Notes from Miscellaneous Writings

Buddhist Philosophy | Tibetan MastersKhenpo Shenga

English | བོད་ཡིག

Khenpo Shenga

Khenpo Shenga

Further Information:

Notes from Miscellaneous Writings

of Khenchen Shenga

When explaining any treatise, no matter what it is, there is both an explanation of certain preliminary points preceding the actual explanation and the actual explanation of the text itself. As soon as the preliminaries stages have been dealt with, when one comes to the actual explanation of the text, there is firstly the meaning of the title, beginning with “In the language of India…” and so on. In this regard, although in the past some Tibetan scholars with a fondness for elaboration have explained the term ‘India’ (rgya gar) as a derivative term,[1] on this occasion we will dispense with such elaboration.

As the saying goes:[2]

Śrāvastī, Sāketa, Campaka,
Vārānasī, Vaiśāli,
And Rājagṛha—these six
Are understood to be the major towns.

As the text indicates, the term for India, i.e, rgya gar, is a term coined out of sheer imagination to refer to the area of these six major towns. Although the inhabitants of this country have various different languages, there is a well-known division into four major languages based on the texts of drama composed by various scholars:

Sanskrit, the ‘beautifully constructed’, which is the language of the gods,
Apabhraṃśa, the language of secret signs,
Prākrit, the common or corrupted language,[3] and
Paiśācika, the language of flesh-eating demons or spirits.

At this point one says, “In the best of these languages, Saṃskṛta, the ‘beautifully constructed’ language of the gods, the title of this treatise is as follows….” and then relates the Sanskrit terms to their Tibetan equivalents and briefly explains the meaning of the title.

As for the reason why the title is given in Sanskrit, it is mainly to show the Indian origin of the teaching, so that people will have confidence in it and then teach, study and practice its contents. In addition, it creates some affinity for the language, allows its blessings to infuse the mind and causes us to remember the kindness of the translators.

Concerning the need for naming things in general, it is said:

If things were not given names,
The world would be bewildered.
So Lord Buddha, skilled in means,
Applies names to phenomena.

This being so, someone with the keenest spiritual faculties will easily understand the entire meaning of a text from beginning to end just by seeing its title, like a skilled doctor checking the the pulse rate of a patient. For someone of middling spiritual capacity, the title indicates which category a text belongs to, rather like a military badge on a soldier’s uniform. For people of lesser spiritual capacity a title makes a text easier to find, just like a label on a bottle of medicine.

There are several ways of coming up with a name for a text: sometimes a name is given as a description of the subject matter or of the style, sometimes as a metaphor, and so on. Among these, one explains which is relevant in the current context, saying, “On this occasion…” and so on.

As regards the homage, this might be what is called the ‘homage of royal decree’ or ‘the homage identifying the piṭaka’. This refers to the decree passed during the reign of the Dharma king Lord Tri Ralpachen when there was a revision of all the earlier Tibetan translations of classical Indian texts from the time of the former ancestral kings. At that time, as it it says in the Two Part Grammatical Guidelines,[4] it was decreed that any text of the vinaya itself or of that category should say, “Homage to the Omniscient One!” Any sutra or text of that category should say, “Homage to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas!” And any abhidharma text or text belonging to that category should say, “Homage to Mañjuśrī!” This type of homage is called either ‘the homage of royal decree’ or ‘the homage identifying the piṭaka’, which are simply two names for the same thing.

Then, if we consider the translator’s homage, this is the homage to the buddhas and bodhisattvas made by a translator before translating an Indian work into Tibetan. It was made for various reasons, such as ensuring that no obstacles would occur during the translation of the teaching and that the translation would be completed.

There are then what are known as ‘the four of purpose and so on’, which must come before any treatise. There are three types: the four of purpose and so on present in plain speech, the four of purpose and so on present in talk of purpose and connection, and the four of purpose and so on present in the body of a treatise.

Firstly, the four of purpose and so on present in plain speech apply in all coherent statements. So, for example, if we say, “Fetch some water!” water is the subject, that someone will go to fetch water is the immediate purpose, quenching one’s thirst through drinking the water is the ultimate purpose, and the relationship between these is the connection.

Secondly, there are the four of purpose and so on present in talk of purpose and connection. In this case, the subject is the four of purpose and so on within the body of the treatise; the immediate purpose is that, upon hearing this, intellectuals will develop curiosity, and those with duller faculties will feel conviction; the ultimate purpose is that, based on this, they will study the treatise; and the relationship between these is the connection.

Thirdly, there are the four of purpose and so on present in the body of a treatise. The subject matter is whatever is taught in the treatise, such as a presentation of the stages and paths; the immediate purpose is to understand the meaning of this; the connection is the the way that the treatise and the purpose are related as a method and outcome; and the ultimate purpose, or ‘purpose of the purpose’, is that through the treatise one will ultimately attain enlightenment.

| Translated by Adam Pearcey, 2005. (First published on


  1.  According to the Tibetan buddhist theory of linguistics, names can either be non-derivatives coined through ‘sheer imagination’ (‘dod rgyal gyi ming), without any literal, etymological basis, or they can be derivatives (rjes grub), such as the word for Buddha (sangs rgyas) which consists of two syllables meaning ‘purified’ and ‘developed’.  ↩

  2.  From the Vinayakārika (Tib. ‘dul ba tshig le’ur byas pa) by Viśākadeva (Tib. sa ga’i lha).  ↩

  3.  Apabhraṃśa is often described as the corrupted language, and Prākrit simply as the common language.  ↩

  4. sgra sbyor bam po gnyis pa. The guidelines produced during King Tri Ralpachen’s reign by several panditas and lotsawas—especially paṇḍitas Jinamitra and Dānaśila, and lotsawa Zhang Ye shes sde—establishing the rules of translation.  ↩

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