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.”


  1. Dear D, My understanding is this: the usual metaphors that employ the rgya-yan word are [1] boats or other flotation devices that are free of their moorings and [2] animals that are free of their tethering ropes and stakes. Then you find it used for slaves (bran) and cattle (phyugs) that are allowed to go off on their own power without being impeded (by fences or whatever). So when a texts uses it when speaking of other matters, my thoughts tend to go in the same direction. I don't feel "spacey" does the trick. Freed slaves are not at all spacey, or even if they are, that is surely not the point. But then again, if it's in the area of thoughts and feelings, maybe spacey does work. I can't quite pin it down. It's about time you made a comeback, so thanks for the thought food. I've been missing it severely. Yours, D.

  2. I just went looking and found this example from the 1240's Zhijé Collection manuscript: 'khams pa cig la khyod kyi yul na g.yag yan pa yod dam myed gsung gi gda'. He asked a Khams pa, Do you have wild [free ranging] yaks in your country or not? Zhi-byed Coll. III 27.5. I think the yan is just a shortened form of yan-pa and that it means free-ranging (or in more ordinary English, simply 'free,' although 'freedom' is a very loaded term with its own special definitional problems, which is why I try to avoid it here). I think it takes a wrong direction to force it to connect with ya, yar & so forth. Not that I'm completely sure of it, I need to see more examples. But the rgya is not just a word for 'trap', but for any kind of confinement. If you drop the rgya from rgya-yan-pa, it seems to still carry the same meaning.