April 24, 2017

རྒྱ་ཡན་པའི་ངེས་ཚིག །

The other day, I have made some reflections on rjes thob rgya yan pa. It was not an academic article. I did not provide my sources. It may be added that the Tibetan rendering for pṛṣṭhalabdha provided by Negi is rjes la thob pa. Also Ishihama’s edition of the Mahāvyutpatti reports that all four canonical editions (PNDC) read rjes la thob pa, whereas L (Leningrad Ms.) reads rjes su thob pa. He, in fact, does not seem to record rjes las thob pa, de’i rjes las thob pa, and the like. But, I think, we can be sure that also the rendering de’i rjes las thob pa is attested (for which search in BDRC). But this is actually not what I wanted to discuss here. Actually, I wanted to speculate a little about the etymology of rgya yan pa. And this for sheer fun.

What could be the meanings of rgya and yan pa in rgya yan pa? There seem to be two shades of the meaning of rgya, namely, in the senses of space and matter. (a) In the spatial sense, it means “spatial dimension,” “spatial magnitude,” or “expanse.” (b) In the material sense, it means “color.” Here, we can rule out the second sense. Thus, rgya here seems to mean “spatial scope or range.” The German word Umfang might come pretty close to rgya. Thus rgya che ba (as a verb) means “to be expansive/vast” and rgya chen po (as an adjective) “expansive/vast.” What about yan pa? Let us consider some Tibetan words that connote certain directions: yar, mar, phar, and tshur (which have been constructed from ya, ma, pha, and tshu). Also note that we can kind of nominalize yar, mar, phar, and tshur as yan, man, phan, and tshun and thus construct words such as yan chad, man chad, phan chad, and tshun chad. These words express spatial and temporal borderline or limit. I thus propose that yan in our rgya yan pa is related with yar. But ya here from which yar and yan are derived is not the same as ya in the sense of “above” but is the same as in cha/zung and ya. To be sure, cha/zung means “pair” and ya (as in zung bzhi ya brgyad) means “scattered” or “floating” piece that has gone asunder from the pair. This interpretation is obviously supported by the two words recorded by the Tshig mdzod chen mo, namely, kha yan pa and kha yar. In both cases, the meaning kha thor ba “scattered” is given. Thus it seems that rgya yan pa means something like “scattered out in the space” and “diffused” or “dispersed into an undefined spatial range.”

April 23, 2017


After wasting much time trying to trace some notes that I have taken many years ago in the monastic seminary about something called rjes thob rgya yan pa, I gave up looking for it. My “notebook” seems to have been swallowed up by the mother earth or it has simply vanished into the thin air. It is inexplicable! Nothing can substitute physical books. But the practicability of books presupposes that one has the luxury of space and privacy, especially if one is working on a theme and wishes to refer to a dozen of them. Every time one has visitors, one has to hastily put away the books that one is just working on. But I detest to do this. I want my books to be there where I left them. But alas, it is a wishful thinking! With the ever increasing mobility of researchers, physical books are becoming ever more impractical. The same also applies to taking down notes. Notes on blogs seem to be so convenient. Had I put on my notes on rjes thob rgya yan pa in a blog article, I would have already saved some time. But back then, there were no such thing as blogs. But digital sources, though never to be trusted naively, are a wonder! 

I have told a doctoral student of mine that rjes thob rgya yan pa is an interesting and important term and that she should investigate and devote a footnote to it. But she says she did not find anything worthwhile. I tried to look up myself what I wrote in my old tattered notebook. It has disappeared. I looked for it for quite sometime and wasted a great deal of time. So I am trying to piece back together some bits and pieces of information by looking up the BDRC (previously TBRC). So to begin with, what the hell is rgya yan pa? Let us first take a look at what a common Tibetan dictionary says about it. The Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v. rgya yan) simply equates it with lhod yengs (“slackness,” “inattentiveness,” “absentmindedness”) and provides some examples. It seems to refer to what one would nowadays say in a slang, namely, “the state of being spaced-out.” But if we consider the usage nyon mongs rgya yan pargya yan pa seems to mean “rampant, reckless, unchecked, uncontrolled.” Of course, being inattentive and being reckless are related, aren’t they? 

But what about rjes thob rgya yan pa? To be sure, rjes thob (abbreviation of rjes las thob pa = pṛṣṭhalabdha), seems to be used in the sense of “post-meditative state.” The kind of (trans-phenomenal) gnosis or insight that occurs or is present after a noble awakened being (’phags pa: ārya) has gained direct cognitive access into the true reality in his or her composed or poised state of meditation (mnyam par bzhag pa or mnyam bzhag: samāhita) is called “(trans-phenomenal) insight or gnosis obtained subsequent to it (i.e. gnostic event in the samāhita state)” (de’i rjes las thob pa’i ye shes: tatpṛṣṭhalabdhaṃ jñānam). Expressions such as “meditative state” and “post-meditative state” may be misleading here because strictly speaking one who has once been in a samāhita state must be by definition a noble awakened being (’phags pa’i gang zag), that is, in the Mahāyāna case, at least one who has reached the level of the “path of seeing” (mthong ba’i lam: darśanamārga). Those of us who are soteriologically still “ordinary people” (so so’i skye bo: pṛṭhagjana) may attempt or pretend to meditate but for us, the very distinction between “meditative state” and “post-meditative state” is actually superfluous because we have never been in a samāhita state. We have actually always been in a “non-meditative state.” We have fallen into a state of deep sleep, coma, or swoon, but such a state is not a samāhita state. Those of us who try or claim to meditate without blinking our eyes or with closed eyes and who participate in scientific experiments as meditators cannot really claim that we have been in a samāhita state (presupposed by the Bodhisattva sotoeriology). A bit of śamatha meditation or so-called “mindfulness” meditation, too, has nothing to do a samāhita state. Importantly, also the state of so-called “analytical meditation” (dpyad sgom) is essentially disconnect with a samāhita state. “Analytical meditation” (dpyad sgom) is actually “analytical reflection or contemplation.” It can be a pre-meditative or post-meditative praxis, but not really meditation. We shall not go into the issue of whether there is a samāhita–post-samāhita distinction for a buddha. In short, to avoid confusion, let me use the term “post-samāhita state” for rjes thob instead of “post-meditative state.” 

Now let us return to our rjes thob rgya yan pa. If we consider various usages of the expression, we would find out that it is a kind of “spaced out post-samāhita state,” in which the non-conceptual sensorial perceptions are still functional or efficient whereas conceptions are stupefacient. The question is whether every post-samāhita state is a rjes thob rgya yan pa or it is one of the two possible types of post-samāhita state. Some rNying-ma sources use the expression zang thal dmigs med rgya yan pa, where the rgya yan pa is qualified or glossed by zang thal (“[subjectively/objectively] transparent”) and dmigs med (“free from subject/object of appropriation”). If to follow one Tibetan commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkāra, not every post-samāhita state is a rjes thob rgya yan pa. There are two kinds of post-samāhita state, namely, (a) “post-samāhita state, which is infused/suffused by [insight experienced during] the samāhita state” (mnyam bzhag gis zin pa’i rjes thob) and (b) “stupefacient post-samāhita state (rjes thob rgya yan pa), a state in which mental perception (yid shes: manovijñāna) is stupefacient (rgya yan pa) in that “objective/cognitive image [experienced] during the samāhita state has been forgotten” (mnyam bzhag gi dmigs rnam). In other words, two types of tatpṛṣṭhalabdha state have been presupposed here, namely, (a) a tatpṛṣṭhalabdha state infused by the certainty (nges shes) caused by the samāhita insight/gnosis, and (b) a tatpṛṣṭhalabdha state that is not infused by the certainty caused by the samāhita insight/gnosis. According to this explanation, the latter, rjes thob rgya yan pa, is certainly evaluated as inferior to the former. While we know that not pratyakṣa event, for several reasons, may give rise to a niścaya, no explanation seems to be given as to why certain samāhita gnostic events give rise to a niścaya in the post-samāhita state and why others do not. rDo-grub bsTan-pa’i-nyi-ma also seems to suggest that there are two kinds of noble awakened beings, namely, one with stupefacient post-samāhita state and one without it. He also seems to imply that the higher one ascends the staircase of the Bodhisattva spiritual development, the lesser does the stupefacient post-samāhita state become. This in turn seems to imply that once the manovijñāna has been transformed, there no longer remain the basis for the stupefacient post-samāhita state (i.e. perhaps at the last three, that is, eight, ninth, and tenth, bodhisattva stages).

December 22, 2016


A small word such as go ’dun can cause some problems. The Tshig mdzod chen mo (s.v.) notes that it is an old (rnying) word (i.e. archaic or obsolete). It provides four meanings: (1) “whatever desired” (gang mos) (as a noun?), (2) “various” (sna tshogs), (3) “cleansing substance (i.e. soap?)” (’dag rdzas), and (4) “gathering” (tshogs pa) or “assembly” (’du ba). The word is found in the Mahāvyutpatti (no. 6262): skad go ’dun gyi ming. Sakaki seems to have misunderstood the word go ’dun for he has rendered it into Chinese as ninety-seven (i.e. as if go bdun). Jäschke correctly understood the word where he renders it as “of different sorts” and provides sna ’dun as its equivalence (Jäschke 1881: s.v. go). Etymologically, I wonder how we should understand? Perhaps go should be understood as in the case of go skabs and go ’phang and hence something like “situation” or “occasion” and ’dun as “wish.” Thus: “as occasioned by one’s wish” and hence “various” (i.e. all that can be considered according to one’s wish)?

August 24, 2016

སྐུ་ཚབ། ཞལ་སྐྱིན།

The very purpose of this blog has been to speculate about etymologies of Tibetan words. I haven’t done this for a while. So to prevent myself from drifting away from the initial goal, I am here again, speculating. This time it is the Tibetan words zhal skyin and sku tshab. If I may recall, my concern here is not their known dictionary meanings. To begin with, I must say these are pretty elegant words. The components zhal and sku suggest that the words are honorifics. Apropos, I wonder if I have already made this claim. If not, here it is. In my view, “honorific forms” (in Tibetan) are not to be equated or confused with “polite forms” (in German, for example). Normally human beings everywhere, I would assume, would prefer “polite content” to “polite form.” This is true also in Germany. But sometimes, “polite content” remains abstract and “polite form” seems relatively concrete. That is, we can, we believe, get away by being “impolite in content” but by being “polite in form.” The difference between the two is somewhat comparable to “being correct” and “being politically correct.” In German, the use of the verb siezen (i.e. to address someone formally with a Sie = Thou) and duzen (i.e. to address someone formally with a Du = You) is a good example. Here, too, it is safer to be “formally correct” than to be “correct.” But it seems formal correctness according to any given culture is important specially if one lives in that culture. But it seems to be quite safe so long as we encounter or interact with a person (formally or informally) with a basic sense of warmth and respect. Apologies for this needless deviation. Both zhal skyin and sku tshab mean something like “worthy representative.” We could understand sku tshab as literally meaning something like a “substitute/replacement of the body [of a worthy person missing/absent].” The component skyin in the word zhal skyin is actually from the verb skyi ba (“to borrow, to take a loan”). It has been nominalized to the form skyin pa or skyin ma, and it is the “loan” or “debt” that one owes the person from whom one has borrowed (e.g. money). In other words, skyin pa or skyin ma is the “substitute” or “replacement” for what one has borrowed. Thus zhal skyin literally means something like a “substitute/replacement of the face [of a worthy person missing/absent].” I think one’s virtuous master or teacher is said to be a zhal skyin of the Buddha. Historically, it seems significant because, as my German professor has once stated, a greater part of the development of Buddhist ideas can be explained as outcomes of attempts made by the Buddhists to psychologically compensate the physical loss of the historical Buddha.

July 14, 2016

ཤོག་བུའི་ངེས་ཚིག །

Has anyone ever thought of the etymology of the Tibetan word for paper? I have a suspicion, no one and never before. But recently, like a bolt from the blue, I think I had a flash of insight! No, I do not claim to be a “treasure revealer” (gter bton/ston). The Tibetan word for paper is shog bu or shog gu, and of course, one can come across numerous disyllabic words with shog either as the first syllable (e.g. shog ser) or shog as the second syllable (e.g. bod shog). But what could be the etymology of shog bu or shog gu? First, let us put aside bu and gu, which are certainly diminutive particles. But what about shog? I think shog expresses the “rustling sound” made by the movement of dry paper. This would sound particularly sound if we consider the older Tibetan word for paper, namely, shog shog. That shog shog is an old word for shog bu has been made clear, for example, by rGyal-mo-’brug-pa in his Shog bzo’i lag len (163.7–8).