Tibetan workshop, Phase Two (Practical apoha)

Sat Jul 8 16:30:30 UTC 1995

A few days ago I sent out a short sentence by Sa-skay Pa.n.dita without
any context whatsoever (because none was available to me). Despite the
fact that John Powers describes the sentence as unambiguous and
straightforward, I have so far received twelve different translations
for it. These translations vary from one another not so much in minor
details, such as choice of English words, but in their construal of the
syntax of the sentence being translated.

For the sake of easing the analysis of these translations, I have
grouped them into six families. (In fact, there are really only four
broad genera, since A&B can be seen as two species of one genus, as can

The darker the room, the more loudly do we all shout that we can see
clearly. Thus, along with some interesting grammatical analyses, we have
all been entertained by some dazzling displays of scholarly hubris and
immodesty that remind one of the behaviour of the fabulous brawl among
the blind men in the great elephant-feeling contest. (Is there anything
quite so amusing as the cocksure ego of a budding Buddhologist?)

The variety of translations offered by our panel of experts seems to me
to provide an opportunity for us amateurs to learn something about
Tibetan grammar. In particular, I think we can safely conclude that,
unless Tibetan is utterly ambiguous and capable of almost unlimited
syntactic interpretation, some of the following families of translation
can be eliminated right away by some principle of Tibetan grammar or
other. The question is: which can be eliminated, and by what principles?

Everyone has had a chance to boast of the superiority of his [sic]
translation. The next stage of this exercise, therefore, is to invite
all ye acknowledged (and even all ye self-proclaimed) experts in the
Tibetan language to offer REASONS why some of the following families (or
some of the individual translations within an otherwise acceptable
family) can be eliminated from the set of grammatically allowable
the end of articulating some rules of Tibetan syntax that will serve us

Please send your criticisms of what you think are the faulty
translations to me (or to buddha-l, where I will intercept them). In the
interest of reducing the currently high verbosity level on buddha-l, I
shall summarize the results and post them sometime next week.

Here again is the sentence in question:

    phung po'i rgyun rgyu las dang nyon mongs pas gang zhig zag pas
    gang zag ces bya'o.

Here are the translations, grouped into families.

The first two families, A and B, understand the overall structure of the
sentence to be X IS CALLED Y.

A. X = "gang zhig", Y = "gang zag":

   1. One who (gang zhig) is defiled/obscured (zag) by the karma which
   is a  cause -- the continuum of the aggregates -- and by the
   conflicting emotions, is a "person".

   2. Because it is that which is afflicted by the causes of the
   aggregates' continuum, karma and kle"sa, it is called the `person.'

   3. Because action and defilement cause the continuum of aggregates,
   whoever is with impurities is to be called a person.

B. X = "phung po'i rgyun", Y = "gang zag":

   4. The continuum of the aggregates is called the 'person' because it
   is afflicted due to (its) causes, karma and kle"sa.

   5. The cause, namely, the continuum of aggregates, is called a
   person by anyone who is defiled by karma and afflictions.

   6. The continuum of aggregates, is called a person by anyone who is
   defiled by its cause, karma and afflictions.

   7. Due to being contaminated by actions and afflictions, the causal
   continuum of the aggregates is called 'full of contamination' [i.e.,

The third and fourth families, C and D, contain translation that do not
take the overall structure to be X is called Y. Rather, it takes the
structure as "GANG ZAG" IS SO-CALLED BECAUSE ...

C. A particle such as "la" or "na" is assumed to be added after
"phung po'i rgyu", and "gang zhig" is understood as a particle that
separates two different reasons:

   8. "Person" is so called (1) due to the cause--karma and kle'sa
   within the continuum of aggregates and (2) because of contamination.

D. "phung po'i rgyun" is taken as the subject of which "zag pa" is
the predicate.

   9. It is called person ("the contaminated") because the continuum of
   aggregates is that which is contaminated by/due to [its] causes action
   and delusion.

   10. Due to the the causal continuum of the aggregates being
   contaminated by actions and afflictions, [person] is called 'full of

E. "las" is taken as a grammatical particle rather than as a noun
meaning karman:

   11. The continuity of aggegates, because it is what is impure by
   cause (rgyu las) and by misery (dang nyon mongs pas), is called

F. "phung po'i rgyun rgyu" is apparently taken as a bahuvrihi
compound modifying "gang zag".

   12. Since any particular affliction results from karma or klesha,
   what is called personality is caused [by] the continuum of

I hope I have properly understood and correctly classified the different
translations. And now, ladies and gentlemen, your criticisms please.

Richard P. Hayes                                 <cxev at musica.mcgill.ca>

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