-syllable verse and so forth. It's seldom you see yi used in commentaries and other texts. Anyway, an example from the mandala offering:

ri yi rgyal po - king of mountains, ri - mountain, rgyal po - king, kinglike, this is Mount Meru.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Grammar - Genitive Particle Part 2

More genitive! This is a three-part series.

The particle is gyi if the preceding word ends with na, ma, ra or la.

'jig rten gyi khams - realms of the world (khams - realms, 'jig rten you should know by now)
lam gyi snying po - essence of the path (snying po - essence, lam you should know by now)
gser gyi rdo rje - golden vajra (gser - gold, rdo rje you should know by now)
sdug bsngal gyi bden pa - truth of suffering (sdug bsngal - suffering, bden pa - truth)

It's good to learn sdug bsngal and bden pa, you will encounter these words many times in Buddhist literature, as the core teaching is to teach the truth behind suffering, and then when this is known, one could remove the suffering. snying po is also a very common word.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Grammar - Genitive Particle Part 1

Ok, it's best to look into this now, as genitive is so common across any texts and translations. The genitive particle indicates ownership, something belongs to someone, it's part of this, and so on. Also remember the golden rule that particles point from right to left. We say wheel of dharma, Tibetans say dharma of wheel.

Again, as with other particles, depending on the last letter in the leftside word, the particle takes a different look, kyi, gyi, or 'i. Let's start in this section with kyi.

If the last word ends with da, ba or sa, the particle is kyi. Examples:

chos kyi 'khor lo - wheel of dharma
byang chub kyi sems - mind of enlightenment or the enlightened mind
chos kyi stobs - power of dharma or dharma power

As you could see, you could take some liberties to rewrite the sentence so it flows better -- no need to always use the word 'of'.

'khor lo is an interesting word. 'khor means to rotate, or a group of people (like sitting around in a circle) , or a retinue (of people). Think of things that rotate or are circled when seeing the word 'khor used.

Tools - TBRC lineage searches, teacher names

We have mentioned Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center before, but did you know what you could do lineage research with the database provided?

Let's take an example Je Tsongkhapa's Sakya background, do a search on persons and tsong kha pa, and you get a reference to his ordination name page, or blo bzang grags pa'i dpal. You get all the writings of Je Tsongkhapa. In addition, at the bottom there's a list of his teachers, we know that Rendawa, or red mda' ba, was a Sakya, but hmm, no red mda' ba in the listing... Do a new search for persons, and you get his page, based on his other name gzhon nu blo gros. Ok, now we could compare the pages and indeed see Rendawa is in the listing, and go to his page. According to this page he had ten teachers, and you could go backwards in time and establish the lineage this way.

What did we learn? Well, there are various ways to establish lineages via known so called rnam thar texts, these are the biographies of famous teachers. But TBRC is really establing itself as a resource where you could do detective work and find out all kinds of cross-relational lineages, for example find out the Sakya lineage behind Je Tsongkhapa.

The other thing we learned is that Tibetan teachers have had many names, you need to learn to figure out the ordination name versus the given name, or another name given by their students as a homage, or a nick name... We will talk more about that later.

We will next look at how to learn to read titles presented inside TBRC, it's kind of cool to see what various teachers wrote.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Search engines and Tibetan, network of information

Speaking of 'byung ba chen po, just for fun try to type this into Google and see if you get results. Try with other Tibetan words spelled as Wylie.

I would expect there will be more and more hits in future.

This leads me to the soap box. This is an interesting time we live in, there's' a network of knowledge that is slowly expanding. There will be more and more Tibetan material available for direct searches via any search engine. Same with RSS feeds, blogs, online translation tools, and much more.

We just need to both upload more knowledge, and build more connections between various services. The next post is about an amazing online web site that maybe some of you know about.

Simple Words - CHEN

chen po is a word you will see a lot, it means big, huge, great. The root is really chen, great, and then depending on the word itself, male or female, and so forth, you might see chen po, chen pa, chen mo and so forth. Examples:

theg pa chen po - Supreme Vehicle, in Sanskrit Mahayana, maha is great, and yana is vehicle. Today it's better to translate this as the Vehicle of Universal Responsibility, this as it is not appropriate to talk about lesser and greater vehicles, it's against the idea of equanimity.

nag po chen po - the "Great Black One", another name for the wrathful aspect of Avalokiteshwara, or Mahakala. See the maha here again, it became mega in English.

kun mkhyen chen po - the Great Omniscient One (kun mkhyen - all-knowing), the title given to a great Nyingma teacher also known as Longchenpa, or klong chen pa. This is an example how chen po is used in honorary titles. klong is a good word for this teacher, it means space, vast, and Longchenpa is famous for the Nyingma Dzogchen teachings.

Note how the adjective come after the noun, such as black great one.

A variation of chen po is chen mo, the female mo is used in honorific titles referring to the wisdom aspect of the title, as the female force is associated with wisdom (the male force is associated with activity). Thus, lam rim chen mo is the famous text written by Je Tsongkhapa (rje tsong kha pa) who founded the Gelug tradition (dge lugs) , lam rim is paths and stages, so this is the Great Treatise on the Stages and the Paths.

PS: dge is virtue and lugs is here tradition, so dge lugs is the tradition of the virtuous ones, referring to the emphasis on the monastic tradition and buddhist vows in the Gelug tradition. Not that all the other Tibetan Buddhist traditions also have a monastic tradition and emphasize keeping the vows.

Homework: Figure out the word 'byung ba chen po that shows up quite a lot in Abhidharma-kosha...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Expressions - LTA BU

To continue with the theme of common expressions, here's another similar one, lta bu, means such as, like, similar, for example. You could find many of these, for example do a search inside Compendium of All Trainings.

You should find some cases where the sentence ends with lta bu'o. This style of ending a sentence is common, the single 'o at the end of lta bu indicates that this is indeed the last word (or verb) in the sentence. The 'o is added as lta bu ends with a vowel. Note this pattern, you will experience it with other patterns soon, such as particles, genitive particles, and so forth.

Other examples are:

de lta bu - like that, of that kind
gnyen po rdo rje lta bu - vajra-like antidote (gnyen - antidote, rdo rje - vajra)

rdo rje (pronounced DORJE), by the way, is a really interesting word, it refers to something that is immutable, indestructible, supreme. It sometimes is translated as diamond, as the diamond is the hardest material. The ultimate rdo rje is emptiness (stong pa nyid). The conventional rdo rje is the ritual implement held in the right hand. So maybe the antidote above now makes sense, based on puzzling together the information.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Expressions - LA SOGS PA

Let's take some very common expressions and patterns you could see when looking at classical Tibetan texts. One of my favourite ones is la sogs pa, sometimes sogs pa. It means et cetera, and so on, and the like, and so forth. It's actually a very common expression in commentary texts.

Try to search for la sogs pa in this text, Compendium of All Trainings by Master Shantideva, yes this is the other famous text Master Shantideva wrote, a collection of all the important Sutra trainings, with references to sutras that we don't even have available today.

One reason this expression is very common is that some of the texts assume that the reader has studied the topic before, or read about it in the same commentary. The other issue is that it's really tough to carve from wood all the needed blocks for printing texts (the pages are called pechas in Tibetan). So to minimize the amount of words, the writer sometimes added a statement such as 'you know from before'. It's also typical for Tibetan texts to sometimes be terse and to the point.

When translating such cases, either you push it to the reader, or now with computers and easier ways to publish material, it would be preferred to either make a footnote, or then really add in the knowledge directly to the sentence, this to clarify the point.

Now, it also means that you need to know the topic, good translators have spent a long time mastering the actual topic before attempting to translate such texts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Summary so far

OK, if you followed the entries from the beginning, or has just found this blog, we have gone through a few very common words, a couple of nouns and particles. We have also tackled the issue of how to learn to separate words, how a sentence looks like, and how verses look like. We have also gone through classical introductions to texts so that you know the homage section, the translated titles, and so on. You still need to learn the alphabet, but with this other information and a dictionary you should have a good chance to look at any arbitrate text, the beginning, and figure out what it's all about.

Next we will go through typical commentary sentences so you get the feeling of how a sentence flow works. We will revisit earlier mentioned particles, and add in a couple of new ones. There will be more dharma nouns, more verbs and other expressions. So hang on there, if you spend each day 10-30 minutes on this, you will very quickly get up to speed to look at any classical text and figure out sentences and statements.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Complete Sentence - Karma is movement of the mind and what it brings about

Ok, now we have the second line from the fourth chapter of Abhidharma-Kosha defining what karma really is:

(click on the picture for a bigger image)..

de ni
points at the the earlier sentene that talked about las (karma). So karma is sems pa, movement of the mind, dang (and) des (by that) byas (creates). In this case I translated it with a more flexible approach: Karma is movement of the mind and what it brings about.

Feel free to look up this sentence inside Abhidharma-kosha. It's also very good to memorize these two sentences. I someone asks you what's the Buddhist worldview about how the world is created, you could use the first line of chapter four, and if someone asks what is karma then, you use the second line, so you sound like a Geshe!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Simple Words - BYAS

The last word in the famous second line from chapter four in Abhidharma-kosha (that describes what karma really is), is the word byas.

byas is actually the past tense of the word byed (pronounced JE). byed is a very common verb, good to learn. It means: do, make, perform, come to, act, work and so on... The past tense is byas, or done, created, did make. So yes, like in other languages you need to learn the various verbs and their past, present and future tenses. Sorry, no direct rules in Tibetan how to easily find the tense.

Verbs are very commonly placed as the last word in a sentence, so that's one way to find the verbs.

As an interesting foonote, remember how in Tibetan you could create new words, even from verbs, by adding a pa, po, ma, or mo. Here byas pa is a deed, something created/done.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Grammar - Instrumental Particle, By That

The next word in the famous second line followup telling that karma is, is the word des. It's really de + s, where we already mentioned that de is that. The s added to the end is an example where a particle is not just always a standalone syllable, it could also be added to the word itself, especially if the word ends with a vowel.

As de ends with a vowel, the particle added here is an s added to the end.

So what is this particle? It's a so called instrumental particle, something is instrumental in something happening, created, appearing, done, and so forth. A good quickie filler word is by. And remember to read the connection between the particle from the right side of the particle to the left.

We will talk more about this important particle later, but just now it's good to know that des means by that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Tools - UDP Unicode Document Processor

UDP is a very handy application, it's a Windows document processor for using Tibetan and Unicode Tibetan fonts, as well as other Unicode fonts.

If you follow the instructions on the site and install the app including the fonts, you could take entries typed in here as Wylie or ACIP, and convert them to Tibetan fonts. You could also import ACIP files, or type in directly Tibetan using the keyboard layouts.

Now, if you download this applications and the Tibetan fonts mentioned at the web site, and then download the earlier referred ACIP document Abhidharma-kosha, make sure the file prefix ends with .ACT, and then when you open it up with UPD you should see it with Tibetan fonts.

There's now also an RSS feed available in case you want to follow any chances to the UDP program.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Simple Words - SEMS PA

To continue with our mind, remember that in Tibetan you could build new words using the syllables pa, po, ma, mo. If you add pa to sems, you get sems pa, something like a 'mind thingie'. What this 'mind thingie' really is, that's a hard word to translate. One way to translate is the movement of the mind. Another translation term is to think, reflect, motivation, intention, or even something like the directionality of the mind!

To really understand this, it's good to have a basic primer concerning the mind. In Abhidharma-kosha, the mind is described as a continious flow of pieces of thought, there are 65000 of these discrete movements of the mind in about a fingersnap. That's sems pa, or this translated back to Tibetan, de ni sems pa.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Simple Words - SEMS

Sanskrit and Tibetan has many words for mind, sems is one, yid is another one. It's interesting how our culture has very few words describing mind or the mental functions.

sems, mind, in sanskrit is citta, and it's present in words such as Cittamatra, mind-only school. Note that you need to think of the context when translating this word, it could mean the cognitive act itself, thoughts, consciousness, and so forth.

As an interesting other word, sems can means sentient being. can is used to describe something that has a quality, so sems can is someone with a mind, that's the definition of a sentient being. This includes animals as well, as they have a mind.

Resources - Critical Editions from the Institute of Tibetan Classics

Here's another good source of original Tibetan texts that have been re-edited for fixing typos and so forth, Downloads from the Institute of Tibetan Classics. This is the group that is publishing 30 key Tibetan texts, called the Classics of Tibet Series. For example the Kalachakra commentary Ornament of Stainless Light translated by Gavin Kilty and the Lo Jong commentary called Mind Training translated by by Thubten Jinpa. was created by this group. This institute headed by the main translator of HH Dalai Lama, Thupten Jinpa.

The forthcoming Lamdre collections of translations by Cyrus Stearns is also one of the projects.

These PDF files correspond to the book translations, so you could follow along and see how the translations were done.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Grammar - Plural and Singular

Sometimes in Tibetan you don't know if something is plural or singular, you need to figure it out from the context, such as the homage to Buddhas and bodhisattvas, it is assume one is prostrating to more than one of each. Also, if a number is given, then you know the noun is plural (or singular in case gcig is used.)

There's a specific word that is added to the end of the word to indicate plural, rnams, and sometimes, but more rarely, dag, or even tsho. To show a couple of examples:

mi - human, mi rnams - human (this is where we actually know it's plural in Tibetan but not in English).
sangs rgyas - Buddha, sangs rgyas rnams - Buddhas
chos - dharma, chos rnams - dharmas (for example phenomena)
'jig rten, world, 'jig rten rnams - worlds
nyon mong rnams - mental afflictions

Take a look inside Abhidharma-kosha for more plural words!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

General - About the Entries

Note that sometimes I go in an re-edit, add or otherwise re-annotate earlier postings. This if I realized there's someting else that is good to be in the entry, or if there's a mistake that needs to be fixed. So this blog is more like a book in progress.

I hope most blog reader software makes sure edited entries are shown as changed ones based on the timestamp in the entry. If not, sorry, but it's good to review entries especially if you try to learn to translate, and you want to fresh up your mind.

Also, I'm kind of both adding introduction material as well as interesting information for anyone who is already doing Tibetan traditions. This is based on my experience of Bikram yoga, it's good to have everyone in the same room and do all the asanas, beginners and experts, everyone learns from everyone. And this is also equanimity in action.

Grammar - NI

Next for translating the next verses of chapter four in Abhidharma-kosha (the one about las) is the particle ni. This is sometimes called an emphatic particle, it emphasizes something, a single word or a sentence. Sometimes when I see this particle I think of Monthy Python and the Holy Grail, the sequence with the Knights who say Ni(h).

Anyway, ni tells that the word or sentence before is the topic for the next words or sentences. You will see this used in commentaries where a word is defined, so first you have the word, then ni, then the definition. It's also used in verses as a filler syllable to achive seven-syllable verses (as in Abhidharma-kosha the Tibetan version).


sangs rgyas ni - buddhas, they...
de ni - that (that, it is....)
'di ni - this, (this, it is)
las ni - karma, it is...
stong pa nyid ni - emptiness, it is...
snying rje chen po ni - great compassion, that is

Usually you find a better word or structure for the actual translation, but you could always use a filler word set such as 'that is' to get a start on the translation

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Isolating Words

That's usually the first issue those aspiring to learn Tibetan. The words don't have any clear separation, you need to find the patterns of syllables and where words end and others start. And the syllables are separated by this tiny upper dot called TSEK.

One way it to learn to see that many words end with pa, po, ba, ma or mo. These are a form of particles, indicating male of female aspects. As a footnote, pa, ba and po indicate masculine words, activity, engagement. Words ending with ma and mo indicate female qualities, wisdom, insight. Now ma means mother, and pha means father (not pa even if it's close!). mo is either the famous divination form, or a lady, as well. So if you see lots of these, find the last one and go backwards a little bit.

A BIG NOTE! ma also is a negation, placed in front of something, like ma yin, it is not. So it's not the end of a word. It's a classical gotcha. Actually ma yin is many times condensed to the word min.

It's easier to find the beginning and ending words, look at the long line, SHAH, and that's where an expression ends. The word at the end is usually a verb, or another particle.

There are other patterns you start to see after a while. As an auspicious exersize, check out the 8000 Verses of the Perfection of Wisdom.

Studying Existing Translations

A lot about learning a language is to examine patterns and get used to them. Looking at existing translations, side by side with the originals and English, is a good way to get to see the patterns over and over, and internalize them over time. It's Ok if you only even recognize a single pa or ma here and there, and yes, there's a yin and yod, and OK, that's a stong pa nyid (emptiness), and so on.

Here are some suggestions about books and online material I've seen that has Tibetan and English listed on the same pages, or side by side.

One book with the Tibetan on the left side and English on the right is Cyrus Stearns translation of an important Lamdre text, the book in English is called Luminous Lives. This is about the lineage masters of Lamdre, an important system in the Sakya tradition. Going through this you get a good grasp of the Sakya style literature. The other nice thing with this book is that the annotations (that many commentaries have) are listed in both Tibetan and English with a lighter font, so you get a feeling how comments are interspersed with the original text.

As for online texts, there are many, but you could spend a long time going through the Asian Classics Institute translated text materials, the readings, for example the Lo Jong material with a full translation of the Wheel of Sharp Weapons, both Tibetan and English is provided. Or as we are going through the introduction of chapter 4, you could take a look at the readings for ACI course V, karma, that has parts of the Abhidharma-kosha as well as Gendun Drup's commentary listed.

Anyway, pick something you are really interested in, and try to follow along the Tibetan text and see how it was translated. Even small words here and there will build up the vocabulary. And as usually, it's the long term that counts, every day a little bit is much better than a massive attempt every six months for a short time.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Simple Words - DE

Here's a good simple word to know, de, means that! The other word, 'di, means this.

Other examples:
de dus - at that time
de nas - from there or now, following that (pronounced DE NE), you might hear this word quite a lot when listening to a lama teaching. nas is the particle from that is more specific than the particle las.
de bzhin - like that, bzhin has many meanings of which one is like or similar.

A more complex form where de is used is de kho na nyid, thatness, kho na nyid means just that, or only, so you could translate that as that only. In Sanskrit this is tathata. Two comments, maybe you now see the relationship between English and Sanskrit. Also, this is wherefrom the word Tathagata comes, 'gone to thatness', a title of a Buddha. tathata is suchness, fundamental nature, how things really are, no self-existence, just dependent origination. You could now figure out what the Sanskrit word gata means.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Complete Sentence - World is Created By Karma

Here's the complete, famous, sentence from Master Vasubandhu's Abhidharma-kosha text, based on the set of words we went through recently:

Click to zoom in.

This is the first line in the fourth chapter of this root text, dealing with Buddhist cosmology, how the mind works, karma, what are mental afflictions, and so on. The third chapter presented how the world looks like, so this is the punch line in the opening lines of chapter four dealing with karma. In other words, all those myriad worlds described in chapter three are due to karma sentient beings experience. The next line gives a quick summary what karma itself is, so maybe we should go through that one next. That way you could memorize the first two lines of this chapter, and explain to someone how the world works!

The other thing to note is that verses usually start and end with a long line called shad (SHAH), unless the last syllable has a ga letter, then there's no last shad. This is one way to separate sentences in verses.

The other note is that the verses were designed to be memorized, so they are of a certain syllable amount, for example in this case seven syllables, a classical format. This makes it possible to sing out the verses, or remember the parts, less or more than seven is a problem. It also causes the original translators to do very clever ways to either leave out words without causing problems with the meaning, or add filler words. We will see this from time to time when we look at verse scriptures.

PS: Click on the Abhidharma-kosha link above and use the find feature of your browser to find the specific line!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Grammar - Sentence Structure

It's good to know a little bit about the sentence structure. It's very common that the Tibetan sentence has the following order, SUBJECT-OBJECT-VERB, for example:

nga nang pa yin,

nga means I, nang pa means Buddhist (literally translated insider), and yin is 'is''.

Sometimes the sentence order is SUBJECT-OBJECT-OBJECT ATTRIBUTES-VERB, see earlier entries such as the homage: sangs rgyas thams cad la 'phyag tshal lo,

The sentence could also end with a particle, such as dang, (and), so it continues in the next sentence, or end with a particle such as la, so the next sentence is referring to the previous sentence -- remember la is pointing at something from the right to the left.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Simple Words - SKYES

OK, the last word in a soon to be announced famous quote, some might have already figured it out.

skyes - means born, arise. skyes skar is birth day, where skar is actually star. skyes dngos is living matter, dngos means real, actual, real birth stuff.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Simple Words - SNA TSHOGS

There's a reason we look at sna tshogs next, it means myriad, variety, manifold...

me tog sna tshogs - multitude of flowers
'jig rten sna tshogs - multitude of worlds, myriad worlds
las sna tshogs - various work, various karmas
las sna tshogs pa - jack of all trades!

It's usually interesting to break down the world to parts, tshogs means group, assemblage, accumulation. Now, sna usually means nose, but in this case it's kind, part, portion... So roughly, the rough transliteration is accumulation of parts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Simple Words - GCIG GNYIS GSUM

Usually it's good to learn the numbers 1, 2, 3 in any language.

gcig - one, but it could be used in any context defining unity, the one and only, singular, complete whole. Sanskrit one is eka, by the way.
skyabs gcig - only refuge
ro gcig - one taste (sometimes used as an expression of being inseparable from)

gnyis - two, also means duality, both, either one, dichotomy, two aspects. In Sanskrit this is dva.
bden gnyis
- the two truths.
skad gnyis pa -- this is a funny one (!), means having two voices, either a translator (knows two languages), or a parrot.

gsum - three. In Sanskrit, tri.
kham gsum
- the three realms (form, formless, desire)
dus gsum - the three times, past, present and future, Buddhas could dwell in the three times, for example. So by now you should be able to translate dus gsum sangs rgyas thams cad.

Simple Words - 'JIG RTEN

Next word for building a famous quote is 'jig rten (pronounced JIKTEN), the external world, the world we live in, in Sanskrit loka.

The build-up of this word is very interesting, 'jig is a verb, to break, destroy, demolish, decay. rten is a very common word used in various combinations, it means base, support, foundation. For example, it plays a role in the word rten 'brel, interdependent connection.

So the combination translated means 'a broken basis'. In other words, the world we live in and experience is by nature decaying, broken.

Resources - Text References and the Entries So Far

If you have followed along the entries, there have been examples of words and structures, as well as references to online Tibetan texts at Asian Classics Input Project. You could always do searches in the text material on the past and future words and structures. The idea is that the more you see the patterns in use, the more familiar you are to them, and after a while you naturally translate in your mind the words based on past habituation. A little bit like how karmic imprints operate, actually.

For example, the just mentioned Stages of Meditation by Master Kamalashila (part one) has many words and structural patterns earlier mentioned. You could figure out the Sanskrit title, Bhavanakrama (yes, the Tibetan says zh'a which is usually Bha), and in Tibetan bsgom pa'i rim pa. We have mentioned bsgom pa or bsgom before, meditation, so rim pa is new, that's stages. Remember the use of pa, ba (or po, bo) to make nouns of other words such as verbs) the 'i thingie is another particle we will mention later, a genitive particle, usually means of, and remember that particles connect something from the right to the left...