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Distraction (Skt. vikṣepa; Tib. རྣམ་པར་གཡེང་བ་, Wyl. rnam par g.yeng ba[1]) is one of the fifty-one mental states described in Abhidharma literature. According to the Compendium of Abhidharma, it belongs to the subgroup of the twenty subsidiary destructive emotions. In this group, distraction, goes along with laziness, forgetfulness, inattention, lethargy and excitement as obstacles to meditation.


In the Khenjuk, Mipham Rinpoche says:

  • Tib. རྣམ་པར་གཡེང་བ་ནི་དུག་གསུམ་གྱི་ཆར་གཏོགས་པ་སེམས་ཡུལ་ལ་གཡོ་ཞིང་འཕྱན་ཏེ་དགེ་བའི་དམིགས་པ་ལ་རྩེ་གཅིག་ཏུ་མི་གནས་པར་བྱེད་པ་སྟེ།འདི་ལ་ཕྱི་དང་ནང་དང་མཚན་མའི་གཡེང་བ་སོགས་ཀྱི་དབྱེ་བ་ཡོད་དོ།
  • Distraction is a mind which wanders and moves to an object, which prevents one from focusing one-pointedly on a virtuous object. There are divisions such as outward distraction, inward distraction, distraction caused by desire for fame and so on. It belongs to the categories of the three poisons. (Rigpa Translations)
  • Distraction belongs to the categories of the three poisons. It is the mental motion or wandering towards an object which causes the inability to remain one-pointedly on a virtuous objective. It can be defined as distraction towards the outer, the inner, and towards status. (Erik Pema Kunsang)

Distraction in the Context of Meditation

Meditative concentration, the fifth of the six paramitas, is defined as the capacity to remain undistracted.

Vasubandhu states in his commentary on The Cloud of Jewels Sutra:

In genuine shamatha the mind is able to rest in the mind. The mind becomes so relaxed that it rests in itself, just as it is, in a natural way, undistracted by thoughts.

And Maitreya, in the Mahayanasutralankara:

Mindfulness and vigilance are what bind, since the first keeps the mind from being distracted from its object of meditation and the second recognizes the distraction itself."

Sogyal Rinpoche writes: "You could say that the essence and whole foundation of shamatha is: the state of non-distraction (ma yengpa)."[2]

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says: "The Tibetan word yeng has the connotation of being numb, engrossed, dead, unconscious, [in a] coma. [...] This happens all the time! [...] When you are thinking of something and you don't know that's what you're thinking about—that's distraction. When you are busy thinking of something, [most of the time] you are engrossed in thinking about that, you are occupied with thinking about that, and you are not aware of what you are thinking of."[3]

Alternative Translations

  • idling away


  1. Namyeng is the short for of nampar yengwa
  2. A Treasury of Dharma, aka The Mengak Study Pack (Lodève: The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2005), page 141.
  3. Edited version of an oral teaching, which can be found here: Hinamudra, part 5

Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

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