Dictionary Series

The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary of Buddhist Culture, Version 3


Published by Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2003

Erik Pema Kunsang?s dictionary, the Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan?English Dictionary, is now in its third edition. It started off as a simple list of terms in the early 80s and has grown into a gigantic lexicon with some 179,960 unique entries. Erik himself admits that the dictionary is really a compilation of other peoples? terms and he can best be described as the compiler rather than the author. The latest version incorporates a number of glossaries from translators such as Lama Chökyi Nyima and Ives Waldo and even whole dictionaries, such as the one by James Valby and the Tibetan-Sanskrit-English dictionary compiled by Jeffrey Hopkins and other scholars at the University of Virginia. James Valby?s dictionary itself incorporated several earlier works?most of Chandra Das? dictionary, about half of Jäschke?s and also glossaries taken from various translations.


It should be noted that these various glossaries and dictionaries, which Rangjung-Yeshe has now incorporated, are themselves provisional. If we turn to the entry for skye dgu bdag mo (the Tibetan name of the Buddha?s aunt who raised him after his real mother passed away, and who went on to found the order of nuns), for example, we find the following from Ives Waldo:

name of Buddha?s wife Yasodhara??? [sic] Mahaprajapati step- mother, wife, aunt or nurse or some damn thing [sic] of the Buddha

This example is far from typical, but it does indicate that entries have been included automatically, and without editing. Entries from the different sources are given separately, so that there are often multiple (in some cases, even identical) entries for the same word. Common terms such as chos, for example, have as many as nine different entries. This explains why the total number of entries in the dictionary is apparently 276,346, while the number of words defined is only 179,960. Few of these entries give the kind of detailed definitions or examples of usage, either from texts or from speech, which you might expect to find in a dictionary of this size, and, in fact, it would be more accurate to describe this as a list of translation equivalents than a dictionary.


Even so, this is probably the most popular Tibetan dictionary in use at the moment, and many translators, myself included, find it indispensable. The first reason for this is simply its size and the number of its entries. It is rare to find an omission if you are working with mainstream Dharma sources. The second reason is that very often when you are translating and need to find the right word for a particular context, it is useful to have a list of equivalent translations, even more so than it is to have a strict definition, just as a thesaurus is sometimes preferable to a standard dictionary. Of course, the translator must proceed with caution, because it will not always be clear in which sense a word is being used, but let us not forget that translations should never be made only through consulting a dictionary, but rather based on the oral commentary of qualified teachers and?Manjushri, help us!?the translator?s own subsequent understanding. At this latter stage, the Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary is extremely useful.