Dictionary of Key Spiritual Terms

English Index | Tibetan Index | Abbreviations | Contents


Getting Started

Browse through the English Index or Tibetan Index to find the entry you want. You can then click "Previous" or "Next" to flip through the pages, follow a link to a related entry in the dictionary, or return to the indexes.

Please note: Computers running Windows 2000 or XP need to be tweaked before they will display Tibetan script properly. See Displaying Tibetan Script for instructions.

Introduction to the Second Electronic Version

The first electronic version of this dictionary meant students of the Tibetan language did not need to carry around a heavy book when they wanted to have this dictionary with them. All that was needed was a floppy disk and a computer with a text editor. Beyond issues with airline baggage allowance or lack of space in tiny offices, the electronic version allowed for quick searching of English or Tibetan text using a text editor or word processor - an advantage over the print version.

Today, many books and dictionaries are available online and accessed using internet browsers. Text versions of dictionaries can now be updated with links, styles, and fonts to make reading and searching even easier. With these benefits in view, a second electronic version of the dictionary has been prepared in HTML for web browsers.

The original text of the dictionary made use of the standard Wylie transliteration system to represent Tibetan text. The second electronic version of the dictionary now includes the option of displaying the Tibetan script or a Wylie transliteration. There is now a standard for how Tibetan script is displayed but many older computers do not have this ability. With a little work, most of these older computers can be tweaked to display Tibetan script. (See Displaying Tibetan Script for instructions.)

How to use this dictionary

This English-Tibetan Dictionary of Key Spiritual Terms is intended to help you in language learning, cross-cultural studies, Bible study or translation, and evangelistic writing or speaking. The 242 English main entries and 626 subentries are illustrated with thousands of examples from the Tibetan Bible, the Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, modern books, newspapers, and magazines from every major dialect area; from the 8th to the 20th centuries; and from Buddhist, Christian, Marxist, and Islamic authors. The meaning of most of these terms has been checked against the understanding of educated native speakers both inside and outside Tibet and China. The intent has been to represent the whole spectrum of written Tibetan without relying on existing texts or dictionaries (though these are quoted when helpful).

A key spiritual term is a Biblical word or phrase whose meaning must be clearly understood in order to share the Gospel (e.g. God, grace, salvation). To a basic list of such terms prepared by Katy Barnwell has been added over a hundred additional terms important in Bible translation or ministry to Tibetan Buddhists. Each English main entry is followed by one or more Tibetan subentries. The Tibetan subentries are not listed in alphabetical order, but in order of how closely their meanings approximate that of the English main entry; e.g. for the main entry "commandment" the Tibetan subentry bka' (command, authoritative word) comes before the subentry gdams ngag (counsel or advice). Each Tibetan subentry is illustrated with Biblical examples (marked "Biblical:") and most are illustrated with examples of how the same term is used in a Tibetan Buddhist (marked "Buddhist:") or secular (marked "Secular:") sense. To give added insight, many entries include Tibetan proverbs (marked "Proverbs:") and a list of selected terms sharing at least one syllable with the subentry (marked "Cognates:"). Many entries conclude with a list of terms related to the main entry as synonyms, antonyms, or in other ways (marked "Related Terms:"). Examples are documented with a three letter code indicating their source; a list of these codes can be found on the Abbreviations page. A list of all English main entries appears in the English Index, and a list of all Tibetan subentries and many of the cognates and related terms appears in the Tibetan Index.

To use this dictionary most effectively, please note the following points:

  1. The dictionary was prepared from a linguistic rather than a theological perspective, so entries for major topics like atonement, grace, or forgiveness do not offer the sort of full theological explanation one would find in a Bible dictionary.
  2. The listings under "Biblical:" are simply examples of how a given term has been used in various Bible translations; no endorsement that these are the best or even valid translations is implied. One must read the entries under "Buddhist:" to understand completely the meaning, context, and associations of a given term.
  3. Entries for Tibetan terms do not necessarily reflect the full range of secular meanings of each term; some meanings are unlisted.

A copy of this text is available in print format.

The author wishes to thank those people who must remain anonymous but who helped in checking meanings with educated native speakers, who contributed books, magazines, and other printed material, and who gave their time, trouble, and effort to make this dictionary possible.

"These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (Jn. 20:31 NIV)

The Wylie Transliteration System

The Wylie transliteration system is a standard way of spelling Tibetan words using Roman letters. It is used again in the second electronic version of this dictionary so that you will not need any special software or fonts for viewing the text; anyone with a web browser can use the dictionary. Please note that the Wylie system is a transliteration system for representing the spelling of Tibetan words, not a transcription system for representing pronunciation.

Displaying Tibetan Script

The second electronic version of the dictionary gives you the option to view Tibetan text in Tibetan script rather than in Wylie transliteration. Windows Vista displays Tibetan script right out of the box but Windows 2000 and XP do not. To prepare a computer running Windows 2000 or XP to properly display Tibetan script follow these instructions:

  1. Download and install a Unicode Tibetan font.  Tibetan Machine Uni and Jomolhari are two fonts which can be downloaded and used for free.
  2. Update Uniscribe, the Windows system component that handles the layout of Unicode fonts. Microsoft Office 2003 has an updated copy of Uniscribe. A small program written by Khmer Software Initiative called InstallUsp10Only.exe will make this updated system component available to the rest of the programs on your computer, including the browser you use to view this dictionary.

The fonts and programs mentioned above and instructions for installing them can be found on the internet with a good search engine.

First Electronic Version

The following files were distributed with the first electronic version of the dictionary and are included here for reference:

readme.txt introduction to the dictionary
mainentr.txt a list of the English main entries
index.txt a list of the Tibetan subentries
dictionary.txt the dictionary itself