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Mahāvyutpatti with sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa
ā ī ū
ś ź
š č ǰ γ    
Note on the transliteration:
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Translator Chinese (A.D. 1018-1058)

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Mahāvyutpatti with sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa
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1. Introduction
2. References
3. Abbreviations
4. Bibliography
5. Secondary source(s)
6. Credits


When the Tibetans decided to adopt the Buddhist religion, in the 7th century A.D. and subsequent centuries, in its Indian and not Chinese form, they also decided to make tools to correctly translate the extensive literature that is the basis of this religion. Thus, during the reign of Thride Songtsen 804-815, a meeting of learned scholars was called by the king to generate a Tibetan language which was sufficiently rich to translate the sophisticated Buddhist literature into what at that time must have been a fairly simple Tibetan idiom. Thus, in a systematic way, a new terminology and idiom was created in Tibetan by means mainly of loan-translations and loan-concepts, beside a few loan-words, with help of newly created grammatical manuals and dictionaries. The most important of such lexica that were compiled was the Mahāvyutpatti, which is known to us from its standard version in the Tenjur. This Sanskrit-Tibetan lexicon, though probably edited several times throughout the Tibetan history of learnedness, has remained a standard as envisaged by the meeting mentioned above. While the translations of Buddhist literature into Chinese was accomplished with less standardization, the Mahāvyutpatti was generated on the basis of Indian grammar and etymological principles, such as are employed in the commentary to the Mahāvyutpatti, namely the sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa. This work analyses various important key concepts in Sanskrit and discusses how to make corresponding terms in Tibetan. This was done in the way of taking account of both the linguistic form and the meaning of the concepts to the greatest extent possible. With the aim of translating the Buddhist texts into Tibetan as faithfully as possible, on put the greatest emphasis on creating and employing a unified and standardized terminology.  The source of the information on the meeting of King Thride Songtsen, where these principles were laid down, is the introduction to that commentary. The truly great intellectual achievement during that wholesale Sanskrit-Tibetan translation effort is definitely worthy of study for its historical and linguistic value, but its analytic quality is definitely also something to emulate for anybody doing translatory work, and in particular in the field of Buddhist translation.


The numbering of the Mvy follows Sakaki (1916-25); the Gb numbering follows the paragraphs in Ishikawa (1990), while the introduction and colophon follows the paragraph numbering in Simonsson (1957). Within the text of the Tibetan Gb may be found the references to the page, side and line in Tg. The TLB Gb is basically the Derge Tg edition with corrections mostly in accord with the readings proposed by Ishikawa (1990). The abbreviation P refers to Jampa L. Panglung’s “New fragments of the sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa” East and West vol. 44, no. 1, 1994, pp. 161-172, with the analysis of Chrstina Scherrer-Schaub form “Enacting words. A diplomatic analysis of the imperial decrees (bkas bcad) and their application in the sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa tradition.” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 25, 2002, nos. 1-2, pp. 317-314.


Abbreviations for the whole library.


Braarvig, Jens, English translation of introduction and colophon to Gb. A draft originally made by Jens Braarvig has substantially been corrected and changed in two seminars on the Gb conducted on the initiative of Jack Petranker in Berkeley (2011) and Michael Hahn in Marburg (2012). The participants of these seminars are warmly thanked for their contributions to the text as it now stands, and it is hoped that the projects on this very important texts are continued and that the text gets the linguistic attention it deserves.

Sakaki (ed.) (1916-25), Mahāvyutpatti, 2 vols., Kyoto.

sGra sbyor bam po gñis pa (*Śabdayukti), Tg na tshogs co 131b1-160a7.

Secondary source(s):

Ishihama, Yumiko & Yoichi Fukuada (ed.) (1989), Mahāvyutpatti, Tokyo.

Ishikawa, Mie (1990), A Critical Edition of the sGra sbyor bam po gnyis pa: An old and basic commentary on the Mahāvyutpatti, Studia Tibetica no. 18, The Toyo Bunko. Tr. with references to other Śāstras by the same author in Studia Tibetica no. 28, 1993.

Simonsson, Nils (1957), "Untersuchung des Sgra sbyor bam po gñis pa", in Indo-tibetische Studien: Die Methoden der tibetischen Übersetzer, untersucht im Hinblick auf die Bedeutung ihrer Übersetzungen für die Sanskritphilologie: I, Almquist & Wiksells Botryckeri AB, Uppsala.


Input by Jens Braarvig and Fredrik Liland, 2010 and later, cf. bibliography.

The TLB version of the Mahāvyutpatti is based on the digital edition created by the Glossaries Team at Dharma Drum Buddhist College (法鼓佛教學院), Taiwan. We are very grateful to the Dharma Drum Buddhist College for generously providing us with this material, so it also could be published in the TLB.

We would like to thank ACIP for providing the e-text for Gb which forms the basis for our edition here.

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