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, Virginia), 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 in the summer of 2017 allowed us to edit and translate about 10% of the text, together with the interlinear notes. Our work has continued since then via video-conference. At present, we have completed the introductory discussion (f. 1b-2a), the core sections I, II, III, IV, and V, and the first part of section VI up to f. 17b (altogether ca. 55% of the text).

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 provide continuous open access to our ongoing work: below are links to the latest versions 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 have been already critically edited, but also the draft 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(at) or kavose(at)

The work

The dBu ma de kho na nyid is available in the form of a 31-folio manuscript that was preserved in 'Bras spungs. It is listed in the 'Bras spungs dkar chag under No. 015397. The facsimile of the work, on which we base our edition, was published in bKaʼ gdams gsung ʼbum phyogs bsgrigs thengs gnyis pa, vol. 31, dPal brtsegs bod yid dpe rnying zhib 'jug khang (ed.), Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2007, pp. 7–67. It can be viewed online on Internet Archive.

The colophon of the work 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 cover page 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).

The size of the folios according to the 'Bras spungs dkar chag is: 57x10 cm. 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)
  • The particle pa/ba takes the form ba after final -n (e.g., yin ba)
  • 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 rGya dmar ba's 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 cited in the work are Dignāga, Dharmakīrti, Vasubandhu, Śaṅkaranandana, Dharmottara, Śrīgupta,Asaṅga, Sthiramati, Vinītadeva, Candrakīrti and Atiśa.

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/12th-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 frequently 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 “Jo btsun” (another appellation for Khyung), “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 treated other Tibetan scholars’ positions), 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)

A.  Homage1b1
B.  Statement of purpose1b1
C.  The three characteristics within the Two Truths and the division of provisional and definitive meaning1b2–2a8
 1 Summarized explanation1b2–3
 2 Extended explanation1b3–2a8
D.  Explanation of the division of the Two Truths2a8–29a5
 I Basis of the division into Two Truths (dbye baʾi gzhi)2a8
 II Meaning of the division into Two Truths (dbye baʾi don)2b1–5a8
 III Meaning of the terms (ming gi don)5a8–7a6
 IV Specification of the number (grangs nges pa)7a6–8a6
 V Definitions of the Two Truths (mtshan nyid)8a6–15a7
  1Actual definitions of the Two Truths (bden gnyis mtshan nyid dngos)8a6–9b3
  2Divisions (so soʾi dbye ba)9b3–9b5
  3Definitions of the respective kinds of conventional (kun rdzob kyi rnam par dbye baʾi mtshan nyid)9b5–10a6
  4What has this definition (mtshan nyid dang ldan pa)10a6–15a7
 VI Valid cognition determining that the definiens applies (tshad ma)15a7–29a5
  1The valid cognition determining the definition of conventional truth15a7–15b7
  2The valid cognition determining the ultimate15b7–29a5
E.  Negating attachment to entities29a5–39b1
F.  The result of cultivating emptiness (versified summary)30b1–30b8
G.  Conclusive verses31a1–31a2
H.  Colophon31a2–3