Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hooking and Keeping Yang

An Old Norwegian Postcard

So many years have gone by I shouldn’t be sheepish to admit that I once worked on cataloging the Tibetan manuscripts and woodblock prints belonging to the Berthold Laufer collection of the Chicago Field Museum. This was back in the early 80’s, when I was young and full of false pride. Only this summer I could rescue from storage one colophon to a Field Museum text that had often come to my mind when it was out of reach. Why? Well, because it’s one of those interesting places where a Gelugpa author shows an awareness that he is involving himself in something Bon (perhaps meaning by that indigenous?), and hesitates, but then goes ahead anyway. 

In truth anything having to do with the yang (g.yang) principle in Tibetan culture is very likely indigenous Tibetan. And when I say indigenous, I don’t claim that there is nothing in neighboring cultures that corresponds with it in some way, not at all. I’m not saying it’s autochthonous (sprung full-grown from local soil), another matter altogether. Instead it has long been my opinion that the yang as something that can be increased through ritual methods is also known in Southeast Asia, and that the connections may well lie in that direction, in the mythical land of Zomia.

Let me awkwardly paraphrase the colophon for you (if you are a Tibetan reader, go directly to the text typed in down below):

Agi, a bande of the U-cu-mu-chin (Üjümücin), who was born into the lineage of Chinggis the King of the Heavens (or appointed by Heaven), said that there was need of a Yang Calling rite that follows the tradition of the Golden Light Yang Protection. His behest was accompanied by offerings of horses and icon ornaments. Still the author hesitated, thinking it was very well known in those parts as being a Bon religious teaching (Bon-chos), and that there aren’t many clear sources for it in the New Schools (Gsar-ma).  
"Thinking it a little like taking a shot in the dark, still, because the behest was repeated again and again, we also thought that it could turn out to be of benefit anyway in this or future lives, after the pattern of the ringsel that because of faith occurred on a stone, I Blo-bzang-bstan-pa’i-nyi-ma composed it, the scribe being Gsol-dpon Dge-tshul Blo-bzang-stobs-ldan."

My cursory research reveals that agi is not only a word for wormwood in Mongolian, but also serves as a personal name Agi. I’ve been unable to identify who the sponsor (or behester) was. The identity of the author might seem easy, and in the end there can be no doubt that it’s the La-mo or Shri-thu Blo-bzang-bstan-pa’i-nyi-ma (1689-1772 CE). Regarded as the immediate reincarnation of the 45th Ganden Tripa (1635-1688), he is often known as Khri-chen Sprul-sku, or as Dga'-ldan Shi-re-thu. (I think Mongolian Shiretu is just a translation of Tibetan Khri-chen, or “Great Chair.”) He was known for his translations from Tibetan into Mongolian, including the biography of Milarepa, if I’m not mistaken. Our title is listed among titles of two whole volumes of his works in a catalog of Gelugpa Collected Works (pp. 323-325), along with a very brief biographical sketch: 

A native of Mongolia, he spent some years in a Lhasa monastery. Then he accepted the invitation of the Emperor Yu’u-dzi* and came to Peking to receive the title of Hu'i U-chan Dga’-ldan Shri-thu Hu-thog-thu. He spent most of his days in the chapel of the Sandalwood Buddha where he composed many of his works. His last days were once again spent in Mongolia at the Seven Lakes Monastery (Mtsho-bdun Dgon).

I’m really not sure but I suppose Yu’u-dzi could be the Manchu Emperor Yongzheng, who ruled from 1678 to 1735. Mtsho-bdun means Seven Lakes, as does Mongolian Dolon Nor in present-day Inner Mongolia, said to be the site of Khublai Khan’s summer capital Shang-tu, inspiration for Coleridge’s Xanadu. You know, where Alph the sacred river ran...

“Taking a shot in the dark,” I had earlier, before the discussion in the comments section, translated as ‘bumping into each other in the dark.’ This is a Tibetan expression or proverb, listed as such as no. 7510 in C. Cüppers & P.K. Sørensen's A Collection of Tibetan Proverbs and Sayings (Stuttgart 1998), its literal meaning something like ‘measuring armspans in the dark.’ Our English idiomatic translation might seem somehow anachronistic (not really, firearms were already well known in Central Asia), but if you like you can think about arrows rather than bullets. 

I’m not familiar with the expression translated “the ringsel that because of faith occurred on a stone,” but I think the meaning is clear.  Ringsel are crystalline beads that emerge miraculously from the remains of saints or from holy objects like images or chortens. They do not normally emerge out of stones, but if a stone is sufficiently venerated they still might, against all odds, appear there too.

Defining yang can be as simple or complex, as practical or mystical, as you have the time for it. If you are part of a tour group rushing through on a tight schedule, it’s just ‘good luck,’ like everything else these simple people do. Or, if you can slow down for a minute, it’s all about being blessed with trouble-free ever-increasing livestock and the prosperity this is bound to bring along with it. It needs to be preserved, enclosed in something, a box or a bag or the like, so it doesn't have a chance to fly off.* This is yang as closely as I can imagine defining it for the present, although I’ll be the first to admit that I still find it sophisticatedly mystical. But more important than understanding it is to be sure the yang remains with you.

(*That’s why the Yang Hooking rite can be included in the wedding ritual, since the bride leaving her family to join her husband’s is one of those dangerous junctures when it might try to make its escape.)

---  ---  ---

Field Museum: 303.09.
(I underline proper names and book titles)

TITLE; phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug gter gyi bum bzang zhes bya ba bzhugs s.ho //  

COLOPHON: (14) ces pa 'di ni ching ges gnam gyi rgyal po'i rgyud las 'khrungs pa'i u cu mu chin bande a gis gser 'od g.yang skyob ltar gyi g.yang 'bod cig dgos zhes  rta dang lha rdzas bcas bskul na'ang phyogs 'di bon chos su grags che ba las gsar ma'i khungs gsal bo ma mthong gshis / mun nag 'dom 'jal lta bu 'dug na'ang  yang yang bskul tshe dad pa byas na rdo la ring bsrel gyi dpe ltar 'di phyir phan par 'gyur ram snyam / blo bzang bstan pa'i nyi mas sbyar ba'i yi ge pa ni gsol dpon dge tshul blo bzang stobs ldan no // mangga lam //

Title: ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་གཏེར་གྱི་བུམ་བཟང་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས་སྷོ།། 

Colophon: [༡༤]ཅེས་པ་འདི་ནི་ཆིང་གེས་གནམ་གྱི་རྒྱལ་པོའི་རྒྱུད་ལས་འཁྲུངས་པའི་ཨུ་ཅུ་མུ་ཆིན་བནྡེ་ཨ་གིས་གསེར་འོད་གཡང་སྐྱོབ་ལྟར་གྱི་གཡང་འབོད་ཅིག་དགོས་ཞེས་རྟ་དང་ལྷ་རྫས་བཅས་བསྐུལ་ནའང་ཕྱོགས་འདི་བོན་ཆོས་སུ་གྲགས་ཆེ་བ་ལས་གསར་མའི་ཁུངས་གསལ་བོ་མ་མཐོང་གཤིས། མུན་ནག་འདོན་འཇལ་ལྟ་བུ་འདུག་ནའང་ཡང་ཡང་བསྐུལ་ཚེ་དད་པ་བྱས་ན་རྡོ་ལ་རིང་བསྲེལ་གྱི་དཔེ་ལྟར་འདི་ཕྱིར་ཕན་པར་འགྱུར་རམ་སྙམ། བློ་བཟང་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མས་སྦྱར་བའི་ཡི་གེ་པ་ནི་གསོལ་དཔོན་དགེ་ཚུལ་བློ་བཟང་སྟོབས་ལྡན་ནོ།།  མངྒལཾ།།

— — —

Imagine my surprise and chagrin, when a search of TBRC revealed that the very same title can be found in the works of Lcang-lung Paṇḍita 
(1770‑1846 CE). Since I don’t have access to the Field Museum text, apart from the title and colophon I transcribed years ago, I’m unable to compare the contents of the two. However, looking at the TBRC colophon, it says the colophon to the text it copied was unclear (mdzad-byang mi-gsal-zhing), that the recitation parts were expanded for this edition, to make it more useful for people unable to consult their original texts (or for those who have not yet memorized them, I think he means). Then the author’s name is given as Ngag-dbang-chos-ldan. There is more than one person by this name from that time period, but I believe since the colophon explicitly says he was a tutor, and had the title of “[Master of] Ten Difficult [Subjects],” an old-time way of saying he was a qualified Geshé, I believe this means the First Lcang-skya incarnate Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-chos-ldan (1642-1714). At the very end a lineage for the reading permission, the lung of the text, is supplied starting with [1] the just-mentioned teacher, then [2] the Third Lcang-skya incarnate Rol-pa'i-rdo-rje, then [3] his student and attendant Dge-legs-nam-mkha' (known to me as author of a guidebook to Wutai Shan), and finally [4] Lcang-lung Paṇḍi-ta.

Well, based on our Field Museum text, we know the author was very surely Shri-thu Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma (1689-1772 CE), so this leads us to wonder, Whatever would be the sense of making a reading permission lineage for it descending from someone else? Unable to look into the question further, I will just leave you with the puzzle to work out to your own satisfaction. 

Here I will type in for you the title and colophon of the text as attributed to the First Lcang-skya:

Source:  The Collected Works of Lca-lu Paṇḍi-ta ag-dba-blo-bza-bstan-pa'i-rgyal-mtshan, Mongolian Lama Gurudeva (New Delhi 1975+), vol. 6, pp. 459-482.

Title: phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug 'dod dgu'i char 'bebs zhes bya ba bzhugs so //

Colophon:  zhes phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug 'dod dgu'i char 'bebs zhes bya ba 'di ni / gser 'od g.yang skyabs kyi g.yang 'gug gi lhan thabs mdzad byang mi gsal zhing / 'dod cha rnams thog mtha'i tshig gis bsdus pa'i lag tu blang bde zhing kha gsal ba zhig mthong ba la gzhi byas / de la gzhung gi 'don cha rnams rgyas par bkod de / lhan thabs dang g.yang skyabs kyi dpe ma 'dzom pa dang bsdebs mi shes pa rnams kyis 'don bde bar bsams nas dka' bcu'i ming can ngag dbang chos ldan gyis bsgrigs pa'i yi ge pa ni dpyod ldan bsod nams phun tshogs so // 'dis kyang 'gro ba rnams dbul phongs kyi sdug bsngal las grol bar gyur cig /

'di'i lung brgyud ni mdzad pa po yongs 'dzin dka' chen ngag dbang chos ldan / khyab bdag 'khor lo'i mgon po lcang skya rol pa'i rdo rje / ong nyod ja sag bla ma grub pa'i dbang phyug dge legs nam mkha' / des lcang lung paṇḍi ta dgyes bzhin du gnang ba'o //  //

Title: ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་འདོད་དགུའི་ཆར་འབེབས་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས་སོ།།

Colophon: ཞེས་ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་འདོད་དགུའི་ཆར་འབེབས་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་འདི་ནི། གསེར་འོད་གཡང་སྐྱབས་ཀྱི་གཡང་འགུག་གི་ལྷན་ཐབས་མཛད་བྱང་མི་གསལ་ཞིང་། འདོད་ཆ་རྣམས་ཐོག་མཐའི་ཚིག་གིས་བསྡུས་པའི་ལག་ཏུ་བླང་བདེ་ཞིང་ཁ་གསལ་བ་ཞིག་མཐོང་བ་ལ་གཞི་བྱས། དེ་ལ་གཞུང་གི་འདོན་ཆ་རྣམས་རྒྱས་པར་བཀོད་དེ། ལྷན་ཐབས་དང་གཡང་སྐྱབས་ཀྱི་དཔེ་མ་འཛོམ་པ་དང་བསྡེབས་མི་ཤེས་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་འདོན་བདེ་བར་བསམས་ནས་དཀའ་བཅུའི་མིང་ཅན་ངག་དབང་ཆོས་ལྡན་གྱིས་བསྒྲིགས་པའི་ཡི་གེ་པ་ནི་དཔྱོད་ལྡན་བསོད་ནམས་ཕུན་ཚོགས་སོ༎ འདིས་ཀྱང་འགྲོ་བ་རྣམས་དབུལ་ཕོངས་ཀྱི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་ལས་གྲོལ་བར་གྱུར་ཅིག།

འདིའི་ལུང་བརྒྱུད་ནི་མཛད་པ་པོ་ཡོངས་འཛིན་དཀའ་ཆེན་ངག་དབང་ཆོས་ལྡན། ཁྱབ་བདག་འཁོར་ལོའི་མགོན་པོ་ལྕང་སྐྱ་རོལ་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ།

ཨོང་ཉོད་ཇ་སག་བླ་མ་གྲུབ་པའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་དགེ་ལེགས་ནམ་མཁའ། དེས་ལྕང་ལུང་པཎྜི་ཏ་དགྱེས་བཞིན་དུ་གནང་བའོ།། །།

§  §  §

Directions of further research to confuse matters even more than is absolutely necessary:

Our author can be located in TBRC, although it may not be all that easy given that there are supposed to be about 150 persons with the name Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma. His correct identification number is P348. You ought to thank me for saving you the trouble of searching through the long list. There are a couple of works listed in TBRC that are connected to him as subject or author, but TBRC has not listed the contents of his collected works that ought to fill four volumes. I wonder why the Chicago Field Museum doesn't invite TBRC to come and scan their Berthold Laufer Tibetan collection to make it available to the world?

The one place I know of that lists titles of our author’s works only supplies titles for two volumes, vols. 3-4 (GA and NGA): Gsung 'bum dkar chag (=Zhwa ser bstan pa'i sgron me rje tsong kha pa chen pos gtsos skyes chen dam pa rim byung gi gsung 'bum dkar chag phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa'i dri med zla shel gtsang ma'i me long), Lhag-pa-tshe-ring et al.eds., Bod ljongs mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Lhasa 1990), pp. 323-325.

If the subject of ringsel interests you, as I think it should, have a look at D. Martin’s “Pearls from Bones: Relics, Chortens, Tertons and the Signs of Saintly Death in Tibet,” Numen, vol. 41 (1994), pp. 273-324.

Dieter Schuh long ago studied, as part of a study of Eastern Tibetan wedding rituals, a Yang Hooking rite. See “Die Darlegungen des tibetischen Enzyklopädisten Ko-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas über Osttibetische Hochzeitsgebraüche,” contained in: Serta Tibeto-Mongolica [Heissig Festschrift], Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden 1973), pp. 295-350.

Curiously enough, Bon and Chos each has its own G.yang-skyob ritual associated with a particular sûtra, in both cases called by a similar title including the words Golden Light. The two texts are hardly the same in their content — see Michael Walter, “Prolegomenon to a Study of the Gser 'od nor bu 'od 'bar gyi mdo,” contained in: Per Kvaerne, ed., Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Fagernes 1992, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (Oslo 1994), vol. 2, pp. 930-938 — but they are similar in having Yang Hooking rites as ancillary texts.

Daniel Berounsky, “Tibetan Myths on ‘Good Fortune’ (phya) and 'Well-Being' (g.yang),” contained in: Mongolo-Tibetica Pragensia '14, vol. 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 55-77 (this whole volume of MTP is devoted to “Indigenous Elements in Tibetan Religions”).  Idem., Prosperity in a Whirlpool of Symbolic Contexts: Some Notes on Tibetan G.yang 'gugs and Buryat Dalga Rituals, contained in: Jaroslav Vacek & Alena Oberfalzerova, eds., Mongolica Pragensia '06, Triton (Prague 2006).  G.yang-'gug.

Rolf A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization, p. 199: 
“Take for example the ceremony of calling for good fortune (g.yang-'gug), for which a beribboned arrow, a mirror and a ‘good-fortune bag’ (g.yang-khug) are used: ‘The material of the good-fortune bag is wool. The father was the sky sheep Reddish-white, the mother the earth sheep Reddish. These two united and had sons. Of five kinds were the lambs.’ ”

Jacques Dournes, “Yang: The Sacred Connection, Sacrifice, and the Ritual of Counting among the Austroasiatic and Austronesian Ethnic Groups,” contained in: Yves Bonnefoy, ed., Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 1993), pp. 218-221.  I’m not going to claim that this yang in southernmost Viet Nam and the Tibetan yang are identical concepts, but both do have a lot to do with prosperity, and both can be influenced through ritual methods.

Geoffrey Samuel, Zomia: New Constructions of the Southeast Asian Highlands and Their Tibetan Implications, contained in: Gerald Roche, et al., eds., Centering the Local [Asian Highland Perspectives no. 37], pp. 221-249.

§     §     §

“Entschuldige nichts, verwische nichts, 

seih und sag, wie es wirklich ist — 

aber du mußt das sehen, 

was ein neues Licht auf die Tatsachen wirft.”  

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, ca. 1941.


  1. Dear Dan, Thanks a lot for this blog, I enjoyed reading it very much. However, I want to make a comment about the expression mun nag 'dom 'jal or "bumping into one another in the dark" in your blog. It literally means "measuring darkness in 'dom [arm span]", so I think the translation is bit off. I have not had the chance to check C. Cüppers & P.K. Sørensen's A Collection of Tibetan Proverbs and Sayings.

  2. Dear Tsering,

    Thank you for your comment, and you are probably right. I'm still thinking about it. I was taking it to mean something close to 'dom-thug, which is defined in the Btsan-lha dictionary as 'dra mnyam gnyis phyogs gcig tu 'dzom pa, 'two like or similar things getting combined into one.' In what I still call the three-volume dictionary, you find this entry:

    •'dom thug 'dzoms te 'phrad pa ,... ngo shes pa mang po dus gcig tu 'dom thug pa byung song ,... las ka khag mang 'dom thug byung 'dug ,...

    'Dom may mean 'arm span' or 'fathom,' but it can also be a verb meaning 'coincide, come together, pile up, converge.'

    I'd like to know more about how you understand the usage of the expression. Would it mean to engage in a useless activity? (It does seem a little absurd to measure the pitch darkness with any sort of dimensional measuring system. Although I suppose we might want to measure the lumens of the darkness, if there were any.) Write back soon, we'll hammer this problem out.


    1. Dear Dan,
      I understand how you are coming to this interpretation, I think the verb "'jal" here is critical to understand the phrase, it means "to measure" and which is very different from "mjal" for meeting etc. I understand the phrase as something like "aimless action/fruitless work/guessing work". You can find some contemporary use of the phrase here (གོ་འཇོ་དབང་འདུས)
      and here (, these passages might provide some contextual information (I actually use this passage when I write). Anyways, let me how you think.

  3. Dear Tsering,
    I'm with you. So right now I'm convinced a better idiomatic translation in English would be 'taking a shot in the dark.' If you think that can work I'll change it right away. One thing: I've often noticed in older (pre-Mongol period) manuscripts the 'jal (or even 'byal) is found in place of mjal (noticed also in some early proper names like 'Khon and 'Chad-kha-ba / Mkhon & Mchad-kha-ba). But of course it's right that this variation in spelling isn't so likely to appear in recent centuries.

  4. Dear Dan,
    Yes, 'taking a shot in the dark' captures the meaning behind that phrase. Thanks a lot for the info on variation in spelling in older manuscripts. Talk to you soon.

  5. Dear Tsering, Changes made! Now let's try and find an accurate translation for g.yang, as well as for some other difficult-to-translate words like dbang-thang, kha-rje, rlung-rta, she[d]-mong, phya, and so on. Hope all is well. Yours, D

  6. Dear Dan,

    Thanks for another very informative post.

    Artemisia sp., we meet again. Agi ᠠᠭᠢ агь is indeed the Mongolian name for one or more species. One dictionary gives 小白蒿 xiǎobáihāo (A. frigida?), that might look like a 'small' (xiǎo) A. vulgaris? (báihāo). Presumably some of these agi plants are called མཁན་པ་ khan pa in Tibetan...

    Relevant proverb:

    ᠠᠭᠢ ᠰᠠᠢᠢᠲᠠᠢ ᠭᠠᠵᠠᠷ ᠠᠳᠤᠭᠤ ᠣᠯᠠᠨ
    ᠠᠭᠠᠯᠢ ᠰᠠᠢᠢᠲᠠᠢ ᠺᠦᠮᠦᠨ ᠳᠤ ᠨᠥᠺᠦᠷ ᠣᠯᠠᠨ

    agi sayitai gazar aduɣu olan
    aɣali sayitai kümün-dü nökör olan

    Агь сайтай газар адуу олон
    Ааль сайтай хүнд нөхөр олон

    'A place with good agi has many horses,
    a man of good disposition has many friends.'

    'Artemisia sp.' wouldn't normally be someone's name, even though the Chinese name for it, 艾 ài, is a Chinese surname (think Ai Weiwei 艾未未).

    There's another word agi, which might be the one here. I'm not sure it can be a personal name; have you encountered any such use? But it certainly is a title. It's a Mongolisation of the form age ᠠᠭᠡ (in Cyrillic spelling агь, indistinguishable from agi), which breaks Mongolian vowel harmony and comes from Manchu. It meant 'son of an emperor', but also apparently of other dignitaries, and also had a generalised use as an honorific ('sir, master'). Based on the Tibetan text, it's impossible to determine if the age or agi form was intended, since it also gives Mongolian i's as e's: ཆིང་གེས་ ching ges for ᠴᠢᠩᠭᠢᠰ Činggis, བནྡེ་ bande for ᠪᠠᠨᠳᠢ bandi. So we needn't worry about age vs agi. Do you think it would make sense to read 'a noble bandi' here?

    Yu'u dzi is mystifying. The emperor is certainly Yongzheng, as you say; the Galdan Shiretu went to Beijing in 1734/5, and was conferred the title 慧悟禅师 Huìwù chánshī, for which your source gives the Tibetan spelling (minus the last syllable, probably a scribal error). Now yu'u dzi does look like a transcription, but of 'Yongzheng'? I think the modern Tibetan spelling for Yongzheng is ཡུང་ཀྲིན་; I can see how the second syllable could be treated differently, but how could the first one be anything but ཡུང་? Do you have access to the original Tibetan text of the source for the biography?

    Siregetü ᠰᠢᠷᠡᠭᠡᠲᠦ Ширээт is indeed understood to be a translation of khri pa. In Chinese, the Galdan Shiretu lineage is also known as 赛赤活佛 Sàichì (< གསེར་ཁྲི་) huófó.

    Are the sheep references just a pun on 羊 yáng, or something else?

  7. Dear J.L., Thanks for your thoughts. It was fun to be reminded of that guest-blog by P'i-kuo That the Agi should have a more respectable meaning than wormwood goes without saying, so you must be right about that. And you may be the only one who caught my subtle reference (in the illustrations only) to the usual explanation for Tibetan g.yang, which is that it's just that Chinese word yáng for sheep. I didn't actually revive that old idea here because I wanted to present something different for a change. Of course abundance for nomads means plenty of livestock, and sheep and goats would be the most normal livestock to keep. The word 'wealth,' nor, can even be an ordinary word for livestock. And a phyug-po (rich man) means a person with a lot of phyug[s] (domestic animals).

  8. Only for fun...

  9. Dear H.A., That's hilarious that it went up just yesterday. I personally don't see any problem with the expression g.yang-khyim. It's analogous to bla-mtsho, as in a lake [that is the abode of, or otherwise associated with] the bla-spirit. G.yang-khyim would just mean a house [that is the abode of] [livestock-associated] prosperity. Well, I'm not sure if we ought to take these often laughable trilingual signs very seriously (as in the blog entry "Signs of Shangri-la"). At least we may have to search for their 'meaning' in something besides their wording. Did what I just said mean anything at all?

  10. ...which Shangri-la theme was also treated on Language Log.

    For all I know, the Shambhala sign remains unexplained. As in, how was that string of faux-Tibetan produced, copied and executed as a (presumably expensive) sign?

    Your post also contains a mystifying transcription, that yu'u dzi. So many questions!

    On sheep: it has been proposed (at least by Laurent Sagart) that g.yang could be a cognate of Chinese 祥 xiáng 'auspicious'. In the Chinese graph, 羊 'sheep' is a phonetic element (which of course doesn't preclude a semantic connection, or an common etymology). So that hypothesis is also arguably evoked.

    Finally, if I may be allowed a shameless plug [if not, Dan, please feel free to excise this paragraph], some Tibetan issues are central to this post. Any comments on rgya (such as any new insights on the 'dubious' connection between rgyas and Zhangzhung lkyam?) or the other topics brought up there would be much appreciated.


  11. Dear J.,

    Oh my, good gracious no. I’m not going to contribute to that maddeningly complicated discussion on rgya. I'd recommend reading and absorbing the very recent paper by Chris Beckwith on the subject. If you can excuse the loss of diacritical marks, here is the reference, although I'm sure you know of it: “The Earliest Chinese Words for 'The Chinese': The Phonology, Meaning & Origin of the Epithet Harya ~ Ârya in East Asia,” Journal Asiatique, vol. 304 no. 2 (2016), pp. 231-248. Of course in the Zhangzhung royal title Lig-mi-rgya, the rgya (or perhaps more correctly rkya) does stand for 'lord' (Tib. rje), and the whole title just means "Lord of Existence" (or, to give it in Tibetan, where it makes more sense: Srid-pa'i Rje). Okay, enough of that for now. I've often been puzzled about the rgya in Rgya-nag (China) and Rgya-gar (India), like just about everyone who has ever studied Tibetan. But I don't have arguments of my own to offer right now.

    1. PS: Here's the entry from the Zhangzhung Dictionary, which does show that rkya is a well-documented ZZ word for 'lord, king.' But do ignore the gloss "chief; respected, honored; reverend," just the ruminating of Haarh.

      RKYA (rje) lord, chief; respected, honored; reverend. ZZH. See LZ 13. Humm1 512, 514. OZZ 29, 32. (rje, rgyal) lord, king. Mdzod. Zhu. Note that Chaudangsi word for ‘king’ is hya (perhaps explaining OT spelling of the title Lig mi rhya in place of the later Lig mi rgya??). See skya. See wer zhi skya.

    2. Thanks for these comments.

      Yes, I have read Beckwith's ḥarya paper, which is quoted on the 'belly' comment thread. The Tibetan and Chinese parts of his argument depend on rgya being the result of a metathesis, and Beckwith's own reconstructions for Old Chinese.

      I didn't mean to ask for your views on where rgya 'China' comes from; my impression is that most people (not including Beckwith) agree that the matter can't be decided at the present state of scholarship. I was simply inviting any vaguely rgya-relevant comments at your discretion, which you have indeed provided.

      On the Zhangzhung side of things, I was thinking of lgyam (which I stupidly misspelt in my previous comment), which ('dubiously') could be paired with Tib. rgyas 'wide' based on one occurrence of the technical term pra lgyam dub ~ Tib. phra rgyas dug (Skt. anuśaya). This is from your Zhangzhung dictionary. There is some discussion of this issue in this paper by Guillaume Jacques, which argues that lgyam also admits another interpretation, 'increase'. For the 'wide' interpretation, he proposes possible cognates. I was wondering if you might have any new thoughts on that mysterious lgyam.


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