Tuesday, January 01, 2008

One Side Makes You Larger & One Side Makes You Small

Happy New Year according to the foreign calendar system. During that last month of 2007 I must’ve been napping. That would explain why I didn't notice that Tibeto-logic had been awarded the prestigious White Rabbit Award, vying and tying for first place with PSz of Thor-bu blog, which can be accessed via my sidebar (just look up and to your right). It is possible this particular White Rabbit Award (there have been many as you may know from a quick & simple Schmoogle) has never been given before, which would make it all the more unique and special now wouldn’t it? Have a look here right now if you want to.

I’m not sure which if any of the above bunnies might be Tibeto, and which Thor-bu, but anyway I’d like to imagine (from my pov, natch’) that Tibeto is the one in the center looking into it’s own reflection below the ground level, looking for all intents and purposes like the white rabbit that took Alice down the rabbit hole. This provokes a possible question, which is, Did (and do) the White Rabbits, including their weblog namesakes, lead into a world of greater delusions, into a kind of psychotropic fog-b[l]og of ego-centered fantasies, or might they to the contrary point the way through a world of alternative/alternating delusions like meditation can do? I think the question is very important, but I will defer to the Rinpoche’s
thugs-dam divinations on this one.

The Rinpoche, with whom I’m not personally or even impersonally acquainted by the way, does bring up an interesting position, one not his own but one often held by modern western Buddhist-inspired meditators. It can and sometimes does go something like this: Learning can have no good effect. It only serves to make the learned proud, and pride is after all the greatest obstacle to the spiritual life. There could really be truth in this. The 4th-century Desert Fathers and Mothers of Syria, Judaea, Gaza and Egypt thought so. (It’s been said Jerome became a scholar just because he was a failure as a desert hermit...) You can also find some somehow somewhat similar echoings of this position among meditation-focused Buddhist thinkers in Tibet’s past. One of my favorites is from Pagmodrupa, a Kagyüpa two generations after the much more famous Milarepa. He says,
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.

Although I shan’t spill much ink over the issue, the forests of pens, the oceans of ink, etc, being well known to Indian writers, are not original with Pagmodrupa. Clearly, for Pagmodrupa, meditation held primacy over other things one might do as a Buddhist.

And he wasn't alone. Listen carefully to something his contemporary Zhang Yudragpa said,
Religious people in these bad times of the present
have little of the inner discipline that comes from study.
Even those who are learned in societies of words
have not realized their significances.
In the future, their proud contentions will increase.
The revered Lamas of the accomplishment transmission
pursued meanings and became accomplished.
Permanently renouncing such things as pride,
understanding meanings was the only skill
in scriptural authority and reasoning they required.

Scriptural Buddhology (or Buddhalogical philology) was not for these early Kagyüpa teachers an end in itself. It could (and I emphasize could) have negative consequences on its practitioners by making them focus or fixate on matters not exactly conducive to Enlightenment, or by making them overly concerned with the reactions of their peers, as does often happen in the academy, even to the point of thinking this kind of competition is the only game there is. But I think even seasoned meditators will have to admit that some kinds of knowledge can be helpful. Everybody knows how inspiring reading can be at times, especially slow and meditative reading of something edifying (by ‘edifying’ I mean something that holds out the promise of bringing out your better side). True, some kinds of book knowledge may not be helpful, but still there’s no reason they would have to get in the way of anything. Relax, they’re just knowable objects, more and less well known, more and less well observed, more and less well described, after all. And differing points of view about how they all might fit together. Relax. Like they say, A little knowledge can be a noxious thing. It could make your head swell up real large, as if you had just received a much coveted prize. Well, yeah, but on the other hand, a little knowledge can be totally innocuous. Like the ones your mother gives you that don’t do anything at all. No need to ask Alice.

Amma Syncletica said,
There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.

This same Desert Mother also said,
Just as a treasure that is exposed loses its value, so a virtue which is known vanishes; just as wax melts when it is near fire, so the soul is destroyed by praise and loses all the results of its labor.

Langritangpa said,

I will train [myself] to take the defeat upon myself
And offer the victory to others.

This last quote is from the best translation into English from Tibetan ever made, Thupten Jinpa's Englishing of Shönu Gyalchok & Könchok Gyaltsen's compilation Mind Training: The Great Collection, Wisdom (Boston 2006), page 277. This next quote is from somewhere else:
The fact is that even though any sentient being can be enlightened, there is one minor exception: scholars. That is the one thing that really will stand in the way forever of making any progress towards enlightenment. So whatever you do, don’t become a scholar. In fact, scholarship is so dangerous that you shouldn't even read anything by scholars or listen to them speak. More than that, you should earn as much merit as possible by telling everyone you know never to listen to anything that scholars say. Dayamati, aka Richard Hayes (1992).

Artist: Niccolò Antonio Colantonio, b. ca. 1420 CE.
Notice the concentration with which the learned scholar removes
the thorn causing so much aggravation to the patient lion.


  1. May I add another afterquote, from the closing verses of Jigmé Lingpa's White Lotus (Padma dkar po):

    In the forest wilderness, with its bushes of distraction,
    The monkeys who stretch out their arms in conformity
    With the universal dance of the afflictions
    Will not be interested in this.

  2. Thanks for that wonderful after-party quote. I may use it the next time I'm in the chillout zone letting the sweat dry.

    I'm reminded of the hungry monkey children in the story of the origins of human-kind according to the Mani Kambum. They pathetically plead, "What shall we eat, father? What shall we wear?" And while saying it, they stretched out their arms.

    The part about the party and chillout was jest a joke. I'm way too old for all that. Thanks for breaking my winter solitude. Have to go find something to eat (I'm already wearing clothes).

  3. Hmm, perhaps Mani Kambum passage is the source of the image here. Looking at the Tibetan (for the first time in a long time), I see that what I translated as "monkey" was yal ga'i ri dwags. I wonder if the Mani Kambum calls them that.

    Looking some more at the Tibetan text, I notice that the "stretching out of the arms" (lag rkyong) may be more to do with begging, as this is how the monkeys gain their sustenance ('tsho ba). In my experience monkeys prefer stealing to begging, but maybe that's down to the general decline in morality nowadays.

    Oh well, have look, here's the whole verse:

    /rnam g.yeng tshang tshing nags kyi bas mtha' ru/ /nyon mongs rtse 'jor rol dang chab gcig par/ /mthun 'jug lag rkyong gar gyi 'tsho ba yis/ /yal ga'i ri dwags rnams la 'di ma 'tshal/


    Anyway, with your talk of parties another quote sprang to mind, this time from Jigmé Lingpa's Lion's Roar (Seng ge'i nga ro):

    Don't drink yourself into a stupefied sleep by swallowing the beer
    Of good concepts that chase after a high view
    Or bad concepts that bind you with the fetters of doubt;
    Just remain in relaxed, naked, ordinary awareness.

    Jigmé Lingpa had a way with metaphors, that's for sure.


  4. It's perfectly clear and true as you say, that Limb Deer (yal-ga'i ri-dwags) is a known and accepted Abhidhana epithet for the monkey.

    I found in this text:

    a list of stock poetic expressions for 'monkey' (spre'u):

    SPRE'U la //
    yal ga'i ri dwags gnyer ma'i gdong //
    'phar 'gro sa yi mjug ma zer //

    Here they're also called Wrinkle Faces, Hoppers, and Earth Tails.

    If I had my favorite 1975 edition of the Mani Kambum nearby I'd check it for you. I doubt it uses the Limb Deer epithet, but I'm thinking it may very well use the phrase lag rkyong, for stretching out the arms...

    They say you're supposed to straighten house on the day before Tibetan New Year, which is tomorrow. I really oughta do some.


  5. P.S. I was very pleased that you recognized the meaning of mthun-'jug to be "conformity." I think too often students of Buddhist societies take positive valuations of social harmony as proof of social conformity. And mthun-'jug certainly means to make adjustments in oneself in order to fit in better. Most Tibetan writers in my experience have been either somewhat or very much against conformity. I'm sure Jigme Lingpa was.

    I was also thinking that your translation of rtse-'jo (also spelled rtsed-'jo) as 'universal dance' is perfectly OK, but you could have translated it as 'sports arena' like the huge ones they've been building in Beijing, which will certainly be the cause of a great deal of human suffering and disappointments, all in the cause of entertainment, apparently. Like the Roman coliseums. Excuse me for thinking too loudly, but I'm still troubled by my lack of ability to distinguish between dramatic performances, sporting events, dances, dance performances, child's play etc., when faced with these Classical Tibetan terms that seem to cover it all.

    If Jigme Lingpa is really, like I think he is, intending an allusion to the story in the Mani Kambum about the monkey children, it may be that he intended to make veiled criticism of their descendants, or at least those among their descendants who inherited their trait of neediness. I put up a new picture especially for you. It's called "I want! I want!" Not that I think that you want all that much. Let's say it's for you and your monkeys.


    Better go choose my identity and get out of here.

  6. Thank you for the Blake. I'm very fond of Blake. As he once said: "The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction." Which fits in nicely with this post. He also said "The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbit watch the roots; the lion, the tiger, the horse, the elephant watch the fruits." And speaking of rats, happy new year! I'm off to study roots.

  7. I just put up a new blog bringing in Blake via Bronowski and Padampa's animal metaphors. I hope you'll like it, since that one's for you!


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