Monday, September 19, 2011

If All the Land Were Paper...

Nicholas Roerich's Книга мудрости — Book of Wisdom

...and all the ocean ink.

I was amazed to discover for myself recently some older works of literature that weigh in on an interesting turn of phrase — an extended metaphor — used in the 12th century by the Tibetan Kagyü teacher Phagmodrupa. I translated it and published it once or twice some years ago.  It goes like this, following my old translation:
“The learned scholars cut away the veils [of words] with words

and establish the objects of knowing... 
Make forests into pens, oceans into ink,
land into paper, and still there would be no
end to their writing. 
Yogins do not establish external objectivities;
they establish the mind. 
The mind established, its objects establish themselves.”
The search got underway in earnest when I read the following passage (put in lines of blank verse by myself) from Howard Schwartz's book Tree of Souls. The quote is quoted from a work called Akdamut Piyyut by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzhak Nehorai, composed in Worms, Germany in ca. 1100:

“If all the heavens were parchment,
if all the trees were pens,
if all the seas were ink, and
if every creature were a scribe,
they would not suffice to expound
the greatness of God.”


Or here is a rhyming and perhaps therefore more poetic version I found in a PDF on the internet (the original is in Aramaic). The English is said to be, in part at least, by Frederick M. Lehman*:

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
(*Linn, p. 960, and Köhler before him, attribute the identical verses to Isaac Watts [1674-1748], an inveterate rhymester, and very probably the most famous English-language Protestant Christian hymn writer of all time. I don’t have the wherewithal to solve this authorship problem at the moment. For all I know the story that Lehman copied it, or most of it, from a copy made from the wall of a mental institution after the death of the inmate who wrote it could be true.  Look here — a sectarian Christian message is to be expected — and go on wondering.  Or look on p. 57 of this PDF of an old 1876 book about hymn history, where it says that the lines, all eight of them, were by a “partially insane” person “at Cirencester, in 1779.”  Nothing about any writing on the wall here.)
It’s possible the saying goes back quite far in Jewish tradition (more on Islamic tradition in a moment), even as far back as the 1st century CE, with a quote I’ve taken from a book by Jacob Neusner, A Life of Yohanan Ben Zakkai (p. 46):


“If all the heavens were parchment, and all the trees pens,
and all the oceans ink, they would not suffice to write down
the wisdom which I have learned from my masters,
and I took away from them no more
than a fly takes from the sea when it bathes.”

So, too, says Neusner, his student Eliezer ben Hyrcanus said:

“If all the seas were ink, and all the reeds pens,
and all men scribes, they could not write down
all the Scripture and Mishnah I studied,
nor what I learned from the sages in the academy.
Yet I carried away from my teachers no more than does
a man who dips his finger in the sea,
and I gave away to my disciples no more than
a paintbrush takes from the tube.”

Neusner gives as one of the sources an article by Irving Linn very appropriately entitled, “If all the sky were parchment.” Linn consciously followed, and paid homage to, the earlier research of Reinhold Köhler, “Und wenn der Himmel wär Papier” Both of these works have been graciously made available on the internet.

The same complex imagery is used in al-Qur'an. Here below you can see it inscribed in Arabic on a stone inkpot. The words are from the Chapter of the Cave, verse 109:

10th Century Iran, from the Nasser D. Khalili Collection


“If the ocean were ink
(wherewith to write out)
The words of my Lord,
Sooner would the ocean be
Exhausted than would the words
Of my Lord, even if we
Added another ocean
Like it, for its aid.”


By now you’re probably convinced that the 12th-century Phagmodrupa must have heard it from Arab or Jewish immigrants or merchants in Central Asia, somewhere on the opposite banks of the Sambatyon. I rather somewhat doubt it, to tell the unvarnished truth.

Linn says that the earliest appearance in Hebrew was in the first half-century of the first millennium CE in the sayings of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, founder of the academy at Jabneh. Things become a little murkier when you see Linn go on to say (on p. 954) that the Rabbi “introduces the mention of pens, and that these pens are made from trees,” a feature, he says, not found in the Indian examples...  Uh, oh! Then where do those pens come from? How, then, did they get to Tibet?

What Indian examples? you are probably thinking.

Linn — and Köhler (due to information supplied to him by Theodor Benfey) before him — found old Indian sources in stories about Krishna, in the Atthāna Jātaka (Jātaka of the Impossibilities), and in the Vāsavadattā by Subandhu. In the Krishna legend, the writing material is the earth, but in Subandhu’s poetic work, it’s the sky. And it’s true, at least in the versions I’ve seen so far, that the Indian sources don’t seem to do anything about the pens being made from trees, as we find in Jewish sources, in one of the two Quranic sources (chapter 31, verse 27) and in Phagmodrupa. Both Linn and Köhler seem to think that the image is of Indian origins, brought to Europe by the wandering Jews who, due to their wanderings, are the most likely intermediaries. At the moment, it’s my own mind that’s doing the wandering.

Anyway, it isn’t my job to solve all your puzzles for you, so if you’d kindly go off and try to solve this “Who dunnit first” mystery, I’ll be happy to listen to every theory you may care to come up with.  Meanwhile, if you need me, I’ll be off at work on an upcoming blog about the Aristotelean categories, another clearly apparent case of still-underdemonstrated interdependence between far-flung corners of Eurasia. I hope you’ll be glad to hear that. I have my doubts.

- - -

Reinhold Köhler, “Und wenn der Himmel wär Papier,” contained in:  Kleinere Schriften (Berlin 1900), vol. 3, pp. 293-318. This was reprinted from Orient und Occident, vol. 2 (1863), pp. 546-559.

Irving Linn, “If All the Sky were Parchment,” Publication of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), vol. 52, no. 4 (Dec. 1938), pp. 951-970. 

D. Martin, “A Twelfth-Century Tibetan Classic of Mahāmudrā, The Path of Ultimate Profundity: The Great Seal Instructions of Zhang,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, vol. 15, no. 2 (1992), pp. 243-319, at p. 249, where the quote is found. The Tibetan text of it is in 'Jig-rten-mgon-po, Works, vol. 4, p. 404 (the earlier reference to p. 408 was mistaken).  

- - -


Quiz:  Which major religions have been involved in the telling of this story?  Let's see... Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism...  Did I forget any?















- - -


Here's how the Tibetan reads, first in Wylie transliteration, and secondly, if all goes well, in unicode Tibetan script:


de yang mkhas pa paṇḍi ta rnams tshig gis bdar sha bcad nas //
shes pa'i yul 'di rnams gtan la 'bebs pa yin te // ... ...


rtsi shing nags tshal la smyug gu byas //
rgya mtsho chen po snag tshar byas //
sa chen po la shog bur byas shing bris kyang mi zad pa yin gsung //
rnal 'byor pa ku sa li ni //
phyi rol gyi yul gtan la mi 'bebs te //
yul sna tshogs rnams kyang rang gi sems kyi rnam 'phrul yin //
sems gtan la 'bebs pa yin //
sems gtan la phebs na yul gtan la rang phebs su 'ong ste /





















དེ་ཡང་མཁས་པ་པཎྜི་ཏ་རྣམས་ཚིག་གིས་བདར་ཤ་བཅད་ནས།། ཤེས་པའི་ཡུལ་འདི་རྣམས་གཏན་ལ་འབེབས་པ་ཡིན་ཏེ།།  ... ...
རྩི་ཤིང་ནགས་ཚལ་ལ་སྨྱུག་གུ་བྱས།། རྒྱ་མཚོ་ཆེན་པོ་སྣག་ཚར་བྱས།། ས་ཆེན་པོ་ལ་ཤོག་བུར་བྱས་ཤིང་བྲིས་ཀྱང་མི་ཟད་པ་ཡིན་གསུང་།། རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་ཀུ་ས་ལི་ནི།། ཕྱི་རོལ་གྱི་ཡུལ་གཏན་ལ་མི་འབེབས་ཏེ།། ཡུལ་སྣ་ཚོགས་རྣམས་ཀྱང་རང་གི་སེམས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་འཕྲུལ་ཡིན།། སེམས་གཏན་ལ་འབེབས་པ་ཡིན།། སེམས་གཏན་ལ་ཕེབས་ན་ཡུལ་གཏན་ལ་རང་ཕེབས་སུ་འོང་སྟེ།

I had a huge jolt of déjà vu the first time I set eyes on this painting by Nicholas Roerich (a friend sent it to me as a postcard), since I had already seen something very much like it in a dream of my earliest childhood. Only the giant book of my dream was more like floating in space than located anywhere. And the point of it seemed to be that it was written in an alphabet that I didn’t understand, or even recognize... at least not yet. Roerich, with his wife Helena, was co-founder in 1920 of something called Agni Yoga.


Nicholas Roerich's, Book of Doves

On the Book of the Doves, look at this video 

featuring Armenologist James Russell

"A great book fell from heaven..."








“It is He Who has sent down on you this (glorious) Book.”

— al-Qur'an, book 3, verse 7. 



KEEP reading in THE COMMENTS!


28 comments:

  1. seems well enough written to me, Dan, my only possible addition being that - of course - the early Greeks and Phonecians were wide ramblers too... in fact, we'd probably find *all* 'peoples' were!

    .-_-.

    ah! the infinity of what we don't know!

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  2. Somehow I think the imagery came to the Tibetans via Islamic texts...but its so familiar, I must have heard it somewhere myself.

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  3. Hi Dan,

    It's lovely to start the morning with a light subject like the one you brought up. The way images and ideas travel from one culture to another has always fascinated me and if there weren't any travelers involved, it would fascinate me even more.

    The various quotes you presented reminded me of a passage in one of Milarepa's songs during his meeting with Dampa (thong la'i skor). It's not the same image, but it is somehow related.

    snang ba dkar dmar gyi shog bu la//
    rig pa sems kyis yi ge bris//
    gnyis su med par lta rtog byed//

    "On the sheet of all the divers appearances
    Intelligence writes its letters through the mind
    In their non-duality the view is accessed"
    Or somesuch...

    No pens and ink. But Phagmodrupa's last verses would make an almost seamless addition:

    "Yogins do not establish external objectivities;
    they establish the mind.
    The mind established, its objects establish themselves.”

    Who knows (15-16th century) Gtsang smyon Heruka had been influenced by Phagmodrupa's lines?

    Joy

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  4. very interesting... i very much relate to this post for the reasons in my own post here:

    http://inkessential.blogspot.com/2009/04/homage-to-manjushri.html

    My sister used to sing me a similar rhyme, which i understand come from my Grandmother, though somewhat less in its meaning, i wonder if this rhyme has its origins in the Jewish tradition?


    "if all the world was paper and all the sea was ink and all the trees were bread and cheese, What would we have to drink?"

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  5. Perhaps it has already been mentioned by R. Köhler, I. Linn, or D. Martin, a Buddhist reference is also found in the extant Chinese translation of Ekottara Agama (36.3). Iona and Peter Opie discussed the rhyme in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, which I have transcribed in my previous post (http://mondain.sodramatic.net/archives/175).

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  6. Some start the nursery rhyme, "If all the world were apple pie..." This version makes it all so gluttonous (not to mention glutinous). Linn's article has it on his p. 952, where he calls it "a popular rime still current":

    "If all the world were apple pie,
    And all the sea were ink,
    And all the trees were bread and cheese,
    What should we have to drink?"

    I have another new version for Cloudhand:

    If all the world were a total vacuum,
    and all the seas were empty,
    and all the trees were void and nill,
    it would still amount to more than what we know.

    And finally (for now), in answer to the question "What would we have to drink?" I think it's simple. A nice glass of Gewurtzräminer. If it's in season, natürlich.

    Thanks, good friends, for writing.

    Your
    D

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  7. "If all the trees in all the woods were men,
    And each and every blade of grass a pen;
    If every leaf on every shrub and tree
    Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
    Were changed to ink, and all the earth's living tribes
    Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
    And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
    The human race should write, and write and write,
    Till all the pens and paper were used up,
    And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
    Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink
    Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink."

    From Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809–1894), Cacoethes Scribendi, as found in Linn's article, pp. 965-966.

    Couldn't resist putting this up. Perhaps it takes the cluster of metaphors into a consumerist (or ecological?) direction? You can find it here:

    http://www.bartleby.com/248/259.html

    among other places.

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  8. Dear Mondaine,

    After reading what Iona & Peter wrote, I feel I need never have blogged on this topic at all. Thanks for that link! It seems clear from your blog that the nursery rhyme, rather than being a product of the folk, is probably a composition published in 1641, in Witt’s Recreations. The other verses are equally entertaining.

    In answer to that first question, R. Köhler, I. Linn, and D. Martin never mentioned the Ekottara to the best of my knowledge.

    Thanks for writing, you've certainly added a lot to the discussion.

    Yours,
    D

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  9. Dear Mondain,

    Sorry I misspelled your name.

    THIS is the link to your blog page, just to save other people the effort of cutting and pasting. I think it's well worth more than just a look for those who find this discussion even the least bit interesting.

    Your,
    D

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  10. Dear everybody,

    Since Mondain mentioned the scripture Ekottara (which doesn't exist in Tibetan, although known by a Tibetan version of its title here and there: Gcig las 'phros pa'i lung), it gave me an idea.

    I just tried an interesting experiment by going to the Vienna site that featured in a recent Tibeto-logic blog, and searching for snag-tsha, the word for 'ink' together with the word for 'ocean' (rgya-mtsho). This double-search function is supported for the Kanjur, but not, for some reason or another, for the Tanjur. Anyway, the Kanjur texts of the sūtras etc. are the most extraordinarily interesting ones. What should I find but marvelous examples of our extended metaphor in two sūtra texts that may be regarded as 5th and 8th century (more or less; don't quote me on this) by the Buddhological scholars, meaning the [1] Avatamsaka and [2] Karaṇḍavyūha Sūtras. Without doing a careful or complete or even thoughtful job, let me paste in the passages. Here's the first from the Avatamsaka:

    de ltar bzung ba de la'ang bri na ni snag tsha rgya mtsho chen po'i phung po tsam dang /_smyi gu'i phung po ri rab ri'i rgyal po tsam zad par gyur kyang chos kyi rnam grangs [[331b.3]] de las le'u re re dang sgo re re dang chos kyi tshul re re dang chos kyi tshig rnam par phye ba re re las kyang zad pa 'am/_'grib pa 'am/_'byang ba 'am/_mthar thug pa'am/_mtha' zad par 'gyur ba dmigs par mi rung ngo /_/

    To give a bit of rough information from this, it's saying that in order to write out the things just mentioned, it would take an ocean of ink and a mound of pens about as high as the King of Mountains Meru.

    The next example from the Karaṇḍavyūha is even more remarkable (there are actually two good examples to be found in it, but I give only one):

    rigs kyi bu 'di lta ste / dper na ri rab lhun po dpag tshad [213a.2] brgyad khri bzhi stong 'og tu nub pa dang / 'phang gi srid du dpag tshad brgyad khri bzhi stong yod pa de ni rigs kyi du gro ga'i phung por gyur la / rgya mtsho mching rnam chen po ni snag tshas yongs su gang bar gyur/ gling bzhi na gnas pa'i skyes pa dang / bud med dang / khye'u dang / bu mo de dag thams cad ni yi ger bar gyur te/ ri rab lhun po dang mnyam pa mtha' yas mu med pa de yi ger bris kyang rigs kyi bu yi ge de re re nas ngas bgrang nus kyi/ rigs kyi bu bsod snyoms kyi bsod nams kyi phung po de ni bgrang mi nus so/ /rigs kyi bu 'di lta ste/ dper na yi ge pa de dag thams cad byang chub sems dpa' sa bcu la gnas par gyur na/ gang byang chub sems dpa' sa bcu la gnas pa rnams kyi...

    For example, Mount Meru [the cosmic pole mountain; measurements given] were to be turned into a pile of birchbark [writing material] ... If the depths of the ocean were entirely filled with ink, and all the men, women, boys and girls who live in the four continents were to become scribes (yi-ge-pa is taken from the internal parallel text),and the unlimited amount, equal to Mount Meru were to be written down by them in letters, then O Son of the Family, it wouldn't suffice to write out all the merits that result from almsgiving...

    I don't put quote marks, since I'm guilty of hastily paraphrasing here. Of course there are more locatable passages, so if it please you, be my guests and go to work.

    At the moment I think the most remarkable thing about this Indian Buddhist example is that it makes all the humans of the world into scribes. This reminds us most strongly of the early Jewish examples, wouldn't you say?

    Help me out here. Is this leading us anywhere of interest?

    Your
    D

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  11. Dear Dan,

    Thanks for your effort in following this up.

    'Mount Meru [...] turned into a pile of birchbark' and 'all the humans of the world into scribes' in the Karaṇḍavyūha seem similar to the wording in Ekottara, where the plants in Jambudvipa were turned into pens.

    mondain

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  12. Dear D,

    I've been musing on this post for a while, and it occurs to me that one interesting aspect of these verses, in all the cultures in which they appear, is that they assume a general knowledge of the activity of manuscript creation. An extended metaphor like this could only have been dreamt up in a culture in which literacy was already widespread. So the texts containing these metaphors must have been born in a literate environment (which we know was not the case for early Buddhist scripture). And presumably, the metaphor would only be adopted by other cultures well versed in manuscript production. Interesting then that when the metaphor entered the oral world of nursery and playground rhymes, it lost its literary character almost completely!

    S.

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  13. Hi S!

    Why, I've been musing, too. Or should I say finding amusement? It's interesting to observe how different cultures tell us about their different writing technologies. The birchbark of the Buddhist sûtras even makes you want to place their composition in the Kashmir region where it was most used (although I understand its usage is also known in early Tibet). Some mention reeds as penmaking materials. Others mention quills.

    It's curious, too, to consider that the "Book of Doves" mentioned at the end, even while a huge book figures very largely in the story, is orally transmitted (and not until recently written).

    Could we update the metaphor to cover computers and keyboards? (I'm not usually in favor of metaphor updating, and definitely opposed to those who want to make it a requirement.) Make all the ocean into inkjet cartridges? Make all the flowers into daisy-wheel printers? No, really, sometimes old ways work best.

    And of course you're right. The nursery rhymes seem to make a mockery of it with their apple pies and such. Perhaps it's an intentional backlash. "No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks" was borrowed by Pink Floyd from the oral tradition, wasn't it?

    Well, better go do some serious writing. Nice chatting.

    Yours,
    D

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  14. Sorry, guys. I guess you know I must have meant Alice Cooper, not Pink Floyd (or rather both... both being borrowers from the same pooled resources).

    -D

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  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  16. Dear Anon,

    Oh, my! I think you translated that very nicely. If it were up to me, which it isn't, I would give you one of those 84,000 translation grants they've been talking about.

    By the way, what sutra passage is this translated from?

    Thanks for writing. And for translating.

    Yours,
    D

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  17. I wonder why the Tathagata would want a grain of sand in His begging bowl?

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  18. Dear A,

    Although it might appear as if it is, I don't know why I should believe this passage is actually from a Prajnaparamita text. You can find similar types of statements, forming part of long strings of "hyperbolic contrasts" meant to show that the "Perfection of Wisdom" surpasses everything else without exception. Some of these statements are surprising or even shocking, and (I would say) intentionally so.

    Of course the PP literature is full of "as many as grains in the Ganges" types of statements, which is why I think it may be your source. Unless you can tell me where the quote is from, I'm taking it down (maybe tomorrow). I don't generally give unreferenced quotes on Tibeto-logic, so I'm not sure why I should grant that liberty to commenters, anonymous or not, either. Or should I?

    Yours,
    D

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  19. Dear Anon,

    I removed your uncredited unsourced "quote," just as I threatened to do yesterday. I'm as true as my word.

    Yours
    D

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  20. I apologise the Tibeto Logic. I can't remeber the source! Fully appreciated what you did. Thank you!

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  21. Dear Dan,

    Concerning Mr. (Mrs.?) A's little text about the grain-of-sand offering to Śākyamuni by a little boy, this is an anecdote referring to a previous existence of King Aśoka. The Buddha upon accepting the offering predicted the boy to become the aforementioned king. It seems to me that this story is particularly well-known amongst Zen circles, where it is reiterated again and again. This is probably because Dōgen (1200-1253) referred to the incident in his Shōbōgenzō. This useful site from Stanford (s.v. no. 11: "Offer sand to the buddha") tells us that Dōgen's source was Taishō 50, no. 2043:131c9ff, i.e. the 阿育王經, which the glorious Digital Dictionary of Buddhism glosses as *Aśokarājasūtra. In the bsTan 'gyur (with thanks to CBETA) it is supposed to be found as Ku ṇā la'i rtogs pa brjod pa (*Kuṇālāvadāna, D 4145, 'Dul ba, su, 227b3-240a4. And now, HURRAY, back to the fabulous resource from Vienna! Right, I am being lazy, just do a quick search for lhung bzed in the text and... hmmmm...

    Yours,

    Arno

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  22. Thanks dear Arno, for stopping by and helping us out. I have to say that I doubt this quote from the Shōbōgenzō can explain Anon’s unattributed quote. Of course both have to do with offerings of sand to Buddha, but (even then) in one it is "some" sand, in the other a grain.

    For comparison, the original unattributed quote (the one I removed a few days ago) was this one:

    "O the sons and daughters of good family, listen, listen with your hearts open and minds attentiveness. If one were to transform the entire universe into a vast field of the gold and to give it away in charity to the beggars in the ten directions, the merits that one would earn from doing so would be far from being comparable to the merits one would earn by virtue of dropping a grain of sand in the begging bowl of a tathâgatha. That is because, o sons and daughters of good family, the merits earnt in the latter's case is millions of milliards and billions of billiards times greater than that of the former's case. In fact, o sons and daughters of the good family, the merits earnt in the latter’s case is as enormous as the all the grains of sands in the banks of the River Ganga. "

    And here the point made is very different. It’s contrasting the respective merits of giving lots of gold to beggars (religious mendicants? monks?) and making the tiniest of worthless offerings to the Buddha.

    I tried to search for 'begging bowl' (lhung-bzed) in proximity to 'sand' (bye-ma) at the Vienna site, but aside from learning that monks are forbidden to scrub out their begging bowls with sandy turds (I’m always impressed by the good humor of the Vinaya texts), I was unable to come up with anything in the Kanjur. I'll have to go back to look in the Tanjur.

    I just looked in John Strong's book on Ashoka and find that he translates ‘dirt’ instead of ‘sand’. Strong goes into the meaning of this dirt offering a great deal in his chapter 2, "Dirt and Dharma."

    Thanks for writing!

    Yours,
    D

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  23. Hi Dan,

    Sorry, you are absolutely right, what I wrote is completely off the point. I didn't properly remember A's quote, I based my thoughts on what you wrote ("I wonder why the Tathagata would want a grain of sand in His begging bowl?"). I now see that it is a completely different story! You are also right about John Strong's translation of "dirt" as opposed to "sand". I haven't got his book at hand, but on pp. 146ff. of his 1994 article "Images of Aśoka: Some Indian and Sri Lankan legends" he discusses the very question of why one tradition mentions an impure substance like dirt, while another (in a different but related account) found in the Mahāvaṃsa mentions honey.
    One may also note that Strong's translation containing "dirt" is not based on T 2043 (*Aśokarājasūtra, tr. AD 512), but T 2042 (*Aśokarājāvadāna, i.e the first translation from Sanskrit completed AD 306). Could these versions differ in the use of sand/dirt? Anyhow, this was a red herring!

    As ever, Arno

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  24. Dear Dan,

    Please find some details. It is called Shiva Mahimna Stotra

    Wiki: (Please add h before ttp in below link)

    ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_mahimna_stotram

    Sanskrit Text:
    असित-गिरि-समं स्यात्‌ कज्जलं सिन्धु-पात्रे सुर-तरुवर-शाखा लेखनी पत्रमुर्वी।
    लिखति यदि गृहीत्वा शारदा सर्वकालं तदपि तव गुणानामीश पारं न याति॥ ३२॥

    Translation:
    O, great master! Even, if one were to assume that the blue mountain , the ocean, the heavenly tree and the earth are the ink,the ink-pot, the pen and the paper respectively and the goddess of learning (Saraswati) herself is the writer,she will not be able to reach the frontiers of your greatness,however long she were to write! (32)

    I hope this is useful.

    :)!!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I was a little bit surprised that your survey of the Oceans of Ink (etc.) meme failed to note the poet-saint Kabir's famous Doha [Hindi verse] that includes that imagery -- even though, considering Kabir's dates (circa latter part of the 15th century), this by no means stands as an antecedent to your Tibetan locus classicus.

    cheers,
    d.i.

    ReplyDelete
  26. p.s. Dan -- here's (as one example) one literal translation (along with transliteration) of the Kabir doha to which I referred in my just-prior comment.

    http://guruvaani.wordpress.com/2008/04/06/kabir-doha-on-guru/

    cheers,
    d.i.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Thanks, David, that's splendid. I've been a great fan of Kabir for years. Many of his verses are called Dohas, a term very familiar to Tibetanists from the songs of Saraha and other Mahâsiddhas written in Apabhramsa language. Do you understand the word doha to mean 'couplet'? If so it ought to be in two lines only, isn't that correct? There are some interesting explanations of the two syllables of doha that say it means 'laughing at duality,' which is interesting. I wonder what Kabir would have said about that? Thank you for writing.

    Yours,
    Dan

    ReplyDelete
  28. Ha, I must laugh coming across this on the Internet. Back in the 1970's I read a pamphlet published in China which said something along the lines of, "if all the oceans were ink and all the trees pens we could not write enough praise of Chairman Mao." I was reading the Koran out of interest when I came across this line and immediately tried to find the Mao quote on the Internet without success. Found this page - thanks for the information!

    ReplyDelete

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