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.

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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 (Of course it is possible, too, that he worked from an unpublished manuscript unknown to me.)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.”


  1. It is still unclear to me what meaning, or meanings, the turtle had for Padampa. That puts me in the "wait and see" seat.

  2. Dear Pers,

    Well, when the turtle stays at home where are his head and limbs? Nice weather over there?


  3. Nice try. But I'm still hanging tough in the wait-and-see seat." Oh look! Here comes Monkey ....

  4. No, seriously, Short. The turtle carries his home with him wherever he goes. The ability of the turtle to withdraw its limbs into its home can stand for the withdrawal of the senses from their customary external objects. 'Mind isolation' if you will. I'm in body isolation at the moment, a kind of retreat. Should really stay away from this keyboard!

  5. Did anybody notice the apparition of the turtle's head in the tree bark, or is it just me?

    I could just be seeing things that aren't there. Umm. Yeah.

  6. I've been informed that "savefile" is dead, at least for now, so those who want Tibskrit 2009 (a new version) or Tibschol (the old version) can find them at the following links at "megaupload":

    Here is the Word document version (16 megabytes) of Tibskrit 2009:

    Following is the PDF version (24 megabytes) of Tibskrit 2009:

    Here is the Word document version of Tibschol (if you have it already, this is no different from what you have):

    You may need to cut and paste the links into your browser.

    The page at Tibetological website has been updated.

  7. Are you back from retreat, or still on retreat? Perhaps we now know what you've been doing during retreat (just a little chuckle).

    I myself do not see the turtle. Is there a way in which you're looking at the picture? Is there a particular location in the picture?

    Regards and greetings from the

    Short Person

  8. Dear SP: It's coming in from your left side, squinting its eye, and ready to swallow something in the middle of the frame. I swear, if it were any clearer it would bite you.

    Oh, and that's right. I'm back.

  9. Hmm. Hmm .... Is the mouth the deep indentation towards the middle of picture?

    Short Person still on the job.

  10. The power of suggestion... If it speaks to you, start worrying. If what it says is important, let us know.

  11. Hmm .... are you suggesting "yes," or are you suggesting "no" to my question? While you're answering that, why don't I just amble over there and consult with Mr. Monkey?

    Mr. Monkey .... Hello .... Can I get your opinion? This guy says this is a turtle. Yes ..., this. Now what do you think? I mean ... really.

  12. Aha! So Short, if I hear you right you're seeing a reversal of the Monkey Paw episode. Here the monkey thinks it's getting a turtle head, but the dastardly turtle put something else up there instead... a tree trunk or something.

    And for lunch today I was contemplating fixing a lovely turtle's head soup simmered in some of that ebullient borax bouillon I picked up in the Alps last month. Guess I could just go out. That would save a lot of fuss & bother.

    I suppose we know which creature I am. And the monkey's probably the last person to consult with if what you want is a non-misleading answer. Based on past experience. And anyway, I've been outfoxed. Again. Dammit! (pardoning my schreckliche German)

  13. Let's bury the paw and the jaw. It might even be fun walking the road together---even if only for a while.

  14. Hello.

    Just checking in. I'm hoping that the Turtle and Monkey have had a chance to become friends. Any word from your corner of the sky?

  15. My corner of the sky hovers directly over the center of the world, but I haven't heard a word from it. Not in any language I ever tried to learn. I'll try to listen more carefully.


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