December 29, 2011



Long time ago, Jäschke had already pointed out that “a primary signification of the word seems to be: a narrow space.” Indeed the Tibetan word bag seems to be mean “space” (often limited and hence small space) as suggested by most of the compounds and phrases containing it. For examples, bag dog pa/po  (also mentioned by Jäschke) may be understood as “constricted/restricted/congested space/room” and bag yangs pa/po (not mentioned by Jäschke) as “spacious room” and hence also perhaps “relaxed” or “open-minded.” See the Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. bag skyong). The synonym of bag yangs po is given as gu yangs po, which also suggest “space.” If we understand bag as “(narrow) inner space,” we can perhaps explain expressions such as bag la nyal ba (lit. “that which is asleep (i.e. lies dormant or latent) in [the inner] space”) and bag la zha ba (“that which has fallen into oblivion in space,” i.e. that which has become imperceptible). The expresion bag tsam (“slight”) suggests that the (inner) space is very minute. How do we then explain bag yod pa (“cautious” or “careful”), bag med pa (“reckless” or “careless”), bag dang ldan pa (“possessing cautiousness”), and bag dang mi ldan pa (“not possessing cautiousness”)? Perhaps being careful or cautious is understood to be maintain a safe distance or space. Hence bag byed pa means “to be careful.” Perhaps bag skyong (Tshig mdzod chen mo, s.v.) means “to maintain space” and thus (as indicated above) “open-minded.” Similarly bag bde ba perhaps literally means “to be at ease with space,” bag phebs pa/po “to be relaxed,” and bag ’khums pa “to be cramped/inhibited.” Finally bag chags could mean “something that has settled (chags) in the innermost space (bag)” and hence means “latent tendencies” or “residual impressions.” These are all speculations. 


  1. G'morning DW!
    And a Happy Nearly New Year to you! It occurred to me it may be just barely somehow possible that the Tibetan word is Indo-European, and related to Sanskrit and Persian bhaga or bag[a]. I've noticed ba-ga (as in phrases like ba-ga klong) in some Tibetan texts where it clearly has a meaning of space (perhaps an expansive space rather than the constrictive kind). I like the idea of bag-la nyal to mean something like 'asleep in the cracks' (or maybe more correctly 'hidden and asleep'?) Aren't bag-la nyal and bag-chags just variant translations of Sanskrit vasana? Or is bag-la nyal equivalent, as one person has said with phra-rgyas, the kleshas in their latent and potentially explosive phase in their life cycle?? Any of that make any sense at all?

  2. Dear Dan,

    Happy new year to you, too!

    I cannot say anything to the Indo-European link of the Tibetan word bag. But indeed we do find expressions in Tantric sources such as bha ga’i klong, perhaps intended in the sense of bha gā’i klong “expanse/sphere of pudendum muliebre,” at least in the rNying-ma Tantric tradition. Are we perhaps dealing here not with the etymological cognates but rather with semiological/symbolical expressions (employed in the context of Buddhist Tantric soteriology involving, what I call, psycho-physiological bodhicitta (i.e. so-called “red” and “white” bodhicitta)? The female principle (i.e. Kun-tu-bzang-mo in the rNying-ma tradition) or pudendum muliebre is often understood to be a symbol of of dbyings (“sphere”) as in dbyings ye/rig dbyer med or mkha’ (“space”) as in the case of mkha’ gsang gnyis, and yum gyi klong/dbyings. I also have a feeling that bag in itself does not suggest the size of the space and thus both bag dog (“tight”) and bag yangs (“loose”) are possible. Yes, your “asleep in the cracks” for bag la nyal sounds very apt, which suggests that bag has the meaning of gseb “crevice.” I also wonder if bag is cognate to phag (i.e. dam chos nyi ma’i ’od zer ri bo’i phag tu nub la nye). Cf. Jäschke 1881: s.v. phag III. Note that in earlier sources (such as in the Dunhuang materials), the first three letters in the same varga (sde) of the Tibetan alphabet are often interchangeable without any change of meaning. If you speculate bag la nyal to be “hidden and asleep,” you are suggesting that bag has the meaning of sbas. Is this plausible? Usually anuśaya has been rendered as bag la nyal or phra rgyas (i.e. often understood in the sense of kleśa) and vāsanā has bag chags. And what about bag in bag phye “wheat-flour” and bag ma “bride”? Is bag ma cognate to ’bag pa (“to pollute oneself”)? Apparently there is not end to questions and speculations. But let us continue.



  3. PS (correction): not end = no end

  4. When asked about the actual meanings of the words the late Tarab Tulku Rinpoche (researcher in the Royal Library of Copenhagen etc.) explained the meaning of bag (in bag chags) to be "something that you cannot see". So, very close to phag III of Jäschke, it would seem.