Thursday, November 20, 2008

Leeches & Prapañcas

Yes, I know, it's not a leech.  It's a centipede.  Wondering why?  OK, keep wondering.

In the comments section there was a discussion on the subject of metaphor no. 2 of Padampa's Root Text.  I have now changed my translation, following Early Tibet's correction, to read as follows:
The leech, satiated with blood, doesn't go after meat that is in the water.

The Commentary on no. 2 reads (also changed slightly, adding the words in blue):
Leech — The worm known as the leech is found in narrow places in swamps all over Mon and India. It drinks the blood it sucks from the feet of humans. Until it has had its fill, even if you pull on it you can't remove it. Then it's exhausted, and won't even go after meat that's [been placed] in the water. Likewise when you have ceased the outflows (prapañca) of a mind that has cultivated learning, reflection and meditation, a sense of ease appears.

I believe this is a good instance of how the Tibetan commentator sometimes doesn't exactly give a straightforward interpretation of Padampa's intended meanings.  In his last sentence he does at least supply what looks like it would be an essential clue.  It has to do with those things that I hastily (and, I admit it, badly) translated as 'outflows,' the prapañcas (Tibetan spros-pa).

Perhaps the most popular way to English prapañca is 'conceptual diffusion,' although I don't suppose this will provoke much resonance in most people's minds.  Perhaps that's why I've always been scouting for another way to render it.  I once asked a good Shaivite friend in Nepal what it meant, and was surprised to hear an explanation that generally jibed with what I had largely intuited from Tibetan Buddhist sources.  I don't remember his exact wording, but he told me that it's a function of the mind that ventures out into the world and pushes one thing this way, tucks another thing that way, until the 'world' (or more to the point the individual's perception of the same) better conforms to the person's mentality.

I hope no one will take my word alone for what prapañca means.*** There are basically two writings in existence that I believe cast a significant amount of light on this perplexing Indian idea as it is used in Buddhist sources. One is a 4-page essay by P. D. Premasiri,* which is limited to Pâli sources. The other is an article by Karen Lang.** She ranges over all kinds of Indian sources, including Vedic scriptures, Jain texts, and particularly Pâli scriptures and commentaries (Vedântic treatises and Madhyamaka classics surface only briefly at the end). Like the Tibetan commentator, I don't mean to force upon anyone a particular understanding of how the leech (or the things the leech does) & the prapañca might be analogous, but I imagine that if you were to read these two articles carefully some sense might just pop up like all of a sudden. I'll just hand you a couple of quotes that might hint at what it's about.

Lang nicely summarizes in her introduction the practical meditation concerns within which the term prapañca operates:
"Several Indian religious works... use the expression prapañca (Pâli papañca) to refer to the world perceived and constructed as the result of disturbed mental states.  In order to calm this unquiet world, these works advocate meditative practices that staunch the flow of normal sensory experience."
Even more nicely, Lang says:
"[T]he Buddha, when asked how to realize nibbâna, responded that one must cut off the root of what is called conceptual proliferation, namely the thought "I am" and by remaining mindful control whatever internal desires he has.  In this way, one achieves the goal of inner calm."
And if I may quote from the summary at the end of Premasiri's essay:
"[I]t [papañca] may be interpreted as a psychological term that signifies the internal sub-vocal chatter that goes on in the mind using the prolific conceptual constructions based on sense perception.  This internal chatter feeds and is fed by unwholesome emotions such as craving, conceit and dogmatism and produces the tensions, anxieties and dogmatism that produce the tensions, anxieties and sorrows of the individual. The overt expression of this psychological condition is witnessed in the conflicts and disputes that manifest in society.**** Papañca may be understood as the psychological turmoil to which a person becomes a victim due to the lack of awareness and insight into the realities of the sensory process to which all beings constituted of a psychophysical organism are exposed."
Prapañcas are closely intertangled with conceptual thinking (vitarka, rtog-pa) — both are also intertangled with sense perceptions — but, unlike conceptual thinking, they have an apparently 'outward' interfering function (mind you, they don't really go anywhere). They are driven by irrational cravings, selfish conceit and inflexible views. They in turn result in both individual mental disturbances and social miseries, the latter particularly including conflicts with other people.  Clear?  Hmm. Let me give it one final shot, if you will permit me.

Narcissism as a world-distorting mechanism?

Imagine a big ball of fluffy white cotton appears right there in front of you on your desk. I'm not sure it really is cotton, or anything else for that matter, but it sure looks like it is. It just sits there and you're not sure what to do with it, but somehow it must be dealt with, so you start poking it with a finger from one side and then the other. Getting impatient with this game you take it in both hands. You do your best to stuff the whole thing inside a desk divider or it gets compacted into one big block inside your pencil box. Then you pull it out of the square or round pencil box and it seems to keep the shape of the box, but you pull at it from one side and then the other and it starts to fluff out, but you keep going until little wisps of cotton are decorating your whole room. You pull some of the wisps back together and make little balls and try to bounce them around. Perhaps you try to restore the complete ball, but this ends in frustration.

Now it's necessary to partly deconstruct the analogy.  Just think to yourself that it wasn't your fingers doing all that stuff to the cotton ball. It was your mind in its usual self-cherishing (or egocentric, or narcissistic) condition. And the cotton ball was the world as you perceive it. And you're not normally the least bit aware of it, let alone in control. There you go. I tried. Now you have a mental image — perhaps a useful one, I'm not sure of it — of prapañcas.  But bear in mind that I just made it up to suit myself...  Doing what I do best, making a mess of things.  Confabulating.

†  †  †

The Tibetan text of the commentary (there is only one witness, the one in the Zhijé Collection, vol. 1, p. 432) reads like this:

pad pas zhes bya ba ni / srin bu pad pas bya ba mon nam rgya gar kun na 'dam rdzab kyi gseb na yod par 'dug / /  de myi'i [r]kang pa la khrag 'jib pa'i 'thung bar byed de / ma ngoms par [~bar] du then kyang myi thon pa yin par 'dug / kho rang kho dag chad pa dang chu'i nang nas [~na] sha'i phyi[r] myi 'breng gsung / de bzhin du thos bsam sgom gsum gyi[s?] blo'i spros pa chod nas dal ba'i nyams 'char ro gsung.

**Karen Lang, Meditation as a Tool for Deconstructing the Phenomenal World, contained in: Tadeusz Skorupski & Ulrich Pagel, eds., The Buddhist Forum, Volume III, 1991-1993: Papers in Honour and Appreciation of Professor David Seyfort Ruegg's Contribution to Indological, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (London 1994), pp. 143-159.

*P.D. Premasiri, Papañca, contained in: W.G. Weeraratne, ed., Encyclopedia of Buddhism, vol. 7, Fascicle 2, Government of Sri Lanka (Colombo 2004), pp. 299-303. This important reference work, decades in the making, unfortunately may be hard to locate.  The most likely place is the reference section of a large research library.

****"I heard David Chase [the director] say one time that it's about people who lie to themselves, as we all do. Lying to ourselves on a daily basis and the mess it creates."
— James Gandolfini, the actor who plays Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, interviewed in Rolling Stone in March 2001. Watch this television series with care and you might see and reflect how people can be both true to [what they regard as] themselves and constantly telling lies. (Tony even exploits his sessions with his analyst in order to justify and rationalize to himself doing the [evil] things he would have done anyway, making her complicit in his criminality rather than bettering himself as a human being.) An interesting example of art as metaphor for life, for how art works, and for how art works on us. For this quote and more, look here.
***If you would like to know other ways of defining prapañca, try this short one at Wikipedia or this longer one at Buddhist Door.  You might also want to try here and scroll down to part "a" of section "3."  

For an introduction to the problem of the relationship between psychology and Buddhism (an essential therapy for those who think their concerns are identical written by someone with excellent background in their two cultures), see Luis O. Gómez, Psychology, contained in: Robert E. Buswell Jr., ed., Encyclopedia of Buddhism, MacMillan Reference USA (NY 2004), pp. 678-692.

If you're into comparative linguistics and you actually do give a fig about how to say 'leech' in other Tibeto-Burman languages, link this PDF article by James Matisoff, and then scroll down to page 150.  You'll see that the Monpa for 'leech' is pat-pa, which is closest to the Written Tibetan form pad-pa (and I see this as evidence that the sometimes encountered WT form padma [Skt. 'lotus'] is an ignorant 'correction'... Or should I say an unnecessary correction?  An incorrect correction?  Umm. You know what I mean).

"The Sanskrit term prapañca has a root that connotes multiplicity, variation, etc. As it is used in Buddhist psychology and philosophy of mind, it denotes the mind’s tendency to create ideas and experiences that have nothing to do with reality, to spin out of control, to fantasize, to superimpose its own fantasies on reality. We have chosen to translate this as fabrication, which does a good job of capturing the core idea of creating a falsehood, of making things up."

phyi yi spros pa rang gi sems la bsdus ||
'khyag rom chu ru zhu'o ding ri ba ||

The conceptual elaboration of your external world is subsumed in your own mind.
Frozen blocks of ice melt into water, my Tingrians.

— Padampa Sanggyé


  1. I'm so glad you dedicated a post to the leech and his/her/our prapancas. I was rather disappointed by your reference to the leech as a lowly creature, since it seems uncharacteristic of your generous and open-minded interest in all things that walk and crawl.

    Since you are sticking to the "meat in the water" translation, I believe you must have a good reason to do so. Do you think that this refers to living meat (i.e. a leg) in the water, or a piece of dead meat? If the latter, was this used as a method of leech gathering? I am reminded of Wordsworth's "The Leech Gatherer" in which the poet is interrupted in his happy musings by a very lowly person wandering around the moors. He asks this old man what he is doing --

    My question eagerly did I renew,
    "How is it that you live, and what is it you do?"

    He with a smile did then his words repeat;
    And said that, gathering Leeches, far and wide
    He travelled; stirring thus about his feet
    The waters of the Pools where they abide.
    "Once I could meet with them on every side;
    But they have dwindled long by slow decay;
    Yet still I persevere, and find them where I may."

    I suppose the old man would sell his leeches to doctors, or to some middleman who paid him a pittance and sold on the leeches at a great profit. The poet was not being fanciful. In a little piece in the journal Notes and Queries from 1908, A Mr Peacock writes that leech gatherers were known of in the 18th and 19th century in the West Country, though he has never seen one (if you or your institution has a subscription you can download the PDF here.)

    Both Mr Wordsworth and Mr Peacock suggest that the method of the leech gathers was to roll up their trousers and walk into the water, while swishing it with a stick. I wonder if another method, known to Padampa, would have been to place a piece of meat in the water? Anyway, it is nice to see that Wordsworth could also learn something from leeches or at least their gatherers -- about freeing himself from his own morbid thoughts.

    So, thanks for your discourse on prapanca. Your metaphor suggests nicely that it is our tendency latch on the contents of simple awareness and make them more complicated than they really are. So I like Padampa's commentator's idea that the satiated leech has a "sense of ease" & no need to latch on to anything.


  2. Dear e.T.,

    So sorry to sound like I was down on the 'lowly' leech. My style has been called hopelessly hyperbolic before. Least of all did I intend to place your good person in that category. Quite the contrary, I hold both you and your blog in the highest estimation.

    I like your suggestion that the 'meat' (sha) in the water might just as well be living flesh. It just as well might.

    I do have some personal experience with leeches, as a child wading in shallow streams. It was never pleasant, subjectively speaking. It caused a great deal of distress for myself and for my fellow waders. In fact, the reaction to even seeing a leech is commonly one of disgust and even horror, which might be one reason why I didn't put a leech photo here. ('Little leech, Who made thee?') Instead I put that centipede that was crawling on my leg at Koh Samui.

    It could very well be that putting hunks of meat in the water would attract most types of leeches, and so could be a method of catching them. (From what I read about them recently, many actually feed primarily off of necrotic tissues, preferring this even to blood... That's why you can see leeches attached to bloodless fish sometimes. They are cleaning dead matter off the surface of the fish, it seems, doing the fish a favor by helping with its grooming. Did you ever see the eel-fishing episode in the movie version of The Tin Drum?)

    I even think that Padampa could have been aware of therapeutic usages of the leech, which might also suggest a further meaning concealed in his metaphor, that prapañcas might be harnessed to Buddhist ends. (That wouldn't be unlike him.) And if leeches could be put to therapeutic usage, then no doubt there would be people to gather them. So maybe Wordsworth and Padampa understood each other? Do you think?

    Many thanks for writing, and most of all for the fun bit of poetry.


  3. Dear e.T.,

    On the question of whether Padampa knew of therapeutic usages of the leech.

    I could kick myself, but actually the volumes of medical texts in the Tibetan Tanjur have been entirely digitalized by Asian Classics Input Project. I combined them into a file and searched for the words "srin bu pad pa" (have to try "srin bu bad" since the misspelled version occurs several times). This actually comes up with a lot of (at least a dozen) usages for 'blood letting' types of purposes. Perhaps most interesting because of his importance for Tibetan medical practice, is this brief sample from Vāgbhaṭa, Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā (Yan lag brgyad pa'i snying po bsdus pa), Tôhoku no. 4310; Derge Tanjur, vol. HE, folios 44v.1 335r.7 (translated by Jarandhara (Janardana?) and Rin chen bzang po), at folio 96 verso:

    srin bu pad pa bder gnas pa / / khrag dbyung phyir na sbyar bar bya / / (surrounding text also relevant?)

    "The 'worm' leech, nicely placed, must be applied in order to extract blood."

    I don't have any of the texts and translations of Vāgbhaṭa's work at hand in my poor home library, but there are quite a few of them out in the world.

    But the answer is, Yes! Padampa very likely was aware of the use of leeches for therapeutic purposes. This could be *very* significant for the ways we might want to interpret what he says about them and the prapañcas.


  4. Just a technical note: I imagine some might wonder about why the Tibetan says srin-bu pad-pa, or 'worm leech' in translating what in Sanskrit would have simply said 'leech' (jalauka & the like).

    This is an example of a 'specifier,' added by the Tibetan translator in order to make it clearer to the Tibetan reader what kind of thing is intended.

    Near the beginning of the Sgra-sbyor bam-po gnyis-pa you find instructions on translating Sanskrit terms for countries, animals, flowers, trees and so forth. It advises that in many cases it would be best to leave the Sanskrit in transliterated form without translating, but in cases such as these one ought to add the Tibetan specifiers like yul ('country') or me-tog ('flower') in front of the word.

    Of course the word for leech (pad-pa) isn't a transcription of Sanskrit. But because it is rather uncommon and not liable to be recognized by many people (and because it is often misspelled as pad-ma, which is properly the Sanskrit word for 'lotus') it is felt that a specifier is needed.

    (The Tibetan reads, following the text by Nils Simonsson: yul dang / sems can dang / me tog dang / rtsi shing la sogs pa'i ming bsgyur na yid gol zhing tshig mi bde ba dang / 'ol phyir bsgyur du rung ba don du de ltar yin nam ma yin gtol med pa rnams la / mgo la yul zhe'am / me tog ces pa la sogs pa gang la bya ba'i ming gcig bla thabs su snon la rgya gar skad so na zhog cig.

    The Tibetan word I translated as 'specifier' is the bla-thabs, which more literally means an 'additional label' (try Schmoogling "bla-thabs").

    Christina Sherrer-Schaub (in Journal of Indian Philosophy, vol. 27 [1999], pp. 72-3) has translated the same passage like this:

    "When in translating the names of regions, sentient beings, flowers, fruiters [fruit trees], etc., [the translator] hesitates [about the exact meaning or whether the corresponding Tibetan] expression is inadequate [to that meaning] and even if, generally speaking, the possibility of translating [it] exists, but [the translator] does not know whether the meaning [of the supposed term] is adequate or not, [it is better] in this case to leave the Sanskrit expression and add at the head as an appellative the suitable [common noun in Tibetan], such as yul, me-tog."

    I think that translators today could use this advice. Perhaps we should leave prapañca untranslated, for example!

  5. I'm confused. Is the behavior of the leech being applauded, or censured? Is the reader being asked to see the leech as an example to follow?

  6. I'm not sure. Or I think it may be too complicated to decide definitely one way or the other. It depends on whether Padampa sees leeches and prapañcas as having possible positive or therapeutic value. It seems likely that he does. i'll think about it some more.

  7. It is/was of course common in much Buddhist thinking to accept that conceptual analysis was necessary to bring about a nonconceptual state of wisdom (this was the argument of the winning side of the so-called Samyé debate).

    On the other hand, some Tibetan writers accused others of being unwilling to give up the analytical aspect of the path once that nonconceptual wisdom had been achieved (and prapañcas had been elimated).

    Could this be the lesson of the leech? You need to gorge on prapañcas to put an end to the need for prapañcas, and then you should definitely stop. But whether Padampa would want to argue this, I leave up to Dan...

  8. Let's see. I want to overcome my alcoholism. So I guess I'll just go out and get totally drunk, go on a weekend bender. Short of fatal alcohol poisoning, I'm not seeing how this would bring alcoholism to an end.

    I'm not sure this is the logic you would want to attribute to Padampa, but that's what it seems like. It's not that homeopathic principles are unknown to Padampa. But hey, allow for some subtlety, will you?

    Actually, prapañca is frequently paired with vikalpa (rnam-rtog) and not just with vitarka (rtog-pa). And this is as true in Pāli sources as it is for Nāgārjuna. Vitarka and vikalpa can sometimes be used with identical meaning, depending on context, but vitarka tends more toward logical thinking that may or may not be a good thing depending on when and where it is applied (like 'investigation' it belongs to the subset of indeterminate factors within the Abhidharma sets of mental states). Vikalpa, particularly when you look at its roots (vi+kḷp) has a sense of going back and forth in your mind, first one way, then the other; vacillation (in modern Tibetan namtog [rnam-rtog] has colloquial usages that could be translated not just as 'doubt' but as 'superstition'). Vikalpa is not anything good.

    There are those Nāgārjunists who have a 'linguistic' reading of his texts and want to translate prapañca as 'verbal differentiations' (or Waldron's "language's endless recursivity") and the like. I imagine they are mistaken, and that Nāgārjuna used the term pretty much like the Pāli Buddhists did... It isn't especially about verbalizations, but about ways of interfering with the way the world is seen. I even think of prapañca as a pan-Indian concept (see Karen Lang's article), with similar meanings everywhere (notice I didn't say 'identical'). One of the most interesting discussions of the meaning of Pāli papañca is the one found here. And here the series goes like this: "What one feels, one perceives. What one perceives, one thinks about. What one thinks about, one mentally proliferates. What a person mentally proliferates is the source through which apperceptual proliferation impact one regarding past, future and present forms cognizable through the eye." The Pāli word behind "thinks about" is vitakketi (of course, vitakka being Sanskrit vitarka). As I read this, sense contact runs through us in stages, with the prapañcas/proliferations intruding/impinging finally into/on our sense experience, so we don't even see the same thing (or see the same thing the same way) the next time around... Hmmm. I may be changing my mind. Again. Nothing new there.

  9. In the earlier message I said:

    "One of the most interesting discussions of the meaning of Pāli papañca is the one found here."

    The link failed to go up, but here it is. It's a PDF of the Madhupindika Sutta, translated and commented upon by Piya Tan:

  10. I've been trying to work on my culturally engrained vertebrate supremacist attitudes, so what better way than rediscovering my long lost copy of Ralph Buchsbaum's Animals without Backbones, Pelican Books (1957 reprint of the 1938 edition). The subtitle says it all: "The story of the amoebas, sponges, corals, jellyfishes, worms of all kinds, and the variety of other invertebrates which make up 95 per cent of the animal kingdom."

    Need I point out that us vertebrates are clearly in the minority? Not only that, but every time we get those excruciating pains from slipped disks after lifting something heavy, we have nothing better to blame than? Yep! You guessed it. Those dad-burned awful bones in our backs. But then again, did you ever see a worm lifting weights?

  11. The question is: Did a publication similar to "Animals Without Backbones" circulate in India? If the answer is yes, then how would Padampa have access to it? I don't know the answers, I'm asking.

  12. By the way, now that I think of it .... If a textbook on animal behavior existed in the subcontinent, what does it actually contain? Is it straight observation, or does it tend to contain other elements like ... I dunno ... social commentary (fable), communicating societal values (fairy tale, short story), political analysis ("Son, the elephants and lions around here don't get along ... and here's why, don't you forget it!)? I guess I'm asking, "WHO" is this leech? Only a leech? Thoughts, please.

  13. I always work on the assumption that knowledge about 10th-century Indian knowledge about animals would be the main key to understanding the animal metaphors.

    I also believe that Indians had much knowledge about animals that came from direct observation (or someone else's direct observation). (But literary/poetic 'conceits' sometimes also play a role.) In most cases you don't really have treatises on particular animals to go by, but there are such treatises for horses and for elephants (I don't know if any of these really predate Padampa, really). One nice small book in English is F. Edgerton's The Elephant-Lord of the Hindus, Motilal (Delhi 1985; reprint of 1931 edition).

    Supposedly there once existed a 13th-century work by the Jain author Haṃsadeva called Mṛgapakṣiśāstra. To judge from the title, this was a treatise on wild animals and birds. I don't have any idea of this has survived. But I suppose it's possible there was an earlier such work that could have been known to Padampa.

    Like you I also think that the metaphors can sometimes tell us about Padampa, even about his pre-adolescent experiences. With his father the sea captain, yes, but also his own experience as a young man in a coastal region of south India (probably Andhra Pradesh). This could explain the striking number of [sea] turtle metaphors, a subject I'll come around to soon.

    The leech is a leech is a leech. But an analogy is being made concerning something that is not a leech.

    I'll say good night for now. Thanks for writing.

  14. I love those Pelican books (blue paperback perchance?) from the 50s and 60s.

    Your conclusion, if I am right in interpreting it thus, that prapañca, unlike vitarka, is rarely presented as having a positive role to play, is convincing. At least that's my (limited) experience in the Tibetan context.

    But this leads to a more general question - and here I dovetail with the comment of the Short Person - do we need to follow Padampa's commentator slavishly? In many places, here included, he reduces the possible range of the analogy to something rather narrow. Partly this may be due to his having a narrower cultural sphere of reference. But in any case, such specific interpretations are bound to close down others.

    For example, we could also see the leech analogy as being about instruction. Once one has reached a certain point - perhaps that path called 'no more learning' - there is no need to continue taking in instructions. This is just the point to 'drop off' knowing that there is no need for more. Or as Wittgenstein out it at the end of the Tractatus: "He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it."


  15. "A good meal lasts several months, and during this time the blood is stored in stomach pouches, which can be seen through the body wall as dark bands."

    Leech description labeling illustration no. 66, of vol. 2 of Ralph Buchsbaum's Animals without Backbones, a Pelican Book with a blue color, 1957 edition. I've also got Derek Wragge Morley's The Ant World from the same series, which once cost 2/6 (two quid, 6 p). Morley was born at Cambridge in 1920, started studying ants when he was 14 and published his first paper on the subject when he was 16.

    But enough of that, let me try to get to the answer I was trying to arrive at with S. Person. I do think it's important to know about actual animal behavior in trying to comprehend Padampa's metaphors. And that's true because Indians, including Padampa himself, had knowledge of actual animal behavior. In saying that I don't mean to say that an 11th-century Indian would have the same knowledge of ant behavior as Derek Wragge Morley had (or anyway that most English-language speakers nowadays know as much as he did...). Book knowledge may be increasing, but practical experience with animals, particularly wild ones, is in short supply these days. I'd say its devolving fast.

    If I'm right in my intuitions about who the author would have been, he was a student of Padampa's student Kunga. I'm not sure you should always trust him. But on the other hand I don't know who else to trust. Instincts? Vitarkas? Vikalpas? Prapañcas? I would expect that he would have known some of these metaphors as part of the teachings he received from Kunga, who was the only one who really 'got' Padampa. Padampa spoke excellent Tibetan and didn't ever need the help of a translator. But he did need an interpreter since he always spoke in 'riddles' that, they say, only Kunga really understood.

  16. I should have given the link to P.Sz.'s very recent link to one of those elephant treatises at his Thor-bu Blog (thor-bu means bits of things scattered here & there, or perhaps just 'miscellaneous'). The book is mostly in Sanskrit, but for readers of English there is a curious preface. At least you can get to it for free.

    Now back to my chores.

  17. I spoke way too soon about that book by the Goose God Hamsadeva. Actually, an English version of it is findable online. Try Schmoogling "mriga pakshi shastra" and see what you come up with.

    Or try this link (my link was unacceptably long, so you can just go to the "Digital Library of India" homepage and search from there:

    There is even a newly published translation, out just this year: Hamsadeva, Mrigapakshishastra: The Science of Animals and Birds (Mriga.pakshi.shastra), edited by Nalini Sadhale & Y.L. Nene, New Delhi, India; Munshiram Manoharlal (New Delhi 2008).

    Who knew?

  18. Oh, and I guess the book is in Prakrit, not Sanskrit.

  19. I got it ...! Treasure, treasure everywhere; can be found if only you care!

  20. I was looking for some reasonable (and English-language) statement about how prapañcas might be considered (or made) to be positive, productive of higher Buddhist values. Have a look at Bernie Simon's blogspot where I ran across this entry:

  21. That's interesting. He seems to come from a Rdzogs chen or Phyag chen point of view. Which reminds me of another example of positive prapañca, if you'll excuse the vulgarity of quoting from my own book (p.178 of 'Approaching...').

    In Jigme Lingpa's Pad ma dkar po he comments on a verse from the Sgra thal 'gyur tantra which lists the four types of empowerment: "with prapañcas, without prapañcas, very much without prapañcas and entirely without prapañcas" (that's spos can, spros med, shin tu spros med and rab tu spros med).

    The Sgra thal 'gyur was probably circulating by the time that Padampa was in Tibet. 'With prapañcas' is of course the lowest of the four, but it's an empowerment after all, so I think we can count this as a positive use of the term. Perhaps this is comes from a similar place as Khenpo Tshultrim's equation of prapañca with ritual practice.

  22. Hello Squire,

    The Ant World from the same series, which once cost 2/6 (two quid, 6 p).

    Shouldn't this be 2 shillings 6 pence?
    20 shillings to the pound and 12 pence to the shilling, and 240 pence to the pound.

    So looking down on leeches, are you? Not too big a distance from the viewpoint of lower vertebrates like olms.



  23. Arno, I've missed hearing from you. Where have you been? Given that carrots have perfect consciousness, I always try to stay true to the higher perspectives of your lowest orders of being. And of course I defer to your authority on the subject of outdated British currency systems. Quids and p's are all I've known in my relatively short life (and I've done my best to mind them, the proverbial p's and q's I mean, which some people with lager or stout in mind think is short for pints & quarts). What's the slang for shilling, shills? Next you'll be lecturing me about guineas. I'll be waiting.


  24. Actually, to my ears, the ”outflows” – in this connection – was something fresh! Un-standard, yes, but fresh. Un-numbing.

    And, perhaps, not so off the target, or off the mtshan nyid, either. If we think about the Tibetan word – spro ba – 'gyed pa,... skyed pa,...'od zer spro ba /dga' ba,...thugs ha cang spro ba! Or – ’phro ba – spros nas 'tsher ba / bde skyid kyi 'od zer phyogs kun tu 'phros.
    Prapañca / utsâha / visâra. Why not?

    A kind of delight.

    Or – mdzad rnam spro ba. Something is il-lustrated, isn’t it?

    The conceptual elaborations we grasp at – too often – tend to distance us from language. Moreover, take the language away from us. Instead of translation we produce a com-mentary. (But not always an enlightening one.)

    The other way out – of course – is to take recourse /refuge in sanskrit. But the problems we may have with foreign flora and fauna, the oliphants and chrysanthemums, don’t quite match here, I think.

    We are speaking here of language, right? Of unfoldment of the implicate. Of literature – aren’t we?

    In any case: joy spreads out. Thank you!


  25. Tan-tan-laa,

    Right. And you've got thugtro (thugs spro) nowadays as the word for party. Meanings seem to be bouncing all over each other, almost like they're having a party of their own.


  26. Dan-lags,

    Indeed! As they say: words are all horn-headed ones...

    Yours sincerely,

  27. But having said that, I should warn my readers that head banging has been found to be injurious to the brain.

    It's even
    said that one ought to bang one's head only after every other beat in order to lessen (by half?) the possibility of brain damage.

    This has been a public service announcement.

  28. And while we're at it, I might as well say this. Keep cell phones away from your ear, and cell phone transmission towers away from your neighborhood. Or just use cell phones half the time in order to cut the risks in half. We don't know what harm they really do, do we? So to be reasonably on the safe side we'll just trust our paranoia.

  29. For those who haven't seen them, here's a video that displays some typical leech behavior. It's also taken somewhere around the eastern side of the Tibetan plateau ("Gibboh Pass between Lugu Lake and Muli").

  30. Another picture of a leech on flesh may be seen at Dirk in India blogsite (, which has other fun & frightening & otherwise interesting stuff.

  31. While on a little vacation I picked up the newer edition if the Lonely Planet Phrasebooks "Tibetan" (4th edition, February 2008). I see on p. 118, in the section of 'wildlife' terms, they give the Tibetan for 'leech' as both pad-pa and 'bu sbas-sbas. I would suggest that the second one would be more correctly spelled 'bu pad-pad, which would have developed (I imagine) as a duplicative form of 'bu pad-pa.

    (I disagree about 2 percent of the time with Lonely Planet's equivalents and/or spellings, but that could just be me... some, like the words for 'thyme' and 'rosemary' are merely descriptive, and not equivalents at all...).

    I personally haven't the least idea about colloquial or regional Tibetan words for 'leech' and would appreciate hearing from anyone with experience.

  32. Hmm. I realize now I have the 1st (1987), 2nd (1996) and 4th editions of the Lonely Planet "Tibet Phrasebook." My collection is unfortunately lacking in the 3rd edition, or we might consider it complete. The first edition gives the Tibetan word for 'leech' only as 'bu spas-spas.

    The 4th edition still has a few mistakes. The Tibetan word for 'pomegranate' is se-'bru, and not the sin-'bru given on its page 144. The pomegranate is much used in Tibetan medicine, especially as a stomachic.

  33. Leechman,

    Some of your more recent posts (July 2009) made me believe that your house is somewhat flea-infested, all this itching and scratching.
    I wanted to add the following bibliographical item to the topic of leeches. I am not at all saying that is even remotely related to your leeches, I am just saying that it is about leeches in a (pre-)Buddhist context:

    細田 典明 [Hosoda, Noriaki]. 「輪廻の主体についての蛭の譬喩」 ["On a Simile of a Leech (jalāyukā) as a Saṃsārin"]. Hokkaido Journal of Indological and Buddhist Studies, 9, 1994, pp. 68-89.

    This is obvious- and unfortunately not in one of the European dialects but in Japanese.
    Never mind, probably of no interest to you, just thought I should leach it through to you.

    Happy holidays,

    writes Arno

    1. Dear Arno, Since you imply my place is full of fleas, I'd just like to assert the contrary. What I am concerned about are all those minor and not-so minor irritations that make life unpleasant, a subject that goes far beyond any kind of blood suckers we might encounter abroad in the world. Yours, D.

  34. Oh damn it, I just did a search for the article (should have done it before posting my previous comment). The author, Noriaki Hosoda, published an English incarnation of his leechwork in Prof. Tachikawa's festschrift of 2004 (Three mountains and seven rivers). See here.

    The leech simile he discusses is from the Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad.

  35. I found a Tamil Proverb that says:

    "The leech is not satisfied, nor is fire." Source is Indian Antiquary, vol. 4 (July 1875), p. 221. The added comment there is: "Inordinate desire is never satisfied." I take that to mean the insatiable are insatiable.


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. These comments won't go up, so no need to even try. What's accepted? Everything else, even 1st- & 2nd-person libel, if you think they have it coming.

Follow me on