Tuesday, January 31, 2006


Let's look at some verbs for a while. A very common verb you find at the end of expressions is gyur, become, will happen, and so on. It's an expression of something to be happening. gyur is used a lot when translating Sanskrit texts of something becoming or happening as the original verb.

A common version of this is gyur cig, may it be, or if Captain Picard from Star Trek NG would say: "make it so." For example:

bde legs su gyur cig, may virtuous goodness become. bde legs is virtue or virtuous goodness, and su is a particle pointing the verb to the right to the contents on the left. In Sanskrit this is om swasti, you could see this at various commentaries as the ending statement, especially in the Sakya tradition. It's very auspicious to end any writing with this kind of statement. So! om swasti.

Friday, January 27, 2006


In our third installment of kun --totality -- we look at another common expression, kun nas. This means from every place or direction, fully, completely, utterly, univerally. nas means from, it's a particle that defines a certain direction it comes from, unlike las that is more generic in nature.

kun nas shes pa - all-knowing, shes pa means knowledge
kun nas bzod pa - all-forgiving, bzod pa means patience, tolerance, as in Zopa Rinpoche, so being all-patient is to be all-forgiving.
kun nas snang ba - all-illuminating, snang ba means illumination or day-light, another word you might see in Tantric practice texts.

Tool - WyWord

Spent 10 minutes trying out the new WylieWord. It installs a set of macros and a dot template to Microsoft Word so you could type Tibetan into Word documents. It also could handle Tibetan Unicdoe Fonts. One nice thing is that you could type wylie, select the sentence, hit F9, and it converts it automatically to Tibetan fonts.

Wish this macro worked with MacOSX Office product, though. Anyway, check it out, it's a very good tool for doing Tibetan editing inside Microsoft Word. And it's free, too (good karma to the people who worked so hard on this tool).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


To continue with our three-part series about the kun word (!), another common variation is kun tu -- it means all the time, at all times, but also all, entire, every, everyone, everywhere... Think of totality when seeing kun tu.

kun to 'od -- light everywhere, universal illumination, 'od means light, and if you read tantric texts you will encounter 'od quite a lot in the visualization descriptions.
kun tu bzang po - Actually the Tibetan name for the Buddha or bodhisattva Samantabhadra. The reason is that in sutra texts kun tu bzang po is a bodhisattva, in the tantric texts kun tu bzang po is an already enlightened being. So what's bzang po then? It's noble, good, auspicious. bzang is auspicious, wholesome, good. Totally good to everyone everywhere! bhadra means goodness inSanskrit , and we talked about sam earlier as the Sanskrit word prefix for totality.

Anyway, you could see it used in other expressions and sentences, such as kun tu lta ba, we had lta ba before, a world view, so it's a 'total world-view', or to view something totally.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Totality - KUN

The word kun defines totality, such as all, everything, thoroughly, and so on. kun is also used to translate the similar Sanskrit prefix of sam, as in samvrita.

kun mkhyen, omniscient, all knowing, Longchenpa is also known by this name, mkhyen means knowledge.
kun khyab, all-pervasive, khyab means here, yes, pervasive.
kun dga' (KUNGA), all joyful, dga' is joy, also the Tibetan name for Ananda, and is used in many Tibetan names.
kun gzhi -- all-ground, gzhi is ground, this is in Sanskrit alaya, an important concept in the description of mind, sometimes translated in English as the storage-house consciousness.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Possessive Particles - BCAS PA

To be complete, there's a third particle related to having or possessing something, a quality and so on, bcas pa. Examples:

'khor dang bcas pa - with retinue. 'khor is a real work-horse of a Tibetan word, it really means round, but a retinue around you is kind of round. dang bcas pa is a common expression for accompanied with, together with.

dbang bcas pa - with faculties. Let's take another Tibetan work-horse of a word, dbang, it means power, but also the sense faculty 'powers', seeing, hearing and so on... It also means empowerment! In this specific example it's related to sense faculties.

dam bcas pa - promise, dam is wow. It relates to other uses of the word dam, solid, real, reliable. So dam bcas pa is like possessing something solid. dam is then used in other words such as dam kha, seal, and dam tshig, Sanskrit samaya, the sacred pledges sealed between a vajra master and the students.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Possessive Particles - CAN

Another particle showing possession, or ownership is can. Here are some familiar examples:

sems can - sentient being, but if you dissect this expression you have sems, mind, and can, possessing, so the definition of a sentient being is someone who owns or has a mind.

skal pa can - the fortunate one, skal pa - fortune
gangs can gyi yul - Tibet, gangs - snow, yul is usually object, but here it's location, location that has snow!
byin rlabs can - blessed, holy, byin rlabs is blessing
shes rab can - learned one, the one who possesses wisdom

Expect all kinds of other ownership-related expressions with can.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Possessive Particles - LDAN

Let's look more at ldan, it's one three so called possessive particles -- they are used with nouns to form a possessor, or a possessive adjective. ldan is to the right of the noun. You could use translation terms such as "endowed with", "having", "possessing", and so on..

bkra shis ldan - having auspiciousness, bkra shis is auspiciousness, or Tashi for you new to Tibetan.
skal ldan - the one having fortune, skal - fortune
shes ldan - having wisdom
dpal ldan - having many good qualities, glorious, as in dpal ldan bla ma, glorious guru.

A very common expression is also dang ldan pa, possessed of, imbued with, as in:
skal pa dang ldan pa - having fortune.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Simple Words - BCOM LDAN 'DAS

When looking further into the sutras, such as the 8000 verses on the Perfection of Wisdom, you see this honorific title bcom ldan 'das many times. In Sanskrit it is Bhagavan. It's one of the many titles of Buddha. It is sometimes also translated as the blessed one, or the exalted one.

bcom means to conquer, such as conquering the four maras. ldan is a very handy Tibetan word, it points out a property, possession, quality, such as achieving anything, 'das is a word for above, beyond, transcend.

Thus this honorific word is about a being who has conquered all the obstacles, achieved everything and has moved beyond all that. Another way to expain this is that a Budddha has conquered all obstacles -- bcom, and has achieved all that could be achieved -- ldan, and has passed beyond samsara - 'das.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Sutra Homage

Let's look at the homage section of the first chapter of the 8000 Verses on the Perfection of Wisdom. We looked at the homage translations before.

The full homage sentence here is:


sangs rgyas dang byang chub sems dpa' dang 'phags pa nyan thos dang rang sangs rgyas thams cad la phyag 'tshal lo,

As we know from before,སངས་རྒྱས། sangs rgyas means Buddhas,་བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་འདཔ། byang chub sems dpa' is bodhisattvas, and ཐམས་ཅད་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ལོ། thams cad phyag 'tshal lo, prostrate to all...

What's left are the words ཉན་ཐོས། nyan thos and རང་སངས་རྒྱས།rang sangs rgyas.

ཉན་ཐོས།nyan thos is in Sanskrit Shravaka, usually translated as Listener. It's a special group of pracititioners that could listen to teachings, nyan means to listen, and then others listen -ཐོས། thos - when they teach. They could listen to Mahayana teachings, and even teach it to others, but they can't practice Mahayana teachings. Their end result is reaching personal nirvana.

རང་སངས་རྒྱས།rang sangs rgyas is in Sanskrit Pratyeka Buddha, usually translated in English as Solitary Buddhas. Now, looking at the Tibetan,རང་། rang means self and སངས་རྒྱས། sangs rgyas Buddhas, so sometimes the term Self-made Buddhas are also used. In one lifetime they practice in solidarity, without any teachers, and reach nirvana (not full enlightenment as Mahayana practitioners reaching full enlightenment). However, they had countless teachers in past lives preparing them for this moment. eka is by the way number one in Sanskrit.

To note is that the homage is towards all these practitioners and Buddhas, without any discriminations whatsoever. In the various Tantic merit trees, visualizations of Buddhas, bodhisattvas and root teachers,ཉན་ཐོས། nyan thos and རང་སངས་རྒྱས། rang sangs rgyas are also part of this merit tree!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sutra Opening Lines Part 2

OK, let's finish the opening lines of most sutras, or ,འདི་སྐད་བདག་གིས་ཐོས་པ་དུས་གཅིག་ན།'di skad bdag gis thos pa dus gcig na.

ཐོས་པ།thos pa is listening, especialy in the context hearing a dharma teaching, receiving oral instructions. Just listening to a teacher even reciting texts is very important in the Buddhist tradition. What is established is a continuous tradition going back to the original teachings. Alas, this chain will be broken in future, so meanwhile it's good to try to keep the connection available for future generations.

དུས།dus is a very common word, means time. However, here it is used in an expression,འདུས་གཅིག་ན། dus gcig na, when one time, or one day.

So, the second part,་ཐོས་པ་དུས་གཅིག་ན། thos pa dus gcig na is one day I heard. The full translation might look like: One day I heard the words of this teaching. However, this is not how you usually see the first line translated. A very common variant is: Thus I once heard, or Thus I have heard.

This whole first sentence is actually an indication that it is an authentic sutra. Shakyamuni Buddha gave instructions to his disciple Ananda to start any sutra with this statement, as welll as indicating the time and place, as well who were attending when the sutra was spoken.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sutra Opening Lines Part 1

The interesting thing with most sutras is that they start with this same sentence:

,'di skad bdag gis thos pa dus gcig na,

I've even seen whole commentaries describing this starting sentence in the Tibetan literature.

Let's start parsing this sentence.

འདི།'di we had before, these.
བསད།skad means means voice, sound, something heard, but actually here it means words.
བདགbdag we had before, me
གིས།gis is an instrumental particle, by where the right part points at the left side.

Thus, so far: by me these words...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Simple Words - MDO

Ok, as I've been late with postings, here's another short one. mdo, this is in sanskrit sutra. A sutra, or མདོ། mdo, is usually something spoken by a Buddha. The reason it's best to say usually is that there are some texts by Indian commentators that has the word མདོ། mdo included, such as the Vinaya sutra, འདུལ་བ་མདོ་རྩ་བ། 'dul ba mdo rtsa ba. This text is the root text when studying the vows and moral conduct of monks and nuns.

Otherwise, the historical Buddha spoke many teachings, they were initially memorized, and then later written down, and these are the so called sutras, mdo. The Tibetans then later collected and translated the ones available in India around 800 to 1000 BC, and collected them to a set called བཀའ་འགྱུར། bka' 'gyur (KANGYUR). Note བཀའ། bka' means words of a Buddha, and འགྱུར། 'gyur is a very, very common word we will see many times in future, such as become. So it again points at a state where an enlightened being teaches by speaking.

As part of the sutra collection there's the ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏོ་ཕྱིན་པ། shes rab kyi pha rol to phyin pa collection of mdo. Some famous ones are the heart sutra,ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ་ཕྱིན་པའི་སྙིང་པོ། shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i snying po, or the perfection of wisdom in 8000 verses,ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་ཕ་རོལ་ཏོ་ཕིན་པ་བརྒྱད་སྟོང་པ། shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa brgyad stong pa, but you could also call it བརྒྱད་སྟོང་པ། brgyad stong pa as the shorter name. There are sutras on the perfection of wisdom of 25000 verses, and 100000 verses. Supposedly there were even longer ones that we don't have available today.

Homework: Print out the heart sutra and place it in your car.


That's a mouthful! We went through ཤེས་རབ། shes rab earlier, wisdom. ཕ་རོལ། pha rol is the other, the far shore, other side. We looked quickly at the particle ཏུ། tu before, it's a dative particle, extremely flexible one, as the last letter in རོལ། rol is l, then the dative particle is tu (it could be su, tu, du...). Think of it as the word to just now.

So far, ཕ་རོལ་ཏུ། pha rol tu means to the other side. པྱིན་པ། phyin pa means pass, cross over. So the whole expression is the wisdom that will take one to the other side. Another more common word is transcendental, wisdom that transcends intellectual thinking. Buddhas who have overcome this are on the other side, they have crossed over, transcended ordinary beings.

In Sanskrit all this is prajnaparamita. Maybe now it makes sense. This is the full name of the perfection of wisdom, when wisdom is perfected, and you move to the other side.

Homework: Find this important term in the 8000 Verses of the Perfection of Wisdom.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Simple Words - SHES RAB

There will be an emphasis on using dharmadictionary as a basis for more examples and information -- this because I'm very much involved with it.

We just uploaded a first draft of the 8000 Verses of the Perfection of Wisdom in Tibetan, one of the key Prajnaparamita Sutras, so let's look at this text for a while. To start with, it's good to learn the word shes rab. This is in Sanskrit prajna, wisdom.

There are many, many words related to wisdom. Do not confuse shes rab, prajna, with ye shes, jnana. shes rab is the wisdom that a bodhisattva perfects on the path to enlightenment, Buddhas dwell in a constant ye shes, primordial wisdom/awareness.

Homework: Get familiar with the 8000 Verses of the Perfection of Wisdom by doing lookups of shes rab in the text.

Monday, January 09, 2006


This is the fourth (and last line) Manjushri stated to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo, and then disappeared.

There's no view when grasping occurs.

The view here is the Mahayana lta ba of no grasping to self-existent self or any self-existent phenomena. If there's any grasping, whatsoever, it's not the correct view. Note, it even includes grasping to this view, itself!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Simple Words - LTA BA

lta ba means philosophical view, world-view, attitude, and understanding how the world works. It comes from the verb lta, regard, believe.

As an example of an lta ba: dbu ma, Middle Way, the way of not holding to any extremes, of which the two main extremes are self-existence, rtag pa (note the opposite, mi rtag pa), and nihilism, chad mtha'.

Now, in Sanskrit, dbu ma is madhyamaka, and someone who has this lta ba is called a madhyamika. Those two terms seems to get easily mixed together. madhya is middle in Sanskrit, and as English and Sanskrit has a common root, it it clear where we got the word middle from.

In the secret teachings, Tantra, dbu ma is also one of the names of the central channel.

Anyway, there are many lta ba, anyone who as a political position, how to drive in traffic, how schools should work, work ethics, all those are lta ba. One might say that the way we operate in this world, and what results we get, are all based on our own lta ba.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Simple Words - 'DZIN PA

'dzin is a very, very common word in texts. It means hold to, grasp, upholding.

When you add a pa you make it to 'dzin pa, grasping. It could also mean remember, taking hold of, fixation, and so on.

'dzin pa byung means grasping (past tense), byung means occured, happened, so 'dzin pa byung is when grasping happened.

Other examples of 'dzin are:

'dzin bdag - owner
'dzin med - nothing to cling to
'dzin pa'i sems - subjective mind, reified mind, this is the unnatural state of the mind, grasping at objects (as self-existing).

Friday, January 06, 2006


This is the third line in bzhen pa bzhi brel. We know the basic structure of the sentences from the earlier lines, and the words should be familiar by now.

OK, here's one translation: You don't have the mind of enlightenment if you have an attachment to your own needs.

There are many other translations, so check each one out. For example, here's the one from a commentary by HH Sakya Trizin. Another one is the translation in the Asian Classics Institute Course 14 (this is a PDF file and you need to scroll halfway to find the translated version) What differs is how sems byung is translated, enlightened mind (bodhichitta), or bodhisattva? Ultimately this is not a big problem, as a bodhisattva is someone who indeed has bodhichitta.

Anyway, one teaching from this line is that as long as we think of our own needs, we are not developing the mind of enlightenment, but if we start thinking about the welfare of others, how small the taught is, then we are doing it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


We had to go through byang chub to understand the next words in the third line of zhen pa bzhi bral.

byang chub sems means the enlightened mind, or awakened mind. sems is mind, in Sanskrit this is chitta, and as earlier mentioned byang chub was in Sanskrit bodhi, we have bodhichitta. Sometimes this is also written as byang chub kyi sems.

This is a mind that constantly has only one primary motive, to benefit others (where others include oneself, as well).

A person who has developed this extraordinary state of mind is called a byang chub sems dpa', a bodhisattva. dpa' comes from Sanskrit sattva, warrior, so another brave way to translate this is a Spiritual Warrior. Or maybe even Awakened Warrior. However, in English, the terms bodhichitta and bodhisattva are very much part of the translated tradition we have.

A short form for either one is byang sems. This is what is used in the third line of zhen pa bzhi bral.

These words are so common, you will find references to them in most Tibetan texts. It's actually considered important to define the state of mind when studying any text so it has as the motive byang chub sems. If there are two words you really need to learn, these two are the ones!

Homework: use any of the earlier referred reference material and find references to byang chub sems or byang chub sems dpa'. You will get many hits when searching...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Reading Texts - Outlines, Part 1

When you start reading especially commentaries, you need to learn how the text is using outlines. Of some interesting reason the Tibetan lamas just loved outlines. They could sometimes be very, very, very nested. If you looked at examples in any translated book, sometimes they list the outlines, it's very intriguing. It's also sometimes just plain tough to make any translated headlines correspond too the outline, as some outlined level only has one sentence, for example.

Anyway, to start with it's easy to find the top level outlines, they are based on the numbering system. You should see a specific section telling what the level is, such as:

,gsum po, -- thirdly

Here's the list of 1 to 10:

dang po - first
gnyis po - 2nd
gsum po - 3rd
bzhi po - 4th
lnga po - 5th
drug po - 6th
bdun po - 7th
brgyad po - 8th
dgu po - 9th
bcu po - 10th

This is the top line of an outline, later we will look how to find the minor outlines in the text.

What is jigtenmig

Maybe someone has wondered. It's actually 'jig rten mig, 'jig rten means this world, mig means eyes, so it's eyes of the world, translator, or in Sanskrit lotsawa. In Tibet it was considered quite an achievement for someone to learn another language, such as Sanskrit, and translate the spiritual meaning back to the culture. Such people were considered the 'eyes of the world', so others could also see truths via these 'jig rten mig. So that might be another inspiration why we in the West need more and more 'jig rten mig, not that there are many wonderful translators already working and benefiting us.

Simple Words - BYANG CHUB

byang chub means enlightenment, this is from Sanskrit bodhi, awakening. The Tibetans didn't translate bodhi as sad pa, awaken, or something similar, rather as byang chub. In the early translation wave the concept was to take a Sanskrit term and define it using Tibetan words to define the meaning behind the word.

byang means to purify, to clear away
chub means to accomplish

This is mapped to the two tasks of reaching enlightenment, first there's the task of purifying (byang) the bad mental states that manifest as las, karmic forces, and nyong mongs, kleshas, that which bothers the mind. When this is done, the job is not yet done, there are certain functions needed for an enlightened mind to fully operate in an all-knowing state, and this is what needs to be accomplished, chub.

Those who have done these two stages have reached byang chub - job done, now awakened.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Text Book for more Examples

I've been trying to find a good commentary to be used in future blog entries, and I think I found it today. This is Maitreya's Distinguishing Phenomena and Pure Being, by Mipham, translated by Jim Scott under the guidance of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, ISBN 1-55939-215-0, Snow Lion.

The reason I like is is because:

  • It has the Tibetan on the left side and the translation on the right, easy to navigate
  • It is a Sutra commentary
  • It also includes the root text as verse
So expect me to take examples from this book from time to time. I would recommend purchasing this book, it's usually below $20 anyway, and a nice way to see how the translation is done.

PS: I could not find this as an online Tibetan text, but I found at AsianClassics Master Vasubandhu's commentary on the root text!

Simple Words - DON

Next for understanding the third line of zhen pa bzhi bral is don. It has multiple translations, entity, benefit, meaning, purpose. I like meaning or purpose as the first starting point, but as mentioned, check the dictionary, don is used a lot.

The one we want to learn is bdag don, self-benefit, benefiting oneself. Other examples are:

don gyi cha - the main meaning, cha is a word with many translation, of which one is aspect or part.
don yod - meaningful
don la - in fact
don dam - ultimate

Another famous example where don plays a role is don dam bden pa, ultimate truth, bden pa means truth. This is one of the two truths, bden pa gnyis. don dam bden pa is ultimate, as that's emptiness, stong pa nyid. The other truth is kun rdzob kyi bden pa, there's nothing wrong with this relative truth, it's the ordinary world we perceive, but it's kun rdzob - conceiling, superficial. All enlightened beings and those perceiving emptiness perceive two truths, how things really are. Others only perceive kun rdzob bden pa. That was the don of bden pa gnyis.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Simple Words - BDAG

Next word you see used a lot, especially concerning combinational words, is bdag. It means self. Usually the Sanskrit term atman is translated as bdag. The opposite, no self is bdag med, or anatman.

This was the big debate between the Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical schools of ancient India. All Buddhist philosophical schools assert that there's no self-contained self entity, soul, or a similar core. Depending on the Buddhist school this is then further defined, up to the level of middle way, that asserts that nothing has self-existence, but everything is interdependent.

The non-Buddhist schools were worried about the isue of bdag med going to a point where bdag does not exist at all. This was not the point of the Buddhist schools, rather that bdag is a combinational factor of various elements, the so called five heaps, or phung po lnga, the five skandhas.

Anyway, other examples are:

bdag gi - mine, as in bdag gi yin - this is mine.
bdag nyid - atma, essence, nature, nyid is used a lot to specify 'just that'
bdag med lha mo - Nairathmya, the 'selflessness goddess'
bdag 'dzin - grasping to self

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Learning to Read Fuzzy Pecha Pages

Sooner or later you will sit and hunk over Tibetan pages, printed by possibly old woodblocks, or you have access to xerox copies made of earlier copies. Such texts sometimes makes it hard to see all the tiny tseks for separation of syllables, or seeing what a letter really is. In such cases, the more you know about words and expressions, you could use elimination to separate out the actual words. This is even helpful in case you encounter spelling errors that you see now and then.

Here's an exaggerated example:This is a good example as there's some indication of a tsek, or is there. Look at the first word. Is it mig or migl? Well, to start with there are no such words as migl, you will never see a g following an l in Tibetan. But there's a word mig, eye. Secondly, doesn't the la sogs pa look familiar (we looked at this entry before)? It's an expression that means and so on. So this sentence start is about the eyes and so on...

Another case that's, at least for me, sometimes buffling is the difference between a da and nga letter, sometimes the end is longer than expected concerning nga, but not long enough to see it's a da. Again, it's good to know about words and expressions. For example, rlung exists, wind, but rlud is not a word. There are plenty of dang (and) words, but ngang does also exist, means continuity. But from the sentence you should be able too see which one makes sense.


This is the second line in zhen ba bzhi bral. khams gsum is the three realms, la is pointing to it from the right, zhen na is when attached, nges 'byung is renunciation, and min is negating renunciation.

If we translate this roughly from the back forward, we get something like: No renunciation when attachment to the three realms. This does not sound so interesting. Usually, in English, to make a more vivid point, it's good to use a person, such as you, as the receiver. So:

If you are attached to the three realms you don't have renunciation.

This has to do with accepting and even enjoying the current samsaric situation, not realizing that in future things might not be as pleasant. In other words, not practicing to avoid future miseries.

Now, a very progressive translator might even re-translate this further, for example bypassing the explicit reference to the three realms, and instead translate something like: If you are attached to the world you don't renounce it. Personally, I think this is on a slippery slope towards a point where in future few will investigate what the world really is, are there other realms, what are the three realms, and maybe forgetting to even study Abhidharma. Abhidharma has always been a hard sell here in the West -- mostly due to the nominal reference to Indian mythologies about how the world operates. However, you could think of Abhidharma as something that explains the universe, but it was explained to a mindset where you can't talk about quarks, dark matter, light speed as a constant, and so on...