December 23, 2011

མན་ངག །

man ngag:

The Sanskrit word updeśa has often been rendered into Tibetan as man ngag, which is, however, not a literal rendering. The literal rendering would be nye bar bstan pa. The Tibetan word man ngag is etymologically explained as sman ngag (dGe chos gsung ’bum, vol. 5, p. 76) “medicinal/curative  speech.” To be noted is that Jäschke in his dictionary does not seem to record sman pa as a verb (heteronomous) “to be a cure (for something or someone)” and hence “to benefit, to be a benefit (for something or someone” (phan pa). Cf. the Tshig mdzod chen po (s.v. sman pa).

See also “Tsong kha pa’s definition of man ngag (upadeśa)” and several comments following it in   


  1. Dear DW, I've been enjoying reading your etymologies. I have come across another strange word (perhaps Old or Early Tibetan) that is glossed by man-ngag:

    •THAM LAG OT = man ngag. Skt. upadeśa. Blaṅ 298.5. Lcang-skya. gdams ngag gam man ngag. Btsan-lha. I've noticed this word used in the commentary by Avalokitavrata (see Toh. no. 3859, or better yet the ACIP data version of the same).
    •THAMS LAG man ngag. Dbus-pa no. 573.

    And another one still more unusual, that appears to support the connection with medicine that you and Gendun Choempel are suggesting:

    •MKHYUD SPYAD [1] OT man ngag phran bu sbas te 'chad pa. Blaṅ 291.3-.4. n. for minor precept. BBNP 476. [2] A name for the medicine bag carried by Tibetan physicians.

    What are your ideas about these interesting words? I take that Tibetan definition of mkhyud-spyad to mean something like "a minor man-ngag, taught in private." But then why is this also supposed to be the name of the medicine bag?


  2. Dear Dan,

    Thanks for your interests, participation, and additional insights. I have never come across tham/s lag. Could it be that it means “all in hand” and hence “handy instructions”?

    Ad sensum, mkhyud spyad could well mean “a minor man ngag, taught in private” but one wonders if it etymologically means something like a “trade [secret] or a [secret] recipe (spyad)” that is “tightfistedly held/guarded” (mkhyud). But then why is this also supposed to be the name of the medicine bag? Perhaps because medicine bag contained such trade secrets or secret recipes? But this is pure speculation.


  3. Dear DW,

    I just have to say that I can't regard it as "pure speculation" when it's based on a rich knowledge of the language! Well, in a sense all etymologies (except perhaps those squarely justifiable by explicit grammatical rules of derivation that we are certain people in earlier times actually followed) are speculation. But then in a sense all of historical exploration is in some degree speculative. So etymology, as 'word histories,' may suffer from some of the same problematicality. That's just my speculation for the moment.

    I had the idea to search for these strange words in the Vienna site (you know, the one that fairly covers the content of the Kanjur & Tanjur) and try to find out more. Maybe next year when I'll have more time? Cheers & Auld Lang Syne for now!


  4. Aside from sman, what could be there at the bottom of man? I am thinking now of phra man / phra men; khra man / khra men (?). Any other examples of combinations with man? It must be an old word, in a way a bit like dwags.

    Thanks for the great blog!