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).

Examples:

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...

Examples:
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.
Examples:
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.
Examples:
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.
Examples:
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...

Grammar - LAS particle

OK, another word that is also las! This time it's a particle, it defines a starting point or a source, in general. Usually the first word you should try to substite this with is from, but note that sometimes you need to use a better word for a better flow of the translation. This particle is sometimes called an ablative. There's another form, nas, this is also usually translated as from, but in this case it's a very known source or target, while las is more abstract.

Here's an example: las las, from karma. Note again that particles point to the left side, you read from the particle backwards, so the first word is karma, the second from, or karma from, and in our minds it's read as from karma.

Here are some other examples:
rgyud las - from Tantra(s)
chos las - from Dharma
ting nge 'dzin las - from meditation (ting nge 'dzin is sometimes also samadhi, a very special meditation state)

Try to look inside the Master Kamalashila's text Stages of Meditation (part 1) to find more examples of las, try to translate what's on the left side of the text. Beware in case the word actually means karma, you need to see this from the context.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Simple Words - LAS

We will now continue building a very famous scriptural statement about karma. So the first word is las, karma (Sanskrit), pronounced LE. las, or karma, is a tricky word to translate, it means an action and the result, so sometimes it's translated in English as action, or deed. But to remember is the connection between an action and the result, it's a complete package, i.e. a karma that is planted and later experienced.

Positive actions always result in good results, negative actions always result in negative results. There are no exceptions.

las could also be used in the context of work, for example what kind of work or job one has -- quite fascinating, as karma indeed dictates what kind of job you have just now.

In Sanskrit

OK, let's take something totally from a different angle. The Kangyur collection is the collection of spoken words by the Buddha, in other words it has the sutras. The so called Tengyur is the collection of commentaries and texts by Indian panditas and yogis, pandita is a title for a scholar. Sakya Pandita received this title by the contemporary Indian Panditas, by the way.

A text in the Kangyur or Tengyur collection usually starts with the original Sanskrit title, and after that the Tibetan translation. The Sanskrit title is preceeded by: རྒྱ་བར་སྐད་དུ། rgya gar skad du, for example:

rgya gar skad du, bha ga ba ti padznaya'p'a ra mi t'a hri da ya, translated as the Heart Sutra in contemporary translations, even if the intent is to point out the heart essence of the perfection of wisdom (emptiness).

རྒྱ་བར། rgya gar means India, སྐད། skad means speech, voice, but in this context language, so རྒྱར་གར་སྐད། rgya gar skad means the language of India. As we know Kangyur and Tengyur was written down in Sanskrit, it's maybe the best to just translate this as Sanskrit. The last word du is another particle we will encounter many times, it's a particle of general subordination. It establishes a relationship between the right side and the left side. It has actually many forms, tu, su, ru, and an r appended to the previous word, depending on the last letter. Here སྐད། skad has a d, so it's དུ། du. As a quick first translation word, use as.

Anyway, this as might be superfluous here, In Sanskrit, as, so you might as well leave it out.

If you look at the Kangyur or Tengyur collection, you will see this phrase many times at the beginning of a text.

Finally, after the Sanskrit title you have the Tibetan title, so the prefix for this is: བོད་སྐད་དུ། bod skad du, In Tibetan, where བོད། bod is Tibet or Tibetan.

Here are some examples of texts from Asian Classics Input Project, in ACIP format, that you could take a look at, the beginning, and see how the titles are defined:

* Diamond Cutter Sutra
* Abhidharma-kosha by Master Vasubandhu
* Bodhisattva Way of Life by Master Shantideva

Or check out other Kangyur and Tengyur texts.

Homage - Complete Sentence

OK, based on the words and grammar we have gone through so far, we could build a complete homage sentence. I've included an image of the sentence, as not all systems have Tibetan fonts included :




Click on the image to zoom in.

As a home assignment you could go through the spelling and learn how each letter is forming the sentence, where things are stacked, and so on. You could also try to translate this text based on the earlier postings in this blog... Note that this could be a very common homage at the beginning of a commentary.

Check out the homage in the beginning from Bodhisattva Way of Life, from Asian Classics Input Project, does it look familiar? As a bonus project, look at the homage section in the Heart Sutra and figure out the additional homage objects mentioned.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Three Jewels

We have already mentioned two of the three so called three jewels, Buddha is sangs rgyas, dharma is chos, and the third is sangha, or dge 'dun. This is the spiritual community of practitioners, usually represented by the monks and nuns, but could consist of all those who practice Buddhism, and in one way of looking at the three jewels, it represents all those who engage in Buddhist activities, either openly, or incognito.

The three jewels are called dkon mchog, or sometimes dkon mchog gsum, the three jewels., where number three is gsum. Just by analysing the word dkon mchog, you get a feeling how the Tibetans took the Sanskrit term ratna (jewel, or sometimes triratna where tri means three), and converted it to a term that gives an additional angle to the teachings.

dkon means rare, hard to find or aquire, mchog means surpreme, most excellent. So the three jewels are hard to find, but when found they are the most supreme thing you could have.

Grammar - LA Particle

OK, a little bit Tibetan grammar now. Something you will notice very shortly is that Tibetan words are very short, and in addition, there are all kinds of small binding words that tie together structures on the left and right side of this word. Stephen Hodge calls them particles, and I like this term -- the particles create relationships between word entities, like gravitational particles. For some used to more formal grammar defitions they could also be considered prepositions.

Anyway, the first important thing to know is that the particle points at a relationship to a word or sentence before the particle. Or, when you see a particle, look at the word or sentence structure to the left of it. Also, it binds something that follows the particle, to the right of the particle word. This is the reason why it's in many cases good to read Tibetan sentences backwards...

The la particle is not exactly the easiest one to learn, but we need this shortly to build a complete sentence based on the words we learned before. It's a so called Oblique Particle, it kind of points at something else, a direction, hint, alias, redirection, and so on. A simple start is to substitute la with to, and see what happens, and in some cases you need to use another English word, such as for, regarding, on, in, by means of...

Here are some examples: sangs rgyas la, to Buddha. If you add a verb at the end, you get something like sangs rgyas la phyag 'tshal lo, I prostrate to the Buddha (or Buddhas, there's no direct plural definition in sangs rgyas, but it's assumed one prostrate to many Buddhas, or only one, again depending to the context...).

Let's take another example, this time without verbs, as we have not gone through many of them yet, sems chen thams cad la, towards all sentient beings.

chos la, to dharma, or in the dharma. A variation might be chos zab mo la, in the profound dharma.

There are many other variations and cases, but this is a start concerning the la particle. Don't worry, we will encounter la many times in future.

Origins of the Tibetan Letters and Grammar

The Tibetan language belongs to a group of Tibeto-Burman languages, mostly used in the Tibetan cultural areas of Tibet. It's roots are in a nomadic society, with very short syllables and expressions - such as 'Hey, yak, come down the hill!' Personally I also think Tibetan is spoken very fast due to the lack of long vowels and longer words.

As part of the Buddhist transmission of teachings the Tibetan culture needed a way to write down the translated teachings and commentaries, quite an undertaking. According to Tibetan history, a king named Rongtsan Gampo instructed this to happen, and Thonmi Sambhota, a minister in the Rongtsan Gampo administration, traveled to Bengal in the mid 7th century in order to learn how Sanskrit was written, and he took the so called Lanca letter system back to Tibet. This is the printed form of Tibetan, called U CHEN, used for printing Buddhist materials, for example. There's also another version of the letters used for hand-written texts, such as letters, called U ME.

Anyway, some Indians could recognize the U CHEN letters due to the historical origin of how the Sanskrit letters were written in Bengal long time ago. The Lanca letters also play an important role in the Tantric teachings, so the letters are considered sacred symbols.

The Tibetans have certain sounds not present in Sanskrit, so these were added to the letter set. Also, Tibetans didn't have the concept of the V sound, so they used B instead.

The Tibetan grammar itself was derived from the Sanskrit grammar. As Sanskrit and Tibetan is very different concerning word use and sentence structures, this re-use of grammar was quite an interesting approach.

This system became the foundation for writing down translations and commentaries of Buddhist texts, and the style and word use has been unbroken for a very long time, from around the 9th century forward up to our days. The spoken Tibetan has changed over time, and today it is morphing both in Tibet due to the Chinese influence, and in Indian settlements where Indian and English words have been introduced to the spoken language. However, fortunately the Classical Tibetan is very concise and uniform, and this makes it much easier to translate very old material.

For example, the dharma terms were defined with a one-to-one mapping, with the exception of some earlier translated terms that might still show up in classical texts, and this became a standard dictionary, called Mahavyutpatti. You could order this dictionary as a computer dictionary from TCC, there are also other printed versions available, as well as an interesting mini-Mahavyutpatti from lotsawahouse. The Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Terminology by Rigzin also has many of the Mahavyutpatti terms listed. One of the debate topics amongst contemporary Tibetan translators is the lack of a similar defined dictionary, good or bad, that what the debate is about.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Making Nouns out of Verbs

To follow up on phyag 'tshal, in many cases the Tibetan language could build a noun from the verb by adding a ba or pa at the end of the verb. So, phyag 'tshal becomes phyag 'tshal ba, a prostration or homage.. mchod is to offer, mchod pa is offering, for example bla ma mchod pa, the Lama offering ceremony in the Gelug tradition, originally written by the fourth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Chokyi Gyaltsen (kind of first, the first three titles were given posthumously), a very profilic text writer, especially in the Gelug Mahamudra tradition. Anyway, now you know bla ma, from Sanskrit lama.

Offering ceremony in Sanskrit is puja, and you hear this term a lot in the Tibetan tradition.

Back to verbs and nouns, to take another example, sgom is to meditate, and sgom pa is a meditation, Sanskrit bhavana, but it could also mean practice, cultivation, contemplation, and so on.. It's a very flexible word. The verb itself, sgom, means to get used to something, in other words you get used to something by over and over reflecting it in your mind, that's the meaning of meditation..

Anyway, not to confuse this word with the Tibetan word dgon pa, that means temple or monastery!

As for ba and pa letters, expect to see a lot of them in Tibetan texts, they are used to make nouns, and so forth. One trick to learn how to separate words in Tibetan sentences is to learn to see the ending ba or pa letters of a specific words -- this as there's no space in Tibetan, rather those tiny upper-end dots between syllables, called a TSEK.

Simple Words - PHYAG

OK, time to look at a verb. I could have taken yin or yod that means is depending on the context, but let's take another one that we will use later to build a complete structure based on the earlier words explained: phyag.

phyag, pronounced CHAK, means to prostrate, or salutate, or do homage, bow down, fold the hands. A longer version is phyag 'tshal, homage, an expression of reverence. In the Indian and Tibetan culture you do an expression that shows that the value another person of object has is incredible, so you bow down to this being or object, and by this expression you indicate how much you value it. In addition, in the Buddhist tradition, you also add in the concept that you want to obtain the same good qualities as the object or being as part of this expression.

Usually in complete sentences the verb is at the end of the sentence. To indicate it is indeed the last entry, and the next sentence starts something new, the verb is doubled with an -o ending, and depending on the last letter in the word, the -o ending might look different. In this case 'tshal ends with an l, so the ending is lo, or phyag 'tshal lo. By the way, in Sanskrit this is namo, such as in namo gurubye. In many translations namo is indeed translated as phyag 'tshal lo, for example in one of the first sentence of a text that is a homage. The homage sentence is used as a way to classify the commentary so you know what the text contains, but that's another story to be told later.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bodhisattva Way of LIfe

One way to get up to speed with Tibetan translation is to examine existing translations of a common text, and see how it's done -- this with an option to first try to translate the text, and then see what the outcome is, comparing it with various other translations.

One of the most famous Indian Buddhist commentaries is Shantideva's Bodhisattva Way of Life. It has been translated into English many times. Here are some references where to download original Tibetan texts, and so forth.

Here's a site where you could get the Tibetan as a PDF file. A commentary by Khenpo Kunpal including some input in Wylie is here. You could get the Asian Classics Input version here.

Simple Words - CHOS

Another common word good to know, chos. This is the translation of the Sanskrit term dharma.

dharma, or chos has many translations. Usually the first thing you think of is Buddhist dharma, the teachings, or one of the three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha). But depending on the context it could also mean elements of existence, doctrine, manifestation, law and order, phenomena, knowable thing. Phenomena are considered dharmas. They are also in logic considered knowable things.

So, as an example: chos thams cad, depending on the context it could mean: all Buddhist teachings, all phenomena, all the doctrines, all the scriptures, and so on..

PS: Want to get Tibetan Pechas?

Check out Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, you could order individual pechas as PDF files from this place, or whole collections, for example the collected writings of the Five Patriarchs of Sakya is available there. They ask for a donation, but it's for a very good cause, Gene Smith is the main reason a lot of the Tibetan texts are available for us here in the West.

PDF files are handy, as you could zoom in on tiny details, especially withi smudgy words, and when you are not sure if the letter is a DA or an NGA (one of my main headaches).

Simple Grammar - Learn to read backwards

This is an attempt to start with very simple Tibetan grammar postings.

The first cryptical posting is: in many cases read the sentence from right to left. It has to do with so call particles such as la, nas, gyi, and so on, and they point at something from the right side to the left, so when you read sentences backwards, it's a more natural flow.

More later, but it's a good rule to know about when translating sentences.

Wylie, ACIP, Unicode...

In order to get by concerning Tibetan titles and texts, you need to learn Wylie encoding, and possibly ACIP as well (which is a variation of Wylie). Why? Because there's a lot of material in forms of footnotes, literature references, names, titles, listings, quotes, that are listed in Wylie.

The reason Wylie happened was that the scholars needed a way to use a typewriter (or computer) to spell out Tibetan words and sentences.

Here's one web site that shows how Wylie is put together. You could find other places by googling around.

As for ACIP, the reason this format happened was that those who type in material for the ACIP project needed a way to do this with cheap monitors and computers, 80 char screens, so the idea was to simplify the format into all-caps and make sure that the Sanskrit Tibetan terms were defined, as well (missing in Wylie). You could learn more about it here, it's especially helpful in case you are browsing the asianclassics.org material.

You could use a tool such as the TibConv tool from Rangjung Yeshe to convert between ACIP and Wylie. Also, the UDP tool handles this.

I will use Wylie here in most cases, as it's the most common format, even if I tend to use ACIP mostly for my own projects.

Soon hopefully all this is over when Unicode Tibetan fonts could be used on most computer platforms, more about that in another blog entry.

Simple Words - THAMS CAD

OK, another one you will see a lot, thams cad, it means everything, all, the entire, totally, and so on. Examples of such cases are:

sems can thams cad -- all sentient beings (sems can)

sangs rgyas dang byang chub sems dpa' thams cad -- all buddhas (sangs rgyas) and bodhisattvas (byang chub sems dpa')

Hey, there are three other words you now learned, Buddha - sangs rgyas, bodhisattva - byang chub sems dpa', and sentient beings - sems can.

If you are worried how to pronounce the words, don't worry, think you are from Ladakh (or from parts of Mongolia where Tibetan is spoken) where the dialect actually pronounces all the letters in the word, unlike the Lhasa dialect). --Kent

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Simple Words - DANG

I have this crazy idea that to inspire someone to learn Tibetan, you could take the most common words and expressions, and from that build up the Classical Tibetan vocabulary. There are theories that if you have a word range of about 1000 words, you start to get a feeling of having control of the knowledge domain, and from that you could expand the knowledge.

So, let's see if I could end up with 1000 blog postings!

Usually when you learn a language you want to learn words such as "me", or "hello", but this is classical Tibetan, so let's start with common words you see in texts. I'm using Wylie, as you never know what fonts are installed on the system, and we are still a year off from when Unicode Tibetan fonts work OK across platforms.

First word, dang, means and, but it's a a starting point. This word is usually at the end of sentences, or between nouns, and there are many cases you can't just translate it as 'and', even if it's a good start. You could sometimes translate it as: "as well as", "together with", "because of", "when", and so on. So you need to look at the binding of the two sentences and figure out what sounds best.

Tibetan Grammar page at THDL

There's an interesting provisional Tibetan Grammar Web Page at HTDL, an open-ended collaborational system where the context will be updated over time. Worth checking out from time to time! --Kent

Tools - TibScanner online tool

TibScanner is a very, very handy tool. You could type in Wylie entries, whole sentences, and it tries to find entries from various dictionaries, Rangjung Yeshe, the Jeffrey Hopkins dictionary, and much more, and present it as a table listing. It's a goo first cut in case you are looking at sentences and you want to get a feeling of what the text is about. It's also a very good learning tool, you could spend time typing in sentences and get a feeling of how Tibetan sentence structures look like.

First entry

OK, this is my taken on using a blog concerning Tibetan translation work. The intent is to now and then post entries based on the learning path of trying to translate classical Tibetan texts. It's fun, but oh what a big domain translation really is. It really stretches your mind.

If someone else has blogs related to Tibetan translation work, let me know and I will cross-link those from my blog. --Kent