December 28, 2013

སྡུག་པ། སྡུག་བསྔལ།

The term and concept of sdug bsngal is important in Buddhism. But what about the etymology of the Tibetan word sdug bsngal ba (as a verb “to suffer,” as a substantive “one who suffers or is wretched” or sdug bsngal “pain/suffering”). By the way, in Beyer 1991: 108, sdug bsngal is literally understood as “afflicted exhausted.” To begin with, it is worth taking a look at Jäschke’s long entry on sdug pa. The question, for me, is if sdug pa in the sense of “to be pretty/dear” (verb) and sdug pa (= sdug bsngal ba) in the sense of “to be in pain/suffering/misery” are cognates and if so how? I wish to make a wild speculation here. There seems to be connection between “(objective) prettiness or what is endearing/desirable” (e.g. lovable) and “(subjective) desire/longing/thirst [for it]” (e.g. love). The connection between prettiness and pain, thought at first sight might appear implausible, seems quite plausible. Yearning, longing, and thirst (for something or someone) by nature seems to be a kind of “pang” or “pain.” Thus both pang/pain/longing (i.e. subjective) and “that which is endearing/attractive” (i.e. objective) are expressed by the word sdug. Interestingly und incidentally, Leidenschaft in German which is the abstract feminine noun of Leiden (“suffering/affliction”), means “passion.” And passion (and in a way also compassion) seems to be a kind of unfulfilled or un-satiated desire and hence associated with some elements of “pang/pain.” Is it not the case that the (subjective) suffering or pain is always connected with (objective) entities or events that are considered to be undesirable and unpleasing? How can the words that express “pretty objects” and “experience of pain” be cognates? Perhaps we can explain that “pain or suffering” (sdug bsngal) is always defined by a feeling that one is not experiencing the desirable and pleasing (sdug pa) but experiencing only the undesirable and unpleasing (mi sdug pa).


  1. Dear D, I was just thinking, aren't 'dug-pa and sdug-pa in truth just two different forms of the very same verb? To be is to suffer (or to be is to be pretty, however little that would seem to be working for most of us). Anyway, something to contemplate. Hope nobody will find justification for pain infliction (on either self or others) in this. Well, better get back to the grinding wheel. Talk to you later. -D

  2. Dear D, from a philosophical point of view, it is quite interesting and tempting to connect sdug pa with ’dug pa, but etymologically? Well, we wish we knew. We have a host of other words such as dug, gdug, gdugs, ldug, and rdugs. What about them? At any rate, wish you a very happy New Year!

    Yours, D.