August 05, 2012

གདངས། མདངས།

Sometimes it is not easy to keep the meanings of gdangs and mdangs apart. But perhaps we can live with this distinction: dgangs is vocal or audial impulse or dynamism and hence it could mean “tune, melody, lyrics, etc.” whereas mdangs is optical or visual impulse and hence is connected with “colour, shimmer, glow, etc.” But then what do we do with terms such as rig gdangs or rig pa’i gdangs? Perhaps gdangs in this context is to be understood in the sense of “impulse, pulse, dynamism, impetus.”


  1. I don't know, but I always thought that it was just a spelling preference, except of course when you're reading Longchenpa. For him the mdangs is inward radiance and the gdangs is outward radiation, right? Do you think other writers outside Longchenpa's tradition make this distinction? Is there a pre-Longchenpa background? Do you think dwangs/dwangs-ma is somehow meaningfully implicated in these other two forms? Sorry, today I'm more question than suggestion.

    1. I have assumed that for most Tibetan writers, gdangs and mdangs would not be simply orthographic variants but that gdangs is always related with voice/sound whereas mdangs with brilliance (inner or outer) and thus connected with colour or glow. I did not know of the existence of an inner–outer distinction. So we find sgra/skad/ngag/dbyangs/gzhas/bred gdangs (cf. mgur len pa’i gdangs), all of which are recorded in the Tshig mdzod chen mo. That mdangs has to do with glow can be seen in the phrase: dkar la dmar ba’i mdangs chags pa “a tinge of red formed on [the base of] white [colour].” See also dkar/dmar/’od/bkrag/gzi mdangs, etc.

  2. Not to answer my own question, but I look in the Negi dictionary and see that mdangs was used to translate Sanskrit ojas and rajas — the fiery fury of the human spirit — and gdangs is not used for those words, but rather Sanskrit words that have to do with tune or melody. But what does this have to do with Longchenpa's meanings?

  3. So this supports our understanding that mdangs has to do with “radiance,” “brilliance,” “flare,” or ” charisma” whereas gdangs with melody. In the rDzogs-chen context, I tend to think that gdangs is quasi-synonymous with rtsal inasmuch as rig pa’i rtsal and rig pa’i gdangs too seem to be quasi-synonymous although some rDzogs-chen exegetes would insist on making a distinction between the two. So I think it would be justified to be understand gdangs in the rDzogs-chen context as “dynamism” or “impetus.”

  4. You can find some Longchenpa examples in an article by Daniel Scheidegger in RET —

    He could have derived his interpretations from Guenther's Longchenpa, I suppose, but here gdangs much more than mdangs, has to do with light radiation outward. Gdangs is used with visual, not audial, contexts or metaphors. Let me look in Germano's dissertation... He discusses it on p. 866, in his entry headed "dynamism." He says, "It should be kept in mind that Longchenpa strictly differentiates between 'glow' (mDangs) and 'radiation' (gDangs), with the former signifying a non-manifest internal glowing associated with 'internal radiance' (Nang gSal), and the latter signifying externally manifest radiation into actualized forms associated with 'external radiance' (Phyir gSal)."

    Does that take us anywhere interesting? I was kind of thinking that gdangs can have a technical musicological meaning when you are talking about music, but a different meaning in other contexts, like Dzogchen especially...