Tsongge José said, “Oh Dampa, Delusion must have a very good foundation stone. No sooner do you think it’s dissolved but it proves itself invincible.” Dampa was delighted to hear this, “Nothing could be more true than what you just said,” he replied. “The foundation of our selfhood-concept is harder than rock. Its illusions are more firmly in place than the four-sided mountain, [and that mountain has ] a peak of suffering higher than the sky. You may as well fire away with the catapult of your learning and reflection. You can go ahead and gouge away with the chisel of the [spiritual or meditative] precepts. Destroyed? Hardly! It doesn’t even get a crack. If the foundation that lies at the root [of the selfhood-concept] collapses on its own, it’s only then possible it can be destroyed.”
—The source is the Zhijé Collection, vol. 2, p. 295. I added a few things in parentheses for clarification, but that doesn't mean this is otherwise a word-for-word translation, it isn’t. I was also able to compare with a newly available Bhutanese text from Tsakaling... I'll have more to say about these amazing old Padampa manuscripts that are being made available these days in some other blog.
This Padampa story suits my mood today, so I whipped up a translation. Besides, I’m sure most regular readers of Tibeto-logic are by now royally sick of all the talk about material goods in those regalia blogs (and there may be more to come, I’m sorry to say). The Nyingmas have an odd and curious term they use sometimes a-’thas (ཨ་འཐས་), that means something like persistent materialization. Just because things seem solid doesn’t make them so. I’ve noticed the term used in ways quite similar to Dzogchen usage in the Zhijé Collection which is an interesting thing. I’ve also noticed some translators using that cold contemporary term as dear as it is endemic to academic theorists — reification — to stand for a-’thas. Not completely off, not all that bad really, but still trying to play basketball on what is very clearly a soccer field, I think.
I put the frontispiece — ultimately based on the Berlin manuscript* of the biography of Lord Shenrab known as the Gzer-myig (acquired from Austin Waddell) — for no other reason than it shows a shamanic type of priest holding a feather. Well, the German caption says it’s a priest, but the Tibetan caption says it’s a donor (yon-bdag - ཡོན་བདག་), quite a different story. You can see that one hand holds the feather while the other holds a flat-bell, a gshang (གཤང་). In the section that comes immediately after the one we just translated, Padampa does a divination for the community holding a feather in one hand and a bamboo in the other. It isn’t clear how this divination was supposed to work, but I’m trying to figure it out by looking more into his divination practices in general. They seated a young girl on a white felt cloth, and she seems to be the one who made a choice between the feather and the bamboo. The white felt cloth suggests the altar cloths often used by Tibetan shamans and mediums. I’ve noticed Padampa’s use of the white felt as altar cloth on another similar occasion. I believe I can also justify characterizing Padampa's role here as shamanic because of who he invokes. He doesn't call up Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. He calls upon two entities, the lord/owner of the sky and the lord/owner of the earth.
(*You can find it at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, where it is the first among the Waddell manuscripts. Now available online, here [amazing to look at], it was catalogued a long while ago by Dieter Schuh.)
I think in a very real way the Indian master Padampa is here, as in the other example I mentioned, playing the Tibetan-style shaman for the sake of his community of Tibetan meditators. In this case they were facing a potentially devastating problem, one hinted at in other places, a serious epidemic disease that could have wiped them out completely. Even the most seriously spiritual people are likely to have this-worldly problems that require their immediate attention. Unless you see something else here, that may be Padampa's teaching for our day.