March 25, 2012


nyon mongs pa:

Without going into the polemics of understanding and translating kleśa as “defilement” or “affliction” and klita as “defiled” or “afflicted/tormented,” it would be worthwhile to reflect on the etymology of Tibetan nyon mongs pa. What does nyon actually and literally mean? As Vanessa Kubota suggests in a mail, mongs and rmongs may indeed be cognates. In narrative literature, nyon mongs pa seems to be used in the sense of “torment” or “tormented” but in a technical Buddhist sense, nyon mongs pa seems to be meant in the sense of “defiled” or “defilement,” particularly if we consider terms such as kun nas nyon mongs pa and rnam par byang ba, which are often opposed and juxtaposed to each other and clearly meant in the senses of “pollution” and “purification.” I get a feeling that mongs has the connotation or association of “turbidity” or “murkiness.” A mind with nyon mongs pa becomes “murky” or “turbid” and as a result it may also be “tormented.” But what about nyon? I have no clue yet.


  1. Yes, in THL (DM) one finds the expression snyon rmongs referred to as an olden way to express sdug bsngal. Snyon pa, again in THL (OT), is explained to mean (f.ex.) ham rtsod byed pa. If we consider the usual connotations of ham pa (brnab sems etc.) the phrasing seems to make a lot of sense, to me a least.

    Thanks again,
    Yours, T-T

  2. Dear T–T,

    Thanks for your comments! The meaning, I am inclined to think, is more or less clear. But the etymology of the syllable nyon is unknown to me. If it is somehow related with snyon (as you report), then we might consider, I do not know how likely it is but, that nyon > snyon > smyon > smyo ba, not so much in the sense of “to be demented” but rather in the sense of to be “betrübt” (muddy, murky, turbid). If this speculation holds, then nyon and mongs may be seen as being near-synonyms as in the case of ’dod chags.

    I think we came a bit forward with the speculation.



  3. A kind of perturbation or disturbation seems indeed to be described, but coming from where, afflicting what? (S)nyon pa here would seem to be active and 'ergative' in a tha dad pa way while (r)mongs pa, seemingly, just ‘happens to be the case‘? Could (s)nyon pa here describe another, (more specific) kind of insentience or, say, ‘ruthlessness‘, which just takes over, no matter what? I hope I'm not speculating too much.

    Whatever the case, it seems to me that (r)mongs (pa) would describe more the ‘intellectual’ and (s)nyon (pa) the ‘emotional’ incapability of the victim to these vicious fits of madness.


  4. There's a sense of snyon-pa that is used in legal contexts to mean 'false witness', especially false reports by legal witnesses. I wonder if it might be this, and not the madness meaning, that might be implicated in the meaning of nyon-mongs. I have no doubt that the mongs element means to be 'in the dark' or befuddled.

    Btw, things have been quiet up there in Drachenland lately. Did you make any etymology of ba-gam yet?