Tibetan Dictionaries > Blue Annals Terminology > Terms zha-za-'a-ya > gzungs

zung (gzungs) གཟུངས་

by Christopher Bell


Type 1

  • Skt. Dhāranī
  • mantra
  • magic spell
  • type of text

Type 2

  • Part of a name


  • memory
  • retention
  • recall
  • verbal formula

Zung (Skt. Dhāranī) refers primarily to Buddhist Tantra. It can be synonymous with the term mantra in meaning and use, but there are slight differences. Snellgrove defines zung as "a short mnemonic string of words, holding (the term derives from a Sanskrit root meaning 'to hold') the meaning succinctly of an intention which in normal speech would need to be much more prolix. Mantra is a more general term, comprising a vast range of ejaculations of a fixed traditional form, achieving their powerful effect within the context of a strictly controlled ritual usage" (Snellgrove 2002, p. 122). In this sense, zung is an alternative for mantra, but of a much more basic and primordial nature. The distinction is that zung are specifically mnemonic in nature and are also used as spells toward various ritual ends. Tucci defines zung as "a formula which encapsulates truth in a series of sounds" (Tucci 2000, p. 258); they are of such power that they can liberate even hell beings if heard or recited. Zung are also "magical ritual practices in which ritual formulae [are] used for protective and other purposes" (Samuel 1993, p. 392). Many zung are canonized in the Tibetan Kangyur (bka' 'gyur).

Analysis of Pattern of Usage in The Blue Annals

The primary usage of zung in The Blue Annals is in reference to various tantric texts, such as the Cintāmaṇi-dhāraṇī (tsinta ma ni'i gzungs) and the Dhāraṇī-sādhana (gzungs kyi sgrub pa). Beyond this, the word itself is found several times to be part of the names of various personages.

Citations in The Blue Annals

Roerich 1996, pp.37, 38, 107, 127, 128, 129, 132, 133, 135, 143, 161, 229, 459, 629, 633, 634, 675, 677, 911, 967, 977, 986.

Type 1

  • "In the reign of lha tho tho ri gnyan btsan the Cintāmaṇi-dhāraṇī (tsinta ma ni'i gzungs) and the spang bkong phyag rgya ma fell from Heaven." (R: 38)
  • "He (dpal 'dzin) is in great confusion as regards the description of numerous yakṣas of various localities in the Pañcarakṣā (gzungs grwa lnga. Kg. rGyud. No. 558, 559, 561, 562 and 563)." (R: 107)
  • "He also listened to the exposition of the method of the Vajravidāraṇānāma dhāraṇī and the phur pa rtsa ba without the Commentary of sgro dar seng of Lower myang." (R: 127-128)
  • "For two years he repeated the long dhāraṇī (of Vajrapāṇi)." (R: 143)
  • "He was known to have been able to master every word and meaning, and obtained the power of not forgetting all (dhāraṇī—mindfulness)." (R: 161)
  • "At Śrī Vikramaśīla he heard from the bla ma dā chen po the Cycle (chos skor) of the Great Merciful One together with the Dhāraṇī-sādhana (gzungs kyi sgrub pa)." (R: 229)
  • "In the preface (gleng gzhi) of the Dhāraṇīsvararājaparipṛccha-sūtra (gzungs kyi dbang phyug rgyal pos zhus pa'i mdo)…" (R: 459)
  • "In this country there are many epidemics. At Vajrāsana there exists a dhāraṇī of Vijaya (rnam par rgyal ma). …Having obtained the dhāraṇī, he pacified the epidemics." (R: 911)
  • After finishing his mid day meal, he recited the na rak dong sprugs (name of a rnying ma rite, well known in Sikkim), and the dhāraṇī of gza' yum (Rāhula and his śakti)." (R: 967)
  • "The 'Ā-li Kā-li' initiation should be considered to be similar to the exposition of the dhāraṇīs of 42 letters mentioned in the Prajñāparamitā-sūtra." (R: 977)

Type 2

  • "His nephew lce ston jo gzungs was a son of nyi po." (R: 128)
  • "bla ma chen po (the great teacher) yon tan gzungs was born in the year Fire-Male-Horse (me pho rta—1126 A.D.)." (R: 128-129)
  • "Since the birth of zur chung ba to the death of yon tan gzungs in the year Wood-Hare (shing yos—1195 A.D.) 182 years have passed." (R: 132)
  • "yon tan gzungs was twenty-four, in the year Earth-Female-Serpent (sa mo sbrul—1149 A.D.)." (R: 133)
  • "At the age of sixty, he met yon tan gzungs of skyil mkhar lha khang." (R: 135)
  • "Soon after the death of dam pa, when he had gone to bla ma lha khang pa, mother wang mo obtained initiation from the Great Teacher (yon tan gzungs)." (R: 135)
  • "Maṅgala guru was born in the year Iron Female Hare (lcag mo yos—1231 A.D.) as son of chos yags and zo zi gza' gzungs sgron." (R: 629)
  • "His mother's name was gzungs lcam." (R: 633)
  • "The eldest son of the three sons of the alms-giver thugs rje skyabs and mother gzungs lcam, was the Dharmasvāmin Ratnāguru." (R: 634)
  • "He learned the alphabet from jo srungs, and within a month and seventeen days mastered it." (R: 677)
  • "Of tshe dbang's three sons, rgyal ba ston gzungs lived in 'ri mo mdo of dags po." (R: 986)

There is one instance of the word that doesn't make immediate sense in any of the above contexts:
ཕྱོགས་དེ་འཇིགས་པ་ཅན་གྱི་ས་ཡིན་པས་དེ་གཟུངས་པས་སྟོད་སྨད་གཞན་དུ་ཡང་འཇིགས་པ་དང་བྲལ། (C: 792)
"This being a dangerous place, he took it over, and because of this, the other uplands and lowlands became free of danger." (R: 675)
The english translation and the context both suggest that the use of 'gzungs' here does not follow its definitions detailed above. The fact that its usage here is verbal rather than nominal is also telling. I suspect this is a misspelling, perhaps of the word 'bsrungs pa,' which means "to protect or maintain."


'Gos lo Gzhon nu dpal. 1984. deb ther sngon po. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.
Roerich, George N., trans. [1949] 1996. The Blue Annals. Parts I and II. Reprint, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.
Samuel, Geoffrey. 1993. Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Snellgrove, David. 2002. Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and Their Tibetan Successors. Boston: Shambhala.
Tucci, Giuseppe. 2000. Religions of Tibet. Samuel Geoffrey, trans. New York: Kegan Paul International.