Saturday, August 01, 2009

Monkey Paw, Salty River

If you don't swim, don't play in the water.
skyal myed-pas chu-la rtse-bar myi bya'o ||

— Padampa Sanggyé

Hello all of you, or both of you, or however many of you might still have internet connections at your air-conditioned beach resorts on the Riviera! Or the Canary Islands! After several days at it I really badly need a break from touching up my Zhang-zhung dictionary. I'm rewriting the introduction right now, and I think I've made some headway in convincing a sometimes too skeptical world that this thousand-some-year-old language does indeed possess some of the essential features of language that people have unjustly claimed are missing in it. That means verbs, personal pronouns and grammar.* I do so much more enjoy the freedom of blog writing to other kinds that I'm all too familiar with.
*(Well, in fact it doesn't have the personal pronouns, but then the only lengthy bilingual text we have for Zhang-zhung doesn't have any kind of dialog in it, so why would it need to speak of you and me and her?)
I know I should have gone on to say more already about the back scratchers, but let's let go of them for now and look at what might seem a remotely related, but, well, maybe, anyway, related, topic. I mean, the most popular shape for back scratchers is the rake or 'claw' shape, correct? That's because it's meant to take the place of your own claw-shaped hands when they can no longer reach the center of your back where that irritating sensation is most likely to be found. And that probably means you are getting old and haven't been keeping up with your yoga practice. Give me a minute to go pop a few more aspirin for my arthritis and we'll begin.

Remember the animal metaphors of Padampa, the Telugu Mahasiddha? There was one metaphor that, despite the explanation of the commentarial text, really didn't convey much of any meaningful message. Let me cut-and-paste my old translation attempts right here. First, the line from the root text with the words of Padampa:

spre'u-yi sder-mo rnyed-pa'i rus-sbal lan-tshwa'i chu-la lto 'gal med //

spre'u-yi: C spre'u. rus-sbal: C rul-rbal. lan-tshwa'i: C ba-tsha'i.

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

And now the commentary on the same, probably written by a 12th-century Tibetan follower. Take special note of my shriek of frustration enclosed in square brackets at the end:

Zhijé Collection, vol. 1, p. 438, line 3 ———

56. {{All the animals that go into the borax ocean rot and disappear, they say. A turtle that appears on the surface of the water later on doesn't appear at all. In the case of the monkey paw, it doesn't rot. It [the turtle?] goes with the hamstring. Then, in the forest cleans the paw, and it is no contradiction that it eats it in borax water. Sensual qualities are like the borax, in turning into virtue through skilful means.}} [This is clearly not a workable translation; the text uses some very rare vocabulary items.]

I may take another shot at translating this before long. And here's the Tibetan text of the commentary, since I'm sure that English didn't make sense to anyone [it's in 'texto' style, with none of those tacit corrections you often get, no dashes, etc.]:

dper na rgya mtsho' ba tsha can de la srog chags phyin pa thams cad rul nas 'gro skad /

de la ru rbal chu'i teng du bsdad nas phyir de rtsam myi 'byung ste / de la spre'u rder mo snyed na myi 'drul bas kho ting chu dang 'grogs nas nags gseb du sder mo tsal nas ba tsha'i chu la ltos 'gal myed par 'gro'o //

de bzhin du 'dod yon ba tsha dang 'dra ste / thabs la mkhas pas yon tan du 'gyur ro gsung //

I think this is going to make a little more sense to you, and to me, too, very probably, by the time I finish writing for the day. I won't promise miracles. I think I can explain to you in at least a general way, for the first time here in this blog, the Indian background that would shed light on how or why a turtle might get its teeth into a monkey paw to begin with. I also think I can say something meaningful about the chu ba-tshwa-can phrase (notice there's a variant) that I translated as 'borax water.' More on that in a minute.

My new understandings took off like a space-station launcher after reading a blog by Tenpa at Tibetan Buddhist Digital Altar that covers the delicate topic of homosexuals going to hell. Wait a minute, don't kill the messengers. Hear us out. Condemnation is not my purpose today. Maybe tomorrow. I would say that some of my best friends are gay, but then you'd start reading things into it, now, wouldn't you? I'll be witness to the fact that sometimes it's hard to state the simplest of facts without getting yourself into trouble. In matters of sex, as in religion, people are always divining hidden meanings in between the words or hovering above them. Mom, if you're reading this, the answer is no, never was.

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Tenpa, in his blog, supplied a passage from Śāntideva's Śikāsamuccaya that is in turn a quotation from the Saddharmopasthana Sutra (I guess that means Saddharmasmṛtyupasthāna, which is a huge 3-volume scripture, so please, my dear reader, don't expect me to trace the original context... find it yourself if you must):

Likewise, endless varieties of punishments in a future life are described for the wrong deed of sexual intercourse between two men. The one who commits misconduct with boys sees boys being swept away in the Acid River who cry out to him, and owing to the suffering and pain born of his deep affection for them, plunges in after them.

Although I suppose you may find this difficult to believe, I was a lot more interested in the "Acid River" than in the same-sex sex. I looked the quote up just to be sure about the wording. Over time I finally located it in the crusty old Bendall & Rouse translation, at page 80. Here's a slightly longer quote, although I, too, will leave off the subsequent paragraph about the despicable form of animal abuse known as bestiality, since it isn't especially relevant, is it? I'll take that as a No.

Likewise the hell called Mahā-paduma is said to come into existence if by the prayer of a heavenly nymph one brings one's chaste life to an end. There flows the river called Kshāranadītaraginī, the Stream of Brine. All the stones of this river are bones, its weeds are hair, its mud is flesh, its water is molten copper, and its fishes are prisoners in hell, etc. Likewise, endless varieties of punishments are described for the sin of sodomy. Likewise as the result of misconduct with children he beholds boys floating about in the River of Brine. They cry out to him, and he plunges into the river through the impulse of grief and pain arising from his keen affection and attachment to them.

Here's the Tibetan from the copy of the text I had close at hand (p. 105), not because I think it's the best textual witness:

de de ltar lha'i bu mo 'dod pa'i phyir tshangs par spyod pa yongs su bsngo bas na / pad ma chen po zhes bya ba'i sems can dmyal bar gsungs te / de na tsha sgo can gyi 'bab chu dpa' rlabs can zhes bya ba 'bab ste / 'bab chu de la nya gang yin pa de dag ni sems can dmyal ba pa de dag go // rus pa gang yin pa de dag ni rdo ba'o // 'jim pa gang yin pa de dag ni skra'o // 'dam rdzab gang yin pa de dag ni sha'o // chu gang yin pa de dag ni ro nye bskol ba'o zhes bya ba la sogs pa'o // de bzhin du skyes pas skyes pa la 'khrig pa log par bcug pa'i chad pa'i bye brag dpag tu med par brjod do // de bzhin du byis pa rnams la log par 'jug pa yang cha sgo can gyi chus khyer ba'i khye'u dag mthong nas de dag gis de la bos pa dang / de byis pa de dag la shin tu sdug par sems pa dang ldan zhing mya ngan dang sdug bsngal gyi shugs kyis chu der 'jug go //

The 'sin of sodomy' isn't very literal. What it says here is 'Men wrongly engaging in sexual intercourse with other men.' That's in case you had any doubts. Buddhists never shrink back from talking about every possibility. They never had a Victorian phase. That's why they're not quite sure what 'repression' is. Well, at least as far as talking about things is concerned.

And here's the original Sanskrit for those who insist on having it. It could really help solve some arguments that might arise about the meaning.

evamapsarasaḥ prārthanayā brahmacaryapariṇāmanān mahāpadumo nāma naraka uktaḥ / tatra kṣāranadī taraṅgiṇī nāma pravahati / tasyāṃ nadyāṃ yāny asthīni te pāṣāṇāḥ / yacchaivālaṃ te keśāḥ / yaḥ paṅkastanmāṃsam / yā āpaḥ tat kathitaṃ tāmram / ye matsyās te nārakā ityādi //

evaṃ puruṣasya puruṣeṇa saha maithunavipratipatteḥ aprameyāḥ kāraṇāviśeṣāḥ paṭhyante / evaṃ śiśubhiḥ saha vipratipatteḥ kṣāranadyām uhyamānān dārakān paśyati / te taṃ vilapanti / sa tāṃ nadīm avagāhate / teṣu bālakeṣu tīvrasnehapratibandhaśokaduḥkhavegāt /

Right away we ought to observe, at the very least, that 'River of Brine' is not a very accurate translation of the Sanskrit, certainly, where it's kṣāra-nadī, with nadī meaning 'river.' Although kṣāra can mean 'salty,' the first meanings in the Monier-Williams dictionary are: caustic, biting, corrosive, acrid, pungent, saline.

Equipped with the Sanskrit and Tibetan words, I started searching out rivers of brine or whatever, along with words for salt and types of salts, all over the place. I'd bother you with all the details, but I guess you won't have patience for it. Anyway, my dull conclusion is that the various words for salts and salty waters are confused in the sources — even the two texts for animal metaphor no. 56 disagree whether it's lan-tshwa or ba-tshwa — so little wonder if we're confused about which is which. Ba-tshwa, to the best of my current guesses means, to some authors at least, 'borax' such as you find in lakes with internal drainage — the Northern Plains of Tibet are full of it — and as your mother knows very well an ingredient in some popular clothes-washing detergents. Sanskrit lavaṇa is in Tibetan lan-tshwa, the usual word for sodium chloride, or common table salt, NaCl.

Still, a Tibetan medical dictionary told me that lan-tsha has two meanings: [1] ordinary salt and [2] medicinal salts. According to this, when the latter meaning is intended the letter 'w' is added as a subscript, lan-tshwa. That is interesting... But who followed this spelling advice?

I went to such lengths to find out more about salt symbolism, I even wrote to Austria in quest of a mysterious scripture entitled Lan-tshwa'i Chu-bo'i Mdo. It was quoted by Atisha, but it has probably always been quite difficult to find in Tibet or anywhere else. It was translated at about the beginning of the 11th century, probably in fact at Tholing, where Dharmapāla, the Indian master named in the colophon, started the Highland Monastic Ordination Lineage.

That could help explain why it only exists in two Kanjurs located in the westernmost parts of the Plateau, the Gondhla and the Tholing Kanjurs (this information accepted with thanks from Helmut Tauscher, who kindly went out of his way to help me on this, far more than was necessary, really). Its Sanskrit title has been reconstructed in two different ways. It seems that Mark Tatz once Sanskritized it as Lavaṇa Nadī Sūtra, although Kṣāra Nadī Sūtra would also be possible. Even the Tibetan title is not always given consistently. Sometimes it's Lan-tsa'i Chu-bo'i Mdo, but we also find reference to it as Ba-tshwa'i Chu-klung zhes bya-ba'i Mdo.

I won't go into this scripture very much, since I think anyway someone will do a study of it before too long. I think we already learned something of significance, that even Tibetans might sometimes confuse or consider equivalent ba-tshwa and lan-tshwa. Not everyone is cut out to be a chemist. I'll just quote one brief passage and make a stab at understanding it. In this scripture the Buddha makes a kind of extended metaphor, and later on in the scripture it's interpreted in every last detail.

lan tsha'i chu bo'i ngogs sam 'gram dag las gang tsher ma can gyi chu skor yod la / der mun pa mun gnag smag tu 'thoms pa'i skye dgu' lus can kun kyang chu bo'i rgyun phyogs su khyer zhing ded de de las rgal myi nus so //

Let me try to get the gist of it without laboring over every word. It's meant to describe our situation here in sangsara, but you knew that.

On the banks or shores of the salt river there are lots of thorns. A waterwheel lies ahead. The myriad beings are disoriented in the pitch-black darkness. They are getting carried along by the constant stream of the river. There is no way they can turn back [from going under the water mill].

Now I jump ahead to the Buddha's own interpretation of what the salt means:

lan tsha ni sdig pa dang / myi dge' ba dang / de la rtog pa dang gsum po dag go zhes nga smra'o //

"I say to you, the salt means sin, non-virtues, and thoughts about them, all three."

Salt is a positive symbol in Christianity and Judaism. You even find salt along with oil used in significant ways in Roman Rite consecration ceremonies. Have you ever heard anyone called "salt of the earth"? That's a good thing. Salt preserves. Salt heals. Salt is good. Salt is something like life.

Salt is hardly ever positive, or at least unequivocally positive, in Buddhism. In general in Buddhist metaphors, salt doesn't preserve. It makes you more and more thirsty, and it corrodes things. Salt most often stands for desires, since fulfilling them is only temporary at best, and leads to addiction, just as drinking salt water only makes you want to drink more and more. It doesn't quench your thirst like you might have thought it would.

I found this in Access to Insight

And what is salt water? Salt water stands for defilement. The defilements of the mind are saltier than salt. When we try to eat salt — even just a little — we can't swallow it because we find it so salty, but the defilements are even saltier than that. They can crust us over so that we spoil and rot in all sorts of ways. When this is the case, what can we do? We have to filter or distill them.

Try this page, also, where you'll find another Salt Sutra.

This is not positive. Notice that this Buddhist salt is said to be corrosive. I see the same in many of my Tibetan texts, including scriptures (I'd quote more of them, but the day is slipping away), and this leads me to think that at least some of the time they aren't intending ordinary table salt, or ordinary ocean salt,* but rather some kind of borax or, perhaps even more likely to fit the symbolism, caustic soda.

*(Ocean salt can be called rgyam-tshwa in Tibet, where it was often used for medicinal purposes, which was a very good idea, given that iodine could avert all danger of goiter, and most Tibetans were using rock salt from the Northern Plains, unfortunately. If you still haven't seen Die Saltzmänner von Tibet, it's about time you rented the video. It's really worth it.)

Are you with me this far? That's amazing! Thank you for being so patient. Just remember that a monkey paw when placed in caustic soda or lye would soon dissolve into nothingness. This knowledge will come in useful next time when we try to figure out what the turtle is doing with it in the first place. I should learn to say what I want to say right away instead of wasting time getting around to it. Good advice for any ordinary day. Today is just too hot, and on days like this, it's best to have a little extra salt. We'll talk again before too long. You can drop me a line meanwhile.

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Read and Read and Read and Read

Śāntideva's Śikāsamuccaya. For the English, I used Cecil Bendall & W.H.D. Rouse, Śikāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1971), reprint of 1922 edition. For The Sanskrit, I used p. 45 of the P.L. Vaidya edition reproduced by Sridhar Tripathi at the Mithila Institute (Darbhanga 1999), but you can also do as I did and compare this with the Jens Braarvig's edition of Chapter Four here. For the Tibetan I made use of the version in the Gangs-can Rig-brgya'i Sgo-'byed Lde-mig series vol. 23, published by Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 1995), just because I happened to have it at hand, not because I particularly recommend it.

Tibetan Buddhist Digital Altar, blog dated March 20, 2009 entitled Acid River. This blog provoked a rhetorically heated and here & there mildly interesting and informative discussion at E-sangha. You may have to register to see this thread, I'm not sure of it, though.

Helmut Tauscher, Catalogue of the Gondhla Proto-Kanjur, Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität Wien (Vienna 2008). This is by far the most fascinating Kanjur catalog ever made. I would never say such a thing lightly or in jest. If you can't see the beauty in it it's probably because you're not a Tibetologist yet. If you are a Tibetologist already, look here for more details. If not, don't.

There's a fairly nice discussion of worldwide salt symbolism here. Just ignore the Scientology video advertisements and whatnot.

I find it rather strange that Sakya Pandita, in the early 13th century, used ba-tshwa to refer to the saltiness of ocean water. He says (quoting Lozang Jamspal's fine translation, where ba-tshwa is translated as 'brine'):

When virtuous people associate with the wicked,

they become affected by vice.

When the sweet water of the Ganges reaches the oceans,

it turns into brine.

This is the illustration and text on ba-tshwa* from Jampal Dorjé's** materia medica work, which lists all-in-all 20 types of salts, 16 of them naturally occurring, including ba-tshwa, and 4 of them produced by special processes, or 'manufactured.' If I translate the first line of it, as best I can, you may get some idea what's going on in the illustration.

Ba-tshwa: It forms on old walls of houses. It's oily, soft, and has moisture. It has a biting taste on the tongue. It's the stuff ze-tsha*** is made from, but hot tasting. If you burn it in fire, like ze-tsha it does not boil.

It ends with a brief quote from the Crystal Globe, a famous materia medica work, about its medicinal effects. It looks like, as with other salts, one of the main usages is in urinary disorders, although I'm not sure exactly what it's saying here.

*You can see that what appears to be there is "ba cha na," but you have to learn to read through the missing ligatures and see what's actually there, which is "ba-tshwa ni."

**It isn't well known among Tibetologists yet, but this Jampal Dorjé is identical to the Mongolian prince known in other sources as Tho-yon Ye-shes-don-grub-bstan-pa'i-rgyal-mtshan (1792‑1855).

***Ze-tshwa in Pasang Yontan Arya's materia medica is identified as Nitrum. For the whole entry, look here. Please let me know if that link doesn't work for you.

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'Gro-lung-pa's famous Bstan-rim text, dating from around 1100 CE, has this very interesting passage that almost unbelievably places side-by-side metaphors of salt water drinking and of scratching what itches: lan tshwa'i chu 'thung ba dang g.yan pa 'phrug pa la sogs pa ltar sred pa je 'phel je 'phel du 'gyur ba 'ba' zhig go | des na nam zhig nyes pa 'di lta bu shes nas spangs pa de'i tshe ngoms pa mthar phyin par zad do | | byang chub sems dpa'i sde snod las | sngon 'das dus ni shin tu rgyas pa nas | | lha rdzas dag dang mi nor bzang po dang | | 'dod pa'i yon tan lnga dag bsten gyur kyang | | de la nam yang ngoms pa ma rnyed do | |

Just to translate the first sentence quickly:

Drinking salt water, scratching itches and the like, are nothing but ways to increase the 'thirst' (or addiction) more and more.

“I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the world, that I may be discovered.”

— A well-known Hadith Qudsl (Divine Saying)


  1. Lets do this thing.

    If we're talking medical synonyms, then what you're looking for is ba tsha can gyi chu, which is water containing ba tshva, defined as humus nitrosus (not borax), one of the twenty-one natural salts -- and I here defer to Tendzin Phuntso's Chemistry of Salts, passim, for discussion of the full thirty-seven varieties:

  2. Dear Tenpa-laa,

    Thanks for writing. An honor having you here. And thank you for pointing to that source I didn't know about. I'll look into it more. Salt is a fascinating subject — I only wish I knew more about chemistry — and the truth is these last weeks I've been craving salt a little bit, because of the heat, I guess.

    The identification with "humus nitrosus" apparently was done by Pasang Yontan, whose works on medicine and materia medica I generally do trust. In fact, I believe the writer you refer to may have had no other source than his Dictionary of Materia Medica, which might be accessible, on the exact page, page 146, at Googlebooks through this "tinyurl" —

    "Borax" was just a rough and ready translation that I used at the time. I'm still thinking it works for some writers. My primary goal ought to be the ideal one of knowing what Padampa himself meant. And 2ndly what the hearers of his words understood by the word. I'll freely admit I'm not there yet.

    Does anybody out there have any idea what "humus nitrosus" really is and what's special about it? My first thought is it must be a middle eastern food made with mashed garbonzo beans.


  3. Dear Professor: The honor is the honor you do us all by sharing the great beauty of your intellect from the kindness of your heart. I am sorry to hear about the heat where you are. It has cooled down considerably around here: 112F for the past several days. Thankfully, I have warm clothes. Tendzin Phuntso was born in 1672 and Pasang Yonten Arya in 1955, so I think it unlikely the latter influenced the former, although it is entirely possible that the latter is the former. Knowledge effortlessly arises of itself: authorship lies in spaciousness, I think. Borax is, of which five types (each with a different name) are recognized, originating in lakes, whereas ba tshva originates from waterfalls, as you have seen. On the other hand, lba.tsha is saltpetre, which would undoubtedly dampen the limp-wristed monkey's spirits, were we not considering this matter post-mortem. I think if it were me, I would write "caustic" and move on to the main points: what is the turtle's quality, how does he get a monkey's claw, and why is there no reason not to eat it? The turtle is rare, the monkey is grasping, and the water is caustic anyway, so it seems there is little time to waste. Thank you so much for what you do, and may you continue to do it in accordance with your wishes. I am always praying for your happiness. Cordially, Tenpa.

  4. Dear Tenpa,

    I think you're certainly right about just calling it 'caustic soda' and getting on with the rest of it. It's all about making the metaphor work like it's supposed to, even if the exact scientific identity of the salt is not all that sure. And part of my argument was that most people then, like most people now, weren't experts in distinguishing them. I just added on a bit about how ba-tshwa is produced from walls of old houses. And I guess I didn't say very clearly what I intended to. Somebody decided that ba-tshwa translates as "humus nitrosus," whatever that might be. And that somebody as far as I know was Pasang Yontan Arya. Do you have the original Tibetan work? The one by Tendzin Phuntsho that was reviewed in the website by that someone with the very Chinese-looking name (or •his• translator)? It's the way of translating the Tibetan word into English that PYA was responsible for starting, I think. We always get ourselves into these plonters in Tibetan studies. Sometimes they really threaten to freeze thought, which I suppose under some conditions could be a good thing, even if Je Tsongkhapa might not agree! Especially when the brain gets overheated!


  5. Dear Dan,

    My thanks for an ably presented discussion of same-sex sexuality and salt in the Buddhist context.

    The place of same-sex sexuality, especially in the lives of leadership, is a topic most hot in Anglican Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church. For more details I'll recommend that readers ride the web, as this is really not the forum for that discussion. However, I will take a moment to also bewail the trouble caused by stating the simplest facts: both religions have clearly stated understandings of sexual misconduct, have clearly stated reasons for why this conduct is so characterized, have clearly stated reasons for why the reasons are not arbitrary, and, finally, have these reasons clearly stated by the founders themselves of these religions.

    As for the place of salt in the Buddhist context, I am most grateful to be made aware of this. You are right, salt has positive connotation in the Christian context--very different. I appreciate your advice and cautions on this matter.

  6. Dear Professor:
    I see your technical idea about making the metaphor work. Metaphor by its nature is the body of implication's ghost. So there is both the spoken and unspoken. When I deconstructed P's rabbits the other day, I quickly came to respect that which he doesn't say as the key to that which he does.

    The "humus nitrosus" is an archaic reference to organic compounds formed by decomposed material, which certainly fits with the theme established along the banks of the bonny Ksharanaditarangini.

    I regret that I do not have the original Tibetan for you. I personally only know of the Sinicized edition one finds in the bookstores in China (which is actually six different fragments rolled into one volume), and which is not Zhang's. I cannot imagine Zhang Sheng had recourse to PYA, but anything is possible.

    Nevertheless, he does inspire one by casting his thesis in alchemical terms. We are, after all, discussing a kind of spiritual alchemy wherein brine-soaked monkey claw becomes the locus of awareness of the ever-present possibility of grasping's transmutation into statelessness. This takes place in the crucible of the turtle's mouth. How unique is that?

    When I read this, what I get at very first blush is a singular opportunity that must be seized without prejudice because conditions are transient. One could write a lengthy commentary, or just leave it that the caustic ocean of samsara still provides the opportunity for transformaton, as one rids oneself of grasping after concepts.

    Chewing on the salty claw a bit more, it seems P is using metaphor to illuminate the practice of nyamjog, and that rather elegantly. I get this from the statement "no reason not to," which is the crux of the entire matter.

    Stripped of turtles, claws, and caustic brine -- and there is no reason not to -- this metaphor sings in silence.

    I will break that silence by sincerely thanking you again for bringing this to everyone's attention. When will this book see press? I will surely want a copy.

  7. Dear Person,

    I don't know if you were reading the news for the first of this month, but no sooner did I post that blog than I turned on the TV and saw the news about what happened in Tel Aviv. Too much of a coincidence for comfort. And they are guessing, of course, that it was a hate crime. It's just so crystal clear to me at the moment that non-gays have cut out for them the spiritual task of dealing with their prejudices. Finding a way to get over and beyond those delusions of superiority and egotistical dislikes. But I guess, like you, I think the gay community may have the not-so-special spiritual task of dealing with desire.

    Notice I didn't qualify the word 'desire,' any more than I qualified the word 'prejudice.' I didn't say 'gay desire' or any such thing. We all ought to admit to having the same set of desires that produce for us the same sorts of griefs. From Buddhist perspectives, love and compassion are perfectly beautiful emotions that will bring us closer to, and last beyond, the state of complete Enlightenment, if we ever can hope to get so far on the Path. Desire, quite the contrary, is that dull addictive tug in the back of the mind. It's insistent and devious and capable in a moment of totally taking over, flooding out everything else. In my mind, desire is the area of concern that the desert fathers & mothers have in common with Buddhists of every kind. They share the same ideas about the problematic nature of desires (including the ones that go with consumerism in general). I'd say from what I see that they also share more or less the same range of strategies for dealing with desires. (For Buddhists who may have doubts on this, I'd recommend a good translation of Evagrius, or Cassian, although there are a lot of others that could work almost as well to convince you.)

    (Sorry I didn't mean to sound like I'm preaching to you about stuff I'm sure you know more about than I do.)

    Always good to hear from you.


  8. Dear Tenpa-la,

    I hope you can excuse my mental dullness — no excuse for it, really, but it just occurred to me that the Tendzin Puntsok who wrote about salt is none other than the famous Dilmar Geshé Tendzin Puntsog (Dil-dmar Dge-bshes Bstan-'dzin-phun-tshogs).

    I tried to find out more about his biographical details a few years ago, Turns out even to give his birth date is a big problem, though people do give birth dates like 1725, etc., but I think the earlier date of 1672 (like Zhang Sheng gives) is more likely. (It still has problems, just not as many.)

    Most of his works that survive are about medicine, but he also wrote one of the most important books about traditional Buddhist arts and crafts. He even wrote a long book about the paints used in thangka painting, which I think only exists in a private collection or two. Haven't heard that it was ever published.

    I looked into it, and found out that the book Zhang Sheng mentions by its title is actually a very big collection of his selected works, published in Beijing in 2007, with the title "Selected Medical Works of Dilmar" (De'u-dmar Gso-rig Gces-btus). 1212 pages! No, I don't have it lying around here. So that's about all I can say about it.

    I suppose he could have written a short separate work about 'salt,' but I'm thinking it's more likely just a section from one of his two main material medical works, which I mentioned as the Crystal Globe (with a link to the text in TBRC) in the part I added at the end of the blog in red letters.

    Wait, the two materia medica works are called the Crystal Globe (Shel gong) and the Crystal Rosary (Shel phreng). Both have been published, sometimes the two of them in one volume, many times in Tibetan, never in English (just imagine how difficult translating it would be).

    I'll put a hold on turtle talk til next time. It's really tough to confidently translate Padampa's sort of extended metaphors without fully understanding them ahead of time, which isn't all so likely the more I try to imagine it.

    And compound that with problems of 'cultural' translation — if the symbolic / metaphoric associations of salt is an example, they can be quite different in different cultures and contexts.

    Ah. well. Lots to work on, whichever job might be the real job. Thanks for writing.


  9. PS for Tenpa-laa,

    I think you're right about the real Tibetan word for 'borax' being tsha-la.

    Lozang Jamspal in his translation of Sakya Pandita's work I mentioned before, p. 9, gives this translation of one of the verses (ch. 1, verse no. 17), where he translates it as 'salt-whitening' —

    When two wise people talk with one another,
    they produce new insights,
    just as new colour emerges
    when turmeric and salt-whitening is combined.

    Wonderful words. Great quote for the next interfaith dialogue.

    The Davenport translation of the same verse does translate tsha-la as 'borax.'

    Here's an odd story for you. Years ago I attempted to make a complete bibliography of western-language writings on Tibetan Bon religion. (I'm still trying... to make it complete.)

    I found an obscure reference to what would have been one of the very early works on the subject (and from some of your more inane bibliographical perspectives, older means more important). It was by one of the Schlagintweit brothers who had among them the best (if you're forced to pick) and more humane of the early Tibet-explorers and Tibetanists, Hermann Schlagintweit (b. 1826) entitled Das Auftreten von Bon-Verbindungen in Tibet, Globus: Illustrirte Zeitschrift für Länder- und Völkerkunde, vol. 34, no. 19 (1878), pp. 363-366.

    In Leiden a few years ago, guess it was 2005, long after the bibliography had been published in black letters on white paper with my name on it, I was able to dig up the musty old volume in the library there, and realized to my horror, that someone, *surely* not me (!), had made a grievous typo.

    Where the German title read Bon-Verbindungen, the real title had Bor-Verbindungen. I guess by now I don't need to tell you, but I'll go ahead and risk sounding ilke a bore by saying that Bor is German for borax.

    (Or is it boron, and is there a difference?)

    I still can't help but laugh when I think about it. Live and learn, they say. I *really* should have done the homework for that chemistry class I never did take.

  10. OH MY GODS!

    Sakya Pandita's verse is a lot more wonderful than a non-chemist like me might have imagined. It turns out that when you combine (white) borates/borax with (yellow) curcumin/ turmeric, you get stuff called Rosocyanine and Rubrocurcumin, which means *which* color?

    Look here for everything I know on the subject and much more:

    That Sakya Pandita was very clever.

  11. Hi, Dan,

    I'm coming super late to your article, but, as is often the case when searching for hard to find bits of Tibetan information, I find that you've already touched upon it at some point, and that your work is documented here.

    I am currently trying to get my hands on the above mentioned Lan-tsa'i Chu-bo'i Mdo (or Ba-tshwa'i Chu-klung zhes bya-ba'i Mdo). Your blog post, Hartmann's article on the Sattvārādhana-stava, and Tatz's brief mention are all I can really find.

    I'd love to lay my eyes on the actual text of this sutra. Do you know how I can get my hands on it, short of bothering Herr Tauscher? I have no current university affiliation, so I can't access some of the catalogs I would be able to get to if I did.

    I would be greatly indebted to you for any help.

    All the best,

    1. Hello Andy!
      According to Tauscher, this text only exists in two western Tibetan Kanjurs: The Gondhla and the Tholing. So, short of going to one of those two places, I'd think you would need to find out who has copies of those. Did you check the Vienna site:

  12. Hi, Dan,

    Thanks so much for pointing me to that collection. I'm trying to navigate their setup and see what they have. I do find the listing of the text in both the Gondhla and Tholing collections, but can't figure out if the actual text is accessible through the website.

    In the meantime I discovered that the TBRC apparently has access to scans of the same collection. Since they are right down the road, I've written to see if I can go in and look at them there. Maybe easier than flying to Vienna;)

    Thank you so much, Dan! I'll share the outcome of my little investigation.


  13. Nine years later, and I finally can see an alternative translation of the Salty River passage here: Charles Goodman, tr., The Training Anthology of Śāntideva: A Translation of the Śikṣā-samuccaya, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2016), p. 79.


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