Sunday, July 30, 2006

Engaged Bodhichitta Verse - Part 2

This is the second verse. 'gro ba means sentient beings. Note that you need to figure out that this is plural, not just one single sentient being. Depending on the verse format -- here seven syllables -- sometimes plural is indicated, sometimes not. All this just to fit into the format.

'gro, by the way, means to walk, to move, so the meaning behind 'gro ba is a being that moves, in other worlds, migrates from one state to another in samsara.

ji srid, as in the first verse, is as long as.

means to abide, in this case it's the shortened form of gnas pa. gnas itself could mean location, place, and so forth.

gyur pa
is a past tense, became.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Engaged Bodhichitta Verse - Part 1

Verses usually have a shah, long line, at the beginning and end, the exception are words ending with the letter ga, where ga already has a long line, so it's not needed.

ji srid is as long as.

nam mkha' is space.

gnas pa is reside, or to remain.

dang at the end indicates that this verse is to be combined with the next verse, so let's use the common translation and here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Engaged Bodhichitta Verse - Introduction

Next, let's take a verse from Shantideva's Bodhisattva Way of Life that HH Dalai Lama is very fond of, and is often quoting. This has to do with the mind of enlightenment, or byang chub kyi sems, bodhichitta.

There are actually two forms of byang chub kyi sems, the first one is smon pa'i byang chub kyi sems, aspirational bodhichitta. This form is agreeing and supporting the ideals of benefiting all sentient beings -- in other words, you like the concept, and support it. smon pa means aspiration.

The other form is 'jug pa'i byang chub kyi sems - engaged bodhichitta. The person is actually working each moment with the bodhisattva ideal, benefiting all sentient beings. 'jug pa means to engage.

The four verses will be presented as four entries, with just the word translations explained, and it will be your job to figure out the translation. The full translation of all four verses will be given at the end.

PS: Here's the full Shantideva Bodhisattva Way of Life text from ACIP.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

rdzogs chen

rdzogs chen is another famous teaching presentation, this time from the Nyingma tradition. The full term is actually rdzogs pa chen po, in Sanskrit mahasandhi. This is the highest teaching presented in the Nyingma Tibetan tradition. It has to do with the view of an enlightened being, free from any conceptualizations and distractions. You could read more about it in this article at dharmadictionary.

rdzogs means perfect, complete, so this is the Great Perfection in case you want a translation of rdzogs chen.

rnying ma is the Old tradition, rnying means old. This was the first wave of Buddhist teachings that arrived to Tibet. The second wave appeared later, these are the newer schools -- Kadampas, Gelug, Sakya, Kagye: gsar ma. gsar means new. So now you have a way to remember old and new.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

phyag rgya chen po - Mahamudra

To continue presenting key teachings from various lineages, phag rgya chen po is actually more known here in the West with the Sanskrit name, mahamudra. It means great seal, maha is great, in Tibetan chen po. phyag rgya means seal, in Sanskrit mudra. A hand position in tantric practices is also a mudra. Sometimes this term is also called phyag chen.

To understand the meaning, for example, if a king would decree an edict, he or she would use the great seal to stamp this, so people in the kingdom would know that it was originate from the true source.

There are many forms of mahamudra, of which one presentation is the emptiness of the mind and phenomena, this is what seals reality.

The phyag rgya chen po teachings mostly originated from the Kagyu tradition, and they are also present in the Gelug and Sakya traditions. bka' brgyud (Kagyu) is an interesting word, indeed, bka' means the words of the Buddha, and brgyud means transmission.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

lam 'bras

Another term, from the Sakya tradition, is lam 'bras, path and result. This teaching system preceeded the Gelug tradition's lam rim, and is based on both a sutra and tantra section.

lam as was mentioned earlier is path, and 'bras means result or fruit. Fruit is sometimes used as a way to express a result. However, in this case there's no hidden genitive particle, it is stages and results. Each stage provides a specific result. This practice is much related to the model of a pracitioner getting experiences along the path (the lam rim model is based on defining the foundation for practices).

A key concept in lam 'bras is the snang gsum, the three visions: sentient beings have impure visions, enlightened beings have pure visions, and the practitioner on the path will get a taste of the pure vision by experience. If you want to read more about this, you could read Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrup's Lamdre commentary called "The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception". You could even order the Tibetan text from TBRC and compare the translation, if you are interested.

sa skya, by the way, means grey earth, sa means earth, skya means gray. It's the location of the area where the first Sakya temple was built by the Khon family. Read this dharmadictionary entry in case you are more interested in the history of the Sakya tradition, it also has links to various Sakya masters and texts, and it's an ongoing project (of mine) to expand it over time.

lam rim - Stages of the Path

Many, especially in the Gelug tradition, has heard the term lam rim, stages of the path. This word is good to understand, of many reasons. First, lam is path, and rim is stage, so you saw that the way we translate it in the west it looks odd... Also, a better word is really rim pa, stage, even if rim is also fine.

Secondly, it's a good example how in Tibetan it is common to shorten terms, titles, and so on. It should really be lam gyi rim, with the gyi particle, genitive, between. Now if you read this from right to left, using the genitive particle that is hidden between, it is indeed stages of the path. So that explained the mystery.

To be more exact, there are many stages, and many paths, so maybe this should even include plural: lam rnams gyi rim rnams. Again, it's a good example of how even plural definitions are sometimes omitted to make terms and so forth shorter. It's tough to carve wood blocks for printing, that's my speculation.

As for lam rim, it has three main parts, practices for the lowest practitioners, practices for the medium level practitioners, and practices for the highest level of practitioners. You could also divide it into nges 'byung (renunciation), byang chub kyi sems (bodhichitta), and stong pa nyid (emptiness) sections.

Table of Contents

The table of contents contains all entries up to January 2006. It will be displayed as a link in the right side colum on the main blog page. Click on this link from time to time, as the table of contents is constantly updated.

Common Words

Common Verbs
Common Expressions
Dharma Words

Abhidharmakosha - Definition of Karma
Freedom from the Four Attachments:
Text Titles
Tools, Software For Tibetan Language, Unicode, Transliteration
Resources, Texts
General Blog Information

sgrub thabs - Sadhana, Tibetan terms always surprises me (positively). Erik Schmidt recently listed a page with Tibetan terms related to sadhana practices.

Anyway, sadhana is Sanskrit, in Tibetan it's sgrub thabs, the literal translation is means of accomplishment, you use certain means to accomplish something, and this is usually the practice text.

means to bring about, to produce. thabs is also a very good word to learn, you see it a lot, it means method. So it's a method of bringing something about. You could learn more about these words by following the links back to dharmadictionary, or otherwise do lookups there.

Where to Get Tibetan Texts

There's a new page over at dharmadictionary where we are trying to list places wherefrom to order Tibetan texts, classical Tibetan Buddhist texts, commentaries, and so on.

Feel free to create an account and add more sources if you know of any places, so that others could also know where to find various texts.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

byin brlabs

Another very common dharma word you see a lot in commentaries and verses is byin brlabs. This is commonly translated as blessing, but we will see later how to look at this from a different angle.

You see this in constructs such as requesting the teacher for blessings.

byin means to give, hand over. brlabs is related to waves. So it's a form of receiving waves of something given.

Alex Berzin actually translates byin brlabs as inspiration, we are not requesting something material that we will receive as blessing waves, rather we want to get the inspiration based on our teachers and past teachers. We want to achieve the same levels as them, and this inspires us.

I personally like this translation more, as it... inspires me.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

byams dang snying rje

Next two words related to love and compassion. byams is love, maitri in Sanskrit. snying rje is compassion, karuna in Sanskrit.

The difference is that byams is feeling happy about others, sentient beings, and wish them all the good. snying rje is feeling compassionate about others, sentient beings, and wish them to be free from any sufferings.

This is where two famous bodhisattvas have their names from, Maitreya, is byams pa, the Loving One. Avalokiteshvara has many names in Tibetan, of which one is snying rje'i lha, Lord of Compassion.

To conclude, these two are also part of the four immeasurables, tshad med bzhi: byams pa, snying rje, and also dga' ba, sympathetic joy (in Sanskrit mudita), and btang snyoms, equanimity (in Sanskrit upeksha).

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

shes yon shes rab ye shes - Wisdom

Let's look at some of the words translated as wisdom. In Sanskrit, and Tibetan, there are many different words for wisdom, unlike in our society...

Anyway, shes yon is knowledge, education.

shes rab is transcendental wisdom, in Sanskrit prajna, the wisdom that bodhisattvas practice, direct understanding of emptiness, in order to become Buddhas. I like the word transcendental (heard Jay Goldberg use this term this weekend a lot when he translated), as it has a connotation of transcending mundane wisdom and knowledge. It will transcend someone into Buddhahood.

ye shes is primordial wisdom, in Sanskrit jnana, this is the constant mode of an enlightened mind, they dwell in this natural wisdom state. Again, I like the word primordial in this case, as it's really the natural state of mind, obscured in sentient beings. Other translators might have a different spin on this all -- but it's important, at least in my view, to not use the word wisdom everywhere. As you saw there could be different translations involved with the text, and the original word used.

You might have noticed the root shes in all these three words, shes means to know.

sgom pa

The word meditation itself, in Tibetan, is sgom pa, bhavana in Sanskrit. The verb sgom actually means to cultivate, habitate, so it's related to cultivating various objects in the mind.

sgom is a typical example of a Tibetan verb that has different forms based on present, past, future and imperative:

present - sgom
past - bsgoms
future - bsgom
imperative - sgoms

This word should not be confused with dgon pa, meditation hall, monastery, even if the pronunciation is the same.

Monday, July 10, 2006

lhag mthong

lhag mthong is special insight, vipashyana in Sanskrit. This is the goal of Buddhist zhi gnas, first you still the mind, and train it to focus on an object single-pointedly, ting nge 'dzin. After this you focus your mind on lhag mthong, unraveling how reality really works. In the Buddhist system it has to do with emptiness, stong pa nyid, how to find out how things do not exist from their own side, but they exist dependently.

Now, many commentaries tells to alternate between zhi gnas and lhag mthong, if one focuses too much one either one, the mind could get tired or agitated. One needs to avoid these two dangers of meditation.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

ting nge 'dzin

Next meditation term is ting nge 'dzin, in sanskrit samadhi. It has been translated with many English terms, single-pointed concentration, meditative absorbtion, and so forth.

The main concept is that the mind could hold on and examine one single object as long as it wishes, without waivering, tiredness. This is needed when examining ultimate objects, such as emptiness.

'dzin is a good word to learn, you see this a lot, means to hold, grasp to something. ting gne means clearly, deeply.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

zhi gnas

Let's go through a couple of meditation terms. zhi gnas is in Sanskrit Shamatah, the English translations are: calming the mind, calm abiding, tranquility.

To understand the translation, zhi means peace, and gnas means to stay. In other words, the mind stays peacefully in one place, one object. A non-trained mind, yul can, is bouncing between many, many objects, yul rnams, over and over again, never resting down and holding one single object, yul, for a long time.

The training behind zhi gnas is to get to a point to hold on to one single object for as long as the meditator wants to. This is a practice that is taught in most religions and meditative systems. The aim in a Buddhist training is to use surrogate objects to get to this point, or auspicious symbols such as a Buddha image for more merit generation. Actually one of the most powerful meditation objects is one's own mind, then we are dealing with mahamudra meditation. The nice thing with the mind is that it's always around! However, this is just phase one, phase two next.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

yul dang yul can

yul is the word for object. It could refer to an object in your mind -- the mind, sems, could only hold one principal object in the mind at the time, yul gyi tso bo. yul lnga are the five sense objects that pick up objects from around us: reg bya (touch), dri (smell), ro (taste), sgra (sound), and gzugs (visual forms).

The one that holds to objects, the subject, or owner of objects, is yul can. Note the use can to make a new word, the one that has or owns yul. This is the subjective agent, the perceiver, or the sense faculties.

All the miseries start from the false concept that a self-existent subject could experience self-existent objects -- the nasty driver on the road, the crazy boss, the wild kids... I would recommend watching the Akira Kurosawa movie Rashomon for a good presentation of this false subjectivity.

Monday, July 03, 2006

snying po

Another multi-word that is used to build more complex words is སྙིང་པོ། snying po. It means essence, core quintessence, the very thing. This construct is seen in many commentaries and texts, so it's worth learning.

Examples are: སྣིང་པོའི་བསྟན་པ། snying po'i bstan pa -- essential teaching.དེ་གཤེགས།་སྙིང་པོ། de gshegs snying po, tathagatagarbha in Sanskrit, or enlightened essence, Buddha nature.དེ་གཤེགས de gshegs is tathagata, thus-gone; Buddhas have transcended ordinary awareness.

Also,བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སྙིང་པོ། byang chub kyi snying po -- essence of enlightenment, and ཤེས་རབ་སྙིང་པོ། shes rab snying po, the essence of knowledge, prajnaparamita hrdaya sutra, or Heart Sutra as we know it, as this sutra describes the སྙིང་པོ། snying po of ཤེས་རབ། shes rab (or prajna in Sanskrit).

Saturday, July 01, 2006

byang chub sems mchog rin po che

I just saw that my friend Erik Schmidt uploaded the famous Shantideva dedication about the precious and supreme bodhichitta up on And I added links in the verse back to the dictionary itself.

This verse is very profound, it is used in many occasions to dedicate merit, and so on. It's actually worth memorizing.

But study the words and the verse, as it has many good words to learn, and the two translation examples below in the same page also shows how it's translated.

ngo bo

Another base word with many variations -- good to learn -- is ngo bo. It's translated as essence, the very thing, and so on. It is used to pinpoint a specific feature, essence, main trait, nature identity, for various terms and constructs.

In Sanskrit this is svabhava.

Variations of this is ngo bo nyid, the very essence, self-nature, fundamental mode.

ngo bo nyid sku, is the essence body of a buddha, svabhavikakaya. Depending on the presentation, in various schools, it has a somewhat different meaning. In the Gelug tradition this body is sometimes presented as the emptiness of the other bodies of the Buddha (mind, enjoyment, emanation).

Even the word body is somewhat misleading, as a mind is not a body, it's rather the collection of specific parts of a Buddha. An enlightened being still has a body (emanation body), speech (enjoyment body) and mind (emptiness of a Buddha's mind that experiences everything at the same time). Any of these three parts has no self-existance, existing from its own side, and this is the essence body.