Sunday, July 10, 2011

End of Tibetology in Sight

Photo by F.S. Chapman, Lhasa 1936

At the risk of instigating largely gratuitous Schadenfreude on the part of a whole slew of opponents of our reputedly hallowed discipline, a recent development causes me to call the very idea of continuation into question. What use are we Tibetologists if all the words of Tibetan literature have become instantly Googleable?

I’ll admit, I myself may be (in my own small way) part of the problem, and I don’t have any idea about a solution short of shutting down the worldwide web. Still, I’ll ramble on a bit about this thing tugging away at the back of my mind.

I know some of you are thinking, well...errrh, ‘I never even once had occasion to call upon the services of a Tibetologist anyway, so what’s the use of them? Why be concerned if they no longer find things to keep them busy?’ True enough, it’s not as if by extracting their noses from their books there is imminent danger of them rushing out and making a nuisance of themselves with normal citizens out in the streets. So what is the problem? ‘Put them in wireless-free retirement homes ASAP! They won’t be missed.’

I hear you. Still, I’m thinking, What is a researcher to do now that practically everything is done for her or him? No need to search the day away, scanning frantically with our g-d-given eyeballs, page after page for a single citation. Even first-year Tibetan language students will be able to find out in an instant how many times a word or phrase is used in the entire 108-volume (or so) collection of Buddhist scriptures in Tibetan translations that we know as the Kanjur or Bka'-'gyur (‘translations of the Word of Buddha’)...  and not only that, but also in the more-than 200-volume [or so] set of Tibetan translations of the mainly India-composed works that further illuminate the Kanjur texts known as the Tenjur or Bstan-'gyur (‘translations of the treatises’).

Now those 1st-year students will be instantly producing cutting edge research in this no-longer existent field — no sooner done than published in free but refereed internet journals of repute — that would have taken their fathers (and of course their grandfathers and mothers) years of painstaking eyesight-destroying research, even assuming they could get so far before entering the intermediate states of the bardos.

With all this talk I’ve just been stalling for time, hesitating to let anyone know that there is such a resource out there ready for their use, one that I had nothing to do with creating, and one with which I have no financial ties whatsoever. In fact, I wonder why I would send anyone there at all, since it would appear that it’s putting not only me, but all of us, out of a work...  Unless by work you mean being a google-box click fool permanently wired to the internet, one who will perhaps forget what it once felt like to unwrap a dpe-cha and flip through its long paper pages, contemplating meanings.

Go HERE and then I’ll be quiet.

My, that quiet sounds nice, now, doesn’t it!

Three Jewels on Fire

For those who may need fuller instructions, I should say to go to this URL based in Vienna, Austria:

(I’ve also put this link in the “Tibetological Toolbox” in the sidebar, over to your right, for your future reference.)

Then tap on the words “Full eTexts Kanjur” that you will find there.

Then type the word or phrase you want to find (in Wylie transcription exactly as you wish to find it... no need to add boolean operators or quote marks) in the box provided.

And if you find it useful, as most of you no doubt will, thank profusely the people who came together to make it happen, including the many hands that produced the ocean of eTexts it sails over.

If you have experience or knowledge of this site, or know about similar projects in the works, please send us your comments, since we’d love to learn more.

A demonstration, if one be needed:

I was especially interested in a verb bdungs-pa, which means, according to the Btsan-lha dictionary, bsad-pa (‘killed’). But as I’ve found it in the Mkhas-pa Lde'u history (pp. 52, 236), it can’t possibly have this meaning, but rather has something to do with stringing a bow, as in gzhu rang bdungs, which must mean: the bow [that] strung itself.  (One of a set of weapons with amazing powers, something we’ll talk about another time.)  Some glossaries seem to think it means nocking or loading the bow with the notch of an arrow. However, in certain sources it is clear that it means stringing the bow, and not loading it with an arrow, since it takes place a good while before the actual archery competition (in the life of the Buddha as told in the famous Lalitavistara).  rgyal bus gzhu blangs te bdungs nas gzhu rgyud sbrengs pa'i sgra 'brug skad ltar zer te. (But note the verb sbrengs-pa here also means stringing of the bow.)  I noticed this phrase on p. 98 of the modern book reprint of the Sutra of the Wise and the Fool (Mdzangs-blun) I picked up earlier this year in Nepal.

So my idea is that it ought to mean the stringing of the bow, but that some authors might have thought it meant loading the arrow on to the bow.  If only the lexicons are to blame, it’s one thing, but what about real Tibetan translators and authors?  Did they ever understand it that way?

Let’s see what happens when we make use of this new search tool for the Kanjur and Tanjur!  (I’ll come back here when I find something out.)

Oh, my.  It may be an unusual word, but not quite as rare as I had imagined.  We get three occurrences in the Vinayavastu, and two in the Vinayavibhaṅga.

It occurs once in the Udayanavatsa Rāja Paripṛcchā.  It occurs in five other sûtras, sometimes multiple (2, 3 or even 5) times each.

It appears in five different tantra scriptures.

Here's a short example of a context from one of the sûtras. It’s the Drin-lan bsab-pa'i mdo, ‘Repaying the Kindness [of Buddha] Sûtra,’ which I believe is one of those relatively rare canonical translations done from Chinese):

de nas rngon pa des gzhu bdungs/ mda' ltong du bcug...

“Then that hunter strung the bow and loaded [the string with] the arrow notch.”

This certainly supports the idea that it means ‘to string’ and not ‘to nock.’  I’d have to study all the other examples to know if other texts might argue for the other interpretation (I didn’t notice one right off). My point here is that you can take an unusual word of problematic meaning and see how it functions in every possible context in the Kanjur and Tanjur.* It’s likely that with some effort you will be enabled to come to a conclusion of proven reliability. Getting through those occasional tough spots can make all the difference for the accuracy of a translation. And no, dictionaries don’t have all the meanings you need. And sometimes, as in this example, they have meanings nobody needs.

(*Well, I can’t answer the question of whether full coverage is provided or not, and even if it is [as it seems], there is still the problem of miss-readings and typos that certainly can get in the way of our certainty about the results when using databases of any sort.)

Roof-top tomb mosaic,

Galla Placidia Mausoleum



  1. Then, In the mind of the starting grad student in Tibetan Studies, this thought arose: "What beauty, having read Dr. Martin's post, I can now very easily access all the important texts of my beloved discipline online. " (then) he typed in his search query and wondered: "oh my sangs rgyas, the script I recognize, but what is this language? How come letters are written both vertically and horizontally? I better find myself a real-endowed-with-Dharma-Tibetologist to teach me" (so he) thought.

  2. Technological convenience changes what counts as valuable knowledge, doesn't it? Determining how many times a particular word occurs in any given Tibetan text will not be regarded as much of an achievement in the future. Determining how often a technical term occurs on the other hand demands greater human intervention, given that sophisticated linguistic parsing software for literary Tibetan is still wanting, as far as I know. And there's many types of knowledge that digitized text will not provide on its own ... and might it not be preferable to ask what we can now do much better than without digitized text (and how), rather than seeing this as a potential threat?

  3. My first test ended in a "According to the wishes of ACIP, the text is not displayed here". Perhaps in order to protect tibetologists near retirement or in a second youth refusing to retire :-)

  4. Hi Dan,

    I must confess (mea culpa!) that I personally benedict all this new e-tools, on the one hand, because I belong to that (perhaps the last) generation that started to study without internet. On the other hand, because I've a philosophical – not linguistic or philological – background, and my principal occupation, and intellectual love, is to try to understand what philosophers have actually thought, and not to establish critical editions or similar works (even if sometimes I do also that, but only for better understanding the meaning of a writing).
    But, perhaps this distinction between philosophy and philology, etc., does not represent the real point here. Indeed, that which is common to philosophy, philology, linguistics, etc., I think is "interpretation", which is perhaps the most important attitude one needs when reading a text. These new e-texts facilitate a lot the work of interpreters (of any kind), giving them more time to spend in ermeneutical problems than in looking for single occurrences or passages (when not in trains for reaching libraries, in photocopying pages and pages, in waiting days for a permission to check rare books, etc.), that formerly could take even weeks of work! To find occurrences by means of RK&TS, ACIP, TBRC, etc. does not necessarily mean (in reality, does not mean at all!) to be able to make a good use of the results found… and I suspect that, more than simply checking a text, it is the making a good (philosophical, philological, linguistic, etc.) use of it that makes a Tibetologist a good Tibetologist…

    :-) k

  5. The beginning of Tibetology in sight? :)

  6. Dear ones,

    Re the comment from one of the mouths of Janus...

    ACIP produced the texts with the understanding that the tantric materials would not be disseminated indiscriminately. This doesn't get in the way of the Kanjur texts, which were not sourced from ACIP.

    As you may notice, I attached an addendum ending with a photo of the stars on the roof of the tomb indicating the place where the mortal remains of Tibetology will lie buried for all eternity.

    My thoughts are with you all in the hour of your distress. (Well, with everyone except you, PSz. No smiley here!)


  7. Dear Dan, et al.,

    to give a new lease of life to you despondent Tibet-o-logicians, let's see what you're worth! For a while now (that's only about 25 years), while interpreting for one or the other Tibetan master, I've always come up against one problem in regard to Vajrasattva, particularly when he comes along with his consort, who is called "rdo rje snyems ma" in Tibetan. What on earth is she called in Sanskrit??? I would be so happy to put this to rest once and for all. I've recently even asked old friends, like Edward Henning and Hubert Decleer, both of whom you (Dan) know, but the combined three of us came up with only a lot of head-scratching and shoulder-shrugging.

    So then, show me what you're made of... ;-)

    Best wishes from rainy Kathmandu,


  8. Dear Thomas,

    Thanks for dropping by!

    I'm made of blue cheese, and getting more despondent by the moment. If you had asked me over coffee out of the blue I'd also be scratching my head or whatever. But since you ask me in this nice way, I can tell you that an internet search for "Rdo rje snyems ma" brings up "Vajratopa" from none other than the Rangjung Yeshe dictionary (add one or two lengthmarks to make it more exact; whether this is the right Sanskrit form or not, everyone seems to think it is to judge from an internet search of "Vajratopa"). I could check the Negi dictionary etc., but probably PSz or HI could answer on the basis of Sanskrit-language texts, and I believe only this kind of answer could satisfy you. Am I right?

    Greetings from a place with no rain.


  9. Dan,

    thanks for the quick heads-up! Indeed, a Sanskrit source would be helpful, just to put it to rest. Others, like Edward, also said "have Vajratopa in my notes" but also followed that up with "am not sure at all that's right." So there you go...

    Hope not to be too much trouble!



  10. Dear Thomas and Dan,

    Vajrāṭopā could work, but it is unattested, as far as I can tell. I believe the name you are after is Vajragarvā. There are many occurrences, here I shall limit myself to two:

    Vajrāvalī ch. 28 [ed. Mori 2009, vol. 2, pp. 428-429]. This is the chapter on the name-initiation. If a lady's flower or whatever drops on the Amoghasiddhi side of the maṇḍala, she will be named one of the following:

    amoghasiddheḥ vajragarvā vajramāyā vajravaḍavā ...

    don yod grub pa'i rdo rje snyems ma dang | rdo rje sgyu ma dang | rdo rje rgod ma dang | ...

    Abhayapaddhati [Chog Dorje 2009, skt. p. 3, tib. p. 93]. This is Abhayākaragupta's commentary on the Buddhakapāla. The edition is quite dreadful, don't believe a word of it.

    ... vajragarvā prajñāpāramitātmikā ...
    [ed. wrongly reads: vajragarbhaḥ prajñāpāramitātmikaḥ]

    rdo rje snyems ma shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa'i bdag nyid do ||

    Hope this helps.

    Greetings from the banks of the Thames. If it doesn't rain, don't worry - it soon will.


  11. PDSz, Dan, et al.,

    this is the kind of thing I've been looking for. Thank you very much! So as of now I don't need to be mixing up Tibetan and Sanskrit any longer. Not that it matters much to the neither Tibetan nor Sanskrit speaking audience, me thinks...


  12. Hi Dan,

    I am convinced you are right in saying that the verb bdung does not mean nocking the bow. Bu ston should have known (as any polymath would), and according to him (cf. Chos 'byung) the correct order is as follows:

    phyag dang po la gzhu bdungs/ gnyis pa la mda' ltong sbyar/ gsum pa la mtheb dkrol te btang bas/ brang du phog ste

    That this chain of actions has often enough lead to death by Pneumothorax (have you seen the film "Braveheart"?) is obvious, but to paraphrase bdungs pa with bsad pa, just because there won't be any phog without bdungs strikes me as oversimplification.
    But I have benefitted from using Btsan lha's work in other instances, so let's forget it.

    By the way, I noted that the good people from Vienna still use the siglum Q (Qianlong) for Peking bka' 'gyur and bstan 'gyur. This, I believe, is not at all justifiable as Professor Steinkellner has pointed out. Hence back to P.

    Tibetology/Tibetan is dead in several places now. Looking at the history of the academic discipline I make out three distinct phases:

    1. Auxiliary science (initially of Indology)
    2. Full-fledged discipline in its own right
    3. back to 1, now part of Religious Studies, Area Studies, Social Anthropology, Barbarian Studies

    Tibetology = Tibetan philology nothing more or less. If one wants to study how the nomads milk their yaks, fine, learning Tibetan (and learning how the nomads milk their yaks) might be an advantage, but no one should claim to be a Tibetologist who does that.

    As ever,


  13. Dear Arno,

    If I can pretend a quick hack of Bu-ston's passage on the proper procedures for arrow shooting, it seems to be saying that the hand[s] first string the bow, secondly prepare the notch of the arrow, third release the thumb and fire it, and thereby hit the chest?

    Is that roughly correct? For a moment I was thinking that Lha-lung Dpal-gyi-rdo-rje might have had three hands...

    I wasn't specifically picking on Btsan-lha, which I do indeed believe is the best thing ever for those nnow-unusual words used back in the pre-Mongol epoch of Tibetan history. I was criticizing them all. One thing many of them do is confound bdungs-pa with brdungs-pa (or assume that the texts really wanted to spell the latter, and failed). Das's classic entry on his p. 666 (a significant number to some) confuses matters by saying "bent the bow by pulling the string to shoot an arrow." I'm not even sure what that was supposed to mean. Then he gives a second meaning saying it's equivalent to rdung-ba. (I'm thinking No it isn't. If it happens its a mistake for rdung-ba, and I have yet to see an instance of it...)

    And here are the relevant entries from the Rangjung Yeshe, where you don't find the meaning of stringing the bow even once:

    •bdung - (tha dad pa bdungs pa, bdung ba, bdungs,; 1) bend, pull [the string of a bow], shoot an arrow; 2) beat, strike [IW]
    •bdung ba - beat, = rdung ba [JV]
    •bdung ba - (tha dad pa bdungs pa, bdung ba, bdungs,; 1) bend, pull; 2) beat, strike [IW]
    •bdung ba - {bdung ba, bdungs pa, bdung ba, bdungs} trans. v.; ft. of {bdung ba} [RY]
    •bdung ma bkal ba - beam placed over it, set or put on, hang up [JV]
    •bdung mi gcod pa - not leave off beating [IW]
    •bdungs - imp. of {bdung ba} [RY]
    •bdungs - bent, = bkug pa [JV]
    •bdungs - 1) beat!; 2) bend!; 1) bent, pulled [the string of a bow], shot an arrow; 2) beat, struck [IW]
    •bdungs pa - 1) bent; 2) beat [IW]
    •bdungs pa - pf. of {bdung ba} [RY]

    Even Goldstein's latest and largest gets it wrong. (Of course when I say 'wrong' I'm speaking about the meaning of the verb in pre-14th century texts that are my interest here (including some early lives of the Buddha). I'm not capable of judging what it might mean to each Tibetan speaker everywhere on the plateau since then.)

    I guess what you are saying is that if you study the words used in yak husbandry you can be a Tibetologist, just not if you limit yourself to talking Tibetan with people who raise yaks...?? I'm only trying to catch your meaning. I'm sure there will be some vociferous objections however you want to put it. I think I would want to respond that, well, hanging out with the people who know yaks could be a big bonus for understanding references to yaks in 12th century texts. Are you saying it would be a liability? Are you in favor of limiting experience to what's found between the pecha covers?

    Oh, and another thing. Like you I think those good people in Vienna (with the obvious exception of the Prof. you mentioned by name) should be minding their P's and Q's.

    Thanks for coming by. Parties are always more interesting when you're in them.


  14. Dear Arn,

    What I was getting at (although I guess you *did* get it) was that I don't know much about archery, at least not since summer camp in 2nd grade, and I see that lack as a problem even when confronted with English words like 'nocking' (don't nock it before you've tried it?), let alone Tibetan technical words associated with the ancient Indic science of dhanurveda.*

    (*I didn't discuss the India part yet, but Negi gives the Sanskrit of bdungs as âropya, with an example taken from the Hundred Avadânas collection, where it does mean 'strung' as in archery.)

    Nock just means 'notch,' right? So why couldn't nocking mean putting the string in the notch at the end of the bow? (and not putting the notch of the arrow on the string of the bow) I guess the difference comes into the actual usage. And for that understanding has to come out of experience *at least* as much as from texts... I'd say certainly *not* from obscure etymologies that seem clever at the moment (perhaps partly from the thrill of overturning current wisdom), but just make us look stupid to people with real knowledge of the field we trespass upon. We take a lot of risks with this philology business, don't we? Maybe it's more exciting than it's put out to be.

    And a nock is a nook, is it not?

    Nothing to get ourselves all nocked up about.


  15. Dear Dan,

    When you say that one doesn't "find the meaning of stringing the bow even once" this is probably correct. But I don't think "stringing the bow" is the literal meaning of bdung ba, it simply means "to bend", this is well attested (cf. its rendering as tshur 'gugs pa in the Tshig mdzod chen mo). Most people have now taken this as referring to the act of bending the bow when the arrow is "loaded" (i.e. [in the words of the OED] when it's "fitted to a bowstring" = nocked). However, according to Bu ston and your sources, the "bending of the bow" seems to have originally referred to the initial bending caused by attaching the bowstring to the bow. Lateron the meaning of "bending the bow" seems to have shifted to "pulling the string" prior to release. Therefore the Tshig mdzod chen mo also explains bdung ba as "shooting an arrow after pulling the string" (rgyud bdungs nas mda' 'phen pa).
    I think the Bu ston phrase means something like:

    "Hitting the chest by firstly stringing the bow, secondly notching the arrow[*], thirdly releasing the thumb and letting go."

    [*] literally "affixing the notch [to the string]". Note that OED lists two meaning for "to notch": 1. to cut or make a notch; 2. to fit (an arrow) to a bowstring. I am thinking of the latter here.

    In my eyes it doesn't make sense to take mda' ltong sbyar as "prepare the notch of the arrow". One might be dead by the time this task was completed, wouldn't you agree? On the other hand the archers usually carried their bows unstrung since otherwise the pull might have decreased. Therefore it is feasible that the bow is strung only shortly before the shot.

    I would never want to limit Tibetology to what is written. This was the approach of the past. Consultation and exchange with exponents of the living tradition is absolutely vital, not the least for a thorough understanding of the textual sources. Some people are clever enough to combine anthropological fieldwork with the study of primary sources (I am thinking, for example, of the recent publications on the village archives of a hamlet in Mustang).
    Tibetology should always contain some element of translation work, that's my view. Let it be from the written or the spoken (songs, folktales, epics). If someone compiled a list of devices used for milking yaks transcribed from 50 hours of tape recordings in the field, this would certainly be a very useful addition to Tibetan lexicography and a Tibetological achievement, wouldn't it?



  16. •bdung ba || (tha dad pa) bdungs pa , bdung ba , bdungs , , tshur 'gugs pa'am , 'then pa ,... gzhu bdungs pa ,... rgyud bdungs nas mda' 'phen pa ,...

    Am I the only one who finds this explanation in the Rgya Bod Tshig mdzod confusing? [definition:] Hook toward yourself (summon hither?) or pull (draw back?)... [examples:] [You've] strung the bow... And when [you've] strung the string [you] shoot the arrow?

    I know there are people who disagree with me, but I think for example anyone who made a thorough academic-quality study of British Parliamentary papers on Tibet, or on Qing Dynasty documents related to Tibet, would still have the right to call themselves a Tibetologist. I guess I'm not too eager to define the field very exactly and categorize people out if they think what they are doing merits the label. Even if they aren't reading pechas and are mainly involved with animal husbandry... I'll have to think about horseback riding. Horse races, certainly.

  17. Any academic discipline that cannot even define its distinctive features and boundaries is either already dead or very near to extinction as people might easily consider it redundant. You seem to imply that any serious academic-quality study carried out about or even on the Tibetan plateau is Tibetological. Why not call someone who studies British Parliamentary papers on Tibet a historian if he is one?

    The IATS conference have now grown enormously big, presumably since the people in charge share your view of what Tibetology is: everything, from fungi to tantras.
    I have heard many people say that it should be split up into separate seminars. Why can't the Social Anthropologists have their own conferences with panels on Tibet? I presume they already have! And I honestly don't think that a philologist would normally dare to attend. It is a different discipline with different methods, and what is true for them or any other serious discpline should also be true for Tibetology. But maybe it is not a serious discipline, then let's get rid of it, who cares? Well no, there is an increasing interest in Tibetan Studies in China and they are sending their students in ever-growing numbers to western universities. And they pay cash, so let's keep it up for a while until China is the leading Tibetological nation with huge research institutions. 50 years from now?



  18. The explanation in the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo is not too bad, I think. I simply read it as:

    [definition:] "bend sideways" (tshur 'gugs pa) or "pull" ('then pa)

    This is then followed by two examples demonstrating the use of bdung ba in exactly these two meanings (1. bend, 2. pull).

    For problems with verbs one might also want to consult Nathan Hill's recent Lexicon of Tibetan Verb Stems (2010). Not that it solves the bdung ba problem, but it lists the relevant entries from various dictionaries on one page, which is useful.


  19. Well, my impression is that the Madhyamicists, who back in around mid-'80s used to constitute fairly half of attendees of the international Tibetological conferences (Visegrad's Csoma de Koros conference of 1984 had only 2 parallel panels throughout, one for philosophy and one for everything else), have already in large part migrated to the IABS and other Buddhist Studies meetings (well, true, a limited number do still come to the IATS as well).

    There already is a long-running section for Himalayan Studies at the AAR.

    Linguists have always had their Tibeto-Burman conferences.

    There are Himalayan Studies groups that gladly accept papers on Tibetan anthropological topics.

    In its current state, the IATS reflects a very interdisciplinary discipline with an (obviously) area[l] studies emphasis. I like that.

    Sometimes I even think it is good to widen the area beyond Tibet, as already has often happened in Himalayan Studies or in the PIACs.*
    (*Permanent Int'l Altaistic Conference)

    Caterpillar fungi are a very significant topic for exploration for a number of reasons, not least of all as a very important element in the contemporary economic picture. Even given that's true, personally, I'm not sure how many papers on them I can sit through.

    Vancouver I found to be too confusing and, by halftime, too tiring (although I'm ready to do it again).

    One obvious place to split is between the modern and pre-20th century. Still, I hope that won't happen. Nobody should get to have their comfortable nook where they don't have to speak to the rest of us.

    I think the IATS should stay on course doing just what it's doing. But I also think there should be more regional conferences, as well as more subject-focussed ones. In fact the former do happen regularly in Australia. In recent years the latter are popping up now and then in London, Paris, Lumbini, Beijing, & even of late in Dharamsala.

    One thing I definitely think should not be happening is a split among Tibetologists on the basis of age. We should all try to grow up and finally go senile together as we always have been doing. Really! People unable to grow beards should be made to sit next to people with very long and unusual ones even if just as a way to develop tolerance.

    Do we have a problem with fuzzy boundaries? Lord Curzon in his 1900 book perhaps said it best... (sorry, mislaid the quote, but you probably know it).

    And anyway, if you want them solidly defined you'll first need to legislate and then invest in the land surveyors and border patrols, and who really wants to have those jobs? Do you believe in forced repatriation?

    No, I say start up your own "Tibetan-language Philology" discipline. Hold conferences of your own. Give qualifying exams if you want. Require 2 letters of recommendation from members in good standing. Make them submit their papers 3 months in advance in triplicate with wide margins all around, already thoroughly spell checked.

    At the same time, continue to go to the IATS whenever you like. And enjoy the open and accepting attitudes you will (I hope) find there. Is this even a problem? Well, let's see, then, yes.... maybe...

  20. "Why not call someone who studies British Parliamentary papers on Tibet a historian if he is one?"

    I will call such persons Tibet historians, hence Tibetologists, and welcome them to the IATS as well as to a conference on British imperial history. The ones who do Ch'ing Dynasty documents, ditto although, mutatis mutandis, for them it would be a conference on Manchu imperial history, or British-Manchu imperial relations.

  21. I have to confess, after having followed this blog for several years, this is the first time (well, maybe the second) that I do not understand you. In this blog entitled "End of Tibetology in Sight" you have postulated the end of the academic discipline, asking:

    What use are we Tibetologists if all the words of Tibetan literature have become instantly Googleable?

    Now you are telling us that someone studying English-language archival materials on Anglo-Tibetan relations is certainly a Tibetologist in your view. Why then do you fear the end of Tibetology is in sight? Someone basing his work exclusively on secondary sources won't benefit from resources like the one in Vienna anyway, because it will always be entirely incomprehensible to him. If the study of Tibetan literature is not an integral part of Tibetology why then is the latter's fate determined by much improved access to the Tibetan canon...?



  22. Dear Arn,

    Our comments seem to be leapfrogging. I'm sorry I'm not able to "see" the simplicity of your reading of the dictionary entry (tshur means sideways? News to me. Are you thinking zur?), but overlooking my disability for the moment, I would like to see real examples of those meanings outside of dictionary entries. Anyway, my point is just that for pre-14th century texts the meaning of bdung-ba seems to be quite consistently 'to string' (or to bend to string, OK). I could be wrong here, and one way to check the truth of it is with the Vienna site. No dictionary (including the Tshigs-mdzod Chen-mo as far as I can see) gives the meaning that is found in those early texts.

    To quote the Lalitavistara translation of ca. 800 CE:

    de nas byang chub sems dpas gzhu de blangs te stan las ma langs par skyil mo krung phyed bcas te lag pa gyon pas bzung nas lag pa gyas pa'i sor mo gcig gis bdungs so | | gzhu de de ltar bdungs pa'i tshe ser skya'i gnas kyi grong khyer chen po thams cad du sgra mngon par grag par gyur to | |

    Pretty impressive feat by the young Bodhisattva, stringing the strongest bow ever made (they called it Sky Horn) without even getting up from his crosslegged position. (His grandfather Simhahanu had been the last one to successfully string it, and ever since his time it had been kept unstrung in the ancestral temple.) He held it in his left hand and 'strung' (bdungs) it with one finger of his right. (I know a later Tibetan source that says he strung it with the thumb and forefinger of one hand.)

    A little further on in the Lalitavistara he actually does something with the already strung bow (de ltar byang chub sems dpas mda' blangs nas gzhu de dang sbyar te bkang nas). No sign of the word bdung-ba in this later context when he's doing the expectable things with the arrows.

    Did the meaning get extended or shifted to mean 'nocking' or 'drawing' [the bow in preparation for shooting] in later language? Would this explain the dictionary entries that seem so wrong to me? Coming up with real examples of usage that would vindicate the dictionary makers still has to happen for me to give them credence.

  23. Well, yes, the communications seems to be dictated by the blogspot people. I write something, which doesn't show up, only to see that you have written something else.

    tshur: this is an abbreviation for tshu rol, isn't it? tshu rol means "side", not necessarily "one's own side" or does it? Since my mother tongue is Esperanto I thought I might translate tshu rol as "bend sideways". You translate as "hook toward yourself". I don't have a problem with that at all, actually thinking of how one bends the wooden bow to string it, your translation seems quite accurate.



    I am not sure if this improves my translations, but perhaps it means "to the side"? Is this better tha "sideways

  24. Dear Arn,

    I always value your comments.

    That could help explain why what you said made me feel a little discouraged, since it appears I'm not as good a communicator as I had imagined. Still, in my defense, I wish to say I was sure that people would get it by the time they saw the words, "Now those 1st-year students will be instantly producing cutting edge research..." Now *there* is a largely untapped pool of talent for the IATS board members to consider for the 2013 seminar in Shigatse! (Scratch that in case the movie 2012 comes true.)

    I hope you won't be telling me next that things or beings that are boxed in nicely (or "defined") are therefore more alive. I think a lot more likely is the contrary. And the news of Tibetology's death has been, well, should I say, somewhat exaggerated?

    And although I'm not sure anyone needs to know this, I just dug the broom out of the closet and was thinking, 'Doesn't the bottom of the thing go in front of your left ankle, then behind your right leg up behind your back to be grasped by your right hand and brought steadily closer to the string being held in your left?' After a little testing I think that is just how I used to do it. Believe me, it's been a long time. Now back to that Tibetological paper with its (now very) short deadline.


  25. Hi Dan,

    Next time I'll phone you for sure! This comment posting is getting too complicated. It is also dangerous because there is little difference from writing a comment to inscribing a rdo ring: you cannot make corrections! But please allow me to correct the following (I will then shut up):

    "Since my mother tongue is Esperanto I thought I might translate tshu rol as "bend sideways".

    What I wanted to say was tshur 'gugs pa, obviously..... Thank you Mr. Copy and Mrs. Paste.

    All best until Shigatse (probably earlier),


  26. Hmmm. Looking back at the Kanjur & Tanjur passages for bdung[-ba] (and the past form bdungs[-pa]), I see that in a sizable number of occurrences of the syllable bdung it is clearly just a mistaken transcription for bdud, 'mâra' or 'delusionary spirit.' You also find it a few times as a misreading for what has to be btung, '[will] drink.'

    Just a warning — when you don't find a word with a search, it doesn't mean it's absent from the text. If you had been searching for the syllables bdud or btung you wouldn't have been able to locate those particular occurrences at all.

    And have a look, for example, at this passage from Kanjur sutra section (Derge no. 0095): gzhon nu don grubakyis mes kyi gnamaru bdungs nas de'i sgra byung ba ni 'di yin no zhes zer ro/ /de nas lha dngami brgya stong dag...

    That ought to read gzhon nu don grub kyis mes kyi gnam ru bdungs nas de'i sgra byung ba 'di yin no zhes zer ro // de nas lha dang mi (?) brgya stong dag...

    Three types (due to OCR?) of typos in as many lines. Some particular texts seem to have quite a few of these, and I wonder why...

  27. Hi Dan:

    A limitation on this search tool is the ACIP imposed restriction on displaying the full text of commentaries in rgyud section of the bstan 'gyur. It will tell you the Derge reference number of the text in which a line occurs, but it forces you to individually look up the reference number of the text to find the title, and one is still forced to scan through the text to find the line, and it does not identify the page number where the referenced line occurs.

    Still, it is a great tool.

  28. Will the person named "a real nerd 11" please write a comment containing their email address? I won't post it, of course, but then I can write to you in private.

    Hi Malcolm! I understand that some of the texts were created using OCR technology on a very clear print of the Tanjur. Do you have any idea about that? The tantra scriptures of the Kanjur are themselves available in full text, it's their commentaries that are off limits. The former were not supplied by ACIP, while the latter were.


  29. Is there any way to download the Kanjur from this site?

  30. It doesn't appear so. Of course you could cut and paste about a 1,000 times and that ought to do it.

  31. Hi Dan:

    I have discovered that the Tanjur rgyud material is indeed available here:

    But you need to write and ask permission for access to the rgyud section, stating your qualifications (i.e. anuttarayoga tantra initiations) and reason for needing access.

    Otherwise, this is a very nice tool for those who do not need access to the rgyud material, as it displays transliterated material and a scan of the the original text side by side of you want. And you are correct, the scan is of a very clear copy of the Derge Tanjur -- much clearly than TBRC's scans.

  32. PDSz said...

    Is there any way to download the Kanjur from this site?

    Well, it shouldn't be too difficult. Already a quick and easy solution like

    curl -o "D_THL#1.tib"[1-1108]

    does pretty well, if you don't mind a small amount of html tags etc. If you wanted to get rid of them, you might need something slightly more sophisticated. Surely Google can help you...

  33. HiMalcolm,

    I just checked out the "ace" search engine at ACIP and it works really nicely, even gives you page images for the page where your search term occurs, which makes it somewhat better than the Vienna (although being limited to the Tanjur, which makes the Vienna better...).


  34. Hi H.I.,
    Nice seeing you here, and thanks for the tip. The truth is that quite a few people have the Kanjur set on their computers, just that most people don't seem to know where they (ultimately) come from. I'd like to know more about how it was done (obviously some Kanjur texts are a result of OCR, but OCR of what exactly?)...

  35. Hi DAN:

    I don't think these are OCR scans.

    As far as I understand it, ACIP has had teenage monks sitting in front of computers typing stuff in by hand for the past 20 years. The fact that there are so many errors in the scans is due to the fact that they have no one to edit the huge amount of material apart from roughly. I am guessing that this, in part, is the reason they have they have the page images at ACE seach engine.

  36. Hi Dan,

    I am stating the obvious, but according to the Viennese site the Kanjur texts are from Virginia:

    Full e-text search in the Kanjur (texts from THLIB)

    I don't think these texts are resulting from OCR processing, they seem to have been typed in by Tibetans in Chengdu. The British Academy appears to have partially funded the Virginia project, and I just googled this British Academy report (2007), stating (p. 11) that the texts were "input". (I am an OCR amateur, but wouldn't the number of errors be much higher otherwise? There must be about 250,000 final -d and -ng in the entire collection, potentially causing a lot of trouble. Who would be proof-reading all that?) Anyhow, it would only be too simple to write an email to the people involved to find out more, no need for us to speculate. I think a little more detailed information on the website would be very useful though. Its layout and structure is confusing. I am also puzzled by their statement that:

    The Kanjurs marked in blue are available in digital version (scans from the University of Vienna or from the TBRC).

    Does this mean they will eventually make these scans (e.g. London shel dkar, which to me looks also blue) available? How would that be possible considering copyright restrictions? It is still quite costly to obtain texts from certain versions/locations. Will we get free scans soon? It would certainly be great.

    There have been several projects aimed at producing scanned (digital) incarnations of the Tibetan canon in the last decade or so, I find it difficult to keep track. You have stated that ACIP's Derge scans are clearer than the Derge scans distributed by TBRC (the Karmapa print, used by most of us in the photomechanic edition from Delhi). From Peter Skilling's Mahāsūtras, vol. 1 (1994), I think I have learnt that the clearest print of Derge available to him back then was the one in Prague. Whenever, for example, the gi gu in the Karmapa ed. is broken, it is usually quite visible in the Prague copy. Of identical quality is the copy kept at Koyasan University. Scans of the latter were already available for purchase more than ten years ago from a company in Osaka called Kobayashi Shashin Kogyo (800,000 Yen). I once had the chance to look at a sample CD and compare the readings to those given in Skilling's apparatus for Prague: no difference.



    P.S. It is absolutely unbelievable but when I just hit the "Post Comment" button", the site demanded a "Word Verification" in form of: BDUNGS This is paranormal, isn't it?

  37. Once you've done a search on the Vienna site you are able to click on a tab entitled "Resources". This provides some useful information I hadn't seen when I wrote my previous comment:
    They have in fact scanned the Sheld dkar, but:

    due to © &co., no picture can be shown here. For more information, please contact us

    No idea if this url is stable, but I saw this here.


  38. Dear Arno,

    Just back from up north, where it was so much hotter. I'll have to look into those things you mentioned. I don't much believe in the paranormal ordinarily, but does that make any difference at all in noting the miraculous nature of that self-manifesting Bdungs? (The kids have a name for that verification box you have to type into and the words that show up there, but I forgot it momentarily.)

    "Anyhow, it would only be too simple to write an email to the people involved to find out more, no need for us to speculate."

    You're right, that would be too simple. I was thinking that maybe they would put their comments here on the blog, taking pity on our confusion.

    More anon, Arno!


  39. Here's a small story. Years ago, let's say nearly 20 years ago, while trying to prepare a paper for publication after the Fagernes conference, I felt I MUST locate a passage mentioned by some Tibetan authors that says that there are *18* (not 16) Great Countries in Jambu Island. Why? you ask. Good question. Let me say in defense of my sanity that it was crucial (if that's the right word) for a historical argument I was trying to make about some early (pre-Mongol period) Tibetan geographical conceptions. Or at least I thought it would be. Imagine, I spent about a week sitting in the library day after day madly scanning through page after page the 4 volumes of the Smṛtyupasthāna.

    It occurred to me that I might try this again in 2011 with the use of the Vienna search facility. After trying with "yul ljongs bco brgyad" I was ready to give up, when I thought again, wondering if "bcwa brgyad" might be the preferred way to spell it. It was. And then it popped up in no other place than the Smṛtyupasthāna (Dran-pa Nye-bar Bzhag-pa). Only when I went to the etext, it wasn't there. I figured out that when you go to its etext all you get is the first volume, not all four. But where are the other volumes? My quote is in volume 4 of the sûtra (with keyletter SHA in the Derge).

    It does have a little geography of Jambu Island, but unfortunately doesn't name the 18 countries... Oh well.

    I hope you enjoyed my little story.


  40. Hi Dan,

    The volume you require is here.

    One needs to manually adjust the url, simply clicking on the "Complete text" link does not seem to work when it comes to multivolume works in the Kanjur. Apparently some kind of bug in the database.

    The name of the required file is displayed alongwith the result of the search: kanjur/D0287Sha.txt

    Add this to the url already mentioned by H.I. above:

    Best, Arno

  41. ¿xoq ʇuǝɯɯoɔ ɹǝƃƃolq sıɥʇ uı uʍop ǝpısdn ʇuǝɯɯoɔ noʎ op ʍoɥ

    Oh, that's how!

  42. Dear Journalist M.C.,

    I recommend starting your own blog page. I won't put up comments that have nothing to do with what's going on here, considering as I do that this is a type of spamming. Blogger is free and easy to use. You can write to your heart's content about anything at all that comes to mind. It's easy. Try it.


  43. PS: Thanks Arno, your link worked perfectly, taking me directly to volume SHA.

  44. Anonymous,

    I do hope you will come here to check if your flattering comment (with a link to Payday Loans) went up or not. It didn't. And your name is Spam.

    Thanks for writing,


  45. Re. the comment my Anonymous: The notion of "milking yaks" will get a giggle out of any actual nomad. For a drink, they milk the 'bri.


Please write what you think. But please think about what you write. What's not accepted here? No ads, no links to ads, no back-links to commercial pages, no libel against 3rd parties. These comments won't go up, so no need to even try. What's accepted? Everything else, even 1st- & 2nd-person libel, if you think they have it coming.

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