Monday, October 20, 2008

Padampa's Animal Kingdom — Part Two

As promised in the previous blog, here at last I present to you the only source known to me that goes anywhere near to explaining Padampa's animal metaphors.  

It may be the case that Buddhism has a lot to say or suggest about animal rights or human ecological responsibilities. Certainly all Buddhists agree that animals are 'sentient,' capable of thought, aware of their surroundings, and that their pain must make a difference to us as sentient beings.  Animals fall under the umbrella of the compassion Buddhists seek to cultivate.  But I'm not sure why Padampa's metaphors would be all that interesting from a modern ecological thinker's point of view.  Do you have any idea?  I won't even go in this direction.  Not today.

Taken in its entirety, "Padampa's Animal Kingdom" does appear to much resemble the medieval bestiary. (I admit that this was in some part my own doing, since I selected out the animal metaphors and arranged them in this way.)   The accounts of animals in medieval bestiaries, too, may tell real or unreal stories involving animals and their observed or even unobservable behavior, but they are hardly ever in fact about the animals themselves. They were intended to tell us something about humans and the moral life of humanity.  

Chances are you've heard this bit of Solomonic wisdom, "Look to the ant thou sluggard, consider his ways and be wise!" Solomon tells us to work hard.  IF he's also telling us that ants work hard, it isn't actually anything that requires discussion in the way our laziness does.  I hope this point will be well taken, and that readers will not spend too much of their time finding meanings that Padampa never intended to be found.  

(Still, I have to confess that I personally am *very* curious to know more about actual animal behavior.  Do newly hatched sea turtles really find their way to the sea during the full moon?  Some recent research suggests this old folks' tale has real truth to it; see the Salmon article listed below.)

The metaphors from Padampa's Root Text, Great Sealing Symbol Song, are interpreted in a work by an anonymous Tibetan author some time during the 12th century.  This text, entitled Unravelling Symbolic Expressions of the Supreme Lineage,* does not give glosses for every single one of the animal metaphors, but I carefully traced and did my best to translate all the ones that are there.  I have no proof to offer right now, but I believe the most likely author of this text is Patsab (Pa-tshab), one of the main figures in the transmission of the Zhijé teachings.  His dates were 1077-1158 CE. I do not propose to justify this hunch or hypothesis at the moment, although in some other place I may investigate what is known of his life and try to make the case for or against Patsab's authorship.  

If you are like me, you will not always be satisfied with the commentator's comments. It may be well to consider that the author was a Tibetan, and as such shouldn't be expected to have complete knowledge of Indian animals and their metaphors that form part of Indian culture.  (And of course he was writing for an audience that could not always be expected to have such knowledge.)  I think, too, that the commentator didn't always want to give flatly prosaic explanations. He felt that 'A word to the wise should be sufficient.' Sometimes he might have been unable to resist sending our minds reeling in hope of explanations just one more time.  Sometimes we just get a hint.  Nothing is offered up on a silver platter.  Much is left to the imagination, assuming we have one.  Well, I for one assume we do.

*Mchog brgyud kyi brda' 'grol, This front title is not to be seen in the published version of the text, only in the microfilm of the original manuscript done by the Nepalese-German Manuscript Preservation Project. It also has a very brief title in the colophon, Brda' lan, "Symbolic Answers," or "Responses to the Symbols."
This title is totally unique to the Peacemaking Collection.  No other version of it is known to exist. It uses outdated vocabulary and highly irregular spellings (just like the manuscript as a whole). In cases where it could not be translated with a reasonable degree of confidence, a hack translation has sometimes been pushed forward, but in this case it ought to be enclosed in curly brackets { }. Occasionally my own comments or additions are enclosed in square brackets [ ].

The particular metaphorical usages are not restricted to these two texts, but are found scattered throughout the five (reprint) or four (original manuscript) volumes of the collection. Perhaps for some people of more significance is the fact many of them are found with close or identical meaning in the anthologies of single verses by Phadampa's 54 Indian teachers. Sometimes they make more sense in these other contexts, and I have made an attempt to search out these parallel materials in a less than systematic way. It's simply too much work. Those that I have so far managed to locate are translated in the footnotes.

I personally find it most remarkable that some of the most interesting parallels occur in the central portions of a set of meditation precepts, the Zheldam (zhal-gdams) of Zurchungpa (1014-1074 CE), a very significant figure in the transmission of certain Nyingmapa teachings at the time.  At the moment I am inclined to see the explanation for this common language lying in an Indian context rather than inside Tibet.  These parallels have also been mentioned in the footnotes.

As I think I said before, I am unable to offer a total explanation of Padampa's words. Making use of this Tibetan commentary by a member of his lineage will help illuminate them in part.  In an upcoming installment, I will pass on a somewhat technical, but I hope still readable, paper that goes into somewhat greater depth on the questions evoked by Padampa's animal metaphors, both singly and as a group. Perhaps I will go on to present the entire text in translation when I feel more confident that it is ready.**
**While working together with Dr. Penpa Dorjee of the CIHTS in Sarnath on a fresh translation of the Tingri Hundreds, I also consulted with him about some of the more difficult parts of the Root Text and its commentary, and we read through some of it together.  In the process the translations of these parts were thoroughly revised.  So he most certainly deserves a share of the merits from whatever is good about these efforts of ours.
If you printed out the Root Text (=Part 1) a few weeks ago, try to rediscover it in the pile of papers on your desk so you can glance back and forth between it and the commentary.

Fine links, good reading, worthwhile hearing & significant seeing:

David Holler, The Ritual of Freeing Lives, contained in: Henk Blezer & Abel Zadoks, eds., Religion and Secular Culture in Tibet: Tibetan Studies II, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 207-226.  The meritorious act of freeing animals that would otherwise be doomed to die is one of those practices found all over Buddhist Asia, and not just in Tibet. David Holler completed a master's thesis on this subject at the Humboldt University in Berlin several years ago.

Khenpo Karthar, Padampa Sangye's 80 Verses of Advice.  I would not under ordinary circumstances be making commercial links (and that includes advertising of any kind, whether for books or any other salable object) on Tibeto-logic blog.  And I'm dreading the day when Google will catch up with me and put advertising up on Tibetological website,  as is their right, apparently.  But this particular product, which I haven't yet seen, is certain to be interesting.  The advertising blurb for this DVD/CD/MP3 unfortunately contains a regrettable historical mistake.  Padampa did not, I repeat not, return to India after giving these words of advice.  After all, the title usually contains the word Zhalchem (zhal chems), meaning 'Last will and testament' and we know from all early sources that he died at Tingri in Tibet, until then remaining there for about 20 years straight without ever physically returning to India.  The teachings recorded here were given in Connecticut in August 2008.

Michael Salmon & Blair E. Witherington, Artificial Lighting and Seafinding by Loggerhead Hatchlings: Evidence for Lunar Modulation, Copeia: A Publication of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, no. 4 (December 21, 1995), pp. 931-938.  Try finding it at JSTOR if you are lucky enough to have access.  Or just schmoogle for sea turtle hatchlings and see what you come up with.

Lambert Schmithausen, Buddhism and Nature: The Lecture Delivered on the Occasion of the Expo 1990, an Enlarged Version with Notes, Studia Philological Buddhica, Occasional Paper Series, vol. VII, The International Institute for Buddhist Studies (Tokyo 1991).

Lambert Schmithausen, Buddhism and the Ethics of Nature, Some Remarks, The Eastern Buddhist, n.s. vol. 32, no. 2 (2000), pp. 26-78.  I warmly recommend these two articles by Dr. Schmithausen, Professor Emeritus of Uni Hamburg, especially if you spend a lot of time thinking about ecological ethics, sentience of plants, and animal rights.

Francis Story, The Place of Animals in Buddhism.  Available here.

Ivette Vargas, Snake-Kings, Boars' Heads, Deer Parks, and Monkey Talk: Animals as Transmitters and Transformers in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Narratives, contained in: Paul Waldau & Kimberley Patton, eds., A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics, Columbia University Press (NYC 2006).  I haven't seen this book, but it sure looks interesting.  Here is a brief review.

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Comments on Padampa's iconography, his name, its spelling, and the Tibetan words for animal:

For one of the most wonderfully evocative portraits of Padampa (his legs crouched up in his Zhijé form, not his Chö form with bone trumpet), kept at the LACMA, go to Himalayan Art website. (The quality of the scan is not so wonderful, which is really unfortunate.  So better if you go here and use the zoom.  Still, there is a mistake in the LACMA's description. "Nagpopa" is not among the names of Padampa.  There were several historic Indian Buddhists with the Tibetan name Nag-po-pa, which corresponds to Indic Kṛṣṇa[pāda], quite a common Indian name today.  For more on the most famous Mahāsiddha with this name, see Tāranātha's Life of Kṛṣṇācārya/ Kāṇha, tr. by David Templeman, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives [Dharamsala 1989]).

For Padampa's iconography, see the essay in Rob Linrothe, ed., Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas, Rubin Museum of Art (New York 2006), pp. 108-123. And if you still feel inclined to know more, read about and admire some Ladakhi portraits of Padampa in Rob Linrothe's  article Strengthening the Roots: An Indian Yogi in Early Drigung Paintings of Ladakh and Zangskar, Orientations (May 2007), pp. 65-71.

A note on pronunciation & spelling & internet searches:  I spell the complete Tibetan title or name in phonetic form as Padampa Sanggyé.  The correctly transliterated Tibetan is Pha Dam-pa Sangs-rgyas. I phoneticize as "Pa" rather than "Pha" in order to prevent the pronunciation "Fa" (and there is no reason to use the 'h' to represent the aspiration, since most people who are not from Tibet or India will aspirate initial 'p' automatically).  If you want to do an internet search, you will have to try both Padampa and Phadampa.  Try also "pha dam pa," "pha dampa," etc. etc.  Your efforts to locate Padampa ought to be met with success one way or another.

There are at least four Tibetan words that correspond to the concept of 'animal' in the broader senses, but they are not equal in their semantic coverage.

[1] The word drowa ('gro-ba — 'goer,' or perhaps 'transmigrator,' in Sanskrit gamana) we might translate as 'creature' (ignoring the 'creation' etymology of the word, which isn't relevant here). There are 5 or 6 kinds in traditional Buddhist cosmology: the lower rebirths are the animals, hungry ghosts (pretas), and hell beings; the higher rebirths — humans, titans (asuras) and gods (devas).

[2] The word semchan (sems-can) that you can see in Tibetan script floating in the middle of Part One, includes all animals including humans in the Buddhist texts (in Sanskrit, sattva). In translations of Buddhist texts it is rather routinely translated as 'sentient being.' It might be used to cover all beings that undergo mental events, that are able to suffer. The beings in hells, for example. This is true of the Buddhist texts, so it is seeming odd that nowadays it's commonly used in Tibetan to cover livestock in general. If you want to ask a nomad how many are in her or his herd, you ask 'em, How many semchan?

[3] The other word for 'animal' is rather peculiar because, although it can be used to include all animals, it does not seem to include human beings, at least not normally. This word, sogchag (srog-chags), meaning 'life[-force] loving,' was used to translate Sanskrit prāṇaka. This prāṇaka has a slight difference in meaning, something like '[those who] possess life-force,' but like the Tibetan word, it sometimes is intended in an even narrower sense to mean 'insects' (the whole range of bugs and worm-like creatures) instead of the broader class of animals.

[4] The word düdro (dud-'gro) is understood primarily as describing a mode of locomotion in a 'bent over' or prone position. Those who walk in this way are distinguished from the 'two legged' ones.  Two-legged primarily means humans and I suppose also chickens. Like all but one of the other words that we might translate as 'animal,' this one is a clear translation from a Sanskrit word, in this case tiryañc, which has the same meaning. The only word for animal where the Tibetan doesn't correspond quite closely to the [Buddhist] Sanskrit is semchan. It is not a literal translation of sattva, a Sanskrit word derived from the verb of being that means 'being.'

My only point in bringing all this up is just to stress that categorical concepts like 'animal' or 'feelings' or 'emotions' or 'blue' don't always translate well or simply, but it is also quite important to understand how they are routinely used in differing contexts with different meanings, even within the same language.  What DO we mean by 'animal'?

If you only had the time to spare you could spend many fascinating hours (with considerable edification and profit) at this marvelous site:  The Medieval Bestiary.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Padampa's Animal Kingdom — Part One

In this and upcoming blogs, I will attempt what I'm hoping will be an interesting experiment.  No, I mean for you, not for me.  Yes, of course I have been interested in Padampa and the Peacemaking Collection*  for about 25 years.  When I first saw those five volumes on the library shelves I wanted more than anything to read and understand what was written in them.  But my attempts failed rather miserably. Meanwhile I did quite a bit of reading of 11th-12th century Tibetan texts, familiarizing myself with early Tibetan vocabulary (the myth of Classical Tibetan's unchanging nature being little more than what I just called it, a myth).  Over the years, each time I went back to the Peacemaking Collection it made more sense to me.  This gradual process of finding more sense in it still continues today.  Someday I hope to report my complete success.  But you know what they say, don't you?  "Hope [not hair] sprouts eternal."
*My name for it.  'Peacemaking' translates Zhijé (Zhi-byed), name of a school of Tibetan Buddhism that preserved Padampa's teachings.
Padampa was a lot more complicated and interesting person than has been generally recognized, even among the experts.  Much of what we think we know proves only partly right or entirely mistaken.  We do get startlingly clear glimpses from time to time of who he was and what he was up to, so long as we stick with the earliest sources. He is best remembered in both Tibet and the world as author of the Tingri Hundred (Ding-ri Brgya-rtsa), a set of couplets that has survived in collections of various length and content.  Its English translation was edited and published long ago by an Oxford-educated American by the name of W.Y. Evans-Wentz.  

We say Padampa died in 1117 CE, but this consensus is based on unexamined faith in the Blue Annals coupled with ignorance of other sources like the Gya Pö Yigtsang, which seems to give the date 1108.  These days I'm thinking that it ought to be either this or  1105 (one 12-year cycle earlier, this date actually occurs in one chronology), since a somewhat earlier date makes better sense in light of his contacts with western Tibetan kings.  

Usually we just say Padampa was an Indian and leave it at that. True, he was born in South India, probably in coastal Andhra, son of a brahmin sea captain (I know, I know, brahmins aren't ever supposed to leave Mother India...). But he was also a great traveler. He traveled the entire length and breadth of India. During his three extended periods of residence in Tibet he became so proficient in the local language that his followers could state proudly that, unlike teaching sessions with other Indian masters, "none of the fuzzy approximations of translation intervened."  He was Indian, but he could have taken Tibetan citizenship, no problem, although he didn't place much store in such things as societies and kings.

For today, I would like to concentrate less on the author and more on the metaphors. First of all, I use the word 'metaphor' only for convenience, in a *very* broad sense. Padampa often spoke in statements what may often seem, at first, cryptic without good reason.  Some look like insoluble riddles, others brief allusions to lengthy parables. Eventually, if understanding comes at all, one begins to recognize that these are usually more and less extended analogies for such things as: the teacher-student relationship, the value of renunciation, meditative experiences, and ways of dealing with the afflictive mental events that Buddhists call kleshas.  I think these topics cover the majority, perhaps as much as ninety percent.  I doubt this will be clear to anyone upon a first reading of the Root Text.  So let this be a hint.

There are two sources that I will be using for the animal metaphors.  The first, which I will call for simplicity the Root Text is what we will look at today.  The second can wait awhile.  Both are preserved in what I call the Peacemaking Collection, published with a preface by Barbara Nimri Aziz. A few years ago I received via the National Archives in Kathmandu a microfilm of the manuscript that was used as the basis of that publication.  In general I feel I have successfully dated the scribing of the manuscript to within a decade of the year 1250, and identified it as a copy, probably very nearly identical in its title content, of an unavailable 'golden' (gold ink) manuscript scribed between the years 1207 and 1210 CE.  (The argument is complicated, but I'd gladly post that paper for you if you wanted me to.)

My instructions for you, if you choose to follow them, are marvelously simple.  Go ahead and do your best to figure out what Padampa is expressing in his animal metaphors.  If you can read the Tibetan original text (here unfortunately supplied in tiny Roman letters) you might have a slight edge over others, although I'm not completely sure of it.  Once you have read them through a time or two,  go to the very bottom of the page and open the attachment you will find there.  A file should open up for you. This contains the same set of animal metaphors, only this time supplied with footnotes that may aid comprehension of a certain number of the metaphors.  How are you at untying knots?

If this doesn't work for you at all, well, not to put it too bluntly...  It isn't for everyone. You have to have the taste for it.  You have to have the drive.  Don't worry about it.  In any case, I'd be happy if you would let me know how it goes.

Things to read if you can (be sure that a bigger bibliography is on its way):

W.Y. Evans-Wentz, ed., "The Last Testamentary Teachings of the Guru Phadampa Sangay, according to the Late Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering," contained in: The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, Oxford University Press (Oxford 1970; first published in 1954), pp. 241-252.

The Hundred Verses of Advice from Padampa Sangye to the People of Tingri Explained by Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, translated from the Tibetan by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shechen Publications (Kathmandu, no date).  Most highly  recommended!
NOTE:  Some Sufi felt free to hang the verses up on his internet site, but I recommend getting the inexpensive book, which contains the explanations of the verses by the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.  So does the Sufi.

Rudolf Kaschewsky, Die Lehrworte des Pha-dam-pa, contained in: R. Kaschewsky,
et al., eds., Serta Tibeto-Mongolica (Wiesbaden 1973) 171-204, with the text in the form of a photocopy of a woodblock print at pp. 174-183.

Neldjorma Seunam Ouangmo, translator, Le Testament Spirituel: Les cent préceptes de Ding-Ri, Dernières recommandations de Pa Dampa Sangyé, Editions Yogi Ling (Evaux-les-Bains 1997).

Kurtis Schaeffer, Crystal Orbs and Arcane Treasuries: Anthologies of Buddhist Tantric Songs from the Tradition of Dampa Sangye, 
Acta Orientalia, vol. 68 (2007), pp. 5-74.

David Molk and Lama Tsering Wangdu Rinpoche, translators, Lion of Siddhas: The Life and Teachings of Padampa Sangye, Snow Lion (Ithaca 2008).

These Padampa blogs are dedicated to S.R.A.  She knows who she is.

Everybody knows that ice is water.  Still, we often forget that before it can do what water does it has to melt.  
(— A Padampa paraphrase)
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