Yes, I know, it's not a leech. It's a centipede. Wondering why? OK, keep wondering.
In the comments section there was a discussion on the subject of metaphor no. 2 of Padampa's Root Text. I have now changed my translation, following Early Tibet's correction, to read as follows:
The leech, satiated with blood, doesn't go after meat that is in the water.
The Commentary on no. 2 reads (also changed slightly, adding the words in blue):
Leech — The worm known as the leech is found in narrow places in swamps all over Mon and India. It drinks the blood it sucks from the feet of humans. Until it has had its fill, even if you pull on it you can't remove it. Then it's exhausted, and won't even go after meat that's [been placed] in the water. Likewise when you have ceased the outflows (prapañca) of a mind that has cultivated learning, reflection and meditation, a sense of ease appears.
I believe this is a good instance of how the Tibetan commentator sometimes doesn't exactly give a straightforward interpretation of Padampa's intended meanings. In his last sentence he does at least supply what looks like it would be an essential clue. It has to do with those things that I hastily (and, I admit it, badly) translated as 'outflows,' the prapañcas (Tibetan spros-pa).
Perhaps the most popular way to English prapañca is 'conceptual diffusion,' although I don't suppose this will provoke much resonance in most people's minds. Perhaps that's why I've always been scouting for another way to render it. I once asked a good Shaivite friend in Nepal what it meant, and was surprised to hear an explanation that generally jibed with what I had largely intuited from Tibetan Buddhist sources. I don't remember his exact wording, but he told me that it's a function of the mind that ventures out into the world and pushes one thing this way, tucks another thing that way, until the 'world' (or more to the point the individual's perception of the same) better conforms to the person's mentality.
I hope no one will take my word alone for what prapañca means.*** There are basically two writings in existence that I believe cast a significant amount of light on this perplexing Indian idea as it is used in Buddhist sources. One is a 4-page essay by P. D. Premasiri,* which is limited to Pâli sources. The other is an article by Karen Lang.** She ranges over all kinds of Indian sources, including Vedic scriptures, Jain texts, and particularly Pâli scriptures and commentaries (Vedântic treatises and Madhyamaka classics surface only briefly at the end). Like the Tibetan commentator, I don't mean to force upon anyone a particular understanding of how the leech (or the things the leech does) & the prapañca might be analogous, but I imagine that if you were to read these two articles carefully some sense might just pop up like all of a sudden. I'll just hand you a couple of quotes that might hint at what it's about.
Lang nicely summarizes in her introduction the practical meditation concerns within which the term prapañca operates:
"Several Indian religious works... use the expression prapañca (Pâli papañca) to refer to the world perceived and constructed as the result of disturbed mental states. In order to calm this unquiet world, these works advocate meditative practices that staunch the flow of normal sensory experience."
Even more nicely, Lang says:
"[T]he Buddha, when asked how to realize nibbâna, responded that one must cut off the root of what is called conceptual proliferation, namely the thought "I am" and by remaining mindful control whatever internal desires he has. In this way, one achieves the goal of inner calm."
And if I may quote from the summary at the end of Premasiri's essay:
"[I]t [papañca] may be interpreted as a psychological term that signifies the internal sub-vocal chatter that goes on in the mind using the prolific conceptual constructions based on sense perception. This internal chatter feeds and is fed by unwholesome emotions such as craving, conceit and dogmatism and produces the tensions, anxieties and dogmatism that produce the tensions, anxieties and sorrows of the individual. The overt expression of this psychological condition is witnessed in the conflicts and disputes that manifest in society.**** Papañca may be understood as the psychological turmoil to which a person becomes a victim due to the lack of awareness and insight into the realities of the sensory process to which all beings constituted of a psychophysical organism are exposed."
Prapañcas are closely intertangled with conceptual thinking (vitarka, rtog-pa) — both are also intertangled with sense perceptions — but, unlike conceptual thinking, they have an apparently 'outward' interfering function (mind you, they don't really go anywhere). They are driven by irrational cravings, selfish conceit and inflexible views. They in turn result in both individual mental disturbances and social miseries, the latter particularly including conflicts with other people. Clear? Hmm. Let me give it one final shot, if you will permit me.
Narcissism as a world-distorting mechanism?
Imagine a big ball of fluffy white cotton appears right there in front of you on your desk. I'm not sure it really is cotton, or anything else for that matter, but it sure looks like it is. It just sits there and you're not sure what to do with it, but somehow it must be dealt with, so you start poking it with a finger from one side and then the other. Getting impatient with this game you take it in both hands. You do your best to stuff the whole thing inside a desk divider or it gets compacted into one big block inside your pencil box. Then you pull it out of the square or round pencil box and it seems to keep the shape of the box, but you pull at it from one side and then the other and it starts to fluff out, but you keep going until little wisps of cotton are decorating your whole room. You pull some of the wisps back together and make little balls and try to bounce them around. Perhaps you try to restore the complete ball, but this ends in frustration.
Now it's necessary to partly deconstruct the analogy. Just think to yourself that it wasn't your fingers doing all that stuff to the cotton ball. It was your mind in its usual self-cherishing (or egocentric, or narcissistic) condition. And the cotton ball was the world as you perceive it. And you're not normally the least bit aware of it, let alone in control. There you go. I tried. Now you have a mental image — perhaps a useful one, I'm not sure of it — of prapañcas. But bear in mind that I just made it up to suit myself... Doing what I do best, making a mess of things. Confabulating.
† † †
The Tibetan text of the commentary (there is only one witness, the one in the Zhijé Collection, vol. 1, p. 432) reads like this:
pad pas zhes bya ba ni / srin bu pad pas bya ba mon nam rgya gar kun na 'dam rdzab kyi gseb na yod par 'dug / / de myi'i [r]kang pa la khrag 'jib pa'i 'thung bar byed de / ma ngoms par [~bar] du then kyang myi thon pa yin par 'dug / kho rang kho dag chad pa dang chu'i nang nas [~na] sha'i phyi[r] myi 'breng gsung / de bzhin du thos bsam sgom gsum gyi[s?] blo'i spros pa chod nas dal ba'i nyams 'char ro gsung.
**Karen Lang, Meditation as a Tool for Deconstructing the Phenomenal World, contained in: Tadeusz Skorupski & Ulrich Pagel, eds., The Buddhist Forum, Volume III, 1991-1993: Papers in Honour and Appreciation of Professor David Seyfort Ruegg's Contribution to Indological, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (London 1994), pp. 143-159.
*P.D. Premasiri, Papañca, contained in: W.G. Weeraratne, ed., Encyclopedia of Buddhism, vol. 7, Fascicle 2, Government of Sri Lanka (Colombo 2004), pp. 299-303. This important reference work, decades in the making, unfortunately may be hard to locate. The most likely place is the reference section of a large research library.
****"I heard David Chase [the director] say one time that it's about people who lie to themselves, as we all do. Lying to ourselves on a daily basis and the mess it creates."
— James Gandolfini, the actor who plays Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, interviewed in Rolling Stone in March 2001. Watch this television series with care and you might see and reflect how people can be both true to [what they regard as] themselves and constantly telling lies. (Tony even exploits his sessions with his analyst in order to justify and rationalize to himself doing the [evil] things he would have done anyway, making her complicit in his criminality rather than bettering himself as a human being.) An interesting example of art as metaphor for life, for how art works, and for how art works on us. For this quote and more, look here.
***If you would like to know other ways of defining prapañca, try this short one at Wikipedia or this longer one at Buddhist Door. You might also want to try here and scroll down to part "a" of section "3."
For an introduction to the problem of the relationship between psychology and Buddhism (an essential therapy for those who think their concerns are identical written by someone with excellent background in their two cultures), see Luis O. Gómez, Psychology, contained in: Robert E. Buswell Jr., ed., Encyclopedia of Buddhism, MacMillan Reference USA (NY 2004), pp. 678-692.
If you're into comparative linguistics and you actually do give a fig about how to say 'leech' in other Tibeto-Burman languages, link this PDF article by James Matisoff, and then scroll down to page 150. You'll see that the Monpa for 'leech' is pat-pa, which is closest to the Written Tibetan form pad-pa (and I see this as evidence that the sometimes encountered WT form padma [Skt. 'lotus'] is an ignorant 'correction'... Or should I say an unnecessary correction? An incorrect correction? Umm. You know what I mean).
"The Sanskrit term prapañca has a root that connotes multiplicity, variation, etc. As it is used in Buddhist psychology and philosophy of mind, it denotes the mind’s tendency to create ideas and experiences that have nothing to do with reality, to spin out of control, to fantasize, to superimpose its own fantasies on reality. We have chosen to translate this as fabrication, which does a good job of capturing the core idea of creating a falsehood, of making things up."
phyi yi spros pa rang gi sems la bsdus ||
'khyag rom chu ru zhu'o ding ri ba ||
The conceptual elaboration of your external world is subsumed in your own mind.
Frozen blocks of ice melt into water, my Tingrians.
— Padampa Sanggyé