Saturday, April 11, 2009

Men of Stone

I keep finding more to say and more and more sources about the Man of Wood.  That's why today I decided to blog about the Man of Stone (rdo'i mi) instead.  I'll begin by just giving the sources, since I'm not sure if I'll write any conclusion at all today.  To do that I would first have to get into some new... to me... and interesting... well, to myself at least... insights that cover both the Man of Wood and the Man of Stone as a 'natural' pair. And to do that I'd have to go into some new thinking on the Man of Wood, which I'll just have to save for another time, since the sources seem to keep rolling in. I'd hate to jinx this by writing about it too soon. 

Just a hint for those few who might be able to accept it with supernatural ease: wood and stone are images that Buddhists could and did use to talk about issues of insentience, which is the alternative to sentience (as in 'sentient beings' which we could just as well call 'sapient beings'). They are images that (in one area or another... this being an important point... as in illness, fear, anxiety, counterproductive thinking... Well, you get the idea), encourage imperviousness, immovability. Even non-thought or 'mindlessness' in a certain sense, at least, if you don't mind me using that scary term (and if you do, you just never mind for now). Without wasting any more of our precious time (only joking, actually I could just care less about our precious time and plan to use up a whole lot of it, Huh huh haw!), I'd like to give just about all the examples I could find in the Zhijé Collection.  The first ones I have translated in complete verses. The single lines work fine individually, but there is also a strong possibility that there may be, at times, an elusive conceptual continuity...

The first source, unlike the others, is found both in the Dergé Tanjur (no. 2440) and in the Zhijé Collection (vol. 1, pp. 383-404, at p. 387). It's called Secret Vajra Song: Great Sealing Precepts (Phyag-rgya-chen-po'i Man-ngag Rdo-rje Gsang-ba'i Glu). This is a Mahâmudrâ teaching from the Great Siddha by the name of Saraha, who ought to be the author, therefore. But I wonder if it resulted from a vision Padampa had of Saraha, which would mean we could with some reason call Padampa the author, too? (Just a question. Not like I have an answer or anything.)  

dud pas mi 'jigs rtsi med sbrang ma'i tshang ||
'chi bdag kha ru ma tshud skye 'gro gad ||
lus la 'byung ba ma 'khrugs rdo yi mi ||
ming nas bos pas shi ba ldog gam ci ||

gad > ZC gang. rdo yi mi > ZC rdo'i myi.

It won't be destroyed by smoke, the beehive with no honey.
The creature not thrown into the mouth of the death lord, [show me] one.
In his body are no disturbances of the elements,* the man of stone.
Its name called out, does the dead man turn around to see?
*Disturbance of the elements very simply means physical sickness.

... ... ...

ZC vol.1, p. 396
kye ho sgyu ma'i skyes bu'i 'du shes stor ||
don byed mi nus rmi lam nor gyi gzeb ||
rdo yi mi yi rig byed gang du song ||
glang po'i mgo la rwa med chag dogs bral ||
gzeb > ZC gseb. rdo yi mi yi > ZC rdo'i myi'i. rig > ZC rigs. chag > ZC chags.

chu shing snying po phyi nang gnyis kar med ||
dug sbrul ma bltas sgo nga blang mi rung ||
drang srong nad kyi grogs dang gnyen po soms ||
ded dpon bu ni yab la gling rgyus 'dri ||
sgo nga > ZC sgong nga.

Oh my! The person of illusion has lost his ideas about things.
No profit will come of it, a basket full of wealth in a dream.
The intelligence (Vedas?) of the man of stone, Where did it go?
The elephant with no tusks on its head has nothing to fear.

The banana tree has no essence, neither within nor without.
Taking the egg but not checking for the viper is not to be done.
Do the rishis* [need] nurses and antidotes, you think?
The ship captain's son, for familiarity with the islands, questions his father.

*The ancient sages (seven or eight rishis) of Indian lore are the real founders of medicine among humans. They are believed to live forever... well, very nearly so.

... ... ...

ZC vol. 1, p.  401
sgra nyan pa yi phag rgod gdams pa ston ||
ngan smras bstod tshig khyad med rdo yi mi ||
smig rgyu'i klung na chu thigs yod ma yin ||
skye dang 'chi ba mo gsham bus ma byas ||

sgra nyan pa yi > ZC sgra la nyan pa'i. rdo yi mi > ZC rdo'i myi. smig rgyu'i klung > ZC dmyig sgyu'i rlung. yod ma > ZC yod pa.

The wild pig* that listens to the sound is teaching the precepts.
Speaking ill or hymns of praise make no difference to the man of stone.
In a mirage river there are no water drops.
Being born and dying are things the barren woman's child doesn't do.
*For the wild pig, see no. 57 here.

ZC vol. 1, p. 417
rdo'i myi zhes pa ni / rdo'i myi srin mo'i gling du skyal kyang myi 'jigs pa bzhin du / sems nyid kyi rtsa ba chod pas phyi nang gi 'jigs pa gang la yang spang blang myed pa gcig dgos / de byung na gnyen po phyir 'phel [~phul] ces pa ste / khams na sgun [~rgun] 'brum skems pa la kra ka srung dgos pas / de la dang po kra ka gcig bsad de gsob phyar bas des thub skad // de dang 'dra bar dben pa'i gnas su dge' sbyor nyams su len rtsam na / bar chad 'jigs skam [skyems? rgam?] pa la sogs pa myi mthun phyogs kyi rdog [~rtog, ~dogs] pa byung na / de sems nyid kyi nang du ngo sprad de / rtog pa dbyings su gsad / phyis skyes kyi rtog pa de kun bsrings pas / go cha bzang ste gnyen po phyir 'phel ba'o.

If you were to take a man of stone to a rakshasi island it would have no fear. Even so, when you have gotten to the root of Mind Proper, what is required is an absence of acceptance/rejections toward any fearful thing, whether inner or outer. When that happens, send the antidotes back where they came from.

In Kham, they say, when drying grapes they have to guard them from the crows. So first they kill one crow and fly it as a scarecrow and that suffices. Similarly, when you start practicing the virtuous applications in an isolated place, you may become fearful of inimical forces, like fear of obstacles. In that case recognize it as belonging to Mind Proper and slay the mental reservations [troubling thoughts] in the Realm. That will completely close off access for all the mental reservations that would have arisen later on. Put on this excellent armor [of renunciation] and send the antidotes away.

ZC vol. 1, p. 439
If an attractive young woman were to have her head catch on fire she would put everything else aside and kill the fire. Likewise, perseverance in all the Dharma practices is essential. For example, if you were to strike a man of stone with whip or club, it would not produce in him the least displeasure. Similarly you ought to weather the inimical winds of bodily injuries and mental injuries.

ZC vol. 1, p. 446
For example, it is said that in India, a homeless person with no possessions might go to a cremation ground and eat the food offerings left there for the dead, and dress himself in shrouds. But even he has fear of wild carnivores. A stone man is free from fear and ruin. Emulate him when you do the spiritual practices (sâdhana). Give up attachment to life and limb.

ZC vol. 2, p. 167
As a symbolic way of saying that this understanding is a conceptual one, that there is nothing that could make one understand the real meaning, no master who could make one understand
— “There was this yogi who was explaining Dharma to men of stone.”

As a symbolic way of saying that the explainer of the secret precepts is like an echo, and that they haven't yet made the ear that could make it understandable to the hearer
— “It was heard with turtle ears.”

ZC vol. 2, p. 205
When a yogi taught dharma to a man made of stone, it was heard in the turtle's ear.*

*For a weird exchange about turtle ears, see this Early Tibet blog. The idea here is that the turtle doesn't have any ear (actually, it has two so-called tympana, but anyway), and therefore nothing to hear with, but nevertheless hears. This is one of the 'wonders of the world' that Padampa tells his Tingrian students he has seen. He's having fun with them. In a way.
... ... ...

This next one is a citation from a still unidentified work called Ornament of Shining Precious Substances (Rin-po-che Snang-ba'i Rgyan). From citations elsewhere in the Zhijé Collection, we know that this is a Vajra Song (ZC vol. 5, p. 386):

rdo'i myi yis rma bya'i mdongs ||
kha dog ci 'dra shes myi 'gyur ||
sems la ma brten yul myi snang ||
phyi rol don du bden gyurd na ||
ngo bo chu'i dngos po la ||
lha dang yi dags nya sbal gyis ||
bdud rtsi rnag khrag yul khyim du ||
mthong bar rigs pa ma yin no zhes pa'o ||

The man of stone is not going to recognize
what colors the feathers of the peacock might be.
Without being based in mind, no external realms appear.
If external objects were true in any essential way,
in consequence the thing made of the substance water,
you will have to agree,
would not be seen by gods, pretas* and fish or tadpoles
as nectar, bloody pus and homeland.
*See Fenner's article (p. 260), where he translates this verse from the Mahayana philosopher Candrakirti:  
"6.71 Like (a person who) has a diseased (sense) faculty, a spirit (yi-dwags, preta) at a flowing river also experiences pus. In summary, as there are no objects of knowledge so also there is no mind. Understand this meaning thus."
I much prefer Huntington's (p 165) translation:
"[The mechanism involved when] hungry ghosts experience cognition of a river flowing with pus is identical to that of the visual organ afflicted with ophthalmia.  Our meaning here must be understood as follows: Just as there is no object of knowledge, so there is no cognition."
... ... ...

ZC vol. 5, p. 478
rnal 'byord pa cig rdo'i myi la chos bshad pas ru[s] sbal gyi rna bar thos |

A yogi taught Dharma to a man of stone and it was heard in the ear of the turtle.* 
*This is also one of those 'wonders of the world' passages. It is repeated more than once or twice in the collection.
... ... ...
PS:  I really want to write something about the monkey paw that gets washed in the 'borax' (?) water, but so much to write and so little time. We'll see. Did anybody see those puppets? They were here a few minutes ago. Where did I leave them? Never mind.

Reading on:

Todd Fenner, Candrakîrti's Refutation of Buddhist Idealism, Philosophy East & West, vol. 33, no. 3 (July 1983), pp. 251-61. Full text available here.

C.W. Huntington Jr., with Geshe Namgyal Wangchen, The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamika, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1989).

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Tibetan Traditions of the Buddhist Poet-Saint Saraha, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2005).


  1. Frankly, the ideas presented in these writings are ... scary! Why? Because being thoughtless or displaying thoughtlessness does not mean freedom from thought, it means freedom from caring about one's impact on others.

    Am I naive in my surprise that no writer in the "Zhije Collection" reports seeing any contradiction around this issue? I can only hope that aspiration to become a "man of stone" was somehow an unfortunate side-effect of the renunciate lifestyle that Padampa lived out.

  2. Dear Person,

    Somehow I knew this would get a rise out of you. Just driving the nail in (so to speak!). But why don't we wait until we see the background in Buddhist discussions on sentience? Maybe next blog, or the one after. Meanwhile please do notice that nowhere does Padampa ever say that anybody ought to be a Man of Wood or Man of Stone when it comes to caring about other people. (Perhaps I overlooked it, but I really think not. I'm thinking that you're thinking that metaphors are supposed to have universal meanings. That they would have to mean for him what they seem to mean for you. I'm very sure that, while there is real Buddhist background [mostly sutra sources, even, but also general Indian poetic metaphors...] for most of Padampa's metaphors, he uses them to mean what he intends them to mean, nothing less and nothing more.) There's really nothing unfortunate here, except that Padampa's enigmas can be damned difficult to understand (and part of understanding is locating the allusions and cultural background and trying hard to understand it, too). That I'll grant you based on my own experience. The puppet and stone man are really truly positive images, and I'm thinking eventually you, like me, will see why. No reason to rush things. Understanding least of all. A person can try to understand further or just give up on Padampa. I wouldn't blame anyone either way. But whatever the choice, one ought to respect his ability to express himself in his own way. That's what I think. As for your comment, I think you're being way too harsh. And with insufficient reason. Who's being thoughtless? And what kind of thoughts? Have you really thought about that? Sufficiently?


  3. I think I will continue to await the discussion on the cultural background and possible allusions. As to the meaning ..., I am responding to what is being said and been said so far; and so far, I hear no "positive" tone.

    I will concede that what I am reading are fragments out of context. Frankly, I suspect that you have access to a background that I do not have, a background that gives you reason to consider these positive metaphors. And so, until this background shared, I wait with confidence that (in the words of another wise man) "What you see is what you get!" A curmudgeon who sometimes had some---straight up---"not so nice" things to say.

  4. Dear Person,

    What you said in your earlier comment about Padampa's hardness being a possible side-effect of his eremitic life rang some bells with me. Although I think hardness vs. flexibility (or hardness vs. vulnerability) is a different arena from closedness vs. openness, still it would be hard to maintain that they are unconnected.

    I recently read a short article about the Hortus occlusus (or Hortus conclusus) idea of early Christian monasticism (Ellen M. Caldwell, "An Architecture of the Self: New Metaphors for Monastic Enclosure," which might be findable (and free) thru Schmoogling... Wait, here's the link:

    I don't think the author mentions it, but the image goes back to a passage in King Shlomo's Canticles, "an enclosed garden is my sister," which of course went through lots of hermeneutical scrutiny over the intervening centuries... I was happy to see that the book by the title, which I'd never heard of before, has been Googlebooked:

    Reading it led me to reflect (again) about how external circumstances of life (real or idealized...), and particularly habitat may find reflection in the way we spatially conceive of (and protect) our internal experiences.

    I've often thought it was odd how I came to fixate on Padampa's animal metaphors, when the ones that truly resonate with me are spatial (both natural and architectural) metaphors. Perhaps it goes back to my relatively feral childhood, where my main happiness was found in running wild in the woods and swamps far from home & where my main companions were likely to be, in fact, animals.

    Btw, the Caldwell article has an example of a metaphorical image for controlling and 'containing' (in this case verbal) sinful impulses, one so awful and violent that I hesitate to repeat it.

    It's from the Codex of the Second Benedict (


  5. You are right. The Christian eremitic tradition has more than enough stories of extreme lifestyle. Nonetheless, concerns were expressed:

    "Nine monks fell away after many labors and were obsessed with spiritual pride, for they put their trust in their own works and being deceived they did not give due heed to the commandment that says, Ask your father and he will tell you ..." Antony, Saying 1.

    "One of the Fathers related of Sisoes of Calamon that, wishing to overcome sleep one day, he hung himself over the precipice of Petra. An angel came to take him down and ordered him not to do that again and not to transmit such teaching to others." Sisoes, Saying 33.

    By way of conclusion, here's a story about a statue:

    "Abba John said of Abba Anoub and Abba Poemen and the rest of their brethren who come from the same womb and were made monks in Scetis, that when the barbarians came and laid waste that district for the first time, they left for a place called Terenuthis until they decided where to settle. They stayed in an old temple several days. Then Abba Anoub said to Abba Poemen, "For love's sake do this: let each of us live in quietness, each one by himself, without meeting one another the whole week." Abba Poemen replied, "We will do as you wish." So they did this.

    Now there was in the temple a statue of stone. When he woke up in the morning, Abba Anoub threw stones at the face of the statute and in the evening he said to it, "Forgive me." During the whole week he did this. On Saturday they cam together and Abba Poemen said to Abba Anoub, "Abba, I have seen you during the whole week throwing stones at the face of the statue and kneeling to ask it to forgive you. Does a believer act thus?" The old man answered him, "I did this for your sake. When you saw me throwing stones at the face of the statue, did it speak, or did it become angry?" Abba Poemen said, "No." "Or again, when I bent down in penitence, was it moved, and did it say, 'I will not forgive you?' "Again Abba Poemen answered, "No." Then the old man resumed, "Now we are seven brethren; if you wish us to live together, let us be like this statue, which is not moved whether one beats it or whether one flatters it. If you do not wish to become like this, there are four doors here in the temple, let each one go where he will."

    Then the brethren prostrated themselves and said to Abba Anoub, "We will do as you wish, Father, and we will listen to what you say to us." Abba Poemen added, "Let us live together to the rest of our time, working according to the word which the old man has given us." He made one of them housekeeper and all that he brought them, they ate and none of them had the authority to say, "Bring us something else next time," or perhaps, "We do not want to eat this.” Thus they passed all their time in quietness and peace." Anoub, Saying 1 and other sayings are found in "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" by Benedicta Ward (pp. 32-33).

    How does this compare, or contrast, with Padampa's approach?

  6. My Dear Person,

    I'm afraid our less age-endowed readers will sooner know of Sisoes than of Flip Wilson. But the key to the funnyness of "What you see is what you get," is just that with his ("The devil made me do it!") Geraldine, the woman you saw was in one important respect other than what you would get. The irony of this might deliver with it the message that what you see on the surface is not at all what's there...

    But the Abba Anoub story does seem to be along the same lines as Padampa's stone image, and at the very least worth the effort of serious comparison by someone. I just hesitate to jump into the 'idolatry'/iconoclasm polemic problem that it also seems to bring up. When I visited Egypt several years ago, people would comment about the scratched-out faces of the relief figures several feet above the ground. Well, of course the sand was higher in older days. Mostly I heard people, including tour guides, blame the Muslims. But once I heard a guide say that it's just as likely the Christians were to blame, since they made use of the old temples as churches.

    But yes, getting beaten or flattered is something Padampa's Stone Man would (or wouldn't?) stand for.

    "... let us be like this statue, which is not moved whether one beats it or whether one flatters it."



  7. I just recently interpolated into the blog an alternative translation to Fenner's by Huntington, which I think gets Candrakîrti's ideas better (although I'm no expert in Candrakîrti's philosophy). At least, I would have to say that it is less misleading. There are some newly translated commentarial works that can shed more light on his usage of the "preta seeing rivers as pus" image in his chapter six, verse 71.

    I could look at these two:

    Padmakara Translation Group, Introduction to the Middle Way: Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with Commentary by Jamgön Mipham, Shambhala (Boston 2002), p. 215.

    Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Ari Goldfield, Jules Levinson, Jim Scott & Birgit Scott, trs., The Moon of Wisdom: Chapter Six of Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Way with Commentary from the Eighth Karmapa Mikyö Dorje's Chariot of the Dagpo Kagyü Siddhas, Snow Lion (Ithaca 2005), pp. 241-5.

    The different types of beings have different karmic propensities embedded or encoded into their ways of perceiving the world. This leads to just the opposite of an 'I'm OK, you're OK' situation. Neither gods, humans nor pretas are any more true in their perceptions than the other. Nobody is OK. Their knowing faculties and their perceptions are problematic sources of truth, just as the 'own nature' (existence on its own side) of the objective sphere is equally problematic (in fact, interlinked with the subjective 'faculties'). This is not at all the same as saying there there is no, or ought to be no, mind. But rather than listening to my 'take' on it, I recommend the two sources just given, since they are well translated & guided by the understandings of great Tibetan thinkers of the past and the present.

    Not entirely beside the point, I had the fortune of attending a conference where, after a paper by Jeffrey Hopkins, the late Professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University, Alex Wayman was, as always, raising the first objection. By way of background, the two of them had had a long-standing battle (I suspect perceived as such by Wayman alone) over whether to translate Shûnyatâ (Tib. stong-pa-nyid) as 'emptiness' or 'voidness' (I don't know of anybody who has a strong preference one way or the other nowadays, although I suppose there are still discussions...).

    Anyway, on the subject of gods seeing rivers as nectar and pretas ('hungry ghosts') seeing them as pus, Hopkins replied to Wayman, "Well, Professor Wayman, which do *you* think it is?"

Wayman replied very loudly, in his normal strong New York accent, "It's WAA-ter. It's WAAAA-ter!"

I'm not sure everyone will catch just why that was so outrageously hilarious I could only stop laughing about it months later. I guess you just had to be there.

    Once I ordered from overseas a small statue of "Buddha" (or so it was described), although from the photograph I knew it to be a statue of the famous Tibetan Kagyü saint Milarepa. 

    (Many Tibetan Buddhists do regard Milarepa as a Buddha, even as a semi-primordial Buddha who manifested or 'acted out' his life story entirely for our emulation and benefit, although that's almost beside the point I'm trying to make here.) 

    When it arrived and I was made to sign the customs declaration, I noticed to my amusement that the customs official had written on the form: "metal part."



    PS. Just a note to —. I'd like to ask you to go to 
the file I attached awhile ago called White Conch Fragments and do a search through it for the word 'benefit.' Read those passages with care. My question is: Is assisting us people to get through our confusions — achieve realizations about what's actually going on behind all our delusive projections and the illusions presented to us — any help to us? If so, might 'caring' (Buddhist compassion) play a part in it? Is that 'positive'? Just wondering aloud.


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