Improving my Tibetan by better recognizing Tantric forms

My self-taught Tibetan is perhaps grade school level or worse.
I am learning to transcribe Tibetan as I complete lessons from ‘The Perfect Key’ and while transcribing and preserving several hundred pages of Uchen manuscripts, most fragmented. For fun, a few other languages/scripts are mixed into the stack!

I have discovered a mix of canonical, tantric and Dzogchen specific writings in the mix.

  • What are my best clues to identify Tantra?

Calligraphic style suggests some texts are treated specially, with red/gold used, special ‘house’ brackets, etc. Does tantra align to special formats?

The Lack of grammatical structure of Tantra has surfaced as a key indicator, but sometimes I make mistakes that lead to similarly indecipherable WYLIE transliterations.

  • How might I best differentiate between mantra phrases and fragments of Tantric writings?

My example from yesterday’s practice:

pa’i bdag po la gnod cid ‘tshe par byed pa’i gdon bgegs kyu
པའི་བདག་ པོ་ལ་ གནོད་ ཅིད་ འཚེ་ པར་ བྱེད་པའི་ གདོན་བགེགས་ ཀྱུ
(the) Ego’s failure to diagnose years of harm from injury (from the) agent of obstructing spirits (that have) hooked

tchegs rnams bkug par gyur ། OM ba-dzra am-rita kuNDa
ཚེགས་ རྣམས་ བཀུག་ པར་ གྱུར་༏ ཨོཾ་ བཛྲ་ ཨ་མྲི་ཏ་ ཀུནྡ་
‘deeply into’ (or ‘with difficulty’) everything, now summon supine sleep !Om! vajra (thunderbolt diamond) {sanskrit} nectar vessel {sanskrit}

The English above is my 1st chicken-scratch attempts at this verse, please forgive my rudimentary efforts and mistakes.



The University of Toronto has a free online course in Tibetan in case you haven’t seen it:

It assumes knowledge of the script and goes methodically through the grammar.