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Literature Terminology


The Three Pitakas (sde snod gsum)


1. ?dul ba vinaya

2. mdo sde sutras

3. mngon pa abhidharma


The Twelve Branches of the Teachings (gsung rab kyi yan lag bcu gnyis)         


1. mdo yi sde sutras

2. dbyangs kyis bsnyad pa poetic summaries

3. lung bstan pa prophecies

4. tshigs su bcad pa discourses in verse

5. ched du brjod pa deliberate proclamations

6. gleng gzhi contextual accounts

7. rtogs pa brjod pa testimonies of realization

8. de lta bur brjod pa historical explanations

9. skyes rabs accounts of former lives

10. shin tu rgyas pa detailed explanations

11. rmad du byung ba miraculous histories

12. gtan la dbab pa definitive explanations

Types of Commentary

dka? ?grel commentary on difficult points

mchan ?grel annotations, 'gloss-commentary'

don ?grel commentary on the meaning (i.e., not word-by-word)

bsdus don summary, synthesis

rnam bshad (detailed) explanation

spyi don overview

?bru ?grel syllable-by-syllable commentary

tshig ?grel word-by-word commentary

zin bris notes

rang ?grel auto-commentary

sa bcad topical outline


Literary Genres

Besides straightfoward commentaries, there are many other types of text to be found within the collected works (gsung ?bum, bka? ?bum) of the great Tibetan authors. The following list may prove helpful.


dkar chag table of contents, catalogue

bklag thabs guide to reading (i.e. pronouncing) mantras

khrid yig instruction manual

'khrungs rabs history of successive incarnations

mgur songs of realization, (Skt. doha)

mgur 'bum collection of songs

rgyal rabs royal genealogy

sgom rim step-by-step guide to meditation

brgal lan response to criticism

brgyud 'debs lineage prayer

sgrub thabs sadhana

ngo sprod introduction

bca? yig rules and regulations

chos kyi rnam grangs numerical lists, enumerations

chos spyod prayer book

chos ?byung religious history

bsnyen yig recitation manual

gtam tshogs collection of advice, miscellany

rtogs brjod autobiography, biography

bstan rtsis chronological treatise

bstod pa praise, eulogy

thob yig record of received teachings and transmissions

dag yig spelling guide, orthography

dris lan questions and answers

gdan rabs chronicle of abbatial succession

gdung rabs genealogy, family history

brda sprod grammatical work

sdom byang mnemonic summary

gnas yig pilgrimage guide, travel guide

rnam thar biography, hagiography

dpar byang printer?s colophon

bla ma?i rnal ?byor guru yoga

dbang bshad explanation of empowerment

maNDala bshad pa elaborate speech given in the context of mandala offering

smon lam aspiration prayer

tshig mdzod dictionary

zhabs brtan long-life prayer

zhal gdams advice

lung bstan prophecies

legs bshad elegant sayings, belles-lettres

lo rgyus history, chronicles

rang rnam autobiography

gsan yig record of received teachings and transmissions

gsung thor bu miscellaneous writings (which do not belong to a major collection, for example)

gsol ?debs prayer


Other Terms


kun las btus pa compendium

gces btus selection, collection, anthology

phyogs bsgrigs compilation


Further Reading

Cabézon, José Ignacio and Jackson, Roger R. (ed.), Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1995

Smith, E. G., Among Tibetan Texts, Boston: Wisdom, 2001

Vostrikov, A.I., Tibetan Historical Literature, Richmond: Curzon, 1994

Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre
Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library

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