Saturday, April 29, 2006

More about Mulamadhyamakakarika

Let's look at little bit more on Nagarjuna's most important root text on the middle way.

I started to add notes at dharmadictionary about this text.

The short Tibetan title of this text is dbu ma rtsa ba'i shes rab

dbu ma is middle way, madhyamaka in Sanskrit
rtsa has many translations, here it's rtsa ba or root, in Sanskrit Mula.
shes rab is wisdom/knowledge.

Now, karika is verses in Sanskrit, so the short title does not map 1:1 with the short name in Tibetan.

PS: If you follow the link to dharmadictionary you will find a Tibetan version of this text online.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Voluntary and non-voluntary Verbs

As mentioned earlier, there's also the notion of so called voluntary versus non-voluntary verbs. Another name for this is volitional verbs versus non-volitional verbs, or transitive and intransitive verbs. Anyway, best to figure out what it's all about!

A voluntary verb or action means that someone is doing something specific, there's a very known agent that the subject is operating with. An non-voluntary action or verb means that you can't pinpoint who it is, someone is doing this in general, with no specific agent available.

As an example:

sangs rgyas (agent) kyis chos (object) bstan (verb). Buddha taught dharma. This is a voluntary verb operating.

gang ri (subject) sngon po (complement of subject) snang (verb): Mountains appear as blue. This is an involuntary verb operating.

So what's the deal? If you know if a verb is voluntary or not, you would look for the subject and agent, or know that there's no agent. It will help when translating material. Alas, not all dictionaries indicate if a verb is voluntary or not.

You could read more about this at the THDL Tibetan Reference Grammar online web page.

Verbal Stems

Tibetan, as most languages, has different verbs based on the stems, such as present, past, future and imperative. There are no strict rules, you need to learn the verb forms for each case.

For example, the verb to do is in present byed, past byas, future bya and imperative byos.

Then again, sometimes we are lucky when learning a verb, the verb to understand is go in both present, past, future and imperative.

There are all kinds of variations, sometimes there are only two forms of stems, sometimes all four are different, only three different verbs are for the four stems, and so on.

The best is -- alas -- to learn the verbs. There's also the notion of voluntary and non-voluntary verbs that will talk about next.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Let's take a statement that you see a lot at the end of a quotation, such as a comment taken from another teachers' commentary, and so on.

shes gsungs pa means so it was taught. shes is from shes pa, knowledge, and shes is a verb, to know, to come to an understanding. gsungs pa is spoken of, communicated, gsungs is the verb to say, speak.

ltar ro is then often added to the end, ltar is the actual word, ro is to indicate a proper sentence ending. ltar means like that, according to -- it 's a good small word to learn, as it shows up in all kinds of variations.

So going back to the earlier Nagarjuna verses -- it would not be uncommon if in another commentary these verses would end with shes gsung pa ltar ro.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Nagarjuna Emptiness Verse 4

Final verse of the famous four-verse statement by Nagarjuna.

de la - for those

thams cad - everything

mi rung - not possible

'gyur - become (passive Sanskrit form used in Tibetan).

Or, going back to the third verse: those for whom emptiness is not possible.

And this fourth line then: for them everything is not possible.

Or, going back to the third verse: those for whom emptiness is not possible.

And this fourth line then: for them everything is not possible.

So, for those with a world view, lta ba, that does not accept dependent origination, causality, or things lacking self-existence, they have in place boundaries. There are no ways to remove such boundaries, such as purifying one's mind so it's free from any mental suffering and obstructions to all-knowing. This is for example the justification why a limitless amount of time makes it possible to remove any possible mental block and suffering, and cultivate each and every positive good quality, including knowing everything. In other words, the work a Bodhisattva needs to do could be done.

All this just by logically realizing that the world is based on lack of self-existence, or it's all interconnected.

Funny, while I'm writing this iTunes on my computer plays "Sowing the Seeds of Love" with Tears for Fears.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Nagarjuna Emptiness Verse 3

The next verse talks about the opposite world view, lta ba, of not accepting emptiness and dependent origination.

gang la as mentioned was for those in this context.

stong nyid is an example of telegram-Tibetan where the word is stong nyid, but it implies stong pa nyid, emptiness. All this to fit into the seven-syllable verse format.

rung ba is possible, but note the mi in front, this is a negation, so the verb negates, is not possible. mi also means human being, in Sanskrit manushya. But when looking at the context, such as seeing mi in front of a verb, in most cases it's a negation.

Anyway, if you memorized the first verse, it should be dead-easy to memorize the third one, too. It's actually very, very good to memorize verses -- by this you get the patterns burned into your mind, and you could see more words and sentences when reading arbitrary Tibetan texts.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Nagarjuna Emptiness Verse 2

This is the next line in the verse. First let's go through it, and then combine it with the previous line.

de la is for those. The normal translation for de la is in this regard, or that is to say. However, the previous verse talked about those, so it's best to bind this back to the same group, and translate this also as for those. It's not so straight-forward to just drop in words and sentences, even if such translations kind of works (fora while, then such translations are not very lively).

thams cad means everything, all, in sanskrit sarva.

rung bar is rung ba with an ending r particle. rung ba is suitable, possible. The r particle here is a general subordination particle. Any words ending with a vowels such as rung ba and the ' letter will get this particle in form of an r. The general subordination particle indicates relationships, a meaning between two parts, such as the verb rung ba, and the following verb 'gyur. As a quick translation, use the word as to start with.

'gyur means become. It's a very common verb -- the Tibetans used this word to translate Sanskrit passive verbs. So it indicates a passive action. Especially in verse form it's easy to sneak in a 'gyur to make the verse a seven-syllable format.

To recap the first verse: For whom emptiness is possible.

The second verse then is: For those everything is possible.

The following verses will point out the opposite world view, lta ba, that does not take into account dependent origination, or emptiness.

Note that in a world view of stong pa, then there are not restrictions or any boundaries, there are enlightened beings, nagas, other realms, karma, bodhichitta, inner channels, bardo states, other planets and civilizations, you name or imagine it. The only issue is if a specific mind could experience such things or not.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Nagarjuna Emptiness Verse I

Ok, let's look at the first part of the verse about emptiness by Nagarjuna. We've gone through these words before, so it should be easy.

gang la is for whom.

stong pa nyid is emptiness.

rung ba is possible.

Or, translated: For whom emptiness is possible.

The next verse is then the punch line stating more about this first assertion.

Remember that emptiness and dependent origination is two sides of the same coin. That will be important when understanding the commentaries around this verse.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


The Nagarjuna verse starts with gang la. Usually gang la means whatever, whoever. In this context we will actually use the term for whom. gang means whatever, whoever, and the la is the famous pointer particle that will bind a structure to the right soon to the whoever we have so far.

If you don't know the Tibetan alphabet, this is a simple construct to dissect and write down, over and over again to learn the letters ga, nga and la.


Here's another interesting hobby in case you are bored, try to type in various Tibetan words and sentences as Wylie into Google (or your favourite web search engine), and be surprised what you could find.

For example, if you search on stong pa nyid and Nagarjuna, there's a good chance you will find the material I will use soon for the verse.

Anyway, it's an intriguing way to find surprising material on the web -- we are indeed getting to a point where you could do very interesting research in Tibetan material using all kinds of resources. Just make sure that the sites have qualified material, there are sometimes places that are, hmm, let's say interesting.


Ok, rung ba will be very much present in the forthcoming Nagarjuna verses on emptiness, stong pa nyid. See the dharmadictionary entry.

It means suitable, correct, fit, acceptable. In this case we will deal if someone accepts emptiness or not, so it's in the context of something being acceptable or not.

By the way, I actually added the forthcoming verses into the dharmadictionary entry, including hyperlinks into the other words in the verses, as a sneak preview.

As for verbs, we talked earlier that hunt for them at the end of the sentence, it was kind of a generalization -- you start at the beginning of the sentence, and go forwards until you see a verb (there could be actually more than one). So then you get a block of text that you could do a mini-translation about, and puzzle it all together later.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Nagarjuna is in Tibetan klu sgrub, sometimes also klu grub. We should actually say Master Nagarjuna, in monasteries and otherwise in the Tibetan culture you always provide an important teacher with a honorific title.

klu is naga in Sanskrit, these underwater beings that are actually quite intelligent, but still classified as animals. sgrub here means become, attain, and so on, so the rough translation is "born of the Nagas". Master Nagarjuna was definitely not a naga. Rather according to tradition he was invited to the naga realm to teach, and he found Perfection of Wisdom texts stored away while they were lost in the rest of the world. So he took these texts back and started teaching the context.

If you nicely ask a Tibetan lama the location where Master Nagarjuna descended to the naga realm, they might tell you.

Anyway, if you do internet searches you should find plenty of information about Master Nagarjuna. One option is to look at the dharmadictionary entry for a starting point to look at more information and Tibetan terms and words related to Nagarjuna.

RTEN 'BREL - Dependent Origination

Let's look at rten 'brel again, dependent origination. rten means basis, support, anything from the support of a mandala to the basis of a representation or foundation.

'brel means relationship, connnection, link. So you could already see how the word dependent origination is put together by using separate Tibetan words.

Stephen Beyer's book The Classical Tibetan Language has lots of examples showing the original roots of various Tibetan words, and how they were combined to form new expressions.

It's not so hard to personally realize the dependency of things, this blog could not exist without hard disk space, monitors, networks, someone typing, electrons moving, someone having an 'ahaa' idea of the concept of a blog, and so on, and so on. Try to find an entity that does not have any dependencies! Not finding any such things whatsoever is then pointing back to stong pa nyid, emptiness, lack of inherent existence.

Just remember that things work just fine. Don't expect that being hit by an empty car does not hurt because does not exist from its own side. It does hurt. Now, why that hurts is then the next analysis, where the Tibetan word las is the key.

Monday, April 17, 2006

STONG PA NYID - Emptiness

Ok, sooner or later you encounter the word stong pa nyid , emptiness. Now, how it has been retranslated here in the West is interesting, intrinsic lack of self-existence and so on. The has been tons and tons of debates in ancient India, Tibet, and here in West what this really means.

One way to look at this is to correlate this with the opposite, positive definition, dependent origination, rten 'brel. Dependent origination is that anything is dependent on something else. Even the final non-splittable particle that some of the ancient Buddhist philosophical schools defined was the foundation of the universe has dependencies, the particle is dependent on the top and bottom part, back and front side, and so on. So this partless particle has parts, after all.

So if you see the positive side of anything being dependent on something else, the negative side of things lacking any self-existence should also then become clear. Ultimately these two definitions are exactly the same thing!

stong means empty, nyid means just, or just empty. It's not emptiness per se, rather things are just empty from their own side, they are not self-existent. This is true of both physical things, the mind, phenomena, and actually anything. Still, things work just fine!

In Sanskrit emptiness is shunyata.

Next let's do a fun Nagarjuna verse related to emptiness.

Whole Second Commentary Sentence on Wisdom Being Foremost

Ok, let's tackle the second sentence in the commentary about the starting verses of the chaper of wisdom.

I must confess that I'm not that happy with my rough translation -- but to keep this realistic it's very common that it takes a long time before a translation is fully settled down with. A common reason -- as also in this case -- is lack of context. To fully translate a text, you need a common understanding of the topic, as well as possibly translating the text from beginning, or looking at the original commentary upon a specific commentary is based upon. You will see soon what I'm talking about.

Anyway, it's worth trying, and feedback is most definitely appreciated. To recap, we are dealing with the definition of why wisdom is much more important than either the previous perfection, or all the five perfections.

sbyin sogs par is giving and the rest, with the ending r being a subordination particle.
Let's skip to the end! 'chad pa'i lugs gnyis las means from the two traditions of explanations. This is where it becomes tricky, what are the two traditions? Earlier context might have given us the clue to this part...

Back to the beginning part, phyin lhag ma means the remaining perfections. thams cad la - to all those.

Puzzling all this together: In the two traditions of explanations this is referring to giving and the other five perfections.

Phew. Let's do Nagarjuna emptiness root verses next!

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Ok, last part of the second commentary sentence. It ends with gnyis la.

gnyis is number two, or second, or the two, or duality, or anything related to two parts.

las is the particle indicating direction, from, so it's something related to 'from the two'.

Next we will finally go through the second sentence.

My new Software Setup for Translating

As part of switching jobs I'm now (happily) in a position where I only use one single operating system, MacOSX. The drawback was that I used to do most of my translation work on a PC laptop, and I dreaded moving over to the all-Mac setup due to having to switch tools and other software packages.

Well, I found a really interesting solution:XCode. This is the Apple developer tool system that I use every day at work. But it could easily be used for translation work, provided you are not in need of layout work or Tibetan fonts (in this case I just do all that work inside Microsoft Word as a final touch).

Meanwhile, what I do is to setup a couple of text files with the contents, and also place the Rangjung Yeshe dictionary plus my own dictionaries in the global search path. Then if I need to do word lookups, I just select the Wylie string, and hit a magical key and I see the hit results in a corresponding window.

I'm even collecting the existing translation into another text file where the search is done, so I could see how I translated the same term earlier.

If I want to save a translated term, I just open up another text file and drop it in, and it's part of the global search later.

It's mostly the search feature that makes me happy, I don't now need to move between multiple appliations, just stay within a single one.

As a bonus, Xcode is free, all you need is to register as a developer at Now, it requires a little bit know-how how a developer tool works, so you need to look around and figure out how to import files into the project, and so on (hint, drag-and-drop).

I would think Visual C++ might also work in a similar context.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Common Verbs I

Let's go through a list of very common verbs that is good to learn to recognized (I'm just now looking through a translation project I've been working on a while to see the common verbs). As mentiod, mostly the verbs are at the end of the sentence, so you look for the noun in the beginning, and then hunt down the verb, and then you find out what's happening between those words. To make it simple we are avoiding any past/presence/future tenses just now.

'gyur is one good one, it means become, to be, to happen.

We mentiond yin and yod before, the is verb, here's the entry.

bskyed means to create, develop, produce, even in the context of visualizing something in the mind.

byed is also to create, make happen, work.

gsungs is common in commentaries, mans taught, said, spoken as, for example when quoting Shakyamuni Buddha or Buddhist teachers.

Another one is bstan, taught, demonstrated, shown.

Of these two you then have the variations of gsungs pa and bstan pa, as well.

'jug and 'jug pa means to enter, like entering a path, or a practice, or even a visualization.

Ok, one more, gnas, that's a good one, means to abide, like something in a visualization abides in a certain location.


Ok, let's finish the second commentary sentence! Next is 'chad pa'i lugs.

'chad pa means explanation, teaching, interpretation.

lugs means method, system, tradition.

Notice the 'i between, that's the genitive particle, it binds these two words together. As mentioned before, you need to think backwards, look at the second word, and bind it to the first one via the particle. So it becomes system of explanation, or method of teaching.

Now, I would recommend to use the THDL translation tool to do lookups and see all kinds of variations related to these words. You could do this with any of your favourite Tibetan translations, type in the Wylie into the translation field, and compare the results with the final translation -- and this way you get the feeling how the sentences have been translated.