The Orthography of Kwan-Yin-Tien

By Ingmar de Boer on May 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm

In SD I, 136 (stanza 6, śloka 1), the Boris de Zirkoff edition has Kuan-yin-T’ien for Kwan-Yin-Tien in the original 1888 edition. HPB in her days did not use a standardized spelling for Chinese words, and in the Boris de Zirkoff edition the terms are converted to the Wade-Giles transliteration standard. For example the syllable kwan is spelled kuan according to Wade-Giles. This representation is still ambiguous because the tone information is missing, and furthermore the corresponding character is not uniquely determined. A digit might be placed after the syllable to specify the tone, but a better representation would be to specify the exact the character, to enable the reader to verify the terms using a dictionary.

It is easy to verify the spelling of Kwan Yin, as it is such a widespread term. HPB in SD I, 137 defines Kwan-Yin-Tien as “the melodious heaven of Sound”, the abode of Kwan Yin, and we can derive that the syllable tien signifies “heaven”. De Zirkoff’s rendering t’ien for heaven can be found in a modern dictionary as the character 天, and as a Wade-Giles spelling it seems to be correct.

The modern transliteration standard used in the People’s Republic of China is pīnyīn, which in 1979 has become an ISO standard. The pīnyīn representation would be guān yīn tiān, in modern characters 觀音天.

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