The sub-title this time ought to be something like ‘Grasping at the Grasper,’ or maybe more to the point, ‘Fool Me Thrice? Shame on the Both of Us!’ Maybe the next time ought to be ‘We Both Fool Each Other? Shame on Neither of Us!’
Sorry, just joking... About that last part being a future blog title, I mean.
I hope you can remember from the latest Tibeto-logic blog the main story of The Monkey Heart, along with the additional episode of The Talking Cave (Die sprechende Höhle, for the one reader who prefers German). Both parties involved in the two stories, the monkey side and the turtle side, have their wants, hungers and emotional needs. And each side uses what seem like sensible ways to go about finding satisfaction. To show this kind of interpersonal dynamic, & not just to entertain, is surely an important motive for telling the story to begin with. You may not have noticed how I skipped the brief frame story that conveys the circumstances of its telling.
As always, the Buddha has very present circumstances that bring him to call up the stories of his, and others’, previous lives. In this case, the monkey is identified as a prior incarnation of Himself, the future Śākyamuni, while the turtle/crocodile is His cousin Devadatta. Later on I’ll refer you to a source on the elaborate tricks Devadatta tries to play on his cousin, some of them quite murderous in intent. It might be fun to one day do a close comparison between the deeds of the animals and those of the cousins and draw out parallels that may or may not have been intended, but for now I’d like to keep on track and go on to visit a mysterious third episode.
In 1957, Rodney Needham, who would later evolve into the well-known Oxford social anthropologist by the same name, published a set of eight tales from a place in the eastern Indonesian island called Sumba. They were collected for him by a local assistant named M. Maru Mahemba. Number Four of the eight is “The Crocodile and the Monkey." I won’t copy or tell over the somewhat different episodes of The Monkey Heart and The Talking Cave. I’ll just quote directly a brief third episode that is squeezed between the other two.
The next day, in the morning, the crocodile came back to the place where he had met the monkey, and saw the monkey drawing water. The crocodile drew near, disguising himself as a floating log. He stretched out slowly and seized the monkey’s paw. But the monkey did not lose his presence of mind, and immediately laughed like mad, saying, “Who has been so silly as to grab the branch of a tree, thinking it to be the paw of a monkey?" When the crocodile heard this he let go of the monkey’s paw.
As soon as he was free of the grip of the crocodile the monkey ran up a tree and called out, “Hey, friend crocodile, let us play at riddles."
“All right," said the crocodile, and the monkey pronounced his riddle. “Friend crocodile who is very stupid was tricked by a small and humble monkey, so that he let go the monkey’s paw when he had seized it."
Needham came back to examine his Kodi Fable no. 4 more closely a few years later, in 1960. He divided it into three episodes, just as we have done above. He finds that while The Monkey Heart is in all recensions of the Pañcatantra, The Talking Cave is in only a few versions, and the two episodes are never found together there as they are in the Tibetan and Kodi versions.
He turns to the Jātaka collection in Pāli language, and finds that the main narratives of The Monkey Heart are found in the Vānara Jātaka (no. 342), and in greater detail the Sumsumāra Jātaka (no. 208). The only one that includes anything close to The Talking Cave as part of its version of The Monkey Heart is the Vānarinda Jātaka (no. 57), but even then it’s a talking stone and not a talking cave, although the narrative structure is rather similar.
Needham found neither a Jātaka source nor a Pañcatantra source for The Monkey Paw episode. He locates several versions of it in insular SE Asia and in Malaysia, with slight variants. Sometimes the monkey tells the crocodile that what he’s grabbed hold of is not a monkey paw, but a piece of wood, or nothing but the root of a tree, a stick for measuring the depth of the water, and so on. Nowhere is it made explicit, but I believe we have to understand that the monkey is partly submerged in the muddy water so that the crocodile is unable to see what exactly he has bitten.
Here’s the version from Timor (see Middelkoop’s article):
Not so long after that, the crocodile took hold of the monkey’s leg; the monkey became aware of the crocodile taking hold of his leg and suddenly played the crocodile a trick, saying: “Why, dear friend! Do you think you have gripped my leg? It will be a real shame for you, because you are very stupid. You took hold of the root of a tree." The crocodile thought: “Maybe what, he tells me is right." Shortly afterwards he released the monkey’s leg. Thereafter the monkey and the crocodile lived in hostility with each other until the present day.
Needham apologizes for being too tedious, as I would, too, if I were feeling in a kinder mood, and then goes into (pp. 246-8) nine versions of The Monkey Paw collected from different parts of India. His conclusion is worth quoting: “[T]his is one of the oldest, as well as one of the commonest of Indian tales. The talking-cave motif has literary predecessors by which its age may be known : the monkey/jackal-paw motif has none, but its constant association with the former in Indian folklore suggests that it may be equally old."
So, The Monkey Paw has no datable classical Indian literary occurrences? Not so any more, or not exactly so. We do have a South Indian in southern Tibet who makes mention of it about eight centuries before the Indian and Indonesian versions were put into writing.
Can we use our understandings of the more recent versions to document the meaning of the first literary occurrence? Don’t historical developments have to flow forward in time? And our understandings as historians of culture along with them? Forward? It’s probably forbidden by all the rulebooks of philology known to the modern academy to use newer sources to document older meanings. There may be good reasons for upholding this kind of logic. But I think there are also good reasons for flexibility when it’s called for. We simply must not be so utterly married to the datable evidence of compositions and their physical manuscripts that we refuse to give weight to oral transmission. And this ought to hold in matters of folk stories as much as in the extremely rarified, secret Bön and Buddhist spiritual transmissions Tibetans describe as being ‘passed from mouth to ear’ (kha-nas snyan-du brgyud-pa, usually shortened to snyan-brgyud).
56. The turtle has gotten a monkey claw, no reason not to eat it in caustic solution.
According to my latest way of reading this gnomic saying of Padampa we’re supposed to already know the story of the turtle and the monkey with its various (2 or 3?) episodes. Evidently everybody in India knew it, but I’m not so sure if our commentary writer did. Today we can know for certain, with our folkloristic knowledge gained in the last two centuries, that the turtle never does get that monkey claw. (Or, OK, he got it momentarily, but was misled into thinking he didn't and lost it...) So the absence of the claw entails the ‘why not?’ of the instructions to wash it in something that would anyway dissolve it away before he could get a chance to eat it. The words ‘no reason not to eat’ could also be translated, more literally, ‘no contradiction in eating.’
No reason why I shouldn’t end here... but one thing more.
The combination of elements in Padampa’s metaphor and in the folk story are just too similar to be accidental. Still, if you are the skeptical type, as we all tend to be in one area or another, you might ask, ‘How can you be so sure that Padampa knew The Monkey & Turtle story?’ Well, I can’t be entirely sure. But I did notice something that might be suggestive. This passage from a text translated by — and possibly also revealed to — Padampa that is included in the Tanjur entitled The Dakini’s Soft Song, mentions a ‘monkey[s] without a heart,’ which does appear to allude to The Monkey Heart episode. In any case, it’s very much about desire, which plays a very central role in my reading of Padampa’s animal metaphor 56. It is section 9 of the text according to my own added numbering:
’dod-pa dug-gi sdong-po-la //
spang blang gnyis-kyi yan-lag gyes //
zhen-pa’i lo-mdab phyogs bcur rgyas //
rtsol-sgrub-kyi me-tog mkha’-la ’phur //
sdug-bsngal-gyi ’bras-bu thur-la brul //
snying-med-kyi spre’u bsgrubs-kyi za //
’khor-ba’i nags-su ’chi nyen yod //
yan-lag : C yal-ga; T yas-ga. lo-mdab : CT lo-’dab. rtsol-sgrub-kyi : C rtsol-bsgrub-kyi. sdug-bsngal-gyi : T sdug-bsngal-gyis. thur-la : C thang-la. spre’u : C spri’u. ’chi : ’ching.
From the trunk of the poison tree named desire
two limbs fork out called acceptance and rejection
and from them leaves of addiction grow in every direction.
The flowers known as striving and toil fly up toward the sky
while the fruits we call suffering hang down heavily.
The no-heart monkey[s], whose prasad food offerings [these fruits are],*
lies next to death’s door in the forest of sangsara.
*(Snying-po med-pa is probably meant in the positive philosophical sense of being without essence, as all things are in Buddhism’s non-essentialist philosophies. But this is no proof that The Monkey Heart isn’t also alluded to here. It is entirely possible that in Padampa’s use of the story, he reads the significance of the ‘heart’ that the monkey may or may not have in the very same philosophical light. My understanding of bsgrubs-kyi za as ‘prasad food offerings’ is based on reverse translation into Sanskrit, and is anyway provisional... I didn't know what else to do with this phrase... Do you?)
sna-tshogs zhen-med-kyi skyes-bu-yis //
gdang ’gyur-ba med-pa’i mtshon thogs-te //
’dod-pa’i sdong-po rmang-nas bsgyel //
dug lnga’i ’bras-bu sngo bskams byer //
dug ’chi-byed-kyi nus-pa zad-par gyis //
khyod zhe-’dod spongs-shig rnal-’byor-pa //
gdang : C rdeng; T gdong. bsgyel : C dgyel. bskams : C skams. byer : CT khyer. spongs-shig : C spongs-gcig.
The persons who are not addicted to the myriad things
wield as their unchanging weapon confidence,*
razing the tree trunk of desire from its very foundations.
The green fruits of the five poisons they dry up and split open.
They make the poison exhaust its death-dealing force.
You must give up desirous inclinations, my yogis.
(*I chose none of the 3 varying readings and settled on gdengs, ‘confidence.’ I don’t have very much confidence in my choice, and my best argument for it is just that it fits better than the alternatives. There are traditional lists of confidences, and in one known to the early Zhijé school, they are the three confidences of view, meditation and action.)
|(Poison fruits and their reflections, |
both apparently there for the grasping)
Dakinis’ Soft Song. This is Ḍākinī-tanu-gīti (Mkha’ ’gro ma’i ’jam glu; or, ’Byam glu). Tôhoku catalog no. 2451. Dergé Tanjur, vol. ZI, folios 88‑90. Although the colophon isn’t very informative, we do know that it is part of a collection of works Padampa redacted and/or translated. And we do find it in the Zhijé Collection, vol. 1, pp. 359-367, where the Sanskrit is given in a Tibskrit version as: Dha ki ni ta la ghi ta na ma. I’m not sure of the significance of the title, where the word for ‘soft, gentle’ might just point to the metre used in its composition. If we read tāla instead of tanu, perhaps it has something to do with clapping, or dancing that includes clapping. Maybe a real Indo-logical person would like to weigh in on this?
P. Middelkoop, A Timorese Myth and Three Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 115, no. 2 (1959), pp. 157-175. The quote is from the final page. The home page of the BTLV journal is here, and you might be able to download the PDFs for this and the two Needham articles there. Give it a try.
Rodney Needham (1923-2006), Kodi Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 113, no. 4 (1957), pp. 361-379.
Rodney Needham, Jātaka, Pañcatantra, and Kodi Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 116, no. 2 (1960), pp. 232-262.
I mainly know Rodney Needham for something he wrote much later, in 1963 — his brilliantly subversive preface to his own translation into English of Primitive Classification (first published in French in 1903 as a journal article, De quelques formes primitives de classification) by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) & Marcel Mauss (1872-1950), in which he, Needham, completely pulls the rug out from under their main ideas, especially the idea that human thought itself, including its classifications, came into existence because of archaic social divisions (a crucial point for those who want to believe in the primacy of ‘the social’ and hence the primacy of socio-logical ideas in general... the same people who want to think of society as sui generis, a fancy legalistic-sounding claim that it, society, is the source of all causation and is not itself a product of causes outside itself... Nowadays even some sociologists would view this as ‘essentialism,’ which for Buddhists, also, is not a good thing... Among Buddhists, the absence of essence is what they are talking about when they do at times use words that mean ‘essence’...). One reviewer called R.N.’s preface “devastating, essentially ruthless, and to some extent bewildering and intellectually arrogant.” (Harry Alpert, who had already made a career of his Durkheimianism) Mind you, that’s the same preface I admire and call ‘brilliant.’ Where I see divine nectar in the Gangga, H.A. saw a river flowing with blood and pus. Interesting... Where do we go with that?
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Look online (as if you weren’t already) —
If you want to read the text or hear the audio recording of the Korean
Monkey Rabbit version (in English) try here.
For a mapping of the distribution of type 91 folktales, look here.
There was a recent news release telling how modern scientists have discovered that at least one kind of animal behavior as recounted in old fables (in this case Aesop’s) might be observable nowadays and (therefore?) true. Look here.
Look at this photo by Samrat of a stone carving from a 6th-century Indian temple in Sirpur and compare it to the Borobudur frieze linked in the last Tibeto-logic blog.
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Interested a little in knowing Buddha’s relatives? Siddhārtha - དོན་གྲུབ་, the young man who came to be called the Buddha after His Awakening, had a brother named Nanda, and a cousin named Ānanda.* Cousin Ānanda (son of Amṛtodana; in Tibetan Dütsizé or Bdud-rtsi-zas - བདུད་རྩི་ཟས་) was Siddhārtha’s most devoted follower and the one who best memorized the words of the Teacher. The other cousin of the Buddha was Devadatta (also son of Amṛtodana), the polar opposite. Devadatta (Tib. Lhejin, Lhas-sbyin - ལྷས་སྦྱིན་,‘God[s]-Given’) tried several times to kill the Buddha, rolling boulders on top of him, sending raging bull elephants in his direction and, failing at these attempts, decided he would found his own counter-order with extra-added monastic rules that would justify his own followers’ claim to be more pure than the Buddha’s. There are some stories that in the end Devadatta was swallowed up by the ground and went straight to hell. Yet other stories have him eventually, against all the odds, brought on board by the Buddha, and placed on the Path to Enlightenment. For a little more background you can try this webpage, or the wiki, or whatever else might turn up from a schmoogle search. I could give you a bibliography of more technical publications in some rather obscure journals, but would you hunt them down and read them? Didn’t think so.
*(They should not be confused, although it’s true it’s been done... Nanda is Gawo [Dga’-bo - དགའ་བོ་] in Tibetan, while Ānanda is Künga [Kun-dga’ - ཀུན་དགའ་]... This last name, Künga, is also the name of Padampa’s most devoted follower and the one who best memorized the words of his teacher...)
. . .
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.
-Wm. Blake, A Poison Tree
(click on photo to enlarge)