The term gShen

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kalden yungdrung
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The term gShen

Post by kalden yungdrung » Thu Aug 30, 2018 11:22 am

Tashi delek,

Below, a nice interpretation about the term / word gShen used in Bön.
Buddha Tönpa gShen Rab Miwoche, this contains also the word gShen and it is sometimes also interpreted as he would be the "first gShen (Priest)", which is related to "Shamanism".


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By Siegbert Hummel.

The term gShen, indicating in Tibetan a specific category of Bön priests, has often been the subject of tentative interpretations.

In ye-gshen, the ye only has an emphatic value; according to the Bön tradition this applies then to higher, divine gshen. The most satisfactory explanation so far seemed to be the one put forward by H. Hoffmann seeing in gshen an old Tibetan word for "shaman", even though he recognised that this interpretation does not satisfy the totality of cases. F. W. Thomas and J. V. Manen interpreted it as a derivative of shan (old Tib. shen= butcher).

On the other hand, A. H. Francke realised that the gshen, based on their activity as described in the gZer-myig, might be saviours or teachers

Most of the Nine Ways (Tib.: theg-pa), the practices that a Bon-po has to go through to reach his state of perfection, are qualified by gshen, for instance snang-gshen (the method of exorcism) or srid-gshen (the teachings about the afterdeath state in the bar-do). As in these cases, the use of gShen in gShen-sras (buddhist: dgra-bcom-pa=arhat) for the Bön deity gShen-Lha-' od-dkar in Sambhogakaya is not to be explained in a shamanistic sense.

This interpretation remains dubious mainly for the understanding of the name of the semi-legendary organiser of the Bön religion, gShen-rab-mi-bo, whose biography also does not indicate being a practising shaman, even if shamanism played a considerable role in the old Bön.
On the other hand, we know from the language of ZhangZhung, the old stronghold of the Bön religion, that the term shen (shin) is equivalent to Tibetan (rnam-) shes and shes-pa, particularly as "to know" but also with the meaning of "soul".The dropping of prefixes, like the gin gshen, is not unusual in Zhang-Zhung. According to dGe-bshes Chos-kyi-grags-pa,

Tibetan rnam-shes is rendered in Chinese as (shen-shih), and shen in Chinese, like the shen in Zhang Zhung, also means "soul ", including its derivatives as "to recognise" and "to know". I have often indicated the correlation of the Zhang Zhung language with the old Chinese and with the languages of Si-Hia and Mi-Nyag. On the basis of our current knowledge, the term gshen becomes meaningful in all the above mentioned occurrences with the help of the Zhang-Zhung language.

The fact that the 5 gshen emanated from gShen-rab-mi-bo are also called ye-shes-kyitha, viz. "divinities of knowledge or wisdom" is in line with the definition of gshen we have found.

Turning to the meaning of gShen-rab-mi-bo in particular, we should again refer to Zhang-Zhung, where the syllable ra or rab equals the Tibetan rgya(s). As I could show in my studies on the interpretation of the Zhang-Zhung language, the classical language of the Bön-po , its lexicon provides valuable help towards the understanding of many supposed Tibetan terms from the sphere of the Bön Religion. For instance, there is a Dang-ra in the Tibetan lake region, where ra(b) corresponds to Tib. rgya and dang (Chin.: tang) to Tib. mtsho

Accordingly, a meaningful interpretation of gShen-rab is then Shesrgya or Shes-rab. The West-Tibetan region of Mar-yul offers another example of how useful the Zhang-Zhung lexicon can be.

In Zhang-Zhung, mar is the Tibetan gser. We are therefore dealing with Suvarnagotra (Suvarnabhumi), the Chinese Si-li. Si is the Tibetan gser (Zhang-Zhung: mar) and Ii the Zhang-Zhung word rig (=Tib.: yul).

The mixture of Zhang-Zhung and Tibetan, also as in Shes-rab, was by no means unusual well into the 8th century A.D., when Zhang Zhung was still a lingua franca. Even many of the names of the old Tibetan kings only acquire a meaning with the help of Zhang-Zhung if, for instance, khri (Zhang-Zhung) equals Tib. Sems and mu (dmu,rmu) in Mu-khri the celestial region (Tib.: nam-mkha,)
We know that Gri-gum-btsan-po was avenged by one of his sons, Bya-khri. Gri-gum's sons Bya-khri (birds), Shakhri (carnal beings, mammals) and Nya-khri (fish) correspond to the three regions of the Bon cosmology, stang-tha, bar-btsan and gyog-klu. Finally, we should also mention here the first mythological king of Tibet, gNya' -khri-btsan-po known as a sa-bdag according to A.H. Francke6. gNya' -khri could be a late aetiological spelling for Nya-khri.

The usual translation of khri as "chair" or "throne" does not seem convincing.

We can therefore state that gshen, also in gShen-rab-mi-bo, cannot possibly be an old Tibetan word for "shaman" which has then undergone certain mutations of meaning in the organised Bön. On the contrary, the term comes from Zhang-Zhung, the classical language of the Tibetan Bön religion, and corresponds to Tibetan (rnam-) shes or shes-pa in its different applications.

With this interpretation, also two statements about gShenrab-mi-bo which H. Hoffmann (l.e., p.348 ff.) quotes from the gZermyig acquire a new meaning in keeping with the concepts of the Bön religion. He is described as "gshen-rab-cig-gda" (I 27 a4), which Hoffmann translates as "he is an excellent gShen".

With the help of Zhang-Zhung however, "he is a Shes-rab", a frequently used appellation in the Bön religion for important spiritual personalities among whom he is the highest In Ii 282 b3 it is said that gShen-rab-mi-bo dwells after his death in "gshen-grub-pa'i-dbyings ", which Hoffmann translates "in the sphere (dbyings) of the perfect gShen". Our reading "(he dwells) in the ye-shes-kyi-dbyings" i.e. in the sphere of Sambhogakaya is also supported by a note in the "Lexicon of archaic terms" (I.e.) according to which gShen-rab-mi-bo is a gshen-rab-sems-dpa', that is a Dhyani-bodhisattva (ye-shes-sems-dpa'y9· We have therefore obtained the following equivalents: gshen = shes (-pa) and ye-gshen or gshen-rab = ye-shes or shes-rab (rgya).
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