October 19, 2014

གནས། གནད།

It is not always easy to decide between gnas and gnad, especially when both seem to be equally sensible or equally nonsensical. The typical examples would be dka’ gnas (or dka’ ba’i gnas) and dka’ gnad (or dka’ ba’i gnad). And what about gnas ’bebs and gnad ’bebs? See http://rywiki.tsadra.org/index.php/gnas_'bebs_pa (s.v. gnas ’bebs pa), where two kinds of meaning are given, namely, (a) “to settle down in” and (2) (ad sensum) “to bring down someone (i.e. in rank/status, etc.). One also encounters the spelling gnad ’bebs. Is it simply a matter of scribal ignorance or confusion? Or are the two spellings options (gdams ngag)? (By the way, note the use of the word gdams ngag here.) If not what is the historical-etymological relationship, if there is one at all, between gnas and gnad? I, for one and now, propose that gnas is “a point in space” and hence a “locus” and by extension it can mean something “status.” On the other hand, gnad is a very special or specific point of gnas. It is a “crucial,” “pivotal,” “critical,” “key,” or “decisive” point or crux of space, time, matter, topic, and so on. One (e.g. Mi-pham) thus speaks of an “executioner/butcher skilled in the gnad of life-faculty” (gshan pa srog gi gnad la mkhas pa) and “wood-cutter skilled in the gnad of trees” (shing mkhan shing gi gnad la mkhas pa). So apparently the “word-coiner” (gdod ma’i mgon po) was able to make this subtle (and to many confusing) semantic distinction by means of gnas and gnad. This is, however, my mere speculation.


  1. The explanation of gnad that makes most sense to me (but the source of which I don't remember) is that gnad derives from gnod pa: is the vital point in the body which, if you strike it, harms one the most. Strike the gnad of the enemy and you cut his life-force; understand the vital point of a philosophical issue and you have grokked its essence.

  2. Dear Sten, whether linguistic-historically defensible or not, I find the speculation that gnad has been derived from gnod interesting and worth bearing in mind. D.

  3. Dear D & S, I think gnad and gnod are related, or at least as an etymological connection I see no harm in it. But gnad and gnas are so often confounded in the texts, perhaps the meaning of 'site' belongs to both? Dka'-gnas should always be 'fixed' to dka'-gnad, right? Or the other way around?

    I recently encountered the (medical) opposite of gnad, which was given as gsang (a meaning of gsang I'd never encountered before, but it nevertheless seems to exist!). A gsang would be a place in the body that you could cut or pierce without causing permanent damage, unlike the gnad. Happy Halloween!

    PS: Out of ghoulish curiosity, I went to TBRC eText repository and searched first for dka'-gnas and got 463 hits. Then I searched for dka'-gnad and got 749. So I guess the gnad-s have it!

    Yours, D

  4. Thank you, D, for this interesting point about gnad and gsang. It makes me feel should really learn more about Tibetan medicine.

    If gnad is the opposite of gsang, it seems significant that the Monier-Williams dictionary defines marman (which gnad often translates) as an open or exposed part of the body ("mortal spot, vulnerable point, any open or exposed or weak or sensitive part of the body").


  5. By the way, I once translated marmaprahāra (gnad du bsnun) as “striking at the core” (Wangchuk 2007: 224).

  6. Again with regard to Dan’s remark on the distinction between gnad and gsang (as opposites). Strange! Maybe it is an idiosyncratic usage of a certain author. My feeling is that both gnad and gsang should refer to the same “spot,” that is, gnad should be a “crucial spot” and “gsang” here a “secret spot.” For a healer/surgeon or a butcher/executioner, the most vulnerable or the most invulnerable spot in the body can be a gnad gsang.