October 01, 2018

Etymology of the Tibetan Word for “Guest”


A guest in Tibetan is called a mgron po. But have we reflected why? The clue seems to lie in its orthographic variant ’gron po. But again we may like to know the etymology of ’gron po. The etymology seems to be obvious. We just have to cognize and recognize it. It is clearly derived from ’gro ba (“to go/travel”). But why ’gron? Well, one can observe the phenomenon of nominalizing a verb (including what I call an “adjectival verb”) by changing its postscript (rjes ’jug) to an n-postscript. One simple example should suffice. Take the verb skyi ba “to borrow” (e.g. money).  One can nominalize it to skyin pa, and hence it would mean something like “what one owes someone” and hence it would mean, for example, “money that one owes someone including the ensuing interest.” Thus a “traveller” is a ’gron po. We also have to remember that a “guest” is necessarily a “traveller.” We also know that prescripts (sngon ’jug)  and m are interchangeable although m-prescript seems to have become a standard and hence mgron. Nominalizing particle po makes the word mgron po clear that it refers to a “traveller” and a “guest.”

July 05, 2018

On the Etymology of “Me ma mur”


The Tibetan rendering of kukūla, the name of one of the four peripheral (hot) hells (nye ’khor gyi dmyal ba), is me ma mur. We also know that saṃsāra is occasionally compared to a me ma mur gyi ’obs (“infernal pit of hot embers/ashes”) and dug sbrul gyi tshang (“basket of poisonous snakes”). My concern here is the etymology of me ma mur. It is clear that this word belongs to the category of Tibetan nouns that have the structure “X ma Y” (i.e. “neither X nor Y but in a way both X and Y”). We know the value of X here and thus the word me ma mur would mean “neither fire nor mur.” But what is mur? bTsan-lha’s brDa dkrol gser gyi me long (s.v. me ma mur) does not help us to understand the etymology. The Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. mdag ma), however, understands me ma mur as me ma thal (“neither fire nor ash”). It makes perfect sense. But do we know mur in the sense of “ash”? I do not. bTsan-lha records a word mur thom me, which is explained as mi gsal bar gyur pa (“which has become inconspicuous”). Perhaps mur in me ma mur should be understood as “inconspicuous” or “dormant” as opposed to “conspicuous” or “active.” Thus me ma mur may be understood as “neither [conspicuous] flame (me) nor inconspicuous (i.e. extinguished) [fire] (mur).” Does the meaning of me ma mur (“neither [conspicuous] flame nor inconspicuous [fire]”) incidentally reflect an idea that is reminiscent of the old Vedic notion that fire, when extinguished, does not really cease to exist but somehow becomes inconspicuous?


July 02, 2018

On the Etymology of “bdud rtsi”


Here I am again with a speculation. This time, it is about the etymology of the word bdud rtsi (amṛta). I am not aware of speculations by anyone else. When we think of the words bdud (māra/mṛtyu) and bdud rtsi (amṛta), we notice that former is something bad and the latter something good, although the only difference between the two words is rtsi. So what do bdud and rtsi mean? I do not know any other word that contains the syllable bdud. I also do not know if there are other words that are cognate with the word bdud. Of course, we know words such as dud (in dud ’gro “animal”) and ’dud pa (“to bow down” or “to respect”) which seem to be certainly linked with each other, and also words such as mdud pa (“knot”), sdud pa “to gather,” “to abbreviate,” but how is bdud, if at all, is related with these words? By the way, I looked up OTDO and some meanings of bdud are not clear to me. I do not know any instance where bdud is used as a verb. But I wonder if bdud once had the verbal meaning of “to succumb” (i.e. both in the sense of (a) “yield, give in, give way, submit, surrender, capitulate, cave in; be overcome by, be overwhelmed by, be conquered by, be beaten by” and  (b) “die from, die of, pass away as a result of, be a fatality of”). If we can consider this a possibility, then we could also consider that dud’dud (cf. gdud), sdudmdud (cf. mthud and ’thud) and bdud to be all cognates with each other and as having the basic and shared meaning of “to bend” or “to bow.”  In the case of dud or ’dud, the meaning “to bend” or “to bow” seems self-evident. What about sdud? Even here, the act of “gathering” or “abbreviating” seems to suggest the semantic nuance of “bending or forcing or bringing certain things to come together.” What about mdud (as in mdud pa mdud “to tie a knot” or “to form a knot”)? It is clear that forming a knot with a rope necessarily implies “bending the rope” so as to form a certain loop and shape. And finally bdud should then mean to “bow down” (i.e. capitulate to) factors, events, or processes over which one has no autonomy. Consider the idea of the four kinds of bdud (māra) found in Buddhism. In short, bdud (as a noun) should thus mean all those forces or factors to which one inevitably and invariably bdud (“succumbs”).
Now what about rtsi? The meaning of rtsi seems relatively clear. Consider other Tibetan words such as sbrang rtsi (“nectar” or “honey”), tshon rtsi (“color pigment”), dkar rtsi (“white paint/glue”), rdo rtsi (“glaze for porcelain”), bkrag rtsi (“glaze”), snum rtsi (“oily substance”), and so on. So it seems that rtsi is to be understood in the sense of some kind of “sticky substance” and each kind may have its own specific function. The phrase rtsis zin pa (“to be suffused by”) should be understood in the same context. But more specifically bTsan-lha’s brDa dkrol gser gyi me long (s.v. rtsi) gives two meanings of the word, namely, (a) “to be beneficial” (phan pa [= sman pa]) and (b) “wind” (rlung). Perhaps the latter meaning presupposes the former. That is, for example, “oxygen” (as a kind of rlung) is of course “beneficial” for sustaining life. The words phan pa and sman pa (as verbs) seem to be synonymous. That which is “beneficial” is also “medicinal.”
In sum, etymologically bdud rtsi seems to mean “a kind of sticky substance (rtsi) or a medicinal substance (rtsi) which serves as a kind of remedy, panacea or elixir against forces or factors to which one inevitably and invariably succumbs (bdud).”