An Excerpt from Fascicle Twenty-Nine of Huilin’s Yiqie jing yinyi 一切經音義, Pronunciations and Meanings for All [Buddhist] Scriptures

Robban Toleno

Sheng Yen Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism at Columbia University
Robban Toleno holds a PhD in Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. A historian of Chinese religion and society, he researches premodern approaches to food, nourishment, and healing in Chinese Buddhism. His recent project uses a tenth-century Buddhist encyclopedia, Yichu's Shishi liutie, to investigate how religious attitudes influenced cultural patterns of eating in China, and vice versa. He also has projects on Buddhist involvement in premodern medicine and on questions surrounding the relative longevity of premodern Chinese Buddhists in comparison with the base population. He is in residence at Columbia University as Sheng Yen Postdoctoral Fellow in Chinese Buddhism.
Robban Toleno

An Excerpt from Fascicle Twenty-Nine of Huilin’s Yiqie jing yinyi 一切經音義, Pronunciations and Meanings for All [Buddhist] Scriptures[1]

Translated and introduced by Robban Toleno

The following lexical entries come from the Yiqie jing yinyi, a hundred-fascicle guide to the language of Buddhist scriptures that was compiled in 807 by the Buddhist monk Huilin 慧琳 (737-820). Huilin’s philological work builds upon the earlier efforts of the monk Xuanying 玄應 (d.u.). The organization of this reading aid follows the chapters of whatever scripture is under scrutiny. In the excerpt below, Huilin has listed words from the ninth fascicle of the Jin’guangming zuishengwang jing 金光明最勝王經, Sutra of the Most Excellent King of Golden Light[2], which was translated to Chinese in 703 by Yijing (635-713). Much of Huilin’s notation concerns the proper forms and pronunciations of characters. Because the meanings of Chinese words often depended on pronunciation rather than inherent semantic values of characters[3], and because Chinese Buddhists often chanted their scriptures, guidance on the pronunciation of obscure vocabulary had a practical significance. Philological study helped keep chanting in unison, reduced scribal errors in the copying of sutras, and aided readers in interpreting scriptures. Huilin relies on a number of lexical works that predate the arrival of Buddhist writings, effectively grounding the philological study of Buddhist scriptures in a classical vein of Chinese knowledge production stretching back to ancient writings. These lexical notes contain a wealth of information for linguists working to reconstruct the pronunciations of Middle Chinese, which differed considerably from those of modern Mandarin.[4] They also demonstrate that Chinese Buddhist scholar-monks such as Huilin were well versed in practical forms of knowledge including natural history and medicine.


Ninth Fascicle of the Jinguangming zuishengwang jing, Sutra of the Most Excellent King of Golden Light



匱乏[5] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines gwijH 逵 and hwijH 位. The Shuowen [jiezi says that] 匱 [means] a box. Derived from 匚, the pronunciation of which is pjang 方, and kjw+jH 貴 for the tone. The latter [character’s pronunciation] combines bjom 凡 and pjop 法. The Shuowen cites the Chunqiu zhuan, saying that [匱乏] is properly interpreted [to mean] lacking (乏). Fa 乏 means paucity.



金翅[6] [The second character] combines the sounds syij 尸 and tsyijH 至. Also known as “kae-lju-la” (transliteration of Skt. garua) or ‘dragon-window’, this is the Gold-Winged King of Birds[7], the eater of dragons. Ancient writings render [the character 翅] as 翄 or [羽+氏].



滋繁[8] The first [character’s] pronunciation is tsij 諮 and its proper form comes from 水 and 並, with two 玄. When today it is rendered 茲, this is a vernacular form of the character. The latter [character] is pronounced byon 煩, with the tone of khawX 考; [its form] derives from 敏, with hejH 系 for the tone.[9]



老耄[10] The latter [character’s pronunciation] combines maw 毛 and pawH 報. The Liji annotated by Zheng reads, “Mao [means] senile and forgetful.” In ancient writings it derives from 蒿 and is rendered [蒿 over 老]. The Gujin zhengzi derives it from 老 with maw 毛 for the tone. The Zishu‘s having it [老 over 鬼] is a vernacular form of the character.[11]

老耄(下毛報反,鄭注禮記云:耄惛忘也。古文從蒿作[蒿/老] ,古今正字從老,毛聲,字書有作[老/鬼]俗字也)。


痰癊[12] The first [character’s] pronunciation is dam 談; the second is a combination of ‘im 陰 and kimH 禁. Note that the characters for 痰癊 do not have a definitive form. An illness of the breath located in the diaphragm. Bodily fluid that congeals and does not disperse due to a shortness of breath, and which like tendon glue (a collagen/gelatin product) does not sever when stretched. Its name is dam ‘imH 痰癊 and among the root [causes] of the four [types of] illness, this one can cause a hundred illnesses, all of which are ailments of the diaphragm.



鹹醋[13] The first [character’s] pronunciation is heam 咸. The “Hongfan” [chapter of the Shangshu] says of water that it trickles downward and becomes salty (鹹). The Erya says saltiness is bitter. Annotation [of the Erya] by Guo says bitter is great saltiness. The Shuowen [says] 鹹 [is pronounced] haem 銜 and is the flavor of the northern regions. [The character] derives from 鹵 with heam 咸 for the tone and luX 鹵 for the sound. The Lujing‘s use of 酉 to make 醎 is erroneous, as this is not a proper form [of the character]. The latter [character in the headword] combines tshang 倉 and kuH 固, [having the same] tone as khawX 考, and refers to vinegar. The Jixun [gives] swan 酸 [for 鹹酸, salty and sour].[14] This character (酸) is not proper, and according to the customary meanings and pronunciations [given] in scriptures, the character tshuH 醋 [associated with] fermented bean sauces is [to be] used. The wordbooks of the various philologists of recent generations are in agreement on the above pronunciation.[15] The Shuowen and [other] ancient wordbooks have since former times held that the construction 醋 is pronounced the same as dzak 昨. Where the [Jixun] says, “A guest pours (tsyak 酌) wine with the host,” this corresponds with the [second] character in dzyuw tsak 酬酢 (to toast with wine), the pronunciation of which combines dzang 藏 and lak 洛 and means to toast reciprocally with wine. If we rely on [information in] the Shuowen, the seven wordbooks Yupian, Gujin zhengzi, Wenzi dianshuo, Guangya, Qieyun, Zitong, and Zilin have both tsjangH 醬 (fermented bean sauces) and 醋 as derived from dzraeH 乍 to form tsak 酢 (the return toast of a guest to a host). Orthodox physicians [have] the character 酢 deriving from 乍. The Shuowen says it is verified. The Cangjiepian [has] 酸. The custom today is to revert to using the pronunciation dzak 昨. [I] still do not know which of the two forms is right, in the past or today, so for now I am writing both [solutions] together here.



甛膩[16] The first [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of drip[17] 䐑 (M. zhé) and yem 閻. The Guangya [says it means] sweet. The Shuowen [says it means] tasty 美, deriving from a sweet (甘) tongue (舌), which if formed into 甜 also means the same. The latter [character] is a combination of nrij 尼 and trjeH 智. The Chuci annotated by Wang Yi says that 膩 means oily. The Shuowen [gives] [月+㔾] (perhaps a variant of chì [月+匕], meaning an oily/slick appearance), [saying] it is derived from 肉 (meat) with nyijH 貳 for the tone, and is not derived from 月 (moon).



鍼刺[18] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines tsyip 執 and nyimH 任. The Guangya [says] 鍼 also [means] to prick (刺). The Liji says married women wear on the right side of the waist a needle tube and silk thread. The Shuowen accordingly [refers to] sewing. The Yupian [gives] the patching of clothes. Vernacular usage makes 針 based on 十, which not only accords with the times but is moreover in [common] use. The proper [form] derives from 金 (metal) and 箴 (needle), with simplification of the phonetic [element of the character, i.e., 箴 becoming 咸]. Pronunciation of the latter [character] 刺 [in the headword] is a combination of tsheng 青 and yek 亦, and also of tshjeX 此 and sijH 四. The two pronunciations are both acceptable for the proper form of the character. The Shuowen [says that 刺 means] to meet with injury. Gu Yewang[19] writes that [it means] needle-sharp and piercing into human flesh,[20] and says that the Gujin zhengzi [has it] derived from 刀 with tshjeH 朿 for the tone, 朿 being pronounced tshijH 次.[21] Deriving it from 朿 is not correct. Where scriptures have it derived from 夹 to make 刾, this is a vernacular character form.



鼻梁㩻[22] The last [character’s] pronunciation is khi 欺. Gu Yewang writes that 㩻 [means] slanted and not straight. The Shuowen [says it means] 陋 (provincial, inferior),[23] and that it derives from ngjwe 危, with tsye 支 for the tone. Others have it derived from 山 to make 崎; still others have it derived from 器 to make [器+支]. These are all ancient characters. Where scriptural writings derives it from 奇 to make 攲, this is not right. Sun Qingzi (the philosopher Xunzi) wrote that the ancestral shrine of Duke Huan had in it a ’tilting vessel’ (㩻器), which slanted when empty, overturned when full, and [remained] level when filled to the middle, in conformity with [the way] people [are].

鼻梁㩻(下音欺顧野王云㩻傾側不正也。說文陋也,從危,支聲。或從山作崎,或從器作[器+支] ,皆古字也。經文從奇作攲非也。孫卿子曰桓公廟有㩻器焉,虛則㩻,滿則覆,中則平,以誡於人也)。


餌藥[24] Combining nyi 而 and tsyiH 志, [餌] is a falling-tone character (去聲字).[25] The Cangjiepian says that 餌 is food. Gu Yewang says that in general everything that is eaten is called 餌. The Gujin zhengzi [says it refers to] cakes. The Shuowen derives it from [弓+畐+弓] to make [耳 over 弓+畐+弓], [defining it as] pastries.[26] Deriving it from [弓+畐+弓] with nyiX 耳 for the tone is an ancient character. Today it is derived from 食 to make 餌. The Zhouli annotated by Zheng Xuan (127-200) writes that what is steamed together is called pjengX 餅 (cakes and other products made from flour). The Zishu says it is 餻 (cakes or pastry).[27] The Shuowen derives it from 食 (food) with nyiX 耳 for the tone.



豺狼[28] The first [character] is pronounced dzrea 柴 [and] is the name of a rural animal. The Kuodi zhi says that the shape of dholes is like that of dogs but smaller, that they like to move in groups, and that they are a social animal. There is a [status] difference between the high and the low. Slave (i.e., low status) dholes will often move on ahead [of the group] and hunt down a bird or deer, and, not daring to start eating first, will keep guard, waiting for the leading dhole. The leading dhole arrives later but eats first, and only when it is satiated and abandons the remaining meat will the slave dholes commence eating together. The “Yueling” chapter of the Liji says that in the moon of the autumn season (the ninth month of the lunar calendar), dholes make sacrificial offerings of animals. The latter [character of the headword] is pronounced lang 郎. It is a wild animal. The deserts of the northern lands abound with this animal. They often live in dens [near] rivers and marshes. The Shuowen says wolves resemble dogs, with a pointed head and white forehead that is protruding in the front and wide in the back, the ears rising up vertically, the mouth square, the tail usually hanging downward, [and the fur] a bluish yellow or white color. They are exceedingly strong––donkeys, horses, people, and domestic animals all suffer harm. The Erya says of wolves that the males are called xwan 貛 (“badgers”), the females[29] lang 狼, and their young 獥 (M. jiào[30]), and that they are incomparably strong and fast. [狼] is a phono-semantic character (i.e., with one part providing a sound and another indicating something about the meaning). The pronunciation of 貛 is xwan 歡.

豺狼(上音柴。山獸名也。括地志云豺形似狗而小,好羣行,義獸也。有良賤之異。豺奴常先行獵得禽鹿等物,不敢前食,守待豺郎。豺郎後至先食,飽棄餘肉,豺奴方始共食。禮記月令云季秋之月豺乃祭獸。下音郎。野獸也。北地沙漠多饒此獸。常居川澤穴處。說文狼似犬,銳頭白額高前廣後,耳聳竪,口方,尾常垂下,青黃色或白色。甚有力,驢馬人皆遭害。爾雅曰狼,牡貛,牡狼,其子獥,絕有力迅。形聲字。 貛音歡也)。


狐玃[31] The first [character’s] pronunciation is hu 胡. Above, I already explained 野狐 (wild foxes). The latter [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of kju 俱 and ngjak[32] 籰 (M. yuè). The Erya annotated by Guo says that the jue 玃 is like the macaque only larger, bluish-black in color, and that it is able to seize and carry off humans, from which it gets its name.[33] Looking back [over the written record], this type of category is exceedingly common. Each has a different name. The Shuowen says it is a female monkey. Another name [for it] is naw 獶, a character with the form (a semantic indicator) on the left and the sound on the right. The pronunciation of 獶 is a combination of nu 奴 and taw 刀.



鵰鷲[34] The first [character’s] pronunciation is tew 彫. The latter [character’s pronunciation] is dzjuwH 就. Because the third fascicle of the [Yiqie] yinyi on the Da bore jing (Skt. Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra) already has an explanation [on this], I will not reiterate.[35]



宛轉[36] The first [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of ‘jwon 冤 and hjwonX 遠. The Shuowen says 宛轉 [means] wo 臥 (resting, reposed). [The first character] deriving from xi 夕 (evening), [it means] resting (臥), temperate (有節). It derives from 夕 and 卪(= jié 節). Scriptures also have it derived from 女 (woman) to make ‘jwonX 婉 (gentle), [but that] is not this usage.



欲涸[37] A combination of ha 何 and kak 各 [constitutes the second character’s pronunciation]. The Guangya says that 涸 [means] to be exhausted. The Guoyu annotated by Jia says that 涸 [means] to be used up. The Shuowen says that water dries up (涸). It derives from water 水, with kuH 固 for the tone.



象廄[38] The first is the proper form of the character 象. The latter [character’s pronunciation] is a combination of kjuw 鳩 and hjuwH 又. The Shuowen [says these are] lodgings for elephants and horses. The Zhouli says 214 horses make up one jiu 厩 (stable).[39] Derived from 广 and 段. The pronunciation of 广 is ngjaemX 儼. The pronunciation of kjwieX 𣪘 is the same as [what was given] above.



皮囊[40] [The second character is] a combination of nak 諾 and lang 郎. Explanatory notes in the [Qieyun[41]] say that it is a bag with a base. It derives from [襄-〦], which derives from hwonH 㯻 (to tie up), simplified to [襄-〦] and pronounced nreang[42] 儜 (M. níng). 㯻 is pronounced hwonH 溷.

皮囊(諾郎反。韻詮云有底袋也。從[襄-〦]從㯻省[襄-〦] ,音儜。㯻音溷)。


循岸[43] The pronunciation of 循 is zwin 巡. Zwin 循 (“to follow the course of”) developed from 行 (walking).



睡寤[44] The first [character’s pronunciation] combines dzywe 垂 and lwijH 淚 and means sleep. The latter [character’s] pronunciation is mjuH 悟 and means to fall asleep. [It] derives from mjuwngH 㝱, economizing by deriving from [only] 爿.




Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. New York: Oxford, 2014.

Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants => Taiwan Ministry of Education. Yitizi zidian 異體字字典,; accessed November 2016.

Kroll, Paul W. A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese. Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2015.

Kwan, Tze-wan. “Abstract Concept Formation in Archaic Chinese Script Forms: Some Humboldtian Perspectives.” Philosophy East and West 61, no. 3 (2011): 409–52.

McDonald, Edward. “Getting Over the Walls of Discourse: “Character Fetishization” in Chinese Studies.” The Journal of Asian Studies 68, no. 4 (2009): 1189–213.

Muller, A. Charles, ed. Digital Dictionary of Buddhism. Edition of 2016-08-28.

SAT => SAT Daizōkyō Text Database 大正新脩藏經テキストデータベース ,; accessed November 2016.

T. => Taishō shinshū daizōkyō 大正新脩大藏經, Taishō-Era Newly Revised Tripitaka, the digitized text of which can be accessed through CBETA or SAT.


[1]           T. 2128, v.54, 502c07-503a16.

[2]           Skt. Suvara-prabhāsôttama-sūtra. Yijing’s translation is T. 665, v.16, beginning on 403a04. For detailed notes regarding this sutra and its various editions, see Michael Radich, “Jinguangming jing 金光明經,” in Muller, Digital Dictionary of Buddhism,‘b91d1-5149-660e-7d93’).

[3]           The compound qīqū is a good example of a word that can be represented with different character sets (崎嶇, 陭䧢, and 㩻䧢) and still mean the same thing. On the ideograph/logograph debate over what constitutes a word in premodern Chinese, see McDonald, “Getting over the Walls of Discourse” and Kwan, “Abstract Concept Formation in Archaic Chinese Script Forms.”

[4]           For an example of how Huilin’s work has been useful to linguists, see Baxter and Sagart, Old Chinese, 114.

[5]           MC gwijH bjop / M. guìfá; Skt. vaikalya; poverty. Huilin’s lexical notes include pronunciation glosses based on Middle Chinese (MC), which differs from modern Mandarin Chinese (M.) pronunciations. Where pronunciation is mentioned, I provide first Middle Chinese and then Mandarin readings, giving the Mandarin tone only for the headword and for instances where the body text discusses tonal values. The Middle Chinese readings are from Kroll, A Student’s Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese, 53, which are based on Baxter and Sagart’s reconstructions. In some cases I have inferred Middle Chinese readings from the fanqie 反切 explanations provided by Huilin, if I cannot otherwise find a reconstruction. Because the logic of some of his explanations does not work there is a good likelihood of errors, whether entering from Huilin’s judgment or dialect, from problems with our modern-day reconstructions, or from my own carelessness. The traditional tonal system of Middle Chinese is indicated as follows: an unmarked (no X, H, or k) final position indicates a píng 平 tone; -X in the final position indicates a shǎng 上 tone, -H a 去 tone, and -p, -t, or -k in the final position a 入 tone. I find this notation cumbersome, but follow it because it is in use. See Baxter and Sagart, Old Chinese, 14.

[6]           MC kim syeH / M. jīnchì; Skt. garua; a kind of mythical super bird like a roc.

[7]           An alternative reading has 王 as 正. The statement would then read that, of the different names for this bird type, jinchiniao 金翅鳥, or Gold Winged Birds, is the proper one.

[8]           MC tsi bjon / M. zīfán; proliferate.

[9]           Even after comparing Middle Chinese reconstructions, the logic of this statement is not clear.

[10]         MC khawX mawH / M. lǎomào; an elderly person; senile.

[11]         This text is probably the Ganlu zishu 干祿字書, by Yan Yuansun 顔元孫 (jinshi ca. 685-688).

[12]         MC dam ‘imH / M. tányìn; phlegm.

[13]         MC hen tshuH / M. xiáncù; salty and sour.

[14]         The identity of this work is not clear, as “jixun,” which appears to mean an anthology for training purposes, is likely an abbreviation of a longer title.

[15]         Wordbooks 字書 are semantically organized word lists, such as the Erya.

[16]         MC dem nrijH / M. tiánnì; sweet, sweet and fatty. A character variant is used which cannot be represented digitally: 肉*(武-止+(二/貝)). Having confirmed this variant (see A03366) in the Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants (異體字字典) maintained by the Taiwan Ministry of Education (, I use the standard form.

[17]         Inferring the reconstruction from 直葉切, as given in the Shuowen jiezi, accessed through the Dictionary of Chinese Character Variants.

[18]         MC tsyim tshjeH / M. zhēncì; pricking with needles; acupuncture.

[19]         Author of the Yupian and other works. He lived 518-581 CE.

[20]         Reading the first 人 as 入, since this appears to be a transcription error.

[21]         Discrepancies like this show the tentative nature of our knowledge of Middle Chinese reconstructions.

[22]         MC bjij ljang khje / M. bíliáng qī; “the bridge of the nose is slanting.”

[23]         Although this is the character appearing in the print and digital editions of the Taishō Buddhist canon, it appears to be an error, whether by Huilin or by a later scribe. The Shuowen gives khju / 䧢, meaning slanted. This character occurs in the compound qīqū, meaning steep (as in a road or hillside), and variously represented as 崎嶇, 陭䧢, and 㩻䧢.

[24]         MC nyiX yak / M. ěryào; to take medicine. Despite Huilin’s discussion here about cakes and pastries, historical sources use this compound as verb+object, meaning to eat medicine.

[25]         Huilin would have it pronounced nyiH.

[26]         “Powder cakes.” These are a type of small pastry made from powdered ingredients lightly bound together.

[27]         Following the Taishō print edition. The digitized canon shows 糕.

[28]         MC dzreaj lang / M. cháiláng; dholes (Asian wild dog) and wolves.

[29]         The Taishō print edition and corresponding digital text is in error here. The second 牡 should read pin 牝, a female animal.

[30]         The Middle Chinese is not clear for this character, which seems to have had multiple phonetic readings through its history.

[31]         MC hu kyak / M. hújué; foxes and apes.

[32]         Inferring the reconstruction from 玉縛切, as given in the Shuowen jiezi.

[33]         Reading 倉黑 as 蒼黑 and [玃-(目*目)+賏] as kjak / jue 攫, which appears to be the implied meaning.

[34]         MC tew dzjuwH / M. diāojiù; eagles and vultures.

[35]         Huilin provides explanations in several places, e.g. T54 n2128, 334b20-21.

[36]         MC ‘jwonX trjwenX / M. wǎnzhuǎn; resting, reposed; in some contexts it has the nuance of being supple, accommodating.

[37]         MC yowk hak / M. yùhé; desires dry up.

[38]         MC zjangX kjuwH / M. xiàngjiù; elephant stables.

[39]         Three characters have entered modern usage as acceptable variants for the word kjuwH / jiù, “stable”: 廄, 厩, and 廐.

[40]         MC bje nang / M. pínáng; leather bag.

[41]         Or perhaps this refers to another rime dictionary.

[42]         Inferring from 女耕切, as given in the Yupian and Guangyun.

[43]         MC zwin nganH / M. xún’àn; to follow the course of a riverbank.

[44]         MC dzyweH nguH / M. shuìwù; to sleep and wake.

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