May 16, 2017

Towards a Typology of Abbreviations in Tibetan Literary Culture

One can observe various types of abbreviation or contraction in Tibetan literary culture. Abbreviations or contractions can be of titles of works, names of persons, poly-syllabic words, and so on. Some of them are terse, apt, and convenient; some idiosyncratic and bizarre. Most of these are intuitive and thus require no separate list of abbreviations or contractions. Here I put down some random thoughts relevant to the topic. (§1) The most common type of abbreviation is perhaps of long titles of works such of the rDzogs pa chen po’i sngon ’gro’i khrid yig kun tu bzang po’i bla ma dgyes pa’i zhal lung. This could be abbreviated simply as Zhal lung, if there is no risk of being mistaken with other titles such as the gSang bdag zhal lung. If there is a risk, then better abbreviate the title as Kun bzang bla ma’i zhal lung. It is long but still much shorter than the actual title. Such abbreviated titles are usually not given by the authors and are thus simply popular titles or scholarly jargon. For Tibetan scholars, such titles are intuitive. For Tibetan titles, one should read the article on Tibetan titles by Orna Almogi. (§2) The next type of abbreviation or contraction is what I call “orthographic/graphic abbreviation,” that is, what is known as b/skung yig. These can be justifiably called “orthographic/graphic abbreviation” insofar as no phonemes have been abbreviated or contracted but only graphemes. For example, bkra shis is abbreviated as bkris, but one is always expected to pronounce bkra shis. Orthographic/graphic abbreviations are actually said to be impermissible in important documents, which would include the bKa’ ’gyur and bsTan ’gyur, but the fact that the bsTan ’gyur gser bris ma—the Golden dGa’-ldan edition of  the bsTan ’gyur—abounds in b/skung yig suggests that economization of resources such as gold and paper played a role. Indeed orthographic/graphic abbreviation would save much space, time, and resource. (§2) A sub-type of orthographic/graphic abbreviation would be a kind of contraction where numerical figures are used (in combination with alphabetic letters) as parts of words or phrases. A common example would be 4in for bzhin or gyur 1 for gyur cig. We see here the preference of sound over sense. I suspect that such conventions were implemented by not all too educated scribes. Nonetheless, the graphic abbreviation is not counterintuitive and any sensible reader would tolerate it with a certain sense of amusement. (§3) Usually Tibetan literary culture does not use abbreviations using letters (e.g. something similar to USA). But certainly syllables are used. For examples, rgyab or srib (verso) is abbreviated as ba, and mdun or nyin (recto) as na. This is probably because Tibetan is a syllabic language. In other words, it is not possible to abbreviate by using, for instance, pure Tibetan consonants. Interestingly, in the cases of rgyab/srib and mdun/nyin, it is not ming gzhi (core syllables) that have been abbreviated but the postscripts (rjes ’jug), which have made into syllables by adding the vowel a. (§4) One should also compare Tibetan syllabic truncations of titles such as Byang sa for Byang chub sems dpa’i sa with syllabic truncations of Sanskrit titles such as BoBhū for Bodhisattvabhūmi. (§4) Abbreviations in Tibetan are made not only by selecting or omitting certain syllables but also by blending certain letters and thereby forming new syllables. For examples, pha rol tu phyin pa is not abbreviated as pha phyin but rather as phar phyin; shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa not as shes phyin but rather as sher phyin; nye bar sbas pa not as nye sbas but rather as nyer sbas; rdo rje dbang phyug not as rdo dbang but rather as rdor dbang; shes rab kyi dbang not as shes dbang but rather as sher dbang, and so on. (§5) Another way to abbreviate a group of items having a certain fixed number is to form a cluster of items such as rTsa bzhi ’jug gsum for rTsa ba shes rab, bZhi brgya pa, and dBu ma ’jug pa and sKa-cog-zhang-gsum for sKa-ba dPal-brtsegs, Cog-ro Klu’i-rgyal-mtshan, and Zhang Ye-shes-sde. This is one of my favorites. The economy of words and convenience of such a convention seem obvious. (§6) There maybe many more ways of abbreviating Tibetan titles, names, and expressions.

May 12, 2017


Probably some of the readers might have read in some Tibetan sources that “Ru” has been used as a kind of a title, say, in place of “Ācārya.” See, for examples, the Klong chen chos ’byung (Lhasa: Bod-yig-dpe-rnying-dpe-skrun-khang, 2013 [reprint of the first edition 1991], p. 318): Ru ’Jam-dpal-bshes-gnyen, Ru Padma, and so on. Note that “Ru” is also used with Tibetan authors, for example, Ru bKa’[= sKa]-brtsegs. When I first encountered such a usage, I was totally clueless. (a) Recently, however, Ms. Mengyan Li, one of my doctoral students who is writing her dissertation on the history of rDo-rje-phur-pa cycle of Tantric teachings in Tibet, suggested that “Ru” seems to be an abbreviation of “Guru.” This possibility did not occur to me and I think one should give Ms. Li the due credit for coming up with this idea. (b) Could “Ru” have been an abbreviation of Ru-dpon? It is true that a ru dpon or ru sna is military term and can mean something like “the head/leader of a regiment” and hence a kind of a military general. But possibly ru dpon may reflect a Tibetan equivalent of ācārya or a phase of the Tibetan attempt to make sense of the Sanskrit word ācārya, which then later came to be rendered into Tibetan as slob dpon. Can it be that, at least initially, Tibetans understood both ru dpon and slob dpon as some kind of a “guide,” “instructor,” or “trainer”? Incidentally a rectangular ruler used by traditional Bhutanese architects is called a slob dpon. A search in the OTDO reveals ru dpon but not slob dpon. Possibly also the term slob dpon was created (somewhat later) by Tibetans to render ācārya, and slob dpon seems to literally mean “an instructing or training leader/master.” (c) Dan Martin, however, has asked if there is any reason (see below), why “Ru” could not have been an abbreviation of “Rudra.” Initially, I have claimed that contextually this seems very unlikely and that it is very unlikely that Ācārya Mañjuśrīmitra would be titled “Rudra.” But now I am reconsidering this possibility. Mr. Nicola Barjeta, a student of mine, points out that according to MW (s.v. rudra), rudra is also a “name of various teachers and authors (also with ācāryakavibhaṭṭaśarmansūri …).” It is, however, not quite clear to me what MW actually means here. It would be interesting for me only if rudra is interchangeable with ācārya, which does not seem to be what MW means. The PW has just “Nomen proprium verschiedener Männer.” The fact that “Rudra” can occur as a Nomen proprium seems to be of no relevance to the present question.

For fun, consider the following compounds:  sde dpon, dmag dpon, khri dpon, mda’ dpon, khyim dpon, bza’ dpon, khrims dpon, skyor dponrdzong dpongsol dpongzim/gzims dpon, mchod dpongar dpon’go dpon, tsho dponmnyan dpongrong dponded dponlding dponsgar dponsger/sgos dponsgo dponbrgya dponbcu dponchibs dpon’cham dponja dponjag dponjus dponrje dponmgo dpongter dpondrag dpondrang dponnor dponyul dpontshong dponpar dponlas dponspyi dponphogs dponrtsis dponphru dponbrang dponzong dponmdzo dponmdzod dponzhal dponzhi dpongsol dpongzhas dponbzo dpong.yos dponlag dponshe dponsho dponso dpon, and so on. The list would be, by no means, complete.

May 11, 2017

ཉོན་མོངས་པ། = སྐོར་བ།?

I have been trying to translate kleśa as “intellectual-emotional defilement.” Translation is perhaps like food. We would inevitably end up arguing about it. But I think it is not just about taste. It is about driving home the point. Some kleśas such as avidyā and moha are intellectual defilements. Some like dveṣa and rāga are emotional defilements. And kleśas are defilements insofar they are often considered pollutants. Of course, occasionally, especially in narrative literature, if one becomes kliṣṭa, one is “perturbed, troubled, or tormented.” So “afflicted” may be fine for kliṣṭa. We may also have to consider upakleśa and saṃkleśa. Why am I talking about all these actually? There is a whole dissertation on the Buddhist concept of kleśa. I am thinking of Prof. Ahn Sungdoo’s dissertation. Actually the reason I am writing this piece is because of some other Sanskrit words (i.e. aṅgaṇa and raṇa) that have been rendered into Tibetan as nyon mongs pa. These are not used in the regular classical Sanskrit senses. Because Edgerton records them in his BHSD, these words can be considered Buddhist-Hybrid Sanskrit. The Mahāvyutpatti (no. 2157) states: nyon mongs pa’i ming ste ’dom na skor ba. This is my trouble. That aṅgaṇa is a designation for kleśa is clear. It has also been made clear by Edgerton. What does skor ba here mean? Not in a usual known sense but in a sense that could explain kleśa. No dictionary seems to record skor ba in the sense of intellectual-emotional defilement. Not as aṅgaṇa but aṅga, as an indeclinable particle, it implies “attention, assent or desire, and sometimes impatience” (MW). Perhaps Tibetan translation reflects this nuance, especially of “impatience”? Does skor ba here mean “perambulation” or “roaming around (restlessly)” and thus a “disturbing factor,” and hence equatable with nyon mongs pa?


April 30, 2017

དོན་གྱི་བསྟན་བཅོས། (Arthaśāstra)

The life of a researcher is riddled with a mixture of feelings of frustration and elation. Often what one has assumed to be a straightforward thing turns out to be extremely knotty, complex, and infested with problems and uncertainties. Life seems smooth and without problems only if we afford to remain naive and non-analytical (ma brtag gcig pur nyams dga’ bar)! Solving or trying to solve bigger problems requires that tiny problems are solved first. But trying to solve these bits and pieces of problems first inevitably leads one further and further away from the main topic on which one is working in the first place. One’s philological sense does not allow one to return without thinking through the end and having  found a plausible and satisfying explanation or solution. In so doing, one often forgets the initial point of departure. Going astray or drifting away in this way is a disaster from a pragmatic point of view. One will never get anything done in time! In some Prajñāpāramitā contexts, the temptation to do one thing while one is doing another thing is considered a work of Māra (bdud kyi las). For example, the urge to go on reading a book (beyond one’s point of relevance or assignment). It is not easy to resist the temptation of the Māra! I often succumb to it. But why am I talking about it here. Oh, I see that Māra is at work.

I want to get my article on bka’/bkas bcad/bcas gsum done but a hundred or more factors seem to pose as stumbling blocks. In course of trying to trace some sources, I landed at ’Dar-tsha-khyung-bdag’s annotated commentary of an old biography of lHa-bla-ma ’Od-shes-’od. Quite an impressive work, I must say. Then suddenly I stumbled upon the famous Arthaśāstra by Cāṇakya/Kauṭilya/Viṣṇugupta. Theoretically, it appears that the word arthaśāstra can be used as a name of a genre and hence equatable with nītiśāstra (lugs kyi bstan bcos) or more specifically with rājanītiśāstra (rgyal po’i lugs kyi bstan bcos). But it seems to refer specifically to the famous work ascribed to Cāṇakya, also in MW, which states “a book treating of practical life (cf. -vidyā above) and political government (cf. -cintana above).” The work is translated into Tibetan by Lo-chen Rin-chen-bzang-po in collaboration with Paṇḍita Prabhākaraśrīmitra under the title Cānakya’s Rājanītiśāstra (Tsa na ka’i rgyal po’i lugs kyi bstan bcos) and it is transmitted in all accessible five bsTan ’gyur editions (i.e. PNDCG) as well as in the bsTan ’gyur dpe bsdur ma (vol. 114). The authenticity of the Sanskrit title of the work appearing in the Tibetan translation is doubtful. It turns out that the Tibetan translation is not a complete translation of the work extant in Sanskrit today. The Arthaśāstra is said to deal with 180 topics in 15 books and 150 chapters. The Tibetan translation seems to contain only the first book in eight chapters. A study of the Tibetan translation and the corresponding Sanskrit text seems to be desirable.

’Dar-tsha-khyung-bdag (p. 89) notes that the rGyal rabs nyi zla’i phreng mdzes states that Lo-chen Rin-chen-bzang-po also translated a certain work by Viṣṇugupta called the dKyil ’khor lnga pa. This little information posed two difficulties for me. First, the identity and whereabouts of the rGyal rabs nyi zla’i phreng mdzes. He does not bother to cite or provide bibliographical details consistently. This is one of the methodological weaknesses of the work. To be sure, I could trace the rGyal rabs nyi zla’i phreng mdzes (thanks to now the BDRC) and also the exact location (p. 446.4–5): lugs kyi bstan bcos khyab ’jug sbas pas mdzad pa |. The rGyal rabs nyi zla’i phreng mdzes is in dBu-med script. Second, what about the identity and whereabouts of the dKyil ’khor lnga pa? I frantically looked up internet sources for any clues but to no avail. The above source explicitly states that it is a nītiśāstra and that it was composed by Viṣṇugupta. Is this the same as the Arthaśāstra or the Cānakya’s Rājanītiśāstra (Tsa na ka’i rgyal po’i lugs kyi bstan bcos)? ’Dar-tsha-khyung-bdag is also asking the same question. And what, if there indeed was a Sanskrit word for dKyil ’khor lnga pa, would the Sanskrit name? Perhaps something like *Pañcamāṇḍalika? But why is there no clue elsewhere? Well, a researcher has to live with the fact that there are no satisfactory solutions to all the problems.

Oh, did I not begin this piece by saying that life of a researcher is riddled with a mixture of feelings of frustration and elation? The feeling of frustration of a researcher, especially if he or she tends to be idealistic, arises because no research result seems to get published because the work is full of question marks. In the mean time, a pragmatist gets many things published. A feeling of elation emerges in a researcher when he or she makes countless tiny discoveries on his or way, and whether these discoveries get to be published or not, there is the sheer joy of discovering and rediscovering little things which would otherwise not be possible. One feels like Alice in Wonderland.