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Reading the Middle Mongol Translation of 'Phags-pa's Shes-bya rab-gsal in the St. Petersburg Manuscript and in a Print Fragment from Qaraqota

Pages 43 - 60


This article deals with a recently discovered fragment from Qaraqota, to date the only remainder of a medieval Mongol book printed in square script. Without any doubt it was produced during the Yuan period. We do not know if the Mongol text was first written in square script or in Uygur letters, but the square script print fragment found in Qaraqota is a further proof of the authenticity and significance of the St. Petersburg manuscript, this precious and rich monument of the Middle Mongol language, the medieval Tibetan-Mongol literary relations, and the history of Mongol culture.


Indiana University, Bloomington

1 The Mongol term medegdekün is originally plural: ‘[thing]s to be known’ or ‘[thing]s that are ought to be known’; it is the nomen futuri of a passive stem that implies necessity, as in the benedictive -γdaqui/-gdeküi, or possibility. Cf. also Mongqolun Niuča Tobča'an (henceforth MNT) §220 itegekdekün ‘(one)s who may be trusted’, ke'ekdekün ‘(one)s who will be spoken of’, §279 ede ügülekdekün üyiles ‘these deeds that are spoken of’. Modern -γdaqun/-gdekün is a (bookish) collective noun as in medegdekün, Khalkha medegdexüün, according to Lessing, MED, p. 532a: medegdegün ‘all that which is known, understood, learned, recognized, object of study; knowledge, science, perception, sensation; rudiments, principles, elements; category’ (which is an exact translation of Kowalewski's interpretation of medegdekün and medegdeküi, Tib. shes-bya and mkhyen-bya, see Kow. III, p. 2011ab) and xereglegdexüün, according to Lessing, MED, p. 456a: ‘material(s), raw material(s), commodities’, or singular as in the grammatical term ögülegdekün, Khalkha ögüülegdexüün ‘subject’, the logical and philosophical terms uqaγdaqun, Khalkha uxagdaxuun ‘notion, idea, concept’; see also üǰegdekün ‘phenomena’ in Shes-rab Seng-ge's Mongol Buddha-Vita, f. 64b28, according to Poppe, üǰegdegün, quoting Kow. I, p. 548b, ‘vidimost’, vse vidimoe; visibilité, tout ce qui est visible' (Kowalewski does not give transcription for the second kāph).

2 In 'Phags-pa's Tibetan transcription: Jim-gyim. In his square script, this name of Chinese origin (Zhēnjīn ‘True Gold’), should have been written in-gim according to the Moŋγol c̱ïyün; it should be Čingim or Činkim according to the Uygur tradition. Cf. P. Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo 1 (Paris 1959), pp. 278–280; C.P. Atwood, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire (New York: Facts On File 2004), p. 378. In Asaraγči's chronicle this prince is mentioned as Altan tayiǰi.

3 See V. L. Uspensky, Prince Yunli (1697–1738): Manchu Statesman and Tibetan Buddhist. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa 1997.

4 “Explanation of the Knowable” by 'Phags-pa bla-ma Blo-gros rgyal-mtshan (1235–1280). Facsimile of the Mongolian Translation with Transliteration and Notes by Vladimir Uspensky. With special assistance from INOUE Osamu. Preface by NAKAMI Tatsuo (Tokyo: Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa 2006). xii + 114 pp. Actually transliteration means here transcription, not a letter by letter rendering. - See also J. Elverskog's review in Mongolian Studies XXX-XXXI (2008–2009), pp. 142–143.

5 See A. Bareja-Starzyńska, “Oirat (Western Mongolian) Buddhist terminology based on the 17th century Cuxula kereqtü by Zaya Paṇḍita Nam mkha'i rgya mtsho (1599–1662)”, in: Rocznik Orientalistyczny LVIII (2005), pp. 33–38; “A Brief Study of the Mongolian Transmission of the Buddhist Treatise Śes bya rab gsal by 'Phags-pa Blo gros rgyal mtshan”, in: Tractata Tibetica et Mongolica ed. by K. Kollmar-Paulenz & C. Peter (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2002), pp. 13–20.

6 It is interesting that in 'Phags-pa's cosmography there is no mention of the lands and countries of his real world. Some of them appear in Chapter Two, in the history of Buddhism: Enedkeg-ün γaǰar ‘the land of India’, Kasmir-un γaǰar ‘Kashmir’, Küsen-ü γaǰar ‘the (already vanished) land of the Kushans’, Balbusun γaǰar, ‘the land of the Bal-po; Tib. Bal-yul, Nepal’, Kitad-un γaǰar ‘the land of the Chinese’, Čang-un γaǰar ‘the land of the’ Jang, Tangγud-un γaǰar ‘the land of the Tanguts’ (f. 27b 13–15), Töbed-ün irgen ‘the people of Tibet’ (f.27b26) and Mongγol-un ulus ‘the empire of the Mongols’ (f. 28b7). The scribe of the Kharachin MS of Sonom Gara's Erdeni-yin Sang wrote bolbasun ‘ripe’ instead of Balbusun ‘of the Nepalese’ (verse 22c). It seems that Balbusun is the genitive (-un) of the plural (-s) of Balbu, Khalkha Balba ‘Nepalese; Nepal’.

7 The correct form YWYKYN occurs later in the text, for instance, on f. 8a19. Cf. ǰögen and ǰüin; Istanbul Vocabulary ǰöyen ‘cold’, see L. Ligeti: Acta Orient. Hung. XIV (1962), p. 39, quoting Sonom Gara's ǰögin ‘humid’, Khalkha (Luwsandendew) jöön dulaan ‘lukewarm’, Monguor (Mostaert & de Smedt) D́ŹiōDi- ‘se refroidir’ etc. The Yemen Polyglot has ǰö'en ‘cold’, see Ligeti: Acta Orient. Hung. 65 (2012), p. 167. See also ǰögen [ʤo:n], ǰ. qalaγun, ǰ. dulaγan ‘lukewarm’ and ǰögeg [ʤo:g] ‘lukewarm; cool; mild’ in Mongγol Kitad Toli, p. 1368; Huzu Monguor joosi- ‘to cool down’ in Li Keyu's Mongghul Qidar Merlong (Xining 1988), p. 246.

8 Cf. Olxonuud Ašwaagiin Yanǰindolgor, ed., Mongol Xelnii Tailbar Toli (Ulaanbaatar: Monsudar 2014), p. 1879: yamx = 1. toxoin arwanî negtei tencex urtîn xemǰee ‘measure of length equal to a tenth of a cubit’; 2. garîn xuruunî negdügeer üyees xuruunî üjüür xürtelx jai ‘the distance between the tip of the finger and the first joint’; urtîn xemǰüüriin ner, negen xos aldîg juu xuwaasnî neg, neg yamx ni gučin xoyor millimyetrtei tencene ‘name of a measure of length: one hundredth of a double fathom, it is equal to thirty two millimeters’; cun ‘(Chinese) inch’ (quotation from Cewel's Towč Tailbar Toli, slightly expanded).

9 Ramstedt, Kalm.Wb., p. 208a, has imkε̄ 'die kleine Vertiefung auf der Hand, oberhalb des Daumens, wenn man ihn ausstreckt [= the small depression on the hand above the thumb, when the thumb is stretched out'], quotes a passage of the Jangar epic without translation from Pozdneev's Kalmyckaja chrestomatija, 101, 8, in linguistic transcription: tal dundāγūrān meŋgɒn negn̥ imk∊n̄ tedǖ unᶛdži od̥ nǟχɒlǟD and reconstructs Mong. imkei, comparing it with im ‘der Schnitt in den Ohren der Rinder und Schafe, das Kennzeichen’. Actually imk∊n̄ in the Jangar quotation may be the genitive of imk, the measure of length, inch, and the Jangar quotation means: ‘falling as low as one thousand and one inches and staggering in the middle of the plain’. This is from the chapter of Dogšn Šar Gürgü; see in the Russian-script edition of the epic: Tal dundaγurin miŋγn neg imkin / Tedü unǰ odn nääxläd: - Šikrlüγin narn biltä, / Šiltä Zandn γolin ezn biltä, - giǰ / Küündgsn bäädg ‘Falling as low as one thousand and one inches and staggering in the middle of the plain, (Arag Ulaan Khongor) used to say: It should be the sun of Shikirlüü. It should be the lord of the Shiltei Zandan river.’ (aŋγr, Xal'mg baatrlag epos. Yaswrn' Basaŋga B. B., Zurač Favorskiy V. A.; Γurwdgč γarcn’ [Elst: Xal'mg degtr γar-γač], 1990, p. 185). B. D. Muniev, Kalmycko-russkij slovar', Moscow: “Russkij jazyk” 1977, p. 269, has imkä ‘jamka, uglublenie (v seredine raskrytoj ladoni [= the small depression in the middle of the open palm of the hand]’; imkän düŋgän caγan möŋgn ‘serebrjanja moneta veličinoj s uglublenie ladoni [= silver coin as big as the depression of the palm of the hand]’. See also F. Aubin, “Les mesures manuelles et par référence au corps chez les Mongols. Note de folklore juridique”, in: Mongolian Studies ed. by L. Ligeti (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó 1970), pp. 23–56, esp. pp. 39–40.

10 See MiddleMong. qo'ai as in Qo'ai Maral ‘Fallow Doe’ (MNT), Ordos, Oirat xω, Khalkha, Buryat uxā, xuā, etc.

11 See Ligeti, Index verborum V (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó 1974); N. Poppe, The Twelve Deeds of Buddha (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1967), text on p. 66 (f. 62a18-24) and translation on p. 159: “Even if the [whole] world were filled with beauties like these, even if I spent ten eons together with them”, where “ten” has no equivalent in the Mongol text and Mong. teng is not reflected in the translation.

12 Poppe, The Twelve Deeds, p. 102, quotes Edgerton's ‘kind of soft textile’ and translates, p. 147, ‘the k.-textile’. See also Ligeti, “La version mongole des Douze actes du Bouddha”, in: Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös ed. by L. Ligeti (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó 1984), p. 30; M. Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Oxford 1899; Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass 1999), p. 268b, kācalindi for kāka-ciňcika, p. 266c, ‘a particular soft substance’ and ‘the down on the pod of the Abrus precatorius’, the cotton-like down of the Indian licorice, also known as jequirity bean or rosary pea. Das, TED, p. 8b, cites Tib. ka-tsa-lin-di (prob. [Skr.] kācilindika) = lha-rdzas-kyi gos ‘dress made of a heavenly stuff, i.e., the finest kind of silk which is used for presentation at an interview, or when making an application for any favour, &c.; n. of a very fine cloth or linen made of Kācilindi (Lex.)’. Because of the attribute ‘turning clockwise’, the botanical meaning seems more likely.

13 See Ligeti, Index verborum V (1974), p. 132.

14 Ligeti, “La version mongole des Douze actes du Bouddha, p. 45, debserküy-e oronggi-tu (also quoting Vladimircov's Sranitel'naja grammatika, pp. 389–390), see also Kara, Dictionary of Sonom Gara's Erdeni-yin Sang (Leiden, Boston: Brill 2009), p. 78, with Mergen Gegen's ǰöbsiyerkü čaγan labai and the Oirat Zaya's baroun-du matarixui caγān dung. See also J. E. Bosson, A Treasury of Aphoristic Jewels (Bloomington 1969), and the Khalkha personal name Düngeryaičil.

15 Misreading of rašivard < Buddhist Old Turkic ražavrt &Lt; Skr. rājavarta ‘lazurite’, similar to čakravar-un in č. qaγan ‘universal ruler’, for čakravart &Lt; Skr. cakravartin.

16 The imperative phrase učir-luγ-a barilduγul means ‘connect (the given word) with the meaning …’ i.e., ‘(the word in question) should be understood as …’.

17 See also kima ‘chopped meat’ in H. Franke's “Additional Notes on Non-Chinese Terms in the Yüan Imperial Dietary Compendium Yin-shan Cheng-yao”, Zentralasiatische Studien 4 (1970), p. 9; also quoting Turk. qïma ‘a mouthful’ discussed by G. Doerfer in Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, III, no. 1608. This word was revived in Khalkha as xiam, now meaning ‘sausage’ (this xiam is an aberrant form instead of the expected xyam).

18 Also in the St. Petersburg MS Buddha-Vita, f. 20v25–26, see Poppe, The Twelve Deeds, p. 88; Ligeti in Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, vol. 2 (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó 1984), pp. 34–35; cf. Kara in Rocznik Orientalistyczny LVIII (2005), pp. 107–109.

19 The nasal in the Mongol form is the regular reflex of the Tibetan length-marker “'a-chung”.

20 Cf. M. Weiers, Untersuchungen zu einer historischen Grammatik des präklassischen Schriftmongolisch (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1969), §40, pp. 184–189.

21 The full sentence reads: ǰaγuradu-yin ükül-i em kereg ǰaraγ terigüten-iyer edegeǰü bolqu ET, f. 80a14-15, (the Dalai Lama said:) ‘One can cure death in the intermediate state with remedies, necessary (rituals) and the like.’ Different is Sumatiratna's bar-ma-dor yongs-su mya-ngan-las 'da-ba = ǰaγurida-[=ǰaγuradu-]dur oγoγata γasalang-ača nögčiküi ‘to fully leave the sufferings (i.e., to enter nirvāṇa) while in the intermediate state’, Sgron-me II, p. 188.

22 C' instead of CY and N instead of L (the scribe missed to add the “tail” of the L).

23 See Das, TED, p. 1187a.

24 Mong. saγča, an equative of Turk. saγ ‘right’? Or an error for sača ‘equal(ly)’?.

25 Lit. ‘by generation’.

26 See also Sečenčoɣtu, Mongɣol üges-ün iǰnaɣur-un toli (Kökeqota 1988), pp. 1749b–1750a. In his Mongolîn nuuc towčoo (Ulaanbaatar 2000), D. Cerensodnom interprets ǰe teli as Je ter and in note 568 translates Chin. bà nà shì ‘enough of that matter’ of the Ming interlinear translation with the rather ambiguous Mongol sentence ter učir bolno, maybe ‘that case/cause will (be) do(ne)’. Conjecturing an l/r alternation (in this case, inacceptable), he explains the expression as ja, tegiye, ingeye ‘let us do so, let us do this way’. Cerensodnom's interpretation may have been inspired by colloquial Khalkha jaa ter!, an interjection that expresses a kind of malicious approval of something bad happening as foretold: ‘I told you …; now you see’, but this is not applicable to the passages quoted above.

27 The meaning ‘cataract (eye disease)’ is probably secondary. The word has two basic forms: one with an intervocalic spirant which disappears, the other with a stop which may become a spirant (like in the case of suγu ‘armpit’>suu and suga and in the case of quruγun ‘finger’>xuruu and xurgan).

28 This word is absent from Amarǰargal's dictionary of the Khalkha dialect, BNMAU daxi Mongol xel ayalguunī toli bičig. Xalx ayalguu (Ulaanbaatar 1988): its Gobi dial. jogoo- = joxiox ‘to compose/pen’ (p. 134), has no negative meaning.

29 Cf. Hoog, Prince Jiṅ-gim's Textbook, p. 67.

30 Cf. Bosson, A Treasury of Aphoristic Jewels, p. 282. A free translation: ‘By no means can the wishes be fulfilled in this world by telling evil words.’

31 See, for instance, M. Shωgaito, Uighur Abhidharma Texts (Kyoto 2008), p. 647.

32 In the well-known case of Old Turkic bodistv ‘bodhisattva’>Mong. bodisung>bodisug>bodisuγ, the cluster STV was misread as SWNK, then the NK as kāph, finally the kāph was replaced by a ḥeth, “more suitable” for the orthography of a back-vowel word.

33 Yoshida Jun'ichi and Chimeddorji, Harahoto shotto Mongoru bunshu no kenkyū. Study on the Mongolian documents found at Qaraqota (Tωkyω: Yuzankaku 2008), pp. 136–137; facsimile on p. 326; I am grateful to Professor Funada Yoshiyuki, from whom I received this important and beautifully printed volume. It contains many Mongol, some Turkic, Tibetan, Arabic, Syriac, Sanskrit and Tangut written monuments, manuscripts and prints, discovered by scholars of Inner Mongolia during 1983 and 1984 in the ruins of Qaraqota or Black City, in MiddleMongol Isina/Yisina etc., earlier a Tangut or Xi Xia stronghold.

34 This Old Turkic Buddhist term yertinčü is written with the letter of the unaspirated t in the Čabčāl or Jūyòngguān inscription: yėrnṯinǰü. Mong. saba y. (see also in Chos-kyi ‘Od-zer's Bca, f. 157a4, Cerensodnom & Taube: op. cit., p. 78: ‘die äußere Welt’) is an exact translation of Tib. snod-kyi 'jig-rten. Its saba is different from sab in sablokadatu &Lt; Skr. sabhālokadhātu.

35 See Ligeti, “Les fragments du Subhāşitaratnanidhi mongol en écriture 'phags-pa”, in: Acta Orient. Hung. XVII (1964), pp. 239–292; Cerensodnom & Taube, op. cit., nos. 8–9, pp. 66–74.

36 We do not know how many lines were on the page. In the transcription the line ends are marked with the bar |.

37 See Áotègēn [Borjigin Otgon], Dūnhuáng Mògāokū bĕiqū chūtŭ mĕnggŭ wén wénxiàn yánjiū [Research on the Mongol Language Documents Unearthed from the Northern Region of the Mògāo Caves at Dūnhuáng] (Bĕijīng: Mínzú Chūbănshè 2011), pp. 125, 137.

38 Or anu, 3rd person plural possessive pronoun?.

39 On the facsimile, this punctuation mark looks like two circles, the upper one touching the top of the lower. The Turfan square script print fragments of Sonom Gara's Mongol Subhāṣitaratnanidhi have a simple circle, the Dunhuang fragment of a different edition has double and triple circles as verse final and strophe final marks (see Áo Tègēn [Otgon], Dūnhuáng Mògāokū bĕiqū chūtǔ Mĕnggǔ wén wénxiàn yánjiū [Bĕijīng: Mínzú chūbănshè 2011], p. 125). In the Čabčāl (Jūyωngguān) square script Mongol inscription, the double dot (dabqur čeg), the fourfold dot (dörbelǰin čeg) and their combination (fourfold + twofold + fourfold dots) are marks well-known from the Uygur script monuments are used.

40 For saba yėrtinčü, see Tib. snod-kyi ‘jig-rten in the Sa-skya bka’-'bum, vol. pa, f. 3a, line 1.

41 törögčin amitan, plural agreement of the attribute and the attributed; the attribute, nomen actoris, an imperfective verbal noun, literally means ‘(those) who are born’ or ‘who are coming into the world’.

42 Literally: ‘as to its way of formation’.

43 See Prince Jiṅ-gim's Textbook of Tibetan Buddhism, translated and annotated by Constance Hoog (Leiden: Brill 1983), p. 12: “… 500 fathoms are ‘calling distance’ (rgyaṅ-grags, krośá); eight of them are one mile (dpag-tshad, yojana). This [calculation] fits the measures of the world and of bodies. The condition by which the world sphere ('jig-rten-gyi khams, loka-dhātu) comes into being) [:] It comes about from the power which the sentient beings who come to birth there have accumulated in accordance with their deeds (las, karma)”.


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