On Translating Logical Terms

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On Translating Tibetan Logical Terminology

by Karma Lodrö Choephel (DKC)

Note: This paper is intended to explain commonly used logical terms in the Tibetan tradition according to the understanding of their usage the author developed during studies of the Kagyu presentation of texts on validity and logic. It is not a complete and exhaustive survey but a small sample of some critical terms. As a presentation of one person’s opinion, there may be some points that are incorrect, need clarification, or deserve rebuttal; readers are invited to note such points under the discussion tab at the top of the page.


Following the example of the great masters of India and Tibet, I prostrate to the youthful Manjushri.

As the traditions of Buddhist study and meditation become ever more firmly planted in the West, more and more teachers are emphasizing the importance of study in the development of their Western students. Since study cannot be truly beneficial unless students have the logical tools necessary to properly question and evaluate the teachings, many translators—whether at the request of their teachers or out of their own pure motivation—have begun to translate the texts on validity from both the Indian and Tibetan traditions. Many translators have spent extensive time studying these traditions, and several have studied in the Tibetan monastic colleges and study centers, clapping their hands in debate with Tibetan students and scholars. As a result, texts on Buddhist logic are now becoming available to Western students in English, and Western students have begun to study, scrutinize, and even debate them.

There is absolutely no question that this is a good and important step. It is also important that we translators work out a sensible and accurate lexicon for translating these texts so that Western students can easily understand the main points and the subtleties of the traditional systems of logic. This process is already happening to a large extent naturally as translators look at each others’ work and come to a common consensus. In many instances, the most common translations of technical terms also seem to be the best. However, there are critical logical terms which are commonly translated with English words or phrases that mean something other than the Tibetan terms. Thus I felt it necessary to write this essay to suggest better translations for those terms according to the understanding of them I have gained through studying in a monastic college of the Karma Kamtsang lineage.

I write this in the spirit of debate. I do not claim to be either an expert or specialist in logic and validity, but more than six years of studying Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan, receiving and translating teachings from living masters, and debating and discussing with fellow students and translators has given me some understanding of a few Tibetan words. Because the ability of students to correctly understand the texts depends greatly on the choice of terminology, I felt it was necessary to offer my thoughts now before the work of translation progresses too far and terminology is set in stone. I write this in hopes that other translators and scholars will consider these issues and if necessary reply in kind with responses from scripture and logic.

The main body of this essay has four topics: I. The word tshad ma, II. Characteristics and characterized phenomena, III. Other logical terms, and IV. General comments on diction.

I. The word tshad ma

Since one of the main purposes of studying logic is to learn how to distinguish when our thoughts and perceptions are reliable and valid, it makes sense to begin with a discussion of the word that refers to that measure, tshad ma. As Dharmakīrti says at the opening of his Drop of Reasoning (Nyāyabindunāmaprakaraṇa), “Right knowing precedes the accomplishment of all benefit for beings…”

This discussion has three points: A. An explanation of the term and its translation, B. Rebutting criticism, and C. Refuting other translations.

A. An explanation of the term and its translation

The Tibetan tshad ma, or pramāṇa in Sanskrit, is most commonly translated as valid cognition or as validity, although the actual Tibetan and Sanskrit terms literally mean something different. The Seventh Karmapa Chödrak Gyatso explains the etymology of the Sanskrit term thus:

If you translate it into the language of Tibetans from the Land of Snow, pra- can have many meanings including light, first, complete, distinct and so forth, but here it means “first.” Māṇa means to measure… As the transformative prefix pra- is affixed to the verbal root māṇa, it means first measure: “Among cognitions, the first measure is valid,” it is said (1999A: 6).

A look through Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary confirms the Karmapa’s explanation. To translate pramaṇa literally by its etymology, then, one could say prime measure. Such a literal translation, though, beyond being opaque to English speakers, has the added difficulty of being a noun with no corresponding adjectival or adverbial forms—it would not make much sense or sound like real English to say that a cognition is primely measured. Thus even though it is not a literal translation, it seems better to use the term valid cognition and the corresponding valid and validity, which reflect the characteristics of pramaṇa as described by Dharmakīrti and subsequent Buddhist teachers. It seems logical to use the term valid cognition as the main translation, but to allow the use of the shorter form valid for concision in contexts where it would not be ambiguous. The study of the subject could then be called the study of validity.

B. Rebutting criticism

The translation of pramāṇa as valid cognition is not without its detractors. In his Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy (2004), John Dunne criticizes valid because it implies veridicality. However, the characteristics of pramaṇa themselves imply that it is veridical: Dharmakīrti characterizes it as “undeceiving mind,”[1] and later Tibetan texts generally characterize it as “a new and undeceiving awareness.” One naturally assumes that if something is undeceiving, it is truthful. Hence this criticism is unwarranted.

In specific, Dunne makes four criticisms of the translation:

1. Although a cognition that would appear to be truthful to worldly people, such as thinking, “that is blue” after seeing a blue object, “seems veridical in itself, for Dharmakīrti that judgement is not ‘valid’ because it is not a pramāṇa.
2. Direct yogic perception is valid even though “the phenomenal content of [a yogi’s] vision is no more ‘valid’ than an obsessed lover’s hallucination of his beloved.”
3. It makes no sense to call the sensory faculties “valid.”
4. The term valid is already used with a different meaning by contemporary Western philosophers (Dunne 2004: 226–7).

Anyone who has had a basic course in the Classifications of Mind (blo rigs) should be able to easily spot the weaknesses of the first two objections. In the first instance, although worldly people would consider to be truthful the thought that recognizes a blue object as being blue, it is not truthful. It is actually subtly deceptive because it confuses the object of the direct sensory perception of the first moment, the specific characteristics of the blue object, with the object of the thought of the second moment, which is a meaning generality. The thought “that is blue” thus grasps at the object of the earlier valid cognition and its own object (the meaning generality), and clings to them as being the same when in fact they are different. (Chodrak Gyatso, 1999A: 25)

In the second objection, Dunne appears to have misunderstood the nature of yogic direct perception. He mistakes the meditations on impermanence, the all-encompassing sense bases,[2] and so forth that are a cause of yogic perception with actual yogic perception. Dunne states that “Dharmakīrti makes it quite clear that in relation to their phenomenal content alone, yogic perceptions are indistinguishable from the hallucinations of a lovesick person” (2004: 226), but it is difficult find such a statement in the Commentary on Validity (Pramāṇavarttika). Quite the opposite: Dharmakīrti clearly indicates in verse 281 of the chapter on direct perception that through conceptual meditations on impermanence, the all-encompassing sense bases, and so forth, there arises a non-conceptual yogic cognition that is perception of the clear appearance of the correct meaning (yang dag pa’i don) freed from the net of conceptuality (Chodrak Gyatso 1999B: 262).[3] When a yogi directly perceives the correct meaning, this is hardly a hallucination; it is perception of the true nature of things.

Dunne’s third objection is that it is illogical to call a sensory faculty “valid.” Since Dharmakīrti and all the teachers who follow in his tradition posit that eyes and other sensory faculties are not valid, we would have to say we agree. As Dharmakīrti says in the fifth stanza of the chapter on valid proof from the Commentary on Validity:

The mind is valid itself

Because it is primary in engaging
The things to take up or reject…

In other words, when one sees a form, it is not the eye that determines whether that form is something to take up or reject, but the mind—it is the mind that can be correct or mistaken. Chödrak Gyatso states that this passage “teaches that the eye and other faculties are not valid.” (1999A: 25) Therefore this objection has no bearing on whether the word valid is an acceptable translation or not for our purposes.

Of all Dunne’s objections, only his fourth, that the term validity is used by contemporary European and American philosophers with a different meaning, has any merit. He makes a point that using the term validity might cause confusion in interdisciplinary academic discussions with these philosophers, but since every academic discipline and even every philosophical school has its own specific jargon, it seems that any such conversation would have to include discussion of terminology. If there is an adequate explanation given of the meaning of the word validity as used in the Buddhist context, we should be able have reasonable discussions with philosophers from different traditions. Were it otherwise, interdisciplinary discussions would be pointless. Here we need to balance this problem against the benefits of using a word that is understandable, communicates an important aspect of the meaning, and is already commonly used. It seems that this latter outweighs the objection.

C. Refuting other translations

Some scholars translate pramaṇa as “truth” or “truthfulness,” but it is already commonly accepted as the translation for the word bden pa. If we translate tshad ma as truth, students who cannot read the Tibetan or Sanskrit originals may well confuse it with the rather different ideas of the four truths or the two truths, potentially leading to serious misunderstandings.

Dunne makes his own proposal that pramaṇa be translated as “instrumentality.” He suggests it primarily because Indian Pramāṇa Theorists recognized that the Sanskrit word pramāṇa is derived from the instrumental case (2004: 224). If this were a valid reason, it would follow that we should translate the Sanskrit word buddha as “participle” since grammarians universally recognize it is derived from the past participle. Dunne provides a lengthy discussion of his reasoning (2004: 223–229), but out of fear of verbosity I will not treat it in detail. In general, however, Dunne seems to be trying to find a term that will account for all of the different explanations of pramāṇa given by Indian philosophers of all stripes, non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist. Dunne argues that many schools consider pramāṇa to be a means to generating knowledge as it leads to a recognition of a fact, and that the term instrumentality highlights that meaning. This, however, is not the sense with which Dharmakīrti and most subsequent Buddhist philosophers use the term. Dharmakīrti does not dispute the fact that a recognition of a fact arises out of pramāṇa, but he does not consider that a reliable cognition. As he states in the chapter on Valid Proof, “Because it grasps the perceived, we do not agree to the relative.”[4] In other words, the result of pramāṇa is not undeceiving because it grasps the previously perceived object of the valid cognition and confuses it for a present object. Although in general it is best to be non-sectarian in our choice of terminology, Dunne’s attempt to bridge the gap between the schools leads to a term that does not shed much light onto the nature of what the term means, particularly for Dharmakīrti and his followers. If you say to someone that the direct sensory perception of the color red is an “instrumental” cognition, what does that tell them? On the other hand, saying it is a “valid” cognition communicates the meaning that it is undeceptive: as Dharmakīrti says, “The valid is undeceiving mind.”[5] In this instance, it seems more pedagogically useful to use a term that conveys the sense with which tshad ma is primarily used in the works we are translating.

II. Characteristics and characterized phenomena

This has two topics: A. An overview of the Tibetan words mtshan mtshon gzhi, B. Discussion of their translation.

A. The Tibetan words mtshan mtshon gzhi

This has five points: a. Overview, b. mtshan nyid, c. mtshon bya, d. The relationship of mtshan nyid and mtshon bya, and e. mtshan gzhi

1. Overview

Of all the aspects of logic, few are more important than the presentation of mtshan nyid mtshon bya mtshan gzhi,[6] and yet of all the words used in logical texts, these are among the most frequently mistranslated. For this reason, it seems important to first describe what these words mean in Tibetan before discussing how they should be translated.

Understanding mtshan nyid, mtshon bya, and mtshan gzhi is critical to understanding how the Northern Buddhist tradition presents the process of associating names with phenomena. To give a simplified example, when we see a specific phenomenon such as a fire of sandalwood, we perceive that it is hot and burning. Then we recognize that it is fire. Here the specific fire of sandalwood that we perceive is the mtshan gzhi, hot and burning are the mtshan nyid, and fire is the mtshon bya.

2. mtshan nyid

A mtshan nyid is most often characterized in the Gelug tradition as well as by scholars in the other traditions[7] as fulfilling all three of substance, existent, and dharma (rdzas yod chos gsum tshang ba). In other words, for a dharma to be considered a mtshan nyid, it must be substantial[8] rather than a mere designation, it must be validly observed, and it must hold its own essence. For example, the Buddha taught in the sutras that the mtshan nyid of fire is hot and burning. This means that the actual hot and burning quality of fire that can be felt with the body faculty is the mtshan nyid of fire. In the case of a thing (dngos po), the phenomenon that is its mtshan nyid is rang mtshan that can be directly perceived. However, it only functions as a mtshan nyid when it is the object of the sixth, mental consciousness. In other words, mtshan nyid is an isolate or mental construct—it is a way the sixth, mental consciousness conceptualizes a phenomenon. As Chodrak Gyatso says:

That which is the aspect of the meaning such as hot and burning or wet and liquid that appears to a thought is called the mtshan nyid. One clings to that as a specific characteristic and assigns it as the essence of the meaning. (1999A: 15)

Therefore the phenomenon mtshan nyid itself is permanent and generally characterized (spyi mtshan), but that does not mean that a phenomenon that is a mtshan nyid may not be impermanent and specifically characterized (rang mtshan).[9] For example, the mtshan nyid of fire is permanent, but hot and burning is impermanent.

3. mtshon bya

A mtshon bya is commonly characterized as fulfilling all three of designation, existent, and dharma.[10] Like the mtshan nyid, it must be validly observed and hold its own essence, but in this case it is the designation of a dharma, not its substance. For example, fire is the mtshon bya of hot and burning. As with mtshan nyid, the mtshon bya is an isolate and generally characterized, but that which is a mtshon bya may be specifically characterized: fire is a specifically characterized, impermanent thing, for example.

4. The relationship of mtshan nyid and mtshon bya

The mtshan nyid and mtshon bya are essentially merely separate isolates of the same phenomena—the meaning isolate and the name isolate.[11] For this reason, they must fulfill the eight gates of pervasion of characteristic and characterized:[12]

1. & 2. If something is the mtshan nyid, it must be the mtshon bya and vice versa.
3. & 4. If something is not the mtshan nyid, it must not be the mtshon bya and vice versa.
5. & 6. If there is the mtshan nyid, there must be the mtshon bya and vice versa.
7. & 8. If there is not the mtshan nyid, there must not be the mtshon bya and vice versa.

In other words, any instance of one is also an instance of the other, and one cannot be present without the other.

Individuals who know the connection between the mtshan nyid and mtshon bya do not distinguish them as being separate. That is to say, when individuals who know that the word fire refers to hot and burning, for example, see an actual instance of fire, they do not see the fire and the hot and burning as separate entities. As Chodrak Gyatso says:

Therefore the mtshan nyid and mtshon bya appear separate to those who do not know the connection between the name and the meaning, but when one knows the connection between name and meaning, they do not appear separate. (1999A: 16) It is sometimes said, “mtshon bya ni ming dang/ mtshan nyi' ni ming de’i don yin pas…” (Chodrak Gyatso 1999A: 16). Since don is so frequently translated as meaning, one might therefore be tempted to think that mtshan nyid is the meaning of a word. However, the Tibetan word don means something slightly different from the English word meaning: it usually refers to the actual phenomenon, not to a linguistic construct describing that phenomenon, and is often used interchangeably with yul (object). That is the sense in which it is used in this context as well. In specific, the mtshan nyid is the meaning isolate, and the mtshon bya is the name isolate.

5. mtshan gzhi

The mtshan gzhi is a specific phenomena which can be evaluated based on its mtshan nyid to find out what label to give it. For example, a fire of sandalwood is hot and burning and therefore can be designated fire. It might seem from the basic texts of logic that mtshan gzhi means little more than “example,” but it becomes clear from the usage of this word in other contexts that it refers to the phenomenal basis which can be evaluated based on its mtshan nyid and designated as a specific mtshon bya.

B. Discussion of their translation

This has three topics: a. The translation of mtshan nyid, b. The translation of mtshon bya, and c. The translation of mtshan gzhi.

1. The translation of mtshan nyid

This has two points: i. A refutation of other translations and ii. Translating mtshan nyid as characteristic.

i. A refutation of other translations

By far the most common translation of mtshan nyid, even in logical texts, is definition. The English word definition usually refers to the word or phrase that describes a phenomenon. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED on CD-ROM) defines it thus:

The action of defining, or stating exactly what a thing is, or what a word means… A precise statement of the essential nature of a thing; a statement or form of words by which anything is defined…

The examples and quotations cited under this and the various other definitions also primarily talk about words, phrases, and symbols. Merriam Webster defines it similarly:

2 a : a statement expressing the essential nature of something b : a statement of the meaning of a word or word group or a sign or symbol <dictionary definitions> c : a product of defining

In everyday use as well, most people understand the word definition to imply a verbal or written statement. However, the mtshan nyid of a phenomena are not necessarily words or phrases, and so using definition as a translation of mtshan nyid implies several absurd consequences.

If the mtshan nyid were a phrase or statement, it would follow that it is communicative sound (rjod byed kyi sgra), because phrases and statements are made of words and phrases, and words and phrases are two of the three classifications of communicative sound. Communicative sound is the object of the ear consciousness, because it is something that can be heard. It is something that can be heard because it is characterized as something audible that communicates its meaning by means of signs (Phur lcog pa, 1982: 310). Therefore a mtshan nyid would necessarily be the object of the ear consciousness. Therefore hot and burning, the mtshan nyid of fire, are not the object of the body consciousness but of the ear consciousness, because they are a definition. This would be absurd: if Little Willy stuck his finger in a fire, would he wait until he heard his flesh sizzle before pulling it out?

If you reply that when we say “definition” we don’t mean a word or phrase but those aspects of a phenomenon that allow us to recognize it and properly name it, then why not use the word characteristic, which means exactly what you say you intend?

Furthermore, as discussed above people who know the connection between the mtshan nyid and mtshon bya cling to them as being the same, but few English speakers would confuse a definition with the defined phenomenon. If they did, they would be terrified to look up words such as tiger or great white shark in the dictionary for fear the definition would eat them.

Additionally, since the definition and mtshon bya must fulfill the eight gates of pervasion, then it follows that since the definition of fire is in the dictionary, the mtshon bya fire must also be present in the dictionary. If that were so, the dictionary would quickly be consumed by the mtshan nyid of fire, and the reference sections of most libraries would be dangerous places indeed. If you reply that the definition of fire is not in the dictionary, I suggest you ask any schoolchild about the matter.

If the mtshan nyid were a statement or verbal phrase, there would be no way that it and the mtshon bya could fulfill the eight gates of pervasion. For example, the definition of cognition, being a word or phrase, is communicative sound and therefore material,[13] but cognition is not matter. In fact, cognition and matter are mutually exclusive. Therefore they cannot be substantially the same. If two phenomena are not substantially the same, then it follows that it must be possible for one to appear without the other. It is possible for a cognition to appear without its definition appearing, as in the Formless realm where there is cognition but no sound. Therefore the definition of a cognition cannot be its mtshan nyid because it does not fulfill the eight gates of pervasion.

You might reply that this may all be so, but we are using the word definition with a different meaning than most people understand—we are using it to mean mtshan nyid and not the dictionary definition. If that is your position, you are liable to create misunderstanding and confusion. People who are reading a text will assume that the words they see on the page mean what they normally mean. Most readers will not realize that definition is being used differently, especially when it is not specifically explained. This could lead students to conceptualize the presentation of mtshan mtshon incorrectly and hinder their understanding of a critical aspect of Buddhist philosophy. If there were no other word one could use as a translation of mtshan nyid, one might consider excusing this fault, but since there is a better translation, it is best to avoid a term that will cause incorrect understanding.

You might then say that we need to use the word definition because this is the word Western philosophers use and we need to have consistent terminology in order to be able to have interdisciplinary discussions with them. When Western philosophers use the word definition, it is quite possible they actually mean a verbal or written statement. If that is the case, then using the word definition would create confusion and actually inhibit discussion because the Buddhist and Western philosophers would not realize they are talking about different things.

Another important consideration is that the translation definition often does not make sense for uses of the word mtshan nyid outside formal logical contexts. Consider the mtshan nyid of a spiritual friend—learned, venerable, and good. To translate this as the “definition of a spiritual friend” somehow seems awkward and misses the point. If you just read these words on a page you might think that this is a different meaning of mtshan nyid and that it would be permissible to translate it differently in this context. However, the traditional teachings on such usages of mtshan nyid do not seem to conceptualize the meaning of the word differently, and teachers often comment on it as an actual mtshan nyid that fulfills all of the eight gates of pervasion.

Lastly, using the translation definition forces one to use to translate mtshon bya as definiendum, a problem that will be discussed below.

Some people propose that rather than using definition we should use the term definiens. Since a definiens is also a verbal or symbolic expression, it has all of the above defects. Additionally, the word seems to have specific uses in Western systems of logic which may be quite different from the uses of mtshan nyid. But the worst problem with this word is that it is unknown to the vast majority of English speakers and using it will make any translation smack of jargon and seem harder to understand.

Other translators suggest the translation defining characteristic. This translation does avoid all of the above pitfalls, but it seems that the first three syllables could be omitted without a significant loss of meaning.

Some online Tibetan-English dictionaries also suggest mark or sign as translations for mtshan nyid. These words are too general; they do not indicate the essence of the phenomenon in the same way that mtshan nyid does. They work better as translations for mtshan.

ii. Translating mtshan nyid as characteristic

This has two points: (1) Presenting the reasons, and (2) Rebutting criticism.

(1) Presenting the reasons

Characteristic is the English word closest in meaning to mtshan nyid. According to the OED, it means, “A distinctive mark, trait, or feature; a distinguishing or essential peculiarity or quality.” According to Merriam-Webster, it means “Distinguishing trait, quality, or property.” In other words, a characteristic is a feature that when perceived allows one to distinguish and recognize a phenomenon. Any native English speaker would agree that hot and burning are characteristics of fire and that wet and liquid are characteristics of water, for example. Therefore using this term as a translation of mtshan nyid is not only good in terms of meaning but is also a normal and idiomatic usage of the English language.

Furthermore characteristic works well for both the formal logical and the other uses of mtshan nyid. It would make perfect sense to an English speaker to say that the characteristics of a spiritual friend is that he or she is learned, venerable, and good.

Another advantage of the word characteristic is that it is already commonly used in the translations of the compound terms based on the word mtshan nyid: rang gi mtshan nyid (often abbreviated as rang mtshan), and spyi’i mtshan nyid (often abbreviated as spyi mtshan):[14] specific and general characteristics.

(2) Rebutting criticism

Some say that there is no word that really translates mtshan nyid in English. It is not just a mtshan, but there is the nyid sgra that makes it more essential seeming, they explain. However, as the OED says, the word characteristic does mean a “distinguishing or essential peculiarity,” so this criticism is unfounded.

One might also argue that when you say characteristic, people might think it means something like character and thus misunderstand it. Although the word characteristic is derived from character, in common usage it does not often seem to be mistaken to mean the same thing. If that did occur, it would be more a question of people misunderstanding the normal meaning of the English word than a translator using a word with a different meaning than it ordinarily has. Even if this were a problem, it seems far less serious than the potential misunderstandings created by the implications of the word definition.

2. The translation of mtshon bya

This has two points: i. A refutation of the common translation definiendum, and ii. Presenting the translation characterized.

i. A refutation of the common translation definiendum

Translators who translate mtshan nyid as definition or definiens usually also translate mtshon bya as definiendum. Since I have already demonstrated that definition is not an acceptable translation of mtshan nyid, it therefore follows that its partner definiendum is not acceptable, either.

But the word definiendum is even more problematic than definition because outside of a select few scholars and die-hard spelling bee fanatics, no one knows it or uses it. It is quite possible to receive formal schooling culminating in studies at a highly respected college or university and to read avidly for many years without ever encountering it. When I first read it, I even doubted it was English and had to do something I had not done for years—look up an entirely unfamiliar English word in a dictionary! While there is no question that enlarging one’s vocabulary can be a good thing, using obscure words that are on such a high and specialized level of language does make it harder to communicate the meaning of the dharma to the students who want to study and practice it. Many students will be tempted to just skip the hard word without looking it up.

I do not mean to argue that people cannot learn new words or specialized vocabulary—people who study Buddhism are intelligent and usually willing to learn new concepts and vocabulary. Nor am I saying that we should dumb-down the language. But we translators must be careful in choosing which unfamiliar words we use. If the words mtshan nyid and mtshon bya occurred only in formal debate and the study of higher philosophy, one could excuse the use of rarified terms such as definiendum.[15] But these words occur throughout Buddhist teachings, in both the sutras and tantras. Lamas often use such technical terms as these in oral teachings on basic Buddhist concepts attended by non-specialist students, and it is important for the translators of such teachings to be able to use a consistent and precise yet easily understandable vocabulary for teachings on all levels of expertise. If we choose to use unfamiliar, difficult, high-level academic words, teachings that are in the original Tibetan accessible, easily understandable, and yet at the same time precise and logically consistent will become difficult to understand, frustrating, and confusing for the people whom we should be trying help. It is possible that they will even give up, think Buddhism far too difficult for ordinary people to understand, and develop wrong ideas. Such a translation is then actually harming the students instead of helping them. This is why it is critical that we use understandable vocabulary.[16]

ii. Presenting the translation characterized

Since characteristic is the appropriate translation for mtshan nyid, it makes sense to use a related word for mtshon bya, and I propose that we use the word characterized. It seems easily understandable as well as accurate to the meaning. This is using a past participle as a translation for a noun, and in many instances one can simply use it as a substantive by modifying it with the definite article (the characterized). In other circumstances, this is a bit awkward, particular in a phrase such as don byed nus pa’i mtshon bya. In such an instance, it makes more sense to say that characterized by functionality or whatever other particular characteristics. Thus we can say that the characterized and that [which is] characterized are synonymous: they are merely slightly different grammatical constructs that refer to the same phenomenon.

3. The translation of mtshan gzhi

As discussed above, the mtshan gzhi refers to a phenomenon that is the basis for evaluating characteristics. I propose that it be translated as character base to underscore the relations between it, the characteristics, and the characterized. Although this term may not necessarily be immediately self-evident to new students, the Tibetan term is not encountered frequently outside formal logical and philosophical contexts (unlike the terms mtshan nyid and mtshon bya), so the defect of it being jargon is less of a problem than it is with alternate translations of those terms.

This term is commonly translated as example, but as discussed above that is a gross simplification of the meaning of the term. Furthermore, if you translate mtshan gzhi as example, how will you translate mthun dpe? If you use example for both, readers may well confuse them as the same thing.

In translating the word mtshan gzhi, one must be careful of whether to use a definite or indefinite article. Consider the distinction between saying “the character base of fire is a sandalwood fire” and “a character base of fire is a sandalwood fire.” Both would translate the same Tibetan sentence (me’i mtshan gzhi ni tsan dan gyi me/), but only the latter translation is logically correct in English, as the former implicitly excludes fires of rock maple and other types of fuel that are also character bases of fire.

III. Other logical terms

This has two sections: 1. General comments, and 2. Comments on specific terms & vocabulary.

A. General comments

I have not yet had the opportunity to thoroughly examine all the English terms used for different logical terms. Therefore for the next section I will only comment upon those terms that have struck me as either problematic or deserving of some other comment; this is not intended as an exhaustive study of all the logical terms in Tibetan and Sanskrit logical texts.

B. Comments on specific terms & vocabulary

This has three topics: 1. Terms from Collected Topics, 2. Terms from Classifications of Mind, and 3. Terms from Classification of Proofs.

1. Terms from Collected Topics

This has three topics: a. Established base and its equivalents, b. Negations, and c. The word ’gal ba.

a. Established base and its equivalents

The common translation of gzhi grub as established base seems good. Its characteristics tshad mas grub pa are sometimes translated as that which is established by valid cognition. There is no dispute about the meaning, but it seems that it could be more concisely put as validly established.

Shes bya is often translated as knowable object or knowable phenomenon. It seems that in many contexts, however, knowable on its own would be sufficient.

As with established base above, the characteristics of yod pa could be concisely phrased validly observed.

I have seen gzhal bya translated as object of comprehension. I am not certain of the origin of this translation, but I wonder if evaluable[17] might be more accurate to the meaning since the basic meaning of the verb ’jal ba is to evaluate. This would also concur with the explanation given in class by my khenpo. Likewise its characteristic tshad mas rtogs pa is sometimes translated as that which can be cognized by valid cognition but could be more simply stated as cognized validly. However, I wonder whether cognized is the best translation of rtogs pa in this instance. Rtogs pa can be used with the meaning to perceive, which might be the meaning here or not. This doubt, however, may be splitting hairs, as the difference between cognized and perceived is rather slight.

b. Negations

This has two points: i. Translating med dgag and ma yin dgag, and ii. Translating the term gzhan sel.

i. Translating med dgag and ma yin dgag

The two different types of negations, med dgag and ma yin dgag, are generally translated as non-affirming negation and affirming negation. Although there are good arguments for these terms, they seem awkward and confusing in use, especially for beginners, and there also is the question as to whether an affirming negation actually affirms anything. It may imply something, but an implication is not necessarily an affirmation.[18] Some translators address this second problem by using the terms implicative and non-implicative negations, but this still leaves the difficulty of long and clumsy terms. Long and clumsy terms may not be particularly bothersome in scholarly texts, but they are problematic in more poetic works that have the dual function of inspiring faith as well as presenting a precise view. As the Seventh Karmapa Chodrak Gyatso (1999C: 19) says, “Using many words for something that may be eloquently shown with a few is the fault of an author who is not skilled in rhetoric.”

In addition, while teaching Yongdzin Namgyal Drakpa’s presentation of classifications of proofs at the Karma Gunchö debating sessions at the Vajra Vidya Institute in Sarnath, India, in December, 2004, the Gyalwang Karmapa referred to one classification of negation into four: dgag pa’i ma yin dgag, sgrub pa’i ma yin dgag, dgag pa’i med dgag, and sgrub pa’i med dgag. I have not had an opportunity to investigate this any further, but if there is such a presentation, translating it with affirming and non-affirming negation could become quite awkward and confusing.

A more elegant solution is to simply translate med dgag as no-negation and 'ma yin dgag as not-negation. The reason is that many med dgag in English are phrased using the word no—there is no form, no sound, etc. Similarly, many ma yin dgag use the word not—it is not big, it is not small, etc. This seems both easy to say and easy to understand. If you object that not all negations that use the word no are no-negations, then you should also object to the use of the term med dgag in Tibetan, as not all negations that use med are med dgag.[19]

ii. Translating the term gzhan sel

Some translators use the term other-exclusion for the Tibetan gzhan sel. This strikes me as redundant in English and too literal. It would sound more natural to translate this simply as exclusion.

c. The word ’gal ba

The Tibetan ’gal ba is often translated as contradiction. This can be problematic in logical texts. For instance, a vase and a pillar are ’gal ba but they do not contradict each other, because neither can speak and the existence of one does not deny or undermine the existence of the other. It seems more idiomatic to say that a vase and pillar are exclusive of each other, as some translators already seem to say. In addition, we already say mutually exclusive in everyday English for what is logically called a phan tshun spang ’gal.

However in this usage, one must be careful to differentiate between exclusive and exclusion, which was mentioned above.

2. Terms from the Classifications of Mind

This has two points: a. Objects and subjects, and b. The word nges pa.

a. Objects and subjects

This has three points: i. Objects, ii. Subjects, and iii. The words gzung ’dzin.

i. Objects

The Tibetan word yul is almost universally translated as object, and with good reason. However, there is some variation in how the different kinds of objects are designated in English. One that needs some comment is the Tibetan snang yul, which is sometimes translated as perceived object in English. This implies that other objects such as the engaged object are not perceived. In the context of an inferential valid cognition, one would have to agree that the engaged object is validly perceived, if only conceptually. Therefore it would be better to translate this term as appearing object. Appearing is better than apparent, because apparent implies that it is not really the object; it only seems that way.

ii. Subjects

The Tibetan word [[yul can] is difficult to accurately translate in all its connotations. It seems to be most frequently translated as subject or as a compound such as perceiving or conscious subject. However, communicative sound is also considered a yul can,[20] which does not fit the normal English meaning of the word subject, although such references are rare outside texts on Classifications of Mind. This may be the reason why some translators use the object-possessor, but that is too literal and awkward in English. At this point, I do not see any better solution than to use the word subject, modified by conscious or perceiving when necessary to avoid ambiguity with other meanings of the word subject.

iii. The words gzung ’dzin

Translators might consider using the words perceived and perceiver' for these two words, as they are easy to understand and match our colloquial uses of the word. Many translators currently use forms of the verb apprehend in this context, which means essentially the same thing as perceive—Merriam-Webster says they are synonyms. However, apprehend is a higher level of language and is less immediately understandable. It is not regularly used in everyday speech, and when it is used, it most frequently appears as a synonym for nab in police blotters. It seems important to be sensitive to such issues even in thick philosophical treatises—why make the difficult harder than necessary?

b. The word nges pa

When looking at some translations, it sometimes seems as if there is a reflexive habit to translate nges pa as definite or certain. This is often but not always what it means, particularly in logical texts. It is important to remember that Tibetans will often say that nges pa and rtogs pa are equivalent. Nges pa is frequently used in the context of yul nges pa, where it means to recognize an object: an oft cited example is that in the first moment there might be an eye consciousness that perceives the color blue, and in the second moment a conceptual mental consciousness that thinks, “Blue.” That mental consciousness in the second moment is nges pa, or recognizing. One can only truly recognize what is actually there, so in that sense something that has been recognized is definite, certain, and known.[21]

Other translators sometimes translate nges pa with the verb to ascertain, but that is incorrect because ascertain refers to the process of coming to certainty, whereas nges pa refers to the resulting knowing, the moment of definite recognition. As the OED says, ascertain means “To find out or learn for a certainty by experiment, examination, or investigation; to make sure of, get to know. (The only current use.)” These two words therefore mean different things: nges pa is the result of ascertaining, and as all students of collected topics should know, a thing and its cause are exclusive of each other.

Thus it seems that in some instances nges pa is best translated by recognize and in other instances by certain or definite. In a term such as snang la ma nges pa’i blo, it is best translated by the word recognition: mind that perceives without recognition.

3. Terms from the Classifications of Proofs

This has three topics: a. The word rtags, b. An examination of the term phyogs chos, and c. The word mthun pa.

a. The word rtags

I have seen the Tibetan word rtags translated in the context of reasons and proofs as sign and wonder whether this is excessively literal and opaque. The English word proof is more idiomatic and understandable. This would seem to merit further investigation and consideration of the arguments presented in the fourth chapter of the Commentary on Validity and other texts on validity.

b. An examination of the term phyogs chos

This has two points: i. A discussion of the term property of the subject, and ii. A suggestion: property of the position.

i. A discussion of the translation property of the subject

Most English texts I have seen thus far translate phyogs chos as property of the subject. On the face of it, this seems a reasonable translation, as the phyogs chos involves the evaluation of the proof in relation to the subject (chos can) of the syllogism. However, if we then re-translate property of the subject back into Tibetan, we would arrive at the term chos can gyi chos, which is exactly the term refuted under the topic of phyogs sgra.' One must therefore wonder whether it is appropriate to use a term that is actually discussed and discarded in the texts we are translating.

The topic of phyogs sgra is a very subtle area of the texts on validity; it is described at length in the fourth chapter of the Commentary on Validity as well as in other texts on validity. Chödrak Gyatso summarizes the problem in his commentary on chapter on inference for oneself in the Ocean of Logical Texts (1999C: 19–20). When you say property of the subject, it could refer to either the subject of the syllogism or to the similar example (mthun dpe), which is also a chos can or subject. In the syllogism, “Sound, the subject, is impermanent, because it is something perceived by the eye consciousness, like, for example, a vase,” the term property of the subject could therefore refer either to sound, the subject of the syllogism, or a vase, the subject of the similar example. Therefore the property of the subject would be proven because it can refer to the subject of the similar example, and the forward and counter pervasions are also fulfilled, since that which is something perceived by the eye is pervasively impermanent. Therefore this would become a correct proof, which is obviously absurd—sound is not something perceived by the eye consciousness.

You might say that this criticism does not apply in English because we can use the definite article the to specify which subject is in question. A vase may be a subject, but it is not the subject of the syllogism, you say. However, the distinction between definite and indefinite articles is quite slippery. A thing modified by an indefinite article in the subject of a sentence might become the thing modified by the definite article the in the predicate of the same sentence. In the context of the classic proposition that the subject, sound, is impermanent, like for example a vase, vase is a subject, but it is not the subject in question. However, now that we are considering the vase, it is in question. Therefore we can say that in this context, vase is the subject in question that is not the subject of the syllogism in question. This forces us into the awkward logical position of saying the subject in question is not the subject in question. Skilled debaters will quickly take advantage of such difficulties and the only thing you will be glad of is that you are not debating Tibetans who would be waving their hands around the top of your head with ear-splitting glee.

ii. A suggestion: property of the position

This has two points: 1) Actual, and 2) an elaboration.

=1) Actual=

In order to avoid this problem, Dignaga and Dharmakīrti and their Indian and Tibetan followers called this first mode not the property of the subject (chos can gyi chos) but the pakṣadharma or phyogs chos, which we could translate as property of the position. Although phyogs and pakṣa literally mean side or direction, here they have more the sense of position. The actual position of the syllogism is that sound is impermanent, and when we call the first mode the property of the position, we are designating the subject in question (shes ’dod chos can) by the nickname position. This parallels the use of the words pakṣa and phyogs in Sanskrit and Tibetan. The presentation of real names and nicknames (dngos ming and btags ming) then developed as an elaboration on this point. Therefore in many ways property of the position is a better translation: not only does it avoid the problem that the great masters of the past pointed out for chos can gyi chos, it parallels their solution in a way that also creates an opening for a similar presentation of the different types of names.

=2) An elaboration=

The use of nickname as a translation for btags ming might raise eyebrows among those who prefer a more formal term such as imputed name or ascribed name. There are two problems with those terms, however: first, one might question whether a btags ming is actually imputed or ascribed. Imputed and ascribed are usually used with qualities, deeds, or accusations, not names. One would not normally say that the name Lion is “ascribed” or “imputed” to the Brahman boy with the indented nose; one would say that it is a nickname that has been given to him. Secondly, most English speakers actually have only a vague idea what imputed and ascribed mean but are often too embarrassed to admit it. During one oral teaching a few years ago I used the term impute, and afterwards someone came up to me asking what it meant. This made me doubt that anyone understood it, so I asked several other people, none of whom were sure what it meant either. I have not bothered asking people whether they know what ascribe means because I myself had only a vague idea and needed to look it up in a dictionary. If we want to actually communicate the meaning of btags pa, then, we are better off using words or phrases that everyone knows such as tie, bind, label, or designate, depending on the context.

It is neither necessary nor desirable to make up neologisms for words that already exist in English and are commonly used and known. Nickname is a venerable word that means btags ming known by most English speakers. One might object that nicknames are only given for people, but that is not true: both the OED and Merriam-Webster say it can be used for people, places, or things. (Anyone who lives in the Big Apple can affirm this.)

Similarly, in everyday English we already use the phrase real name for what in Tibetan is called a dngos ming. The suggestion of actual name is not wrong, but it seems less idiomatic, so real name is preferable.

c. The word mthun pa

It is puzzling to me that the word mthun pa is so often translated as concordant or concordance in English. Of course, one cannot complain that the meaning is wrong, but the words concordant and concordance are so rarely used in normal English that the frequency with which they appear Buddhist philosophical texts makes it sound as if we translators were all professors at nineteenth century German universities. Our translations might be easier to understand if we consider alternatives such as compatible, similar, accord, and so forth. It is not necessary to always use the same word to translate mthun pa.

To digress from specifically logical terms to a term encountered in other philosophical texts, the term cha mthun is most frequently as partial concordance. Not only is that a mouthful, it does not mean anything to normal English speakers. It is an overly literal translation of the Tibetan term, which itself was derived literally from explanations of the etymology of the Sanskrit term bhāgīya given by Yaśomitra and other scholars. However, in English such faithfulness to the etymology obscures what the term actually means. If we look at the usage of cha mthun, it indicates something that leads to something else. For example, the thar pa cha mthun leads to liberation, the four nges ’byed cha mthun lead to the clear realization of the truth, [[nyams pa cha mthun] leads to regression from dhyana, and so forth because as the explanations of the etymology point out, they are in part similar to or compatible with what they lead to. Therefore it would be more idiomatic and more communicative to translate it as precursor or tendency, depending on the context. Thus bsod nams cha mthun, thar pa cha mthun, and nges ’byed cha mthun should be translated as precursor to merit, precursor to liberation, and precursor to clear realization,[22] and nyams pa cha mthun, gnas pa cha mthun, and khyad par cha mthun should be translated as tendencies toward regression, staying, and the superior respectively.[23]

IV. General comments on diction

In reviewing the words discussed above, there a few general principles that we can extract from the discussion of the various problems raised by some of the translation choices above.

1. It is important to translate the meaning, not the words. My master Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche and other lamas I have worked with frequently stress the importance of this. Rinpoche once said that what made the early translations of Vairochana and the other great translators great is that they did exactly this, while the translations by later Tibetan translators who followed a more rote style of translation lack the vibrancy and quality of the earlier masters. In saying one must translate the meaning, one must of course understand the meanings of all the words, but to simply translate literally often results in a translation that is difficult to understand. In particular, overly literal translations of terms that cleave to the etymology of Sanskrit or Tibetan are often more obscuring than illuminating. We must be sensitive to the etymology, not hidebound to it. 2. When choosing terminology, we need to be careful about the larger contexts in which terms appear. We should not just pick our terms based upon a single school or interpretation: it is important that technical terms be translated as much as possible with English words that all different schools and traditions can use. Otherwise debate between traditions will be difficult. Likewise, many of the terms we use in logical texts are also used in other contexts, so we must be sensitive to their entire range of meaning and usage. Many are also used in songs, poetic works, and teachings and texts for beginners as well as high philosophy. Therefore it is important that our terminology be both easily understandable and graceful so that it can work in all contexts. That being said, there will be some exceptions—thorny words that appear almost exclusively in dense philosophy for which it is difficult to find an elegant translation. We should make exceptions for such terms but not use this as an excuse for overgrown verbiage.

3. We need to be sensitive to the meanings and connotations of the English words we use. While some of the English terms discussed above are simply mistaken in terms of the actual meaning of the Tibetan term, an equal problem is the use of English words that are on a high or specialized level of language that can be difficult for the reader. As a result, they lack immediacy and can slow the reader’s comprehension. Logic is difficult enough; we do not need to add to the burden.

4. We should be consistent about how we translate technical terms, but it is not necessary to always translate the same word the same way. What I mean by technical term here is a word or phrase such as characteristic, property of the subject, and so forth that has particular characteristics and is generally used in a consistent manner. Other words, such as nges pa and mthun pa discussed above, may be translated with various English words, depending upon the context. 5. We must remember the purpose for which the text was originally written. By and large, Buddhist masters such as Dignāga, Dharmakīrti, and later Tibetan scholars and meditators did not write treatises and engage in debate out of mere intellectual curiosity. The verses of homage and pledges to compose at the beginning of their works demonstrate that they composed their to help beings attain enduring happiness and freedom from suffering. As Dignaga says in the first verse of his Compendium of Validity:

ཚད་མར་གྱུར་པ་འགྲོ་ལ་ཕན་བཞེད་པ། །

སྟོན་པ་བདེ་གཤེགས་སྐྱོབ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་ནས། ། Dharmakīrti says in the opening of his Determination of Validity (pramāṇaviścaya):

གང་ལ་འཕགས་པ་ཉིད་བྱོན་རྗེས་གཟུང་དེ་ནི་དཔལ་ལྡན་དྲི་མེད་བློ་མངའ་སྟེ། །

འཇིག་རྟེན་བློ་གྲོས་བླུན་པོ་འདིས་ནི་དེ་ཚིག་བརླིང་བ་གསལ་བར་མི་ཤེས་པས། །
ཉེར་བསྟེན་འཇིག་རྟེན་རྒྱལ་མཛད་དེ་ལ་རྨོངས་པས་ཅུང་ཟད་སྨད་བྱས་ནའང༌། །
དོན་མིན་སྐྱེ་བར་འགྱུར་བ་ཡིན་པས་བརྩེ་བས་དེ་ཡི་ལུགས་ནི་གསལ་བར་བྱ། །

When reading some English translations and studies, it seems as if this important point is forgotten, glossed over, or tidied up into the neat package provided by the word soteriological. I wonder whether more conscious awareness of it might improve our understanding and our translations.

These words are the thoughts and musings of one opinionated monk, offered as much to stimulate discussion as anything else. My main intent in writing this has been to help establish a consistent and accurate lexicon for Buddhist logic in the hopes that this will help people understand it better and that their understanding may benefit them. If there are flaws or gaps in my logic or presentation, I ask not for your patience but for correction and clarification: the process of reasoning, debate, and reaching consensus will improve our understanding and our translations. May the virtue of this help the study and practice of Dharma flourish in English, and may that bring innumerable beings to the stable and enduring happiness of Buddhahood.

Works cited

Dignāga. ཚད་མ་ཀུན་ལས་བཏུས་པ། (Compendium of Validity). Dergye Tengyur, ཚད་མ། vol. ཅེ། folio 1ff.

Dharmakīrti. ཚད་མ་རྣམ་འགྲེལ། (Commentary on Validity). Dergye Tengyur, ཚད་མ། vol. ཅེ། folio 94ff.

_____. ཚད་མ་རྣམ་པར་ངེས་པ། (Determination of Validity). Dergye Tengyur, ཚད་མ། vol. ཅེ། folio 152ff.

________. རིགས་པའི་ཐིག་པ། (Drop of Reasoning). Dergye Tengyur, ཚད་མ། vol. ཅེ། folio 231ff.

Dunne, John D. (2004) Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy. Boston: Wisdom Publications.

Chodrak Gyatso. (1999A) tshad ma legs par bshad pa thams cad kyi chu bo yongs su ’du ba rigs pa’i gzhung lugs kyi rgya mtsho zhes bya ba las dang po tshad ma grub pa’i le’u. Sarnath: Kargyud Relief and Protection Committee, Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies.

_____. (1999B) tshad ma legs par bshad pa thams cad kyi chu bo yongs su ’du ba rigs pa’i gzhung lugs kyi rgya mtsho zhes bya ba las gnyis pa mngon sum le’u. Sarnath: Kargyud Relief and Protection Committee, Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies.

_____. (1999C) tshad ma legs par bshad pa thams cad kyi chu bo yongs su ’du ba rigs pa’i gzhung lugs kyi rgya mtsho zhes bya ba las gsum pa rang don rjes dpag le’u. Sarnath: Kargyud Relief and Protection Committee, Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies.

Phur lcog pa, blo bzang tshul khrims byams pa rgya mtsho. (1982) rigs lam ’phrul lde. Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang.

Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus. CD-Rom edition.

The Oxford English Dictionary on CD-Rom, v.3.1.


  1. The chapter on Valid Proof from the Commentary on Validity opens with the line, ཚད་མ་སླུ་མེད་ཅན་ཤེས་པ། །
  2. zad par gyi skye mched
  3. In the Tibetan translation, this verse reads: རྣལ་བྱོར་ཤེས་པ་སྔར་བཤད་པ། །དེ་དག་གི་དེ་སྒོམ་བྱུང་ཡིན། །རྟོག་པའི་དྲ་བ་རྣམ་བསལ་བ། །གསལ་བ་ཉིད་དུ་སྣང་བ་ཡིན། །
  4. གཟུང་བ་འཛིན་ཕྱིར་ཀུན་རྫོབ་ནི། །མི་འདོད་
  5. ཚད་མ་སླུ་མེད་ཅན་ཤེས་པ།།
  6. Often abbreviated as mtshan mtshon gzhi.
  7. Although Jamgön Kongrul and other scholars characterize mtshan nyid differently (as dgnos ’gal gcod pa’i don ldog grub pa), in practice most scholars at modern Karma Kagyu shedras cite the Gelug characteristics. Although on a cursory glance the Kagyu and Geluk presentations seem different, if one examines more closely, there are many similarities. One would have to debate it extensively to become certain of the similarities and differences.
  8. The word substance (rdzas) can refer to the non-material as well: cognition and mental factors, for example, are considered substantial, even though they are not material.
  9. There are several similar phenomena, such as isolates, existent, knowable, and so forth, that are themselves permanent even though that which is an isolate, existent, knowable, and so forth may be impermanent.
  10. btags yod chos gsum tshang ba
  11. The mtshan nyid is the don ldog and the mtshon bya the ming ldog according to Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche in a private conversation, July, 2007.
  12. མཚན་མཚོན་གྱི་ཁྱབ་པ་སྒོ་བརྒྱད།
  13. It is the sense base of sound included within the form aggregate.
  14. Some people seem to doubt that rang mtshan and spyi mtshan are actually abbreviations of mtshan nyid. Such doubters should look at the Sanskrit terms (svalakṣana and sāmānyalakṣana) and, if still unconvinced, the third stanza of the chapter on direct perception from the Commentary on Validity: “de dag rang spyi’i mtshan nyid bshad.”
  15. If they communicated the right meaning, that is.
  16. In the summer of 2007, I attended His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s public teaching in New Zealand where he taught the four noble truths. The event was held in the largest auditorium in Auckland and over 3000 people attended the teaching, many if not most of whom were not Buddhists and had never attended any Buddhist lecture or teaching. The Dalai Lama gave a teaching in colloquial Tibetan that was heavily salted with dharma vocabulary, but the basic level of language was one that most educated Tibetans could understand. It was clear that the translator understood His Holiness perfectly and was translating what he said without leaving anything out, adding anything, or changing the meaning, but because he used too high a level of language—complex grammar and unfamiliar academic words—most of the Buddhist students I talked to at lunch were unable to understand anything. If even the Buddhists could not understand, what hope was there for all those who had never encountered a Buddhist teacher before?
  17. Although evaluable does not appear in Merriam-Webster, it does appear in the OED, so it seems safe to say that it is English if not American.
  18. Consider the ma yin dgag “A rabbit horn is not sharp,” for example: although it implies something, in no way can it affirm anything since nothing can be affirmed about rabbit horns.
  19. 19 For instance, Yongdzin Phurchokpa presents ri med pa’i thang as a ma yin dgag despite its use of the word med (1982: 228).
  20. Yul can has three classifications: cognition, individual, and communicative sound.
  21. Sometimes the word nges pa is used to describe definite valid direct perception that has not yet lead to conceptual recognition, such as the wisdom of a bodhisattva on the path of seeing. Nges pa is used in this instance because when bodhisattvas arises from their meditation, there is a conceptual recognition in the post-meditation. It does not mean that wisdom of seeing the dharma expanse is conceptual.
  22. In saying precursor to clear realization, clear realization is not a literal translation of nges ’byed, but since both refer to the wisdom of the path of seeing, it means the same thing but is more understandable than a literal translation would be.
  23. These last three terms refer to classifications of the pure, defiled dhyanas explained in eighth area of Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Abhidharma.