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).

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