Dictionary Term Analysis Jed Verity

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Dictionary Term Analysis for bla chen, btsun mo, sprul pa'i sku, ting nge 'dzin. from the Tibetan Renaissance Seminar

Jed Verity

All page numbers are Roerich, unless otherwise noted.

Term: bla chen


  • Great lama, master

Analysis of Pattern Usage in the Blue Annals

bla chen is used in three very similar contexts throughout the Blue Annals, in order of dominance, as 1) a religious title prepended to a proper name, 2) a formalization of the title into a personal name, as in the case of bla chen po, and 3) a purely descriptive adjective extrapolated and generalized from definition #1 to refer to a category or group or unnamed individuals, though one could make the reverse argument that bla ma chen po was the original informal usage, which then led to its titularization. Based on the evidence in the Blue Annals, however, bla chen is used primarily in its first two forms, and only later in more general contexts to refer to groups or unnamed great lamas, suggesting that the term can be comfortably used in this more detached manner only after having been established in its primary forms. In this way, it may be more proper to consider the final definition a caveat to the first instead of breaking it off as its own entity, but sources outside the Blue Annals suggest the discreet third definition.

The bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo lists the definition of bla chen as "bla ma che khag" or "greater kind of lama", a definition that implies the term's potential for usage as a title but doesn't explicitly require it. Indeed, another definition in the bod rgya, for rje btsun dam pa, reads, "sog po khal kha'i bla chen zhig…" (p. 910). Here, the use of the indefinite particle "zhig" makes it clear that rje btsun dam pa belongs to the bla chen category of lama, but uses the term as a descriptor instead of a title.

It is telling that Roerich chose not to translate bla chen into English in nearly all contexts, except when referring to the figure of bla chen po, whom he calls "the Great Lama" only once, in the opening title of the second chapter, and in a few isolated cases, such as on 209-210, when he calls 'brog mi "the great teacher". In all other cases he leaves the Tibetan alone, referring to "bla chen po" and "bla chen 'brog mi" and "the bla chen rin gzhon pa" and so on. This is a clear indication that Roerich typically considered the term a title or name only, but occasionally shaded into the third definition.

It should be noted that these designations are purely artificial, for the sake of capturing the subtleties of the term's usage, and almost certainly wouldn't be admitted by Tibetan authors, who would perhaps give the definition that the bod rgya gave.

Blue Annals Citations

Type 1: 9 total, 5 unique

"bla chen dgongs pa rab gsal" (34, 167), aka bla chen po (see below)

"bla chen po lha lde btsan" (68)

"bla chen po 'brog mi" (72, 204, 360)

"bla chen bsod dbang" (396, 710)

"bla chen rin gzhon pa" (695)

Type 2: 11 total, 5 unique

"Chronology of the later spread of the teaching, the Great Lama, and other events (bstan pa phyi dar gyi lo tshigs dang bla chen po la sogs pa’i skabs. Chengdu 89; Roerich 63)." (63)

"While he was thinking thus, several powerful asuras, known as the "Nine Brothers-dwarfs" (thi'u rang spun dgu), residing in the neighbourhood of Mount dan tig (ri dan tig) , perceived bla chen po and were filled with faith." (65)

Other bla chen po references (66, 67, 246, 649, 1062)

"From bla chen ('brog mi) he acquired…" and "a direct disciple of bla chen." (215)

"From bla chen pa he heard the remaining part…" (592)

"bla chen pa" in a list of names (1023)

"bla chen kun blo" (634)

Type 3: 4 total, 2 unique

"As stated above the great Teacher (bla chen) 'brog mi propagated the doctrine of study and meditation…" (209)

"Though the great teacher (bla chen, i.e. 'brog mi) had many disciples…" (210)

"the bla chen rin gzhon pa…" (588, 589)

"the bla chen pa (rin gzhon pa)…" (721)

The above are tricky because they ride the line between title and proper name, but are translated here to be descriptive.

Term: btsun mo


  • queen or empress
  • wife
  • consort
  • lady of high status

Analysis of Pattern Usage in the Blue Annals

There is no identifiable trend for btsun mo across chapters, but there are clear practical trends relating to translation contexts. For example, queen is clearly the most favored usage, showing up time and again in sentences alongside kings or other royal terminology, but this translation is shifted to "Empress" when the narrative is describing female royalty in Peking. The choice of the "wife" translation is interesting in that there are a number of other words for "wife" used throughout the text (jo mo and the more precise chung mo, for example). In the first case of btsun ma as wife, in a context describing the life of Marpa, the choice might have been made based on the importance of Marpa and the partners who acted as his wives and mudras. Wife might be used alongside the term for phyag rgya/mudra for stylistic reasons here, in order not to be redundant in saying "consort and mudra" when btsun ma clearly doesn't mean queen. The more explicit use of "consort" as a translation for btsun ma might be used in cases where it's not clear if the relationship is indeed a marriage but the male figure is a prominent persona. "Lady" is an interesting choice, probably used to describe a woman of high status in a context where there is no male counterpart to define roles. Finally, the translation of "princess" is probably a mistake. There is another place where Roerich translated btsun bu as king, so he might be (correctly) interpreting some fluidity in the titles, but it seems more like an error in this case.

Blue Annals Citations

Queen: 15

"One day the king's chief queen died…" and "We shall look for another queen." (8)

"King Ikṣvāku Virūḍhaka's beloved queen…" (9)

"The two queens…" (40)

"the three chief queens" (46)

"became the queen of chi ka'o dzung" (50)

"queen Hu lun" (58)

"queen dpal gyi nang tshul ma" (100)

"having entered the womb of a certain queen of a king in India" (136)

"became the queen of srong btsan" (219)

"queen named dpal gyi 'od zer" (241)

"the spiritual teacher of the king and queen" (595)

"In the spiritual palace of North Śambhala, He was dwelling amidst five hundred queens." (814)

"the queen rdo rje bde ma" (831)

"the 'Queen' dohā" (846, 857)

"the six queens" (936)

Empress: 1

"In the tenth month he reached the Imperial Palace (Peking, chung tu) and initiated the Emperor and the Empress" (492)

Wife: 3

"Having returned to Tibet, he settled there and took bdag med ma as his wife. It is known that besides her, he had eight other wives who could be considered as his mudras (Tantric female assistants)." (402)

"His son dbon jo 'phan and his wife dug ge ma had four sons and three daughters" and "His father said to him that he would bring a wife for him" (697)

Consort: 2

"he again made offerings to ha mu and his consort" (395)

"the great official rin chen bzang po and his consort" (823)

Lady: 1

"Three sons were born to the Venerable Lady (btsun mo) red mda' ma." (213)

Name: 3

"the scholar btsun mo can (Yoṣa) of za hor" (360, 361)

"Of the three sons born to the Lady zha lu ma ma gcig gzhon nu 'bum…" (214)

"rdo rje btsun mo" (731)


"married the Princess named rdo rje gos dkar ma" (1090)

Term: sprul pa'i sku


  • incarnation
  • nirmanakaya, emanation body

Analysis of Pattern Usage in the Blue Annals

As the balance of citations reveals, sprul pa'i sku is used much more often in a general sense to refer to an "incarnation" than to the emanation body specifically of a buddha. In most cases, the term has connotations of wonder, respect, and high levels of spiritual attainment, and is often used in contexts where an individual proves his status through a supernatural act like floating in the air or increasing the yield of grain for a given year, after which people invariably say, "He must be an incarnation." If we compare this term and usage to the more value-neutral term "skye ba," which is also translated as "incarnation" and used throughout the Blue Annals to establish identities and lineages, it is clear that "incarnation" in the form of sprul pa'i sku carries some of the loftier connotations of its other definition and confers an intentionality and reverence upon the otherwise undesirable phenomenon of rebirth.

The "emanation body" definition is used sparingly in the Blue Annals, despite it being the first definition in the bod rgya. This is certainly because the Blue Annals doesn't concern itself as much with the stories surrounding buddhas, and thus doesn't have the opportunity to employ the term in the sense that it is preponderantly employed in other literature. There are very few cases where one could make an argument for its usage where Roerich otherwise translated "incarnation." It is interesting to note, however, in the example on page 689, that Roerich translates "incarnation" and then puts "nirmanakaya" in parantheses. For him, there is not much distinction, and a literal translation of terms supports this perspective. The patterns of usage make it clear, however, that there is indeed a distinction, with skye ba being used for basic rebirth incarnation, sprul pa'i sku being used for enlightened and/or intentional incarnation, and sprul pa'i sku being used to describe the worldly activity of buddhas.

It's worth mentioning the atypical usage of "sprul pa'i sku bsdu ba mdzad", which Roerich translated as "passed away (lit. "gathered his manifested form")" (563). The context describes the worldly death of the second Buddha, and thus "gathering the emanation body" conveys the transition from one body to the next.

Blue Annals Citations

Incarnation: 11

"Well, this must be an incarnation, who will become an exceptional man" (115)

"The mother then believed (the boy), and thought that he must be an incarnation." (135)

"This great paṇḍita, who was known to be an incarnation…" (164)

"this Indrabhūti, an incarnation and master of the tenth stage" (361)

"All felt amazed and thought that he must be a great incarnation." (422)

"The first incarnation series" (473)

"The present incarnated bla ma (sprul pa'i sku) rang byung kun mkhyen chos kyi rgyal po was born…" (517)

"The second incarnation series" (520)

"Before his death, he said, "This one will be an incarnation!"" and "At the age of five, he uttered many psalms of benefit to others, and it became known throughout the whole country that an incarnation (nirmāṇa kāya) had appeared." (689)

"Once he was told by some hillmen (ri pa) that an extraordinary incarnation was living at lha gdong and faith was born in him." (691)

"a ro had been an incarnation" (999)

Emanation Body: 2

"This second Buddha passed away (lit. "gathered his manifested form") on the 25th day" (563)

"the prophecy by the nirmāṇa-kāya (Vanaratna)" (817)

Term: ting nge 'dzin


  • samadhi
  • trance
  • concentration
  • meditative stabilization

Analysis of Pattern Usage in the Blue Annals

The only time that Roerich renders ting nge 'dzin in the Sanskrit form of "samadhi" is when it is part of the title of a sutra or other text. In all other cases (except for names), he attempts to translate the term. Of greatest note is the dominance of "trance" and "concentration." The term sgom pa is typically translated as "meditation," and Roerich seems to translate ting nge 'dzin as such only when the meditation is specifically of the kind/stage/strategy that deals with equanimity or stabilization. The exception to this is the "Meditation on the Supreme Reality," which Roerich surely translates in such a manner because of its institutionalized quality. It evokes an established practice more than concentration or trance can, and thus Roerich generally uses these latter terms to describe ting nge 'dzin in more ad hoc, revelatory contexts. "Trance" is perhaps the most unusual choice given its half-conscious and subtle visionary connotations. The first usage, on page 3, makes perfect sense, but further usage is suspect, especially when interpretively modified with the "mystic" adjective of which Roerich is clearly very fond. Mysticism is justified in certain of these contexts (e.g. the sudden perception of non-substantiality), but the others might have benefited from a more formal technical translation that adheres to the system of practices prescribed.

Blue Annals Citations

Below is a sample of the many instances of ting nge 'dzin used throughout the Blue Annals.


"In order to produce in the minds (of others) the adhisamādhi-śīkṣa (lhag pa ting nge ‘dzin gyi bslab pa)…" (165)

"The so called Mahāmudrā agrees in meaning with the Samādhirāja sūtra" (268)


"Maudgalyāyana then entered a trance in which he was made to see…" (3)

"there were 500 who attained a concentrated trance" (292)

"his mind was suddenly plunged into the mystic trance in which one perceives the non substantiality" (298, 301)

"There, after the lapse of one year, an excellent mystic trance was born in him" (300)


"myang teng nge 'dzin bzang po" (107)


"the place of the Vajropama concentration of all the Sugatas of the three times" (140)

"He developed his mind concentration" (147)

"He conveyed numerous beams of Juniper wood from phug chung rong by the power of his concentrated mind, and said: "Here is the timber for the construction of the chapel by you, lady!" (179)

"At first when he was practising meditation, the noise of doors being opened and closed, hindered his mind concentration" (290)

"Then by placing her hand on my head a proper concentration of the Mind was born in me" (850)


"Meditation on the Ultimate Reality was abandoned" (204)

"he said that it was due to different methods of establishing equanimity in meditation" (336)