Monday, August 24, 2009

A New Clue

I can scarcely believe my own negligence. I must apologize for it. I somehow missed these two passages, one on the monkey and the other on the turtle, the second one right after the other. And the salt or lye or caustic soda (lan-tsha) here poses a danger to the turtle itself, and not, we must note, to the monkey paw it wants to eat.

The source is in the Zhijé Collection, vol. 2, the text entitled “Expressions of Speech Taught Symbolically.” This forms part of a trilogy called “Mahåmudrå Teachings: Three Cycles of Responses Employing Symbolic Actions of Body, Speech and Mind.”

Observe, as you will, that the monkey is once again connected with the unrelaxed mind. And the turtle? Well, you’ll see.

~^~# ~^~# ~^~# ~^~# ~^~# ~^~# ~^~

As a symbolic way of saying that if you haven’t turned your mind away from sangsara, there is no need to stay in a retreat [p.156]

— “If you can’t relax the monkey’s mind there is no way to make his hands and feet stay still.”[1]

As a symbolic way of saying that if you can’t get rid of desire, there is no need for doing the practices

— “Since turtles and moisture go together, what’s the use? It doesn’t recognize that the swirling water has lan-tsha in it. It has no more serious enemy than that.”

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Now possible interpretations seem to stack up on top of possible interpretations. If you’re going to ask me what it all means, I’ll just say, quoting something Padampa says in the exact same text, for my own purpose,

“I haven’t the slightest idea. Ask the turtle’s head.”[2]

[B1] Phyag-rgya-chen-po Brda'i Skor Gsum, or, Brda'i Zhus-lan Skor Gsum. Vol. 2, pp. 138-178.
[B1a]Sku'i Rnam-dag Brdar Bstan-pa. Vol. 2, pp. 138-152.
[B1b]Gsung-gi Brjod-bya Brdar Bstan-pa. Vol. 2, pp. 153-164 (the pages are entirely out of order in the reprint edition, but they were put back in order on the basis of the microfilm of Trulzhik Rinpoche's manuscript).
[B1c]Thugs-kyi Dgongs-nyams Brdar Bstan-pa. Vol. 2, pp. 165-177.
I work from my own draft translation of these three texts, which form the first set of Responsa (zhu-lan) texts in the Zhijé Collection. It is very difficult to compare this to the content of Molk's translation (on his pp. 177-192), which appears to have been rearranged at will by the translator. (Of course it is possible, too, that he worked from an unpublished manuscript unknown to me.) B1c is at least partly included on his p. 188 ff., but its title seems to be missing.
The Tibetan passage starts on line 7 of p. 159, and continues on line 1 of p. 156 (trust me, it's true). I give the text in 'texto' style, with no orthographic emendations:
'khor ba las blo ma log na ri khrod du bsdad pa la dgos pa myed pa'i brda' ru / [156] spre'u 'i sems ma dal na rkang lag la bsdad dbang myi mchi' gsung //
'dod pa ma thongs na nyams su blangs pa la dgos pa myed pa'i brda' ru / ru rbal rlan dang 'grogs pas ci la phan lan tsha'i chu rgod ngo myi shes / dgra' ru de las gnad pa myed gsung //

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

[1] Molk, p. 186: “He said, ‘With the monkey mind not relaxed, the limbs have no capacity to remain still.’ To indicate that, if one does not turn the mind from samsara, there is no need for staying in retreat.” I searched out this translation (I couldn't find the one about the turtle & the lan-tsha) just so you will have another translation to compare. I made my own translation without being under any influence from this one.

[2] Molk, p. 185: “When asked the nature of the perfect ultimate mode of existence, he said, ‘I have no idea! Ask the head of the frogs.’ To indicate that transcendent wisdom of the mind is beyond expression.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Paw This Time

The sub-title this time ought to be something like ‘Grasping at the Grasper,’ or maybe more to the point, ‘Fool Me Thrice? Shame on the Both of Us!’ Maybe the next time ought to be ‘We Both Fool Each Other? Shame on Neither of Us!’

Sorry, just joking... About that last part being a future blog title, I mean.

I hope you can remember from the latest Tibeto-logic blog the main story of The Monkey Heart, along with the additional episode of The Talking Cave (Die sprechende Höhle, for the one reader who prefers German). Both parties involved in the two stories, the monkey side and the turtle side, have their wants, hungers and emotional needs. And each side uses what seem like sensible ways to go about finding satisfaction. To show this kind of interpersonal dynamic, & not just to entertain, is surely an important motive for telling the story to begin with. You may not have noticed how I skipped the brief frame story that conveys the circumstances of its telling.

As always, the Buddha has very present circumstances that bring him to call up the stories of his, and others’, previous lives. In this case, the monkey is identified as a prior incarnation of Himself, the future Śākyamuni, while the turtle/crocodile is His cousin Devadatta. Later on I’ll refer you to a source on the elaborate tricks Devadatta tries to play on his cousin, some of them quite murderous in intent. It might be fun to one day do a close comparison between the deeds of the animals and those of the cousins and draw out parallels that may or may not have been intended, but for now I’d like to keep on track and go on to visit a mysterious third episode.

In 1957, Rodney Needham, who would later evolve into the well-known Oxford social anthropologist by the same name, published a set of eight tales from a place in the eastern Indonesian island called Sumba. They were collected for him by a local assistant named M. Maru Mahemba. Number Four of the eight is “The Crocodile and the Monkey." I won’t copy or tell over the somewhat different episodes of The Monkey Heart and The Talking Cave. I’ll just quote directly a brief third episode that is squeezed between the other two.

The next day, in the morning, the crocodile came back to the place where he had met the monkey, and saw the monkey drawing water. The crocodile drew near, disguising himself as a floating log. He stretched out slowly and seized the monkey’s paw. But the monkey did not lose his presence of mind, and immediately laughed like mad, saying, “Who has been so silly as to grab the branch of a tree, thinking it to be the paw of a monkey?" When the crocodile heard this he let go of the monkey’s paw. 
As soon as he was free of the grip of the crocodile the monkey ran up a tree and called out, “Hey, friend crocodile, let us play at riddles." 
“All right," said the crocodile, and the monkey pronounced his riddle. “Friend crocodile who is very stupid was tricked by a small and humble monkey, so that he let go the monkey’s paw when he had seized it."

Needham came back to examine his Kodi Fable no. 4 more closely a few years later, in 1960. He divided it into three episodes, just as we have done above. He finds that while The Monkey Heart is in all recensions of the Pañcatantra, The Talking Cave is in only a few versions, and the two episodes are never found together there as they are in the Tibetan and Kodi versions.

He turns to the Jātaka collection in Pāli language, and finds that the main narratives of The Monkey Heart are found in the Vānara Jātaka (no. 342), and in greater detail the Sumsumāra Jātaka (no. 208). The only one that includes anything close to The Talking Cave as part of its version of The Monkey Heart is the Vānarinda Jātaka (no. 57), but even then it’s a talking stone and not a talking cave, although the narrative structure is rather similar.

Needham found neither a Jātaka source nor a Pañcatantra source for The Monkey Paw episode. He locates several versions of it in insular SE Asia and in Malaysia, with slight variants. Sometimes the monkey tells the crocodile that what he’s grabbed hold of is not a monkey paw, but a piece of wood, or nothing but the root of a tree, a stick for measuring the depth of the water, and so on. Nowhere is it made explicit, but I believe we have to understand that the monkey is partly submerged in the muddy water so that the crocodile is unable to see what exactly he has bitten.
Here’s the version from Timor (see Middelkoop’s article):

Not so long after that, the crocodile took hold of the monkey’s leg; the monkey became aware of the crocodile taking hold of his leg and suddenly played the crocodile a trick, saying: “Why, dear friend! Do you think you have gripped my leg? It will be a real shame for you, because you are very stupid. You took hold of the root of a tree." The crocodile thought: “Maybe what, he tells me is right." Shortly afterwards he released the monkey’s leg. Thereafter the monkey and the crocodile lived in hostility with each other until the present day.

Needham apologizes for being too tedious, as I would, too, if I were feeling in a kinder mood, and then goes into (pp. 246-8) nine versions of The Monkey Paw collected from different parts of India. His conclusion is worth quoting: “[T]his is one of the oldest, as well as one of the commonest of Indian tales. The talking-cave motif has literary predecessors by which its age may be known : the monkey/jackal-paw motif has none, but its constant association with the former in Indian folklore suggests that it may be equally old."

So, The Monkey Paw has no datable classical Indian literary occurrences? Not so any more, or not exactly so. We do have a South Indian in southern Tibet who makes mention of it about eight centuries before the Indian and Indonesian versions were put into writing.

Can we use our understandings of the more recent versions to document the meaning of the first literary occurrence? Don’t historical developments have to flow forward in time? And our understandings as historians of culture along with them? Forward? It’s probably forbidden by all the rulebooks of philology known to the modern academy to use newer sources to document older meanings. There may be good reasons for upholding this kind of logic. But I think there are also good reasons for flexibility when it’s called for. We simply must not be so utterly married to the datable evidence of compositions and their physical manuscripts that we refuse to give weight to oral transmission. And this ought to hold in matters of folk stories as much as in the extremely rarified, secret Bön and Buddhist spiritual transmissions Tibetans describe as being ‘passed from mouth to ear’ (kha-nas snyan-du brgyud-pa, usually shortened to snyan-brgyud).

56. The turtle has gotten a monkey claw, no reason not to eat it in caustic solution.

According to my latest way of reading this gnomic saying of Padampa we’re supposed to already know the story of the turtle and the monkey with its various (2 or 3?) episodes. Evidently everybody in India knew it, but I’m not so sure if our commentary writer did. Today we can know for certain, with our folkloristic knowledge gained in the last two centuries, that the turtle never does get that monkey claw. (Or, OK, he got it momentarily, but was misled into thinking he didn't and lost it...) So the absence of the claw entails the ‘why not?’ of the instructions to wash it in something that would anyway dissolve it away before he could get a chance to eat it. The words ‘no reason not to eat’ could also be translated, more literally, ‘no contradiction in eating.’

No reason why I shouldn’t end here... but one thing more.

The combination of elements in Padampa’s metaphor and in the folk story are just too similar to be accidental. Still, if you are the skeptical type, as we all tend to be in one area or another, you might ask, ‘How can you be so sure that Padampa knew The Monkey & Turtle story?’ Well, I can’t be entirely sure. But I did notice something that might be suggestive. This passage from a text translated by — and possibly also revealed to — Padampa that is included in the Tanjur entitled The Dakini’s Soft Song, mentions a ‘monkey[s] without a heart,’ which does appear to allude to The Monkey Heart episode. In any case, it’s very much about desire, which plays a very central role in my reading of Padampa’s animal metaphor 56. It is section 9 of the text according to my own added numbering:

’dod-pa dug-gi sdong-po-la //
spang blang gnyis-kyi yan-lag gyes //
zhen-pa’i lo-mdab phyogs bcur rgyas //
rtsol-sgrub-kyi me-tog mkha’-la ’phur //
sdug-bsngal-gyi ’bras-bu thur-la brul //
snying-med-kyi spre’u bsgrubs-kyi za //
’khor-ba’i nags-su ’chi nyen yod //

yan-lag : C yal-ga; T yas-ga. lo-mdab : CT lo-’dab. rtsol-sgrub-kyi : C rtsol-bsgrub-kyi. sdug-bsngal-gyi : T sdug-bsngal-gyis. thur-la : C thang-la. spre’u : C spri’u. ’chi : ’ching.

From the trunk of the poison tree named desire
two limbs fork out called acceptance and rejection
and from them leaves of addiction grow in every direction.
The flowers known as striving and toil fly up toward the sky
while the fruits we call suffering hang down heavily.
The no-heart monkey[s], whose prasad food offerings [these fruits are],*
lies next to death’s door in the forest of sangsara.

*(Snying-po med-pa is probably meant in the positive philosophical sense of being without essence, as all things are in Buddhism’s non-essentialist philosophies. But this is no proof that The Monkey Heart isn’t also alluded to here. It is entirely possible that in Padampa’s use of the story, he reads the significance of the ‘heart’ that the monkey may or may not have in the very same philosophical light. My understanding of bsgrubs-kyi za as ‘prasad food offerings’ is based on reverse translation into Sanskrit, and is anyway provisional... I didn't know what else to do with this phrase... Do you?)

sna-tshogs zhen-med-kyi skyes-bu-yis //
gdang ’gyur-ba med-pa’i mtshon thogs-te //
’dod-pa’i sdong-po rmang-nas bsgyel //
dug lnga’i ’bras-bu sngo bskams byer //
dug ’chi-byed-kyi nus-pa zad-par gyis //
khyod zhe-’dod spongs-shig rnal-’byor-pa //
gdang : C rdeng; T gdong. bsgyel : C dgyel. bskams : C skams. byer : CT khyer. spongs-shig : C spongs-gcig.

The persons who are not addicted to the myriad things
wield as their unchanging weapon confidence,*
razing the tree trunk of desire from its very foundations.
The green fruits of the five poisons they dry up and split open.
They make the poison exhaust its death-dealing force.
You must give up desirous inclinations, my yogis.

(*I chose none of the 3 varying readings and settled on gdengs, ‘confidence.’ I don’t have very much confidence in my choice, and my best argument for it is just that it fits better than the alternatives. There are traditional lists of confidences, and in one known to the early Zhijé school, they are the three confidences of view, meditation and action.)

(Poison fruits and their reflections,
both apparently there for the grasping)

More reading —

Dakinis’ Soft Song. This is Ḍākinī-tanu-gīti (Mkha’ ’gro ma’i ’jam glu; or, ’Byam glu). Tôhoku catalog no. 2451. Dergé Tanjur, vol. ZI, folios 88‑90. Although the colophon isn’t very informative, we do know that it is part of a collection of works Padampa redacted and/or translated. And we do find it in the Zhijé Collection, vol. 1, pp. 359-367, where the Sanskrit is given in a Tibskrit version as: Dha ki ni ta la ghi ta na ma. I’m not sure of the significance of the title, where the word for ‘soft, gentle’ might just point to the metre used in its composition. If we read tāla instead of tanu, perhaps it has something to do with clapping, or dancing that includes clapping. Maybe a real Indo-logical person would like to weigh in on this?

P. Middelkoop, A Timorese Myth and Three Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 115, no. 2 (1959), pp. 157-175. The quote is from the final page. The home page of the BTLV journal is here, and you might be able to download the PDFs for this and the two Needham articles there. Give it a try.

Rodney Needham (1923-2006), Kodi Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 113, no. 4 (1957), pp. 361-379.

Rodney Needham, Jātaka, Pañcatantra, and Kodi Fables, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde [Leiden], vol. 116, no. 2 (1960), pp. 232-262.
I mainly know Rodney Needham for something he wrote much later, in 1963 — his brilliantly subversive preface to his own translation into English of Primitive Classification (first published in French in 1903 as a journal article, De quelques formes primitives de classification) by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) & Marcel Mauss (1872-1950), in which he, Needham, completely pulls the rug out from under their main ideas, especially the idea that human thought itself, including its classifications, came into existence because of archaic social divisions (a crucial point for those who want to believe in the primacy of ‘the social’ and hence the primacy of socio-logical ideas in general... the same people who want to think of society as sui generis, a fancy legalistic-sounding claim that it, society, is the source of all causation and is not itself a product of causes outside itself... Nowadays even some sociologists would view this as ‘essentialism,’ which for Buddhists, also, is not a good thing... Among Buddhists, the absence of essence is what they are talking about when they do at times use words that mean ‘essence’...). One reviewer called R.N.’s preface “devastating, essentially ruthless, and to some extent bewildering and intellectually arrogant.” (Harry Alpert, who had already made a career of his Durkheimianism) Mind you, that’s the same preface I admire and call ‘brilliant.’ Where I see divine nectar in the Gangga, H.A. saw a river flowing with blood and pus. Interesting... Where do we go with that?

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Look online (as if you weren’t already) —

If you want to read the text or hear the audio recording of the Korean Monkey Rabbit version (in English) try here.

For a mapping of the distribution of type 91 folktales, look here.

There was a recent news release telling how modern scientists have discovered that at least one kind of animal behavior as recounted in old fables (in this case Aesop’s) might be observable nowadays and (therefore?) true. Look here.

Look at this photo by Samrat of a stone carving from a 6th-century Indian temple in Sirpur and compare it to the Borobudur frieze linked in the last Tibeto-logic blog.

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Interested a little in knowing Buddha’s relatives? Siddhārtha - དོན་གྲུབ་, the young man who came to be called the Buddha after His Awakening, had a brother named Nanda, and a cousin named Ānanda.* Cousin Ānanda (son of Amṛtodana; in Tibetan Dütsizé or Bdud-rtsi-zas - བདུད་རྩི་ཟས་) was Siddhārtha’s most devoted follower and the one who best memorized the words of the Teacher. The other cousin of the Buddha was Devadatta (also son of Amṛtodana), the polar opposite. Devadatta (Tib. Lhejin, Lhas-sbyin - ལྷས་སྦྱིན་,‘God[s]-Given’) tried several times to kill the Buddha, rolling boulders on top of him, sending raging bull elephants in his direction and, failing at these attempts, decided he would found his own counter-order with extra-added monastic rules that would justify his own followers’ claim to be more pure than the Buddha’s. There are some stories that in the end Devadatta was swallowed up by the ground and went straight to hell. Yet other stories have him eventually, against all the odds, brought on board by the Buddha, and placed on the Path to Enlightenment. For a little more background you can try this webpage, or the wiki, or whatever else might turn up from a schmoogle search. I could give you a bibliography of more technical publications in some rather obscure journals, but would you hunt them down and read them? Didn’t think so.
*(They should not be confused, although it’s true it’s been done... Nanda is Gawo [Dga’-bo - དགའ་བོ་] in Tibetan, while Ānanda is Künga [Kun-dga’ - ཀུན་དགའ་]... This last name, Künga, is also the name of Padampa’s most devoted follower and the one who best memorized the words of his teacher...)


. . .
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

-Wm. Blake, A Poison Tree

Ste.-Chapelle, Paris
(click on photo to enlarge)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Monkey & the Croc / Turtle

Illustration of “The Talking Cave” episode,
by an unknown Tibetan artist in Gyantse at
the very beginning of the 20th century.

The Monkey & the Crocodile Turtle...
Dear children, if you're looking for the Story of the Monkey and the Crocodile, this may not be what you were expecting exactly. Go to Buddhanet instead (when you go there, click your mouse on the picture to go to the next comic book page) and you'll probably be happier. And say "Thank you!"

Fool me once? Shame on you!
Fool me twice? Shame on me!

Long ago when the good king Brahmadatta was ruling Varanasi, a monkey was born and, fed by the plentiful figs, grew to maturity in the forest inside a huge bend in the holy river Gangga.

A certain crocodile also lived in that section of the river together with his wife. One day his wife happened to see the monkey swinging its powerful limbs through the tops of the fig trees on the opposite side of the river and she thought to herself. ‘Just imagine, of all the most sweet and exotic fruits in the world, the sun-ripened fig is the most tasty. But imagine just how much sweeter would be the heart of a monkey who had fed on nothing but figs. I simply must taste that monkey’s heart.’

She told her husband of her secret longing, so he hatched a plan how he might get the monkey down from the trees and bring its heart to his dear wife.

Crossing the river, he was lucky enough to find the monkey taking a drink at the edge of the river. He addressed the monkey in a kind tone of voice, “My dear fellow, king of all monkeys, are you not somewhat tired of having figs for breakfast, lunch and dinner? On the other side of the river we have the most wonderful fruits. Have you even heard about jackfruits, mangos or papayas? What about rose-apples? No? Oh, good gracious, you don’t know what you are missing.”

“Sir crocodile,” the monkey said with genuine respect and a tiny bit of doubt, “the Gangga is the widest river in the whole country, as deep as the sea and, they say, just as difficult to cross. Aw well, I suppose I shall have to stick with my figs.”

“You seem to forget that we crocodiles are the most excellent swimmers. Why, you could just hop on my back and we would be there in no time.”

Remembering a thing or two he had heard about crocodiles, he thought once about how they could be true, then twice about the colorful and tasty fruits awaiting them, and decided he was game for a little adventure. “Alright! I’m ready. Where do I sit?”

“Just over my shoulders. And hold on tight!”

Half way across the river and the crocodile suddenly went under the waves carrying the poor monkey with him. When at last they surfaced again, the thoroughly soaked simian said in a shivering voice, “What the hell was that? You could have drowned the both of us! Are you crazy or what?”

“Well, you know, I’m really quite a mellow laid-back sort of fellow, all my friends tell me so, and normally I wouldn’t be doing this kind of thing, but my wife told me I shouldn’t come back home without bringing her a monkey heart. Anyway, she’s my wife and I love her very much. But you seem like a nice enough sort, so I was having second thoughts.”

Temporarily at a loss for words, and sailing quickly toward the far bank of the holiest of rivers, the monkey thought of something. He said, “Good thing you told me this, because as you probably know we monkeys don’t travel around with our hearts inside. While swinging through the trees there is far too much danger of them getting snagged by thorns, and when we bathe in the river we fear they might get scraped by a rock. So for their own safety we hang them up in the highest branches of the tree. But if it’s monkey hearts that you need, I know where there are plenty of them. Just take me back home and you’ll get all you want.”

In truth, as the crocodile was swishing its powerful tail back toward the monkey’s side of the Gangga in the evening dusk, the distant figs looked like nothing so much as little monkey hearts hanging there ripe for the plucking.

The monkey jumped off and raced up his own fig tree, laughing all the way. “Silly croc! You truly thought monkey hearts grow on trees? You pitiful fool! The bigness and clumsiness of your body are more than compensated for by the smallness of your lizard brain. Take this home to your hungry wife!” he taunted, throwing a shriveled-up over-ripe fig, making a bullseye out of the crocodile’s cold, but nonetheless for that, sensitive nose.

Rose-apple, jack-fruit, mangoes too 

across the water there I see;

Enough of them, I want them not; 

my figs are good enough for me.

Great is your body, verily, 

but how much smaller is your wit!

Now go your way, Sir Crocodile, 

for I have had the best of it.

I retold the story to suit myself, as people have been doing for thousands of years. I based myself on translations of the Pali Jataka version, and since this is the word of Buddha, I didn’t feel free to introduce anachronisms or very substantial innovations — well, maybe a few small ones. The ending verses — each Jataka story in the Pali collection has them — are copied word-for-word from the old translation of Cowell.

Now that you’ve heard my own version of the story, I thought you might like to try this alternative version, which I translate directly, and I hope faithfully, from the 13th-century Tibetan version by Lorepa:

Deceived by bonds of friendship.

Like the Monkey and the Turtle...

In ancient times in the first eon, there was a monkey of the forest and a turtle of the ocean who became friends. They even took an oath of friendship, promising to never do anything bad to one another. On one particular occasion, the Naga King became ill, and it emerged that the one medicine most necessary for his recovery was the heart of a monkey. The turtle came up with a wicked idea. He went and called to the monkey at the edge of the forest. “There is a wonderful show going on in our Naga country. Let’s go see it. You and I have become the best of friends, but if you haven’t at least once seen my country, then, they say, the friendship cannot be finalized.”

He took the monkey to Naga Country and, upon their arrival, the turtle said, “The king of we Nagas is sick, so they said, ‘A monkey heart is needed for medicine,’ so I must beg you as a friend.”

The monkey replied, “We monkeys are quick-tempered creatures, easily angered, so we have to leave our hearts at the top of the deodar — ‘Tree of the Gods’ — for protection. It needs to be picked up. I have one, we just need to go and take it.”

Together with the turtle he returned to the forest. There, the monkey said, “You stay here and keep your mouth opened wide. I’ll toss the heart down to you.”

The monkey climbed up to the tip of the deodar tree. The turtle shouted up at him, “Did you find the heart?”
The monkey answered with this verse.

Keeping the friendship of the evildoer spells defeat.
For no good reason he takes you down into the sea, into the depths of it.
He separates you from your most precious thing, your life.
If it’s monkey heart you wanted, Here! Take this monkey shit.

Then into the turtle’s open mouth the monkey squeezed off a big fresh turd.

So the turtle, not getting the heart he was looking for, went to the cave where the two of them had been staying. He was thinking that the monkey would return there, so he stayed there quietly, lying in ambush.

The monkey came down from the tip of the deodar tree and was thinking to himself, ‘Maybe he’s in the cave?’ So he shouted out, “Brave Mister Cave! Brave Mister Cave!” Then after he started destroying the cave he shouted the same thing again.

The turtle thought, ‘He is expecting to get an answering ‘Ah’ from the cave.’ So the turtle said “Ah!”

The monkey said,

The one who destroys first is the wise one.
He who regrets later is the more foolish by far.
A rock cave with a human voice? What an evil omen!
Monkey, don’t stay here. Get to the top of that deodar!

He climbed the tree.

So, you know, even close friends are not to be trusted.

* * *

Let’s just call it “misplaced trust”! Still, I hope you're in a mood to trust me when I tell you that there have been thousands of versions of the story told all over the world. One of the most interesting transformations took place in Korea ("Sorry, my good sir the turtle, but I'm sorry to have to tell you I've left my liver behind, drying on a rock" — see Grayson's article), where the monkey's heart became a rabbit's liver, and among African slaves in the American South, where the monkey also became a rabbit, the internal organ in question the gizzard. I just wanted to say something about the rabbit, since I know there are other bloggers lurking around here who are very fond of rabbit stories. Well, here you go.

I don't feel like pounding in the point too vigorously, since I like to think of the remaining readers of Tibeto-logic blog, both of you, as sensitive people, able to come to conclusions on your own without coaching or coaxing. Put bluntly, the story is all about desires — thirsts or addictions if you prefer — coming in tandem with delusions, as they do.

In some versions we get a different motive that sets the plot in motion, something all cultures know about, but most unlike Sanskrit don't have a particular term for it. The Sanskrit (or is it Prakrit) word is dohada (see Bloomfield's article), which is explained as probably being a Prakritic reduction of an original Sanskrit term *dauhd, which has been further interpreted a ‘sickness at heart.’ I’m not sure my Indo-logical friends will agree, but I think the initial do- stands for dva, meaning ‘two’ (as in the word doha, which means ‘couplet’). The pregnant woman is believed to have two hearts — hence two wills, two ways of thinking — within her body. This doubles the craving levels, and perhaps could go toward explaining her urge for strange combinations of two things that don't normally go together. In the U.S., women are said to crave pickles and ice-cream. The point here is just that, in some versions of our story at least, dohada explains the crocodile/turtle wife's craving for monkey heart.* And as everybody knows, the husband is responsible for going out, overcoming all obstacles, and getting whatever it is she wants. As Bloomfield says (p. 4):

“All the young woman has to do is to express longing for some rare article of food, or a fruit out of season, and the deluded husband, as he is in duty bound, sets out to procure it.”

In some Indian stories, the pregnant woman wants badly to consume her husband's intestines. Or his favorite pet peacock. In another she feels she simply must drink the moon. Sometimes, omens are divined in the items the expectant mother craves for. There is a sense of ambiguity about the source of the craving. Is it really something the mother is wanting, or is she being influenced by the will and the wants of the child? Sometimes, too, the husband is forced to trick his own wife into thinking her desire is, or will be, fulfilled before the spell of the dohada can be lifted.

*(In other tellings of the story the turtle wife believes her husband is spending too much time in the company of female monkeys, making jealousy the prime motive.)

So, to close up shop for today, we may conclude that the story of the monkey and the turtle is one about cravings and desires... and that those cravings lead both ourselves and our loved ones into situations in which we are left wide open to deception. The paw next time, I promise. Have I ever let you down before? Do rabbits have gizzards? Would getting one for you convince you of my love?


More to Tell —

Samuel  Beal, “The Story of the Foolish Dragon,” contained in: The Romantic Legend of Śākya Buddha: A Translation of the Chinese Version of the Abhiniṣkramaṇasūtra (London 1875), pp. 231-234. Here the Buddha recognizes His past incarnation as the monkey. Try downloading this internet archive version.

Maurice Bloomfield, The Dohada or Craving of Pregnant Women: A Motif of Hindu Fiction, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 40 (1920), pp. 1-24. Two versions of the monkey and crocodile story are told on pp. 11-13 as examples of the pregnancy craving motif.

James Huntley Grayson, Rabbit Visits the Dragon Palace: A Korea-Adapted Buddhist Tale from India, Fabula, vol. 45, nos. 1-2 (2004) 69-92. If you don’t have any way to get the article from JSTOR, you might try the same author’s book, Myths & Legends from Korea, at Googlebooks here.
(But, I am sorry to say, you will probably not be able to read the complete story there, and the book is terribly expensive. The article is important for tracing the East Asian versions of the story, which reached China by 251 CE, in which the monkey's liver, not his heart, is the desired organ. In the earliest written Korean version, of the early 12th century, the monkey has already become a rabbit. The monkey remains a monkey in Japanese versions, and the organ is the liver, although a modern version does replace the turtle with the dog. A modern Tibetan version is also told (p. 84), but on the basis of a Chinese translation that apparently turns the turtle into a frog. This last version has ‘The Talking Cave’ episode including the monkey turd incident, just like Lorepa’s. And the Mongolian version also largely agrees with it, even if the monkey becomes a female, and the jealousy motive comes into play.)
Lorepa Dragpa Wangchug (1187-1250 CE), ’Brel-ba’i Gnyen-gyis Bslus-pa, Spre’u dang Rus-sbal Lta-bu, contained at p. 21 in: Dam-chos Thub-pa Lnga’i Sngon-’gro’i Skabs-kyi Gtam-rgyud Rgyu-’bras-la Yid-ches Bskyed-byed, in its turn contained in: Smad ’Brug Bstan-pa’i Mnga’-bdag Rgyal-ba Lo-ras-pa Grags-pa-dbang-phyug Mchog-gi Gsung-’bum Rin-po-che, Ven Khenpo Shedup Tenzin & Lama Thinley Namgyal, Shri Gautam Buddha Vihar, Manjushri Bazar, Kathmandu, Nepal (2002), vol. 3, pp. 1-292. If you are interested in my listing of the titles in Lorepa's collected works, look here.

W.F. O’Connor, collector and translator, Folk Tales from Tibet, with Illustrations by a Tibetan Artist and Some Verses from Tibetan Love-Songs, Ratna Pustak Bhandar (Kathmandu 1977), reprint of 1906 edition. The 20th story is the one we care most about right now, at pp. 141-146. It tells the story of ‘The Tortoise and the Monkey’ in two episodes, the ‘monkey heart’ and ‘talking cave’ episodes. In this it resembles our Lorepa version. The book has been archived here, but I recommend ordering a reprint from your favorite New Delhi book wallah anyway.

Patrick Olivelle, translator, The Pañcatantra: The Book of India’s Folk Wisdom, Oxford University Press (Oxford 1997). The first few pages of chapter 4, “On Losing What You Have Gained.” A book worth having for its very worldly wisdom.

José Rizal (1861-1896), The Tale of the Tortoise and the Monkey. The author is one of the most famous national figures in the Philippines. He argued, in his 1889 essay Two Eastern Fables, that the story as widely told in the Philippines served as source of the Japanese folktale, The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab (this archived version is the most charming).

John Alexander Stewart, Talaing Folklore, Journal of the Burma Research Society, vol. 3, no. 1 (1913), pp. 54-64. I haven’t seen it. If you have access to this rather rare old journal issue, I’d love to know what it says about the Mon version of the story of “The Monkey and the Turtle,” which ought to be part five of the article, to judge from the outline.  (Thanks to J.S. for sending me the article.)

Herman W. Tull, The Tale of ‘The Bride and the Monkey’: Female Insatiability, Male Impotence, and Simian Virility in Indian Literature, Journal of the History of Sexuality, vol. 3, no. 4 (April 1993), pp. 574-589. I didn't go into this especially obscene but related monkey story. Hey, be my guest, have a look at it if you so desire.

From the Fables of Bidpai


Online stuff:

The younger kids might like the comic-book version hung up on the web by Buddhanet. Illustrated by Jeffrey Fowler. I put this link up front, since I imagine it will suit them better.

For several stories corresponding to no. 91 in Aarne-Thompson folktale typology, see D.L. Ashliman’s The Monkey’s Heart here or here if you prefer. This includes Swahili and southern U.S. versions.

Can you see the monkey on that crocodile’s back in this relief from Borobudur?* Where does that phrase “monkey on my back,” as a way of alluding to drug addiction, come from? Reminds me of that Beatles’ song, the one with the line “Everybody’s got something to hide, ’cept for me & my monkey.” Have you heard the story that the original line said something about the Maharshi before they changed it to ‘my monkey’?
(*I apologize for the broken link.)

“The Curious Jew” blog entry for January 15, 2007, is entitled “Literary Fun with the Apocrypha.” It’s literally fun finding a version of our story in The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, in which Leviathan gets a fish to bring him a fox so he can eat its heart to become wise. You know ahead of time that it is just •because• the fox is wise that it won’t prove possible to cheat him out of his heart. Try here.

Or try the entry by Crawford Howell Toy & Louis Ginzberg at, here, where you will also find a discussion of the story’s debt to India.

t the creation of the world God consigned a male and a female of every kind of animal to the sea. When the Angel of Death (“Malak ha-Mawet”), who was charged with the duty of sinking them in the water, was about to take the fox, that animal began to cry. The Angel of Death asked him why he did this. The fox answered that he wept because his friend had been condemned to live in the water; and going to the shore, he pointed to his own image in the water. The Angel of Death, believing that a fox had already been sunk, allowed him to go. Leviathan, the ruler of the sea, now tried to lure the fox into its depths, because he believed that if he could eat the heart of so cunning an animal he would gain in wisdom.

One day, while the fox was walking by the sea, some fishes came and spoke to him. They told him that Leviathan was nearing his end and wanted the craftiest of animals to be his successor. They promised the fox to carry him to a rock in the sea where he could erect his throne without fear of the surrounding waters. When he reached the high seas the fox knew that for once he had been tricked; but he did not lose his self-possession. “What!” said he, “It is my heart you want, is it? Well, why did you not say so before? I would then have brought it here; for usually, you know, I do not carry it with me.”

The fish quickly conveyed him back to the shore, and in exultation he leaped about. The fish called to him to fetch his heart and come with him; but the fox replied: “To be sure, I went with you when I had no heart” (the ancients considered the heart the seat of wisdom); “but now I have my heart, I’ll stay here. I got the better of the Angel of Death; how much easier, then, to fool stupid fish!”

For the older version in Bidpai’s Kalila and Dimna (Fables of Bidpai, if you prefer) I couldn’t yet find a good online resource.  Wait, perhaps this one will do.  This story collection arrived in Europe more or less at the same time Padampa arrived in Tibet.

Delusions are nothing if not dissolvable, I'd say.

That's Buddhist optimism for you.
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