The dBu ma de kho na nyid of rGya dmar ba Byang chub grags (12th c.)

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The project

This research project on rGya dmar ba’s dBu ma de kho na nyid, which is being carried out by Pascale Hugon (IKGA) and Kevin Vose (College of William&Mary), began in June 2017 during Kevin Vose’s four-week stay as a visiting fellow at the IKGA.

In a first step, our aim is to produce a critical edition and an English translation of the work, together with the abundant marginal notes that are found in the manuscript. This will enable, in a later step, the detailed study of specific topics, in relation with parallel discussions in rGya dmar ba’s other works and in the works of later scholars, notably, rGya dmar ba’s student Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge.

A month of intensive joint work allowed us to edit and translate some portions of the manuscript (Sections I, III, and a third of section V), which represents about 10% of the text.

As work on the project will be carried on intermittently and is expected to progress rather slowly, it will be some time before the edition and the translation are completed and finalized for print publication and online display via an XML viewer. Considering this, we have decided to conduct our project in the spirit of the “Open science” movement, by providing continuous open access to our ongoing work: below are links to the latest version of the edition and the translation. Both documents are “works-in-progress” and, if quoted, should be referred to as such. The “edition” document contains not only the parts that were already critically edited, but also the draft, and in places incomplete, transcription of the rest of the text (marked with a grey background).

We hope that this material will be useful to other scholars even in this incomplete stage, and will promote the study of early developments in Tibetan Madhyamaka.

Comments are welcome! Please write to: pascale.hugon@oeaw.ac.at or kavose@wm.edu.

  • Edition (PDF for download) (last update: 30.10.2017)
  • Translation (PDF for download) (last update: 30.10.2017)
  • Editorial conventions in the edition (PDF for download)
  • Link to a scan of manuscript as it appears in the bKa' gdams gsung 'bum on the website of the Buddhist Digital Resource Center (TBRC.org )(Vol. 31)

The author

On rGya dmar ba Byang chub grags's life and works, see Materials for studying the thought of the Tibetan Buddhist scholar rGya dmar ba Byang chub grags (12th c.).

The work

The dBu ma de kho na nyid is one of three texts by rGya dmar ba that are currently extant. It is available in the form of a 31-folio manuscript which was reproduced in the second set of the bKa’ gdams gsung ’bum collection, vol. 31, 7–67.

Its colophon refers to it as the “dbu ma de kho na nyid rnam par spyod pa (=dpyod pa),” that is, “A thorough investigation of the essentials of Madhyamaka.” The first folio bears the title “The establishment of the essentials of Madhyamaka composed by rGya dmar ba” (rGya dmar bas mdzad paʾi dbu maʾi de kho na nyid gtan la dbab pa).

There are 8 lines per folio. The last folio has only 3 lines, and an additional note in dbu can (to be read with a sentence on folio 11b). All folios (including the first folio) are numbered on the recto in the left margin - the numbers are spelled out and written in dbu can. The indication bzhugs so is added after the number on the last folio.

The text is written in cursive script with few abridgments (bsdus yig), notably:

  • thaMd for thams cad (“M” stands for the bindu)
  • yees for ye shes

Other abbreviations are:

  • ṇa (inverted na) for med

Orthographic and scribal particularities include the following:

  • The final particle is often not written as a separate syllable (the vowel of the final particle is placed on the last consonant of the preceding word), e.g. grags_so.
  • A tsheg is consistently used before a shad.
  • The bindu is frequently found for a final –m, e.g. tsaM, gsuM, don daM, rnaM.
  • Occasional (but rare) superabundant ’a rjes ’jug (e.g. gnyi’ ga)
  • Palatalization (e.g. myi, myed)
  • The initial letter of a syllable written at the end of a line and the rest of the word on the next line (e.g., grub m[11b4]tha)
  • Archaic orthography (e.g. rka for dka, lta'u for lta bu).

While the abundant marginal notes (on which see below) are on some occasions quite difficult to decipher (and sometimes outright illegible), the main text is quite legible.

rGya dmar ba’s work might be characterized as a “Summary of Madhyamaka.” It qualifies not only as a precursor of Phya pa’s “Summaries” but as a recognizable influence on them. One can at the outset note that the structure of Phya pa’s Madhyamaka summary (sNying po) mostly follows that of the dBu ma de kho na nyid. The core of the treatise focuses on the Two Truths. rGya dmar ba’s references appear to be mainly Jñānagarbha and Śāntideva, who are frequently cited. Other Indian figures of reference are Dignāga, Dharmakīrti and Vasubandhu.

In addition to giving us firsthand access to rGya dmar ba’s own philosophical position, the dBu ma de kho na nyid also offers a fascinating glimpse into the active intellectual environment of 11th-century Tibet, as rGya dmar ba discusses the views of a number of previous scholars whose works are otherwise not extant. This aspect of the text would have remained quite obscure were it not for the numerous interlinear notes on the manuscript, which in all evidence were written by a well-informed reader or a diligent student. These notes provide the kind of information that would be expected in an oral teaching. They shed light on the structure of rGya dmar ba’s exposition (rGya dmar ba’s use of explicit sa bcad divisions is limited), and provide glosses, examples and additional explanations. Moreover, they identify by name the various (inter)locutors in the discussions featured in rGya dmar ba’s work.

rGya dmar ba discusses the views of scholars identified in the notes as “Lo tsa” (for rNgog Lo tsā ba), “Gangs pa” (for Gangs pa she’u) and “Khyung” (for Khyung rin chen grags), as well as the yet-to-be-identified “Jo btsun,” “Me tig,” and “dGe bshes ba.” The views of Gangs pa she’u figure prominently; according to the interlinear notes, he is the addressee of the second verse of dedication. rGya dmar ba was evidently very well acquainted with his views (including how Gangs pa she’u dealt with alternative positions of other Tibetan scholars), which he thoroughly analyzes, distinguishing the parts he agrees with from those he refutes.

Moreover, the text would hardly be intelligible were it not for the interlinear notes. A mere superficial look at our translation (where the translation of the notes appear in orange) suffices to grasp how extensive they are. However, not all portions of the text are equally annotated – it remains to be seen whether this is because some portions are “easier” than others, or if it is a matter of the specific interests of the annotator.

General outline

(PDF for download)

Header text dBu ma de kho na nyid Header text
0. Verses of invocation 1b1
1. Statement of purpose 1b1
2. Introductory discussion recalling the three Turnings of the Wheel 1b2–2a4
3. Presentation of Madhyamaka (gzhung dbu maʾi bkaʾi rtogs par bya baʾi don gtan la ʾbebs pa) 2a4-29a5
3.I Basis of the division into two truths (dbye baʾi gzhi) 2a8
3.II Object of the division into two truths (dbye baʾi don) 2b1-5a8
3.III Meaning of the terms (ming gi don) 5a8–7a6
3.IV Determination of the number (grangs nges pa) 7a6-8a6
3.V Definiens of the two truths (mtshan nyid) 8a6-15a7
3.V.1 Explicit definiens of the two truths (bden gnyis mtshan nyid dngos) 8a6–9b3
3.V.2 Definiens of the divisions of conventionalities (kun rdzob kyi rnam par dbye baʾi mtshan nyid) 9b3–10a6
3.V.3 What has the definiens (mtshan nyid dang ldan pa) 10a6–15a7
VI Valid cognition determining that the definiens applies (tshad ma) 15a7–29a5
4. Concluding discussion recalling the refutation of all other systems and the establishment of the Madhyamaka system 29a5–39b1
5. Versified summary 30b1–30b8
6. Closing verses 31a1–31a2
7. Statement of authorship 31a2-3


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