Thonmi Sambhota is traditional thought of as the architect of the Tibetan script in the 7th century AD. Son of Anu of the Thonmi clan he was from central Tibet, Sambhota was the most intelligent minister of the religious king Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po 617-698) . He was believed to be an emanation of Manjushiri, the Lord of wisdom. The king sent Sambhota with fifteen other young Tibetans to study Sanskrit in India (around 632?). It is unclear when Songtsen-gampo sent his minister Thonmi Sambhota (Thon-mi Sambhota) to learn Sanskrit. He studied linguistics however, in Kashmir, at the feet of the Panditas Lipikara (li byin) the Brahmin and Devavidyasimha (lha rig pa’i seng ge). Since he was the brightest student, his teachers called him "Sam-bhota" meaning "best Tibetan".
After mastering linguistics, Thomi returned to Tibet, where he introduced the developed script for writing the Tibetan language, comprised of thirty consonants and four vowels based on the Northern Indian Devanagari and Gupta scripts. Sambhota translated “The Tough Mystery” texts into Tibetan and wrote eight texts and commentaries for the Tibetan grammar system, but only the two “The Thirty Verses” (sum bcu pa) and “The Guide to Signs” (rtags kyi ‘jug pa) remain today.
Working together with King Songtsen Gampo and a few other translators Thonmi was also the first to translate Tibet’s first Buddhist texts that King Lha Totori received. According to Tarthang Tulku the most important of these works was the Hundredfold Homage for Mending Breaches, (spang skong phyag brgya pa Skt. Sakshi purnam sudraka [RY]) and “The Sutra of Golden Light” (gser 'od dam pa) as well as the “Twenty-one Sutras and Tantras of Avalokiteshvara” (spyan ras gzigs kyi mdo rgyud nyi shu rtsa gcig). Thomi became a practitioner and teacher of these Avalokiteshvara teachings and along with the King taught Tibet’s first Buddhist sangha of around 80 disciples.
- From Lotsawa School.org
The first mention of Thönmi Sambhota comes in the history (chos 'byung) of the great scholar Butön (1290-1364). He does not mention the names of the two texts attributed to him by the later tradition, but refers to him as the author of eight grammatical treatises (yi ge dang sgra’i bstan bcos brgyad mdzad de).
Butön mentions the mission to develop an alphabet and says this was entrusted to thon mi a nu’i bu, i.e. a son of Thönmi Anu. A few lines further on in his text, Butön speaks about a translator of Buddhist texts called Thonmi Sambhota, but does not indicate this is the same person.
Thönmi is also mentioned in the The Clear Mirror: A Royal Geneaology (rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long) of Sakyapa Sönam Gyaltsen (1312-1375).
- thon mi sam bho ta - minister of srong btsan sgam po who framed tibetan characters, Thumi Sambhota [JV]
- thon mi sam bho ta - Thönmi Sambhota, [Tibetan minister of Song Tsen Gampo, inventor of Tibetan alphabet] [RY]
- thon mi sam bho ta - Tonmi Sambhota [IW]
- thon mi sam bho ta - Thönmi Sambhota / - Minister sent to India or Kashmir by Tibetan king Srong btsan sgam po to study Sanskrit and devise written Tibetan language [RY]
- thon mi sam bho ta - Tonmi Sambhota [minister of king song tsen gampo, inventer of Tibetan alphabet] [IW]
- The Thirty Verses, the Root of Grammar (lung du ston pa rtsa ba sum cu pa)
- The Guide to Signs; verses on grammar(lung ston pa rtags kyi 'jug pa)
Alternate Names & Spellings
- bu a nu
- slob dpon a nu
- Thonmi Sambhota
- thon mi saM+b+ho Ta
- thon mi saM+b+hoTa
- slob dpon thon mi sam bho Ta
- chos blon chen po thon mi saM bho Ta