Jinlab (བྱིན་རླབས་) refers to spiritual blessings, constituted of jin (བྱིན་) meaning power, magnificence or splendor, and lab (རླབས་), meaning waves and ripples. Jinlab thus can be constructed as the ‘rippling waves of magnificence’ that emit from a sacred agent such as a person, object or event, in order to affect others. Put more colloquially, jinlab are the ‘vibes’ of a sacred person, object or event that then get transferred to others who come into contact with them. When a person is impacted by a sacred power, presence or splendour, it is said that jinlab has entered that person, and that person is blessed. In Sanskrit, the equivalent term is adhiṣṭhana, literally standing over or dwelling within something. It refers to the power or benediction residing in something or somebody.
Jinlab blessings manifest in different forms through different paths. Buddhas and spiritual masters confer them through their physical forms, verbal chants, and mental connections. Early Buddhist scriptures mention jinlab in saying the Buddha blessed or spiritually impacted people through his miraculous displays of multiple emanations and supernatural feats. The Buddha also blessed his disciples by connecting to their minds through the power of meditation, like the case of the Buddha blessing Śaripūtra to ask the question in the Heart Sūtra. However, the most important mode of jinlab from the Buddha is through his words. The Buddha teaches and instructs his followers using a wide range of teachings and skilful methods. He influences his audience through his teachings or, in other words, through the waves (རླབས་) of his powerful (བྱིན་) speech.
In tantric rituals, an object is blessed or injected with jinlab through ceremonies, rituals, prayers, meditation, mantras, and mudra gestures. In a ceremony of consecration, sacred objects such as stupas and statues and ritual implements such as a vajra, a bell, a vase, or a skull are invested with powerful waves of Buddha presence. Specific types of meditation and visualization are undertaken, mantras are chanted, and mudra gestures made in order to invest such objects with jinlab. Many religious artefacts are said to possess a great deal of jinlab thanks to the efforts of past Buddhas and masters in consecrating them.
People receive jinlab from holy objects and people in various ways. Lamas bestow blessings using their hands, a book, food and drink, strings, ritual implements, and by other means. Another common mode is dispersal of sacred medicinal pills and substances by the lamas. These sacred medicinal substances are blessed through a tantric ceremony to imbue them with efficacy so that the person consuming them makes specific gains, be they physical or spiritual. However, the most important jinlab is considered to be the spiritual benefit people receive in their minds. In a popular practice, the practitioner invokes the enlightened body, speech and mind of the Buddha (or one’s guru) so that their impurities are cleansed, their power enhanced, and their spiritual potential realized.
Jinlab becomes effective when it leaves an impact on the person. As the meaning suggests, a recipient must be touched by the ‘waves’ of power generated by the sacred source of jinlab. Merely observing a ritual, receiving a blessing, or consuming substances wherein no positive impact is made upon one’s thoughts, speech, behaviours, or mental and physical conditions is contrary to the purpose of jinlab.
Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We Do What We Do.