Synonyms for the Four Seals in Tibetan include: ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྡོམ་བཞི་, སྡོམ་བཞི་, ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་, and ཆོས་རྟགས་ཀྱི་ཕྱག་རྒྱ་བཞི་
In Mahayana Buddhism, the four seals are said to distinguish a Buddhist teaching from a non-Buddhist teaching. The Pali tradition has a similar idea in the three marks or seals of existence (without the fourth seal, Nirvana is true peace).
All conditioned phenomena are transient.
All polluted phenomena are dukkha—unsatisfactory or in the nature of suffering.
All phenomena are empty and selfless.
Nirvana is true peace.
All that is conditioned is impermanent,
All that is tainted is suffering,
All phenomena are empty and devoid of self,
Nirvana is peace.
འདུ་བྱེད་ composed phenomena, compound phenomena, created phenomena
མི་རྟག་པ་ impermanent (non-static)
ཅིང༌, ཞིང་ and
སྡུག་བསྔལ་ suffering, duḥkha
ཆོས་ dharma, phenomenon (many meanings, also attribute, quality, topic, doctrine, religion, practice, and way)
རྣམས་ pluralizer, all, everything
མྱ་ངན་ལས་འདས་པ་ nirvāṇa, liberation [sorrow-from-passed]
ཞི་བ་ pacification, quiescence, peace
འོ་ termination particle (not lexical meaning, purely syntactic, like a period)
This Tibetan text and translation is taken from the UMA Tibet dictionary.
ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ is the Tibetan translation for mudrā. This is a rich word in Tibetan that has a lot of meanings and connotations. It is the same mudrā from ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ཆེན་པོ་ (mahā-mudrā) or The Great Seal. ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ can also refer to a sexual consort used in tantric practice, both visualized and actual, as well as a hand gesture and the bodily form of a tantric deity.
When seal (mudrā) is divided:
1) all produced phenomena are impermanent
2) all contaminated phenomena are miserable
3) all phenomena are empty and selfless
4) nirvāṇa is peace and bliss
Tibetan with literal word salad:
composed (phenomena) – all – impermanent – (are) – and
contaminated (phenomena) – all – (phenomena that are) suffering – (are)
phenomena all – empty – and – selfless (phenomena) – (are)
nirvana – peace – (is)
The grammar of the four seals is pretty basic, really. Each line is a simple copulative statement with an omitted ཡིན་. For example, in the first line, འདུ་བྱེད་ཐམས་ཅད་ [compounded phenomena – all] is a simple noun-adjective phrase that means all composed phenomena or all compounded phenomena, which is the subject of the omitted linking verb. The predicate is མི་རྟག་, which is short for མི་རྟག་པ་ or impermanent. ཅིང༌ simply means and.
The first line could be rewritten as:
compounded phenomena – all – impermanent – are
All compounded phenomena are impermanent.
The only real difficulty in translating these four lines has to do with the question of predicate adjectives. Are we saying that all compounded phenomena are impermanent (saying a NOUN has the quality of being an ADJECTIVE)? Or are we saying that all compounded phemonena are impermanent phenomena (saying a NOUN has the quality of being a NOUN)? Loosely speaking, we can use predicate adjectives and understand what we mean (car is red or pot is impermanent). However, technically, and on the debate courtyard, one cannot say that a NOUN is an ADJECTIVE. Any noun is necessarily NOT an adjective. Thus this line might more correctly read all compounded phenomena are impermanent phenomena.
The difference between the two might seem a little pedantic, but take a look at the next line (with the omitted ཡིན་ extrapolated in).
contaminated phenomena – all – phenomena that are sufferings – are
All contaminated phenomena are sufferings.
How should we translate སྡུག་བསྔལ་བ་? If we say suffering in English (as in: all contaminated phenomena are suffering), it has the sense of being an abstract quality, like saying “Life is miserable.” Or is has the sense of sounding like it is the phenomena that are suffering. Neither of these communicate the concrete specificity of the Tibetan. All contaminated phenomena are phenomena that are sufferings because they are contaminated by the afflictive emotions – ignorance, craving, and anger. Due to this they are fundamentally unsatisfactory at best and miserable at worst.
However, you can see the UMA Tibet translation of the second seal does not shy away from using predicate adjectives: all contaminated phenomena are miserable. This, of course, suffers from ambiguity. Who cares if “contaminated phenomena” are miserable? We're worried about ourselves being miserable, not phenomena! Of course, from a Buddhist perspective, our conventional selves are miserable phenomena exactly because they are contaminated.