Saturday, March 17, 2012

Generating Sacred Symbols

Lumbini 2011


What you will find below if you scroll down a bit is a short section from a book manuscript I’ve been working on since I can remember. It doesn’t have a real title yet, or to put it more accurately, it has had a large number of titles so far. It’s about the symbolism of ritual objects such as the Vajra and Bell and commonly-seen devotional practices within the world of Tibetan (and Indian) Buddhism, but entering into other worlds when doing so makes sense to me or helps me make sense of things. If you have any particular or general reactions to it, be so kind as to let me know. I’ve already rewritten it so many times, I can’t even see the end of revision. Perhaps you can help me with that. I did very much enjoy the task of finding suitable illustrations.

The general trend of thinking may be a surprising one (someone even told me that it was dangerous, although I find that a little melodramatic). I hold that the distinction between religion with and religion without images is not of any great account...  

I had two pivotal real-life experiences that could in some part account for the essay that I hope you will find time to read. In 1989 or so I had a brief stop in Paris on the way to Nepal. With the impressions of Catholic piety fresh in my mind (especially women taking holy water and making light offerings), I witnessed similar things going on at Bodhanath and concluded that “Devotion is a single emotion.” One expression of veneration was equal to the other, fulfilling the same human needs. I knew this with immediate certainty.

Some years later I was in the Mediterranean visiting a secluded place that had once been sacred to the Greek god Pan. I can’t really encapsulate it in a few words, and I very much doubt it had anything to do with Pan, but it happened when I saw on the side of a large rock face a small empty niche that may at one time have held a divine representation. This emptiness made a very large impression...  An emptiness that is nevertheless a fullness, bursting with every possibility...  There ready for any kind of projection of sacred forms... Open to any kind of revelation. Well, I guess it could have had something to do with Pan...

In what follows I try to posit a general idea — I hesitate to use the word theory — about the manner in which religious symbols or icons or imagery (use whatever terms you like) grow inside religious cultures. It’s an idea that is itself largely owed to Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, but I think it will make sense to those who are not very familiar with that world.

I should apologize for and explain my use of the word ‘emotion’ in this little essay. I mean by it something broader than emotion per se. I mean something more like Buddhist Abhidharma 'mental states' theory. It covers a large range of human reactions to things, some of them more trends of thinking than those feeling|sentiment types of things English speakers usually mean by this word. There are mental states that are positive and conducive to growth, like generosity and open-mindedness, and there are others that are negative and have bad consequences...  like hatreds and addictions. Well, there are more excuses and apologies that ought to be made, but let’s not spend so much time introducing the introduction that we don’t just get started.

 •       •

This exploratory study of the implements used in monastic and anchoritic rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, while broadly speaking ‘cultural-historical,’ lays emphasis on their symbolic interpretation. It is a human-istic approach in the sense that sacred symbols are seen as a part, an especially significant part, of the growth of humanity’s religious cultures. The late modern world’s structuralist and cognitivist approaches to symbolism have proven inadequate, I would say, because of their neglect of the inevitable human emotional factors, let alone the question which sorts of emotions are at play. If we admit that religious devotion engages a complex of emotions, still, how can we describe it, and further how can we put our fingers on precisely how symbolisms of various sorts might engage with this or that emotion or emotional complex? 

According to one wellknown definition, a symbol is “an object or a pattern which, whatever the reason may be, operates upon [people], and causes effect in them, beyond mere recognition of what is literally presented in the given form.”[1] It may be well to add that religious symbolism has its effect on us, as believers, because it seems to place us in contact with blessings and powers linked to our particular religious sacraments, founders, our holy figures and objects (including holy books), our saints and relics. That is why we generally do not confuse religious symbols with the usual types of figures of the literary kinds, no matter how much they might otherwise resemble each other. 

Metaphors, however evocative, do not usually have sacramental powers.[2] In our use of the term, ‘religious symbolism’ is closely equivalent to sacred art, the ‘sacred’ being a quality going above and beyond, but without cancelling, questions of aesthetics.[3] But if religious symbolism is sacred art, we still have to muse over that age-old question, What is art for? What is its (actual, practical, ideal or ideological) relationship with the human world?
Symbolism, of some type and degree, is universal to religion. Even though some iconoclastic religions (or sects and movements within them) have tried to do away with symbolic mediation, they have never really succeeded. Even religions who have achieved limited success in doing away with two- or three-dimensional artistic imagery, the imagery of their scriptures — perhaps even of their calligraphy, the symbolism of the Word itself, or the potencies of the very letters — remained, as for example in post-Hellenistic Judaism,[4] Islam and various types of Protestant Christianity.[5] Still, even in these latter cases the human tendency to engage with forms religiously, particularly in moments of private prayer or meditation, has by no means been eliminated.[6] 

It may well be that religions that have retreated into the minimal forms of visual representation might be the very religions that have most tended to ultimatize a deity with maximally personalized attributes in their minds’ eyes. It seems as if each religious culture has negotiated, to its own satisfaction, the tensions between immanence and transcendence. Should we simply respect their conclusions as appropriate to their specific conditions, as factors meant to maximize their survival capabilities, or some such anyway, after-the-fact explanation?
Why would a religious culture insist on stopping at some more minimalist point in the scale of divine manifestation?  One common response of the minimalist traditions has been that taking the next step would bring greater involvement, would excite the senses and their associated emotions, leading the devotee to sensual and emotional excesses, which would cause immorality and its attendant social ills or disruptions.  At the same time, the transcendent divine would be compromised by being brought too close to the human scale of things. I suggest that the minimalists’ standpoints make sense within their particular spheres of religious culture, but when we stand back and attempt to take a broader view of religious phenomena, a different way of comprehending their attitudes might emerge.  

Consider (and reconsider) the possibility that those religions that accept maximal modes of manifestation might at the same time possess more powerful methods for transforming the devotee’s sensual and emotional tendencies in the direction of transcendence, that they might have ways of using the greater sensory and emotional involvement that more fully incarnated (fleshed out, elaborated) imagery supplies to the human imagination in the service of those trans- or supra-human goals religions recommend.  They may have greater confidence in the kinds of human potential that keep those options open.  

In short, I suggest that religious cultures employing maximal immanence may possess the power-sources to effect maximal transcendence.  True, this would depend not only on the religion, but on the religious person, on their experience, emotional maturity and wisdom.  (We really do need to question and resist the tendency in religious studies classes even nowadays to utter statements implying ‘ethnographic wholism,’ for example, that Buddhists [or Tibetan Buddhists or Catholics or Sikhs or Bonpos, etc.] are like such-and-such and believe such-and-such.  We also need to put to the test any assumptions we might have that they do whatever it is that they do entirely because of what is written in their holy books, assuming they have them.)
The ability of sacred images to contract into syllables, into emblems, into empty thrones and finally even into empty space (as well as ‘expanding’ in reverse order) is perhaps most clearly exemplified in Tibetan Buddhist sādhana practice in which divine forms of Buddhas may be consciously ‘generated’ through these different levels at a single sitting.  The five degrees of manifestation, called ngönjang (mngon-byang) in Tibetan, abhisambodhi in Sanskrit, are: 

Five Degrees of Manifestation
(illustrated by the Letter 'A', Japanese Shingon)

These levels are especially relevant for the class of tantras known as Yoga Tantras, in use by the Japanese Shingon School among others, but remain of significance (or we could even say a necessary background) for the classes of Great Yoga or Highest Yoga Tantras[7] in which Tibetans tend to specialize. One early Tibetan source[8] very explicitly supplies the homologies for the meditative process that are to be found in ordinary human birth: [1] entering the empty womb, [2] the semen and blood of the father and mother, [3] the incarnating consciousness in the form of a letter, [4] the formation of a Vajra in the case of a male and of the Lotus in the case of a female, and [5] the completion of the body over nine or ten months. 

There are clear ‘parallels’ (although I think it preferable to use the weightier traditional word, ‘correspondences’) between ideas about human conception and gestation, the degrees of divine manifestation, and the sādhana practice of visualizing the divine Buddhist ideals the Vajrayânist aspires to not only embrace, but fully embody.

Empty Niche
This Yogatantra list merits contrast with a comparable set of five basic possibilities for sacred representations that has been perceived, by archaeologists and scholars (and not articulated, nota bene, by the religions themselves), in the ancient Middle Eastern religions considered as a whole:

Here the absence of the aural word-and/or-letter possibility most demands discussion. Differences between ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian on the one hand, and Hindu and Buddhist image cults on the other, may be underlined by the relative importance of consecratory mouth-opening in the first instance, and eye-opening in the second.  The first would appear to indicate an oracular or prophetic relationship with deity (and not only the ability to receive food and drink offerings), while the second underlines a visionary relationship, even if the other senses are not neglected, this being entirely a question of emphasis.[11]  This would seem to indicate variable degrees of emphasis on the verbal or visual symbolic levels.  

Still, the importance and perhaps even the primacy of vision in Mesopotamian image cults is the subject of an article by Irene Winter.  Kabbalistic speculations on the divine ‘faces’ (partsufim), meaning the types of divine self-presentation in light of our human limitations, while (nearly) entirely limited to the formal and sonic qualities of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, would certainly be worthy of consideration in this regard.[12] Still, this would lead us to wonder about the apparent absence (or neglect?) of letters/sounds as divine aspects in the archaeological evidence from the ancient Middle East.  That prophetic utterance and scriptural text might both be seen as in some real sense divine or holy has been so commonly accepted as primary in those religions that it might very well go without saying. (And of course sonic phenomena are not often to be seen in archaeological digs.  In the absence of sound recording what artefact would we expect to find?)

Empty Throne
(Byzantine era, San Marco, Venice)
Still, these comparative considerations placed aside, there is something about the internal history of Buddhism itself that might help explain at least some of the ‘five degrees of manifestation.’ As is very well known, the Buddha was not represented in human form for the first centuries of Buddhist history. Although there are some dissenting voices, it is usually believed that the earliest Buddhist art, typically involving a devotional scene around the Bodhi Tree and the seat where the Buddha gained enlightenment, but without any depiction of the Buddha Himself, signifies that there was in those times a restriction on representing the Buddha in human form. Still, when we look into this, it would seem that not a single Buddhist scriptural passage forbids Buddha images. One scholar has well argued, however, that these are ‘pilgrimage’ scenes, that they naturally depict the Buddha’s seat without the Buddha seated in it because that is just how pilgrims would have found it in Bodhgaya in those times. 

Venerating the Empty Seat

The meaning of the Buddha’s seat may have quite concrete roots in Buddhist history. It is said that the Buddha during His life always sat on a seat set apart from the gathering of His followers, but even during the absence of the Buddha, a special seat was still reserved for Him, and it was believed that in times of need, the Buddha could suddenly, or even miraculously, make His appearance on the seat to provide guidance. After the death of the Buddha, His seat remained a powerful symbol of His continuing presence (and the possibility of visionary manifestation). At root, perhaps the symbolism is one of traditional Indian hospitality for guests, in which the guest is offered a seat (with a better and more honorable seat for the more worthy).[13] Regardless of the reasons, the ‘empty throne’ would in early times sometimes show a triple jewel (triratna) above the seat, symbolizing Buddha, Dharma and Sagha.  This does, at least in a general way, resemble the ‘emblem,’ the fourth degree of manifestation, which would precede the full image in visualization practices detailed in later texts.[14]

Making the transition to Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna, the early symbolism of the seat went a few steps further (but with the further steps ‘suggested’ by earlier steps). The seat became a lotus seat, since the lotus is a symbol of purity (of purity that emerges out of and transcends impurity) and of pure, or divine, birth. Similar ideas about the birth (or rebirth) of deities from lotusses were apparently known in ancient Egypt.[15] The Vajrayāna emphasis on homologies between Buddha manifestation (and visualization) and reproductive/ birth processes led them to place a sun and moon on the seat, symbolizing the male and female reproductive substances, just as the seed-syllable that appears in the next stage of manifestation stands for the reincarnating consciousness. This, or something very like this — for there are controversies in this area, as in others — is basic Vajrayāna, which consciously applies methods of spiritual practice that reflect and utilize, in what is regarded as an effective way, the processes of birth and death (as well as intervening stages of growth, coming-of-age rites, etc.) as these processes were understood in Indian Buddhist science and culture.

These considerations on the cross-cultural and intra-cultural equivalency of different levels of symbolic manifestation, always involving various divine compromises in the face of our human sensory capabilities (our ability to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ in particular), inform the following chapters.  Turned back on the investigator, they may well threaten his representations of them, or even his right to make them. We have to wonder how much we should be informing the traditions we study, and how much those traditions should inform us — and, of course, how much our information depends on those who have been more or less zealous in informing the traditions they study from those varied external viewpoints of the human sciences we now know as ‘theory.’ 

As an aside, we may point out that the Greek word theoria, from which ‘theory’ is taken, is rather roughly equivalent to what we mean nowadays by pilgrimage.[16] Of course, it includes as well journeys to festivals, and even journeys undertaken in order to see how other people live, rather like modern tourists. Herodotus was just such a ‘tourist’ when he went to do his fieldwork in North Africa. But generally it referred to a kind of contemplative seeing of sacred objects of various sorts, rather closely resembling the act known as ‘seeing,’ in Sanskrit darśana, in Indian religious culture. It is one of those curious and ironic twists of word history that has transformed theory, the effort to go out and see things for ourselves, into a group of brandnames of intellectual baggage that may often form an obdurate obstacle to seeing things directly in any meaningful way.

To be continued...  Here

[1] Goodenough (1988: 40).  One might also compare the discussions by various authors of the meaning of symbolism in Werner (1991). Recommended for its illustrations, as well as for its attempt at wide coverage of Tibetan symbolism, is Levenson (2000), although it might well be criticized on a number of grounds.  On an entirely different level, although also intended as a very popular presentation, is Thurman (1995). By the way, what may be the oldest synagogue that still exists (completed in 244 CE), preserved in a museum in Damascus, is the Dura-Europas Synagogue that is the main subject of Goodenough’s book. There was no prohibition against the representation of the human figure. And as Elverskog (2010) in a book I've mentioned here before shows quite clearly, there have been times and places in Islamic history when human figures, even of the Prophet, could be painted.

[2]  Some might prefer to use a concept like ‘participatory’ or the like, in place of ‘sacramental,’ as does Ladner (1979).  This would seem to lend a more sociological bent (just as the word ‘sacramental’ might lend itself to an emphasis on history), even if intended in a broader sense — a presumed or experienced interrelationship with the universe of beings and the beyond. I think it is precisely on account of their non-participation — their cynical distanciation, their reduction of the symbol to something both arbitrary and merely subjective — that the modern structuralists, and even more so their followers among the so-called post-moderns, fall from and at the same time fail to comprehend traditional ways of using and understanding symbols. Surely, as Ladner argues, the medieval Christian understanding of symbolism differs from that of the structuralists in fairly essential ways. At the risk of failing, and of course with what might with justice be considered an excessive emphasis on history, I attempt to approach the Tibetan sources in an exploratory way that should not predispose us to view them through modernist or post-modernist or, for that matter, ‘new age’ filters. I believe historical explorations of the better sort result in fresher as well as more refreshing understandings.

[3] One ought to at least consider the possibility, as put forward by Kapstein (2004: 272-3), that the sacred and the artistically sublime are somehow parallel, that encountering sacred objects culminates in a sense of their holiness (or ‘the sacred’) just as viewing museum art or listening to music may culminate in aesthetic rapture. Both outcomes depend on personal immersion in a particular artistic or religious culture. Neither outcome necessarily excludes the other. But at the same time we should not presume that the experience of the sacred is simply aesthetic (making note of Coomaraswamy’s puzzling use of the translation ‘aesthetic shock’ that appears below).

[4] See especially Idel 2001. Jewish theologians, Kabbalists and Hasids, in their varying ways, have often located the presence of the Author of the Torah in the very letters of the physical book. Of course, in general practice, on a popular level, the Torah scroll forms the one and only focus of cult within the synagogue. It is placed in the sacred ‘cabinet’ (aron) at the front and center of the synagogue/temple, just like the empty (yet architecturally framed and emphasized) qiblah of the mosque that indicates the sacred direction of cultic worship toward which prostrations and prayers are oriented.

A Curtained Torah Ark in Safed (Tsfat)
[5] We might want to add Confucianism, in at least some of its historic phases, to this list of non- and anti-iconic religions. It is at the same time true that there were times and places in which Confucianists practiced a regular cult devoted to his person, with consecrated icons forming a part of it.  For more on this, see Murray (2009).

[6] And it is instructive to observe the point at which a particular religion or sect stops, because it is usually apparent what the next logical step in representation would be. For instance, in many Baptist churches, while unadorned Crosses may very well be placed in a raised central location in the church, decorative frills or figures of any kind are avoided. The full-bodied sculptural representation of Jesus dying on the Cross they would see as little less than idolatry. Some Protestant sects, while they do not deny that it is the death of the physical form of Jesus that most potently symbolizes redemptive power, nevertheless shrink back from picturing it three-dimensionally in anything but their minds’ eyes (two-dimensional pastel paintings reproduced within the zippered leather bindings of their Bibles being for most of them neither noteworthy nor problematic).
Fra Angelico, "The Crucificion," 1442

[7] Great Yoga is, in Sanskrit Mahāyoga, while Highest Yoga is often re-Sanskritized as Anuttara Yoga although Yoga Niruttara is probably the correct form, as H. Isaacson (Hamburg) would anyway insist.

[8]  See ’Jig-rten-mgon-po 2001: VI 5.

[9] Ornan (1995) and Ornan (2005) concern a period in Babylonian and Assyrian history (generally corresponding to the period of temple reforms in Jerusalem), in which there was a strong tendency to replace anthropomorphic deities with their emblems (niphu). 

[11] For an accessible source on the five levels of manifestation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, see Beyer (1973: 109-111).  For the Middle Eastern types of visual representation of deity listed here see van der Toorn (1997: particularly the words of Izak Cornelius on pp. 41-2).  On the history and symbolism of the animals (or cherubim) that elevate old Middle Eastern thrones (or, indeed, ‘chariots’) of the gods, see L’Orange (1953), who finds strong evidence of their ‘astral’ character.  These animals support the throne when conceived as such, but pull it when it is considered to be a chariot.  Animals likewise uphold the seats of divine figures in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism (in specific cases, like that of Mārîcî, we do find chariots pulled by animals, in this case seven pigs, symbolically echoing the seven horses that pull the chariot of the sun), where the technical term for them is, in Sanskrit, vāhana, a word covering the meanings of both ‘mount’ and ‘conveyance.’  Indian and Tibetan Buddhism also know of animal-headed deities, and even of deities that have both animal and human heads.  

Sûrya at the Golden Temple of Patan -
Notice the seven horses
However, in all cases, the animal bearing the throne is considered to be part of the throne rather than part of the deity.  On the representation of the divine throne, in which the angelic cherubim figures are the upholders of the throne, once found in the Holy of Holies of the Jerusalem Temple, see Haran (1985: 220 ff., 246-259).  The gold and ivory throne of Solomon was flanked by lions (I Kings 10:18-20), and its later iconography, too, is of interest, since the Virgin Mary and various earthly kings like Henry VI could also be placed on it in artworks (Ragusa 1977; Weiss 1995; Shalev-Eyni 2006), and because, as in Tibetan icons, the throne absorbed elements from the architecture surrounding it.  The boundaries between throne, niche and palace are sometimes somewhat blurred.  See Winter (1992), the article by Angelika Berlejung in van der Toorn (1997), Bentor (1996), and the contributions contained in Dick (1999) as well as Walls (2005).  There are some interesting comparative comments on eye and mouth opening in Thompson (1991: 8-10).

[12] Thanks are due to Menachem Kallus, who kindly shared with me some of his writing on this subject in his (then) forthcoming dissertation. Rather similar to this Kabbalistic idea, but quite different in its rationales, the famed rationalist Moses Maimonides (1136-1204) interprets certain ‘irrational’ demands of the deity, especially animal sacrifices, as resulting from ‘divine condescendence’ (in Greek, synkatabasis; in Arabic, talaṭṭuf), an accommodation to human, and decidedly not divine, needs (Stroumsa 2001: 16).  When we see that just such rationales may be used for worship focussed on images, while bearing in mind that Israel’s Jerusalem temple cult was largely premised and focussed on the presence of an anthropomorphic image even in the absence of any depiction (Haran 1985), then the ‘Mosaic distinction’ (Assmann 1996), that dividing line between true religion and paganism that underlies so much else in the history of European and American thinking, while not easily erased, loses some of it’s ‘naturalness’ and solidity, and translation and dialog become possible.

[13] This discussion is essentially a paraphrase of Kariyawasam (1966: 130), to which the reader is referred for greater elaboration.

[14] Although there is a great deal of literature on this particular subject (and still much more on the question of the origins of the Buddha image), most of it is summarized or cited in Tanaka (1999), Huntington (1990), and van Kooij (1995).

[15] There are a number of studies on Lotus symbolism, and only a few of them will be mentioned here.  On the early Indian symbolism of the Lotus, see especially Coomaraswamy (1971, pt. 2: 56-60).  On Egyptian ideas about deities born from lotusses, see Moret (1917).  On both Egyptian and Indian deities on lotusses, see Morenz & Schubert (1954).

[16] For arguments and justification for what follows, with further documentation and references, see Rutherford (2000).  Of course darśana (as well as Tibetan lta-ba) also often means ‘view’ in a more philosophical sense, and there are still other problems lurking here.  I must leave some wrinkles to be ironed out some other time.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Referenced publications —

Assmann, Jan 1996 — The Mosaic Distinction: Israel, Egypt, and the Invention of Paganism, Representations, no. 56, Special Issue: The New Erudition (Autumn 1996), pp. 48-67.
Bentor, Yael 1996 — Consecration of Images and Stūpas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, E.J. Brill (Leiden 1996).
Beyer, Stephan 1973 — The Cult of Tārā: Magic and Ritual in Tibet, University of California Press (Berkeley 1973).
Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. 1971 — Yakṣas, Part I and Part II, Munshiram Manoharlal (New Delhi 1971).
Dick, Michael B. 1999 — ed., Born in Heaven, Made on Earth: The Making of the Cult Image in the Ancient Near East, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1999).
Elverskog, Johan 2010 Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelpha 2010).
Goodenough, Erwin R. 1988 — Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, Bollingen Series, Princeton University Press (Princeton 1988).
Haran, Menachem 1985 — Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 1985). I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Huntington, Susan L. 1990 — Early Buddhist Art and the Theory of Aniconism, Art Journal, vol. 49 (1990), pp. 401-407.  You can read it, without the illustrations, here.
Idel, Moshe 2001 — Torah: Between Presence and Representation of the Divine in Jewish Mysticism, contained in: Jan Assmann & Albert I. Baumgarten, eds., Representation in Religion: Studies in Honor of Moshe Barasch, Brill (Leiden 2001), pp. 197-235.
’Jig-rten-mgon-po 2001 — The Collected Works (Bka’-’bum) of Khams Gsum Chos-kyi Rgyal-po Thub-dbang Ratna-śrî (Skyob-pa ’Jig-rten-gsum-mgon); [Tibetan title page:] Khams Gsum Chos-kyi Rgyal-po Thub-dbang Ratna-shrî’i Phyi-yi Bka’-’bum Nor-bu’i Bang-mdzod, H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang (Konchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundup), Drikung Kagyu Institute (Dehradun 2001), in 12 volumes.
Kapstein, Matthew 2004 — Rethinking Religious Experience: Seeing the Light in the History of Religions, contained in: Matthew Kapstein, ed., The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 2004), pp. 265-299.
Kariyawasam A.G.S. 1966 — Āsana, contained in: G.P. Malalasekera, ed., Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, Government of Ceylon (Colombo 1966), volume 2, fascicle 1, pp. 127-132.
Kooij, K.R. van 1995 — Remarks on Festivals & Altars in Early Buddhist Art, contained in: K.R. van Kooij, et al., eds., Function & Meaning in Buddhist Art, Egbert Forsten (Groningen 1995), pp.  33-44.
Ladner, Gerhart B. 1979 — Medieval and Modern Understanding of Symbolism: A Comparison, Speculum, vol. 54 (1979), no. 2 (April), pp. 223-256.
L’Orange, H.P. 1953 — The Iconography of Cosmic Kingship in the Ancient World, H. Aschehoug & Co. (Oslo 1953).
Morenz, Siegfried & Johannes Schubert 1954 — Der Gott auf der Blume: Eine ägyptische Kosmogonie und ihre weltweite Bildwirkung, Artibus Asiae Supplementum series no. 12, Artibus Asiae Publishers (Ascona 1954).
Moret, M.A. 1917 — Le lotus et la naissance des dieux en Égypte, Journal Asiatique, 11th series, vol. 9 (1917), pp. 499-513.
Murray, Julia K. 2009 — “Idols” in the Temple: Icons and the Cult of Confucius, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 68, no. 2 (May 2009), pp. 371-411.
Ornan, Tallay 1995 — The Transition from Figured to Non-Figured Representations in First Millennium Mesopotamian Glyptic, contained in:  Joan G. Westenholz, ed., Seals and Sealing in the Ancient Near East, Bible Lands Museum (Jerusalem 1995), pp. 39-56.
Ornan, Tallay 2005 — The Triumph of the Symbol, Pictorial Representation of Deities in Mesopotamia and the Biblical Image Ban, Academic Press, (Fribourg 2005).
Ragusa, Isa 1977 — Terror Demonum and Terror Inimicorum: The Two Lions of the Throne of Solomon and the Open Door of Paradise, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 40, no. 2 (1977), pp. 93-114.
Rutherford, Ian 2000 — Theoria and Darśan: Pilgrimage and Vision in Greece and India, Classical Quarterly, New Series vol. 50, no. 1 (2000), pp. 133-146.
Shalev-Eyni, Sarit 2006 — Solomon, His Demons and Jongleurs: The Meeting of Islamic, Judaic and Christian Culture, Al-Masāq, vol. 18, no. 2 (September 2006), pp. 145-160.
Stroumsa, Guy G. 2001 — John Spencer and the Roots of Idolatry, History of Religions, vol. 41, (2001), no. 1 (August), pp. 1-23.
Tanaka, Kanoko 1999 — “The Empty Throne” in Early Buddhist Art and Its Sacred Memory Left Behind after the Emergence of the Buddha Image, contained in: W. Reinink & J. Stumpel, eds., Memory & Oblivion: Proceedings of the XXIXth International Congress of the History of Art Held in Amsterdam, 1-7 September 1996, Kluwer Academic Publishers (Dordrecht 1999), pp. 619-624. There is also a book on the subject by the same author.
Thompson, Laurence G. 1991 — Consecration Magic in Chinese Religion, Journal of Chinese Religions, vol. 19 (1991), pp. 1-12.
Thurman, Robert A.F. 1995 — Inside Tibetan Buddhism: Rituals and Symbols Revealed, edited by Barbara Roether, Collins Publishers (San Francisco 1995).
Toorn, Karel van der 1997 — ed., The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Rise of Book Religion in Israel and the Ancient Near East, Peeters (Leuven 1997).
Walls, Neal H. 2005 — ed., Cult Image and Divine Representation in the Ancient Near East, American Schools of Oriental Research (Boston 2005).  The book is not very long, not difficultly technical, & fascinating in its content.
Weiss, Daniel H. 1995 — Architectural Symbolism and the Decoration of the St.-Chapelle, The Art Bulletin, vol. 77, no. 2 (June 1995), pp. 308-320.
Werner, Karel 1991 — ed., Symbols in Art and Religion:  The Indian and the Comparative Perspectives, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1991).
Winter, Irene J. 1992 — Idols of the King: Royal Images as Recipients of Ritual Action in Ancient Mesopotamia, Journal of Ritual Studies, vol. 6, no. 1 (Winter 1992), pp. 13-42.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Visual materials

Our frontispiece offering of jasmine and gold-leaf comes from the general area of the Ashokan pillar at Lumbini, Nepal, photographed in 2011.  

If you would like to find more about the empty throne in art, try searching the internet for the Greek word hetoimasia and see what you come up with.  

~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Qiblah of the Prophet’s Mosque, Madinah
To continue reading, go here.


  1. Thank you Dan. My pet belief would be one of minimal representation of maximal immanence, so what I write, and I will try to keep it short, is biased. As a non specialist in these matters, I thought one of the eldest representations of the Buddha were his footprints and the representation of the empty throne you show evokes for me a certain idea of loss. The Buddha came, taught and disappeared. His disciples were at a loss. All they had left were relics, places throdden by the Buddha’s feet, his empty seat, venerated by disciples. A sort of rūpakāya cult. It reminds me of Mary Magdalen weeping on the empty tomb of Christ (after having embalmed his rūpakāya feet earlier on). And I see the empty throne waiting for the return of the saviour as the expression of the same emotion.

    Another exemple of the empty seat (Buddha assaulted by the Māras scroll down) is not the expression of a rūpakāya cult. This event is supposed to have taken place at the very moment the Buddha was awakened, at the beginning of his long career. Yet his throne is empty… Could it have anything to do with the Emptiness doctrine and the cult of dharmakāya having taken over from rūpakāya ? Is that the reason why the Māras couldn’t harm him ?

    Then, there is the Vajrayāna approach with the five degrees of manifestation (abhisambodhi). A certain return of a rūpakāya, but an immortal and indestructible one this time, with the promise of the certainty of a return. These thrones won’t remain empty for long.

  2. Dear Janus,

    I'm not sure I ought to let you off too easily with the excuse that you're only interested in maximal transcendence with minimal religiosity (well, perhaps I'm paraphrasing you badly). Let me quote from chap. 7 of Longchenpa's famous work Dharma Realm Treasury (Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod):

    “When one has arrived at the summit of the King of Mountains,
    all the lower valleys are seen at once.
    The valleys do not see the nature of the peak.
    Just so, the Vajra Heart Ati
    is the peak of peaks of Vehicles
    which clearly sees the meanings of all the others.”

    If we back down away from Dzogchen and look at the Two Knowledges of the Enlightened One: 1. knowing what there is, 2. knowing how things/beings are. The 2nd kind (with 9 types of knowledge) has the Buddha knowing what can help other people, and that can only happen by understanding what kinds of trips they're on, including religious and devotional trips (and particularly them, I'd say; in any case, one of the 9 means to know the various levels and types of faith).

    About the seat, you surely have a point. In fact, the mosaic examples I saw in Ravenna a few years ago are the very ones called by a Greek name that means 'prepared' [throne]. It's fully expected to be occupied sometime soon. (I suggest if people reading this letter don't get what we're talking about, they should take the advice I already gave to google for the word "hetoimasia.")

    Have you ever heard of anyone preparing a throne for the future Buddha Maitreya? So is it loss or expectation that you feel when you see the empty seat? Personally, I don't think either one defines my response. But yeah, more on the side of expectation. Possibility. Hmmm.

    Great Mara pictures in the link you sent. Thanks! And as for Freud being off-balance emotionally speaking, I don't think so. All three poisons are surely evident in his 'primal scene'! You know, when the junior males band together and cannibalize the senior male in order to gain access to the females... (which Freud believed to be in the background of religious sacramental complexes... and of course that all-important guilt). Whoa, how did we get there?


  3. We will have to meet up one day and talk. I will try to be brief here. Your Longchenpa quote reminds me of Dhammapada II, 28. As I have written, I feel closer to people like Rongzompa, Gampopa and his immédiate disciples, because their conception of Buddhahood makes more sens to me. I also tend to get carsick or seasick in vehicles. For me a Buddha (re)acts spontaneously (read : ad hoc). He has no set way of acting. But sadly, when the Buddha’s throne is empty, « set ways » (vehicles) are all we are left with. They are not ad hoc, they are not necessarily adapted to our situation. In this conception of a Buddha, the rūpakāyas of a Buddha are simply what others perceive them to be. The relation between a Buddha and another person is a genuin one, not a ritualized one. The second knowledge is badly needed indeed (as is the first), but I am not sure that many of those occupying the thrones at the moment exactly know the trips the world is on and how to guide it from there. New vehicles may need to built.

    I googled hetoimasia and discovered The minimalist vision of transcendence: a naturalist philosophy of religion by Jerome Arthur Stone. I have to admit I don’t see yet what the various models exactly stand for, I will have to read up on it. I expect the coming of the future Buddha Maitreya to be a later development in Buddhism. First there was the loss. I can’t imagine all the crying and sobbing, the fights and the fuss about relics, building stupas etc. if they believed the Buddha was simply one of many to come. But I don’t know anything about the chronoilogy of the cult of Ajita Maitreya. There also is the theory of the indestructible bodhimandi, which is the only thing to remain of the world when it will perish. Don’t loss and expectation often come together ? But, first one needs to feel loss for expectation to arise.

    My fooling around with Freud and the three gunas mainly came from his attitude towards religion (The illusion of a religion) and his reducing the « oceanic feeling » (which I see as rather sattvic) to some intrauterine nostalgia. He doesn’t seem to admit any religious or sattvic principle (asdoes Schopenhauer), at least not as a drive, which from a triguna point of view would make him unbalanced. A bit of a tabloid title I admit.

    I loved your Egyptian Padmasambhava, I have never seen one before.


  4. That Egyptian Guru Rinpoche is actually Harpocrates, or as known to the Egyptians, "the child known as Har," or Horus in his childhood form. He has his thumb in his mouth just to show he is an infant, but the Greeks read this as a finger to his lips, and took it to be their mudra for silence, and even finally for this reason he got confounded (iconographically crossed) with Hermes of the Hermetic mysteries... There's a fantastic blog on this subject you can see HERE, with some illustrations. I wonder at what point we took this wrong turn into Tibetology when it could have been Egyptology?

    Even if Freud had fallen onto the side of one particular viṣa-poisons (in my understanding just a 'frozen metaphor' for kleṣas, which surely do include much in the line of Freudian neurotic complexes), there still would have been a Buddhist cure for people like him too much focussed on desire. That would mean the Vinaya (with Sutra as antidote for hatred, and Abhidharma for moha-befuddlement), which I suppose would mean Freud had to take monastic vows to get over his kind of complexes? What about Jung & Adler? Which antidotes would Buddha prescribe for them?

    When you talk about vehicles, as something to get seasick in, I think you take that frozen metaphor too literally (or you're just pulling our legs with it). Yâna just means a conveyance, what takes you along the path to Enlightenment. If there were Buddhahood without method, every clueless person would be there already.

    The vehicles of the deities, the vâhanas, are more concrete chariot-throne types of things, at least as we visualize them and represent them in art. I don't see any reason at all to confound the yâna idea with the vâhana idea as if there were any connection. That only works in English. (Like confusing Noah's ark with the ark of the covenant, comparable in the sense that it only works in English.)

    I'll have to google "Stone" and see what that immanentist transcendence is all about. I'm all for the immanence of the goal, but without belittling the various (somehow) appropriate methods for getting there. I think we share the same heroes, actually.


    1. Tibetology, Egyptology, Indology... Kumara,Skanda, Baby Krishna (licking honey from his finger)? Thank you for the great blog address. How do you find them?

      The blog about Freud is just a quip, I have only respect for Freud and Adler... and for Jung's lively imagination (his autobiography). He definitely beats me at it.

      We are all clueless Buddha's. And with a yâna, clueless Buddhas with a yâna, perhaps driving a vâhana :-)


    2. J, Did the link not link up? Here it is in long form:

      Oh, you mean How did I get there? I searched the web for "Harpocrates."

      We're all clueless Buddhas? Or we're all clueless to our Buddhahood? Either way, I guess.



    3. I visualize the vâhanas more like hovercrafts that move with the power of breath and thought, really. The animals are just symbolic of that more subtle form of motility. I think Van Daniken had a true insight that led him to follow the clue into that huge area of error about them having to do with alien spacecraft. But of course if you read Ezekiel's vision with UFOs already in your mind, there's no way to prevent the confirmation of the existence of UFOs that is bound to result. So my problem is that I just don't sufficiently believe in alien spacecraft. It may be an experiential problem that could be easily overcome if I were to be confronted with one. I do believe in imagining and weighing all sorts of possibilities, however. No matter what it may or may not do to such egotistical bullshit as 'scholarly reputation' or that even much bigger (bigger than just one ego) delusion of subjecting humanities to science methodologies as if that would guarantee truer or more useful results for humanity.

    4. Dear Dan,

      Good points. Kant's sapere aude was taken to go into one direction, that may be mutilating humanities now through science methodologies and more importantly through budget allocations. But sapere aude has no obligatory direction. In France we have people like Bertrand Méheust (Somnambulisme et médiumnité) trying to rehabilitate what science methodology has trying to get rid of since the 18th century. Frédéric Nef is trying to rehabilitate metaphysics. Paul Diel's psychology was an attempt to integrate more spiritual concerns, but very prudently. To be honest, these efforts were/are not very succesful, but have the merit to exist as the French say.
      I agree with your conception of vâhanas. It reminds me of David G. White's Flight of the Yoginis, in Kiss of the yogini and of Khecari practice. Is that what you were thinking of?

    5. Dear J,

      Actually, not Kant's sapere aude, but more Vico's verum factum was on my mind. Because we are humans, and because humans created human culture, we may have better hopes to know these things than we could ever hope to know the things of nature that humans have not made. (And for Vico that goes for the human mind as well, which he regards as a fairly hopeless thing for us to know...)

      But if it's about being brave enough to face what is, then we could reformulate it a bit to say that since human beings have produced the education cultures that have formed us, we (being also human) can hope to see through that education and free ourselves of its relentless power over us. Maybe sapere aude and verum factum are not so widely separated in intention. I'm not sure.

      Why, just today I was cursing myself for having such an ingrained sense of (thinking I know what is) logic left over from my school days. Like someone I know likes to say, None of the most important decisions in life are the result of logic. It's not necessary to think about that very long before thinking it's way too much of a truth to deny (or, we could say, to go on denying).

      But no, I wasn't thinking of White's book which I haven't read. I'll put it on my to do list.

      I've been looking into some of the sources for the yâna idea, as chance would have it. Especially interesting the verse near the end of chapter 2 that supports the idea of 'no vehicle.'


    6. PS: I meant chapter 2 of the Lankavatara Sutra. But you knew that!

    7. I am sure we can combine Kant and Vico, and use the best of both worlds. As long as it serves our purpose (please don’t ask me what that is). Who cares whether something really existes, providing it produces the proper effect (don’t ask me what proper is, but you probably now by now not to ask me anything). Perhaps what Dharmakīrti calls pragmatic effectiveness (S. arthakrīya T. don byed). « A state of awareness is valid (pramāṇa) only if any activity that we undertake on the basis of it could, in principle, lead us to results consistent with the expectations we form on the basis of it. » (Lawrence J. McCrea & Parimal G. Patil in Buddhist philosophy of language in India).

      I am afraid freeing ourselves from what we have been made into by education and other forms of conditoning and (self) indoctrination could be a hopeless enterprise. But again, we shouldn’t underestimate the pragmatic effectiveness of hope. So let’s go for it !

      I have been writing on my blog on Buddhism and how it absorbed and integrated local cults while spreading and developing itself and was wondering what were actually the cults of the country I live in, la République laïque de France. Actually Reason, Cartesian logic, Secularism are the gods that have to be taken into account for Buddhism to not displease the local gods and really grow its roots here. So I dare to experiment with that a bit following Kant’s advice. As you point out, none of our decisions are made on the basis of logic, we take them on gut level and make them palatable through hineininterpretieren. But don’t Oracles simply confirm (after having been properly interpreted) what we already decided on gut level ? No point in fighting the god Logic, I try to give him his due.

      Yes the Lankavatara Sutra ("It’s to attract fools that I teach different vehicles") is honey to my ears (or is it to my eyes ?), but I am a hopeless mixture of conflicting emotions, a lively imagination, a heavy handed education with corporal punishment and poor logic.

    8. J,

      You say "fools," Suzuki says "ignorant," but the Dergé version of the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra (fols. 173-174) has no such thing at all. It just says "sentient beings" (sems can) — chos kyi sku bsam gyis mi khyab pa la dbang byed pa rab tu 'thob par 'gyur ro || de la 'di skad ces bya ste | lha yi theg dang tshangs pa'i theg | nyan thos kyi'ang de bzhin te || de bzhin gshegs dang rang rgyal gyi || theg pa de dag ngas bshad do || ji srid sems can 'jug pa'i bar || theg pa dag la thug pa med || sems ni shin tu gyur pa na || theg pa med cing 'gro ba'ang med || theg pa rnam par gzhag med kyang || sems can rnams ni drang ba'i phyir || theg pa tha dad ngas bshad de || theg pa gcig tu ngas bstan to.

      I think seeing through educational conditioning might involve first going through it (perhaps needless to say). But that 'seeing through' would in itself be a hugely significant kind of liberation, at least as far as the obscurations due to knowables are concerned (the kleshas might require some other strategies, which I wouldn't intend to imply that they are an entirely separate issue, or that they aren't heavily invested in the realm of knowables... au contraire!).

    9. Dear Dan,

      I agree with your wise suggestion and with the link between kleshas and knowables...

      As for the Dergé version, you discovered a real gem! I simply followed Patrick Carré's French translation from the Chinese translation (Shikshânanda in 702). It reads "C'est l'affirmation d'aucun véhicule/ Que j'appelle 'véhicule unique',/ Et pour attirer les sots que j'enseigne/ Différents véhicules."

      Fools or sentient beings is quite a difference, although the target (the ones to be attracted) is identical. I think the denigrating "fools" is not directed at the beings, but at the different vehicles and at the fact that sentient beings require different "vehicles" for them to enter the One vehicle. I don't know what the sanskrit word for "ignorant" was, but since Suzuki translated from the sanskrit, I expect it to be closer to fools than to sentient beings.

      And then the Tibetan choice becomes more interesting... Is it out of respect for the vehicles, that the term was changed in translation? Out of fear of moving towards a quietist (gcig char 'jug pa) approach?

      Oh my, this thread keeps spinning and spinning.


    10. Dear J,

      Your comment made me run out looking for a Sanskrit copy of the Lanka Entrance Sûtra, since I don't have any in print here at home, and what should I find but the very strikingly printed Nanjio edition from around 90 years ago, sitting up on the web here:

      You can download the PDF or read it online.

      If you go to page 135 and count down 5 lines you will find the word bâla in the genitive plural, meaning of the children, or of the immature. This, too, has quite a different meaning than the 'fools' or 'ignorant sods,' though, doesn't it? Children not only have potential, they practically define the concept. Children can be foolish and wise, ignorant and knowing, can't they?

      It happens sometimes you can see that the Tibetan translators didn't have the same Sanskrit text in front of them as we have today. (Which is one thing that makes Tibetan translations so important to Buddhist Sanskrit philologists.) But I doubt it was due to a scribal problem. Bâla (Tib. *byis pa) and sattva (Tib. sems-can) don't resemble each other closely enough to get confused. It must have been a conscious word substitution going on there. Anyway, Tibetan byis-pa translates bâla, but the word for 'fool' in Tibetan is blun-po, which has a harsher tone to it. (Sakya Pandita uses both in his Three Vows text.)


    11. Thank you Dan. Bâla is indeed translated as byis pa. I see it often translated as immature one, or naive. I guess children are prone to naive realism and take things at face value, unlike prajnaparamita writings and Yogacara works. I have also seen bâla translated as rmongs pa in Saraha's dohakosa, where blun po also sometimes seems to be used as a sort of synonym.


      (I hope the tibetan will be rendered properly). Otherwise gang gis tsahd mar 'dzin pa'i dbang gis su// blun pos bye brag rnyed pa ste//

      Theses verses were added in the Tibetan version and don't exist in the original version. "Someone apprehending things as valid (through pramana) is a fool who will only find details." These terms seem to be more or less interchangeable (is that proper English?). But you are right that Sakya Pandita makes it sound harsher. In his works they are fools because even when taught properly by wise men like him, they resist and persist in their mistaken ways. Whereas byis pa lack the stubbornness that a blun po definitely has. As you point out, they can be educated, wheras a blun po refuses it.

    12. Correction. I was writing from my faulty memory. I had a doubt and checked. It is not bâla, but the apabhramsa ba.dha (sanskrit muu.dha), which is translated as rmongs pa.

  5. Harpo Marx!

    Yours Amazed,

  6. Tan-tan=laa,

    Sshhh! Some secrets were never meant to be revealed!


  7. Dan lags,

    Morsus conscientae!

    Yours Sdig pa can,

  8. Dear T&T,
    No need for guilt. We're all victims of our cultures.

  9. Althought I am rather convinced it is not going to be great news to the distinguished participants of the discussion - since it happens to be the case that I have been reading Rolf Stein's Tibetica Antiqua during these days (and encouraged by your sympathetic attitude towards the byis-pa) - I cannot resist mentioning in this context that what would be called in Sanskrit bâla seems to have been translated - in the active days of Dunhuang, at least - as blun-po in manuscripts adhering more closely to the 'Chinese vocabulary' while byis-pa became the standard translation for the 'Indian vocabulary' as represented by Mahâvyutpatti. Though not giving explanation to the use of "sems-can" here maybe this kind of history could provide some background for the different readings of the perhaps - more or less - different "original" texts?

    And, speaking of "culture", the always interesting terms gtsug-lag and chos, among many others, are studied in some length there as well, just to mention, though I'm sure you know.

    In any case, what strikes me as truly interesting here - in what and how you write - is the question of "the obscurations due to knowables"! We all know that according to the, let us say, "standard modern understanding" the shes-bya'i-sgrib-pa seems to be accepted to mean "the obscurations to omniscience". Be that as it may, I strongly vote for digging deeper into the meaning of "obscurations due to knowables".

    Yours humbly,

  10. Dear T-T,

    Yes, it's exactly on topic what Stein says in his Tibetica Antiqua (McKeown's translation, pp. 10-11). The Lanka was translated in the 9th century by 'Gos Chos-grub (Facheng), who always translated from Chinese, I think. They say he was Chinese, and that the Tibetan form of his name was a direct translation from the Chinese.

    I've noticed some extracanonical quotations (actually 3 of them, all dated between late 12th and late 13th centuries) of this same passage that don't match the canonical (Dergé) version, and look like they were taken from a completely different translation. I haven't noticed any information on a reviser of Chos-grub's translation. Stein says that despite translating from Chinese, he "always employs the Ind. voc., but sometimes he has recourse to the Chin. voc." My suspicion is that some unnamed person might have revised Chos-grub's translation, trying to fix the Sinitic vocabulary, but not always succeeding at it, which would explain why some Sinitic vocabulary remains... (I think Christina Scherrer-Schaub is saying something like this in her introduction at pp. xxv-xxvi when she comments on that same statement by Stein.) This testimony does thicken the plot, and I'm still waiting for the light to come streaming through, so perhaps we ought to delay judgment.

    You know that Mahâyâna often describes the Buddhist goal as [1] Disentanglement and [2] All Knowing ([1] Thar-pa dang [2] Thams-cad-mkhyen-pa), which just means to do away with [1] obscurations due to kleshas (detrimental emotion&thinking complexes) on the one part, and [2] on the other, the obscurations due to knowable objects / dharmas. For these you need [1] merit (bsod-nams/punya) and [2] full[er] knowledge (ye-shes/jñâna). Was there something unclear hiding in that?

  11. Dear Dan and Tan-Tan,

    I think translations of shes-bya'i-sgrib-pa are often ambiguous. In my opinion it is not "obscurations to omniscience", as it is not "obscurations *to* klesha". Reality (tathâtâ) is obnubilated *by* kleshas and *by* knowables. And it is not as much All knowing as Global knowing, knowing both knowables and their nature.
    The difference between sravakayana and mahayana, as explained by mahayana, is that the former only manage to get rid of the obnubilation by klesha, wheras they conceive the knowables to be real (not empty). Thus they are blinded by the same naive realism that byis pa are said to be prone to. Real dharmas are countered by real antidote dharmas.

    If a wise mahayanists teaches emtiness to a naive realist sravaka and he still persists in considering dharmas as real, continuing to be obnubilated by knowables, than he will be called a blun po.

    "There is no worse blind man than the one who doesn't want to see. There is no worse deaf man than the one who doesn't want to hear. And there is no worse madman than the one who doesn't want to understand."

    BTW I just read a great quote by Linji about the the five inexpiable actions (mtshams med lnga) (Linji yu lu nr 36 translated by Démiéville in French). Our whole discussion seems to be there.


  12. Thank you Dan, Thank you Janus!

    Yes, I think I’ve been familiar with the Mahâyâna-soteriology - roughly, that is. But definitely, something unclear has been hiding there - and nagging my mind - if not elsewhere, in this translation-terminology, all the time. It was a great delight to me to see Dan’s formulierung! And with the fine piece of clairvoyant archaeology presented above by Janus I can feel my personal state of obnubilation (!) regarding the subject - the chos-can (?) - under consideration getting slightly thinner at the moment. At least my question has been clarified now one step further! Would you, too, agree with Janus, Dan?

    Would you say that we are dealing here with the (chos-nyid) ji lta ba mkhyen pa and the (chos-can) ji snyed pa mkhyen pa, more or less?

    Unfortunately I have not yet found access to the Linji yu lu, to check where we are a-heading.



  13. I think obnubilation, as it obviates obfuscation, thoroughly justifies our jubilation. J, where do you get these words? Can other people use them?

  14. Obfuscation is a nice one too. Although it is intentional there. I got obnubilation from Stéphane's Arguillère ( He picks his words carefully and thoughtfully. I use some of them. Isn't that what words are for? ;-)

  15. Words are for stretching for all they're worth in the attempt to get them to say what you mean.


Please write what you think. But please think about what you write. What's not accepted here? No ads, no links to ads, no back-links to commercial pages, no libel against 3rd parties. They won't go up, so no need to even try. What's accepted? Just about everything else, even 1st- & 2nd-person libel, if you think they have it coming.