February 17, 2013

ཤོང་། ཤོངས། གཤོང་། གཤོངས།

Here is yet another expression sna’i bya gshog gi gshongs, particularly the word gshongs, that Yael is pondering about, which again provides me with a chance to speculate. The expression occurs in Mi-la-ras-pa’s biography. Mi-la is here describing the man whom he saw in the field and  who turned out to be Mar-pa himself.

In general, shong (also spelt shongs) and gshong (also spelt gshongs) mean, as already recorded by Jäschke, two opposite things, namely, (a) “ridge” (or “bulge”) and (b) “valley” (or “dent/furrow”). Now the question is which of the two possible meanings is meant in this given context? Does gshongs of the “[two] nasal wings (lit. bird-wings)” (sna’i bya gshog) in this given context refer to (a) “nasal ridge or bridge (Dosum),” (b) “nasal wings (Alar)” themselves, (c) “nostrils,” (d) “tip,” or (e) Septum? Let us rule out “tip” and “wings” because if these were meant we would expect the text to specify as sna’i rtse mo or only as sna’i bya gshog. If “nostrils”  proper (i.e. nasal holes) have been meant, would we not expect the text to state sna’i bu ga? We may have to follow Jäschke, who, by the way, cites the same expression from Mi-la’s biography, and thus understand sna’i bya gshog gi gshongs as “cavities near the wings of the nose.” So one cannot contribute much to Jäschke, can one? The important point in the context is that the nasal cavities stained with soil must be visible from outside.      

Now a speculation on a different level: The two meanings of shong(s) or gshong(s) mentioned above must be somehow related, but how? How come that shong(s)/gshong(s) can be a “ridge or “elevated plain” or “valley or a furrow.” I dare speculate that these words and their meaning have been derived from the verb shong ba (Jäschke 1881: s.v.), which means “to go in” or “to have room in or on.” In my words, shong ba would be “to fit in spatially” and anything, be it a table-land or a valley, that is capable of spatially accommodating something came to be called  shong(s)/gshong(s). 

Perhaps gshang ba (“to excrete”) and gshang (“excretion” or “feces” as in gshang gci), and  gshang lam (“anus”) presuppose the meaning of shong(s)/gshong(s) as a “furrow” or “canal.” Or why not vice versa?


  1. Hi Dorj! I get it that sometimes in geographical names, gshong[s] means a depression in the earth or (as we would call it in some parts of U.S.) a hollow. There's an example from the early life of the Buddha, as told by Khepa Deyu:

    "The prince wrapped the elephant's tail around his big toe and gave it a fling sending it flying for about a yojana. They say a hole appeared where it landed that is still called Elephant Hollow (Glang-po'i gshong). [p. 53] They also say that a town was built there, and that there, in seven generations, an ancestor named Mthong-ba-bkra-shis-pa would appear."

    What about 'Bras-mo-gshongs as a name for Sikkim? I always think this gshongs is a synonym for ljongs.

    Take care.


  2. Dear Dan, yes your “depression” or “hollow” is precisely what I meant with my “valley” or “dent.” I would think that gshongs in ’Bras-mo-gshongs would rather be “furrowed land” or “valleys.”