Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Swat’s Good Feng-shui

Practically everyone in Tibetan Studies has long been convinced that the Swat Valley, in northern Pakistan, is the same as Orgyan, the birthplace of the Tibetan cultural hero Guru Rinpoché — Pemajungné, Padmasambhava, also known as Orgyan Guru.

Guru Rinpoché came to Tibet in the later decades of the 8th century, during the reign of Emperor Trisongdetsen. Although he wasn't by any means the first Indian Buddhist to make an impression on Tibet, he is still regarded as founder of Tibetan Buddhism. It is because of him that Samyé Monastery could be built and consecrated. Still, just because agreement may be boring or misplaced, it’s interesting to note that some Indian scholars and Indologists have written that his birthplace, Uddiyana,* was not in Swat, but somewhere else... in north or south India.

(*Indic equivalent of Tibetan Orgyan. Take the correct version of the name with the diacritics, Uḍḍiyāna (sometimes also Oḍiyāna). Realize that those ‘d’s with dots beneath them are retroflexes. That means you have to turn the tip of your tongue back toward your soft palate. Try pronouncing it that way and you’ll start to understand how the sound shift to ‘Orgyan’ or ‘Urgyan’ —you have both spellings in Tibetan — could have taken place.)

The reason Tibetanists believe Swat Valley is none other than Orgyan is because of the account of the Drugpa Kagyüpa teacher Orgyanpa Rinchen Pal, who went there in the 13th century. Giuseppe Tucci half a century ago published a long article tracing Orgyanpa’s itinerary. It’s very clear that some of the places mentioned by Orgyanpa in the 13th century are close matches to place names still in use in Swat. 
Of course, those prone to taking more skeptical positions could say, ‘So what? That just means that 13th-century Tibetan convinced himself he had reached the right place.’

However that may be, Ron Davidson recently — in his article listed below, basing himself on epigraphic findings by Kuwayama Shoshin — said that there is now no doubt that Swat Valley is Oddiyana, contrary to all other claims that have been made. I think he’s very likely right.

Yet I feel the need to look into it, like so many other things, more — more than I can afford to do at the moment.

A new resource with Tibetan biographies has gone up on the internet recently. You can find the biography of Orgyanpa there, with a brief account of his travels. Look here.*

(*I put a link to this new website, “The Treasury of Lives: Biographies of Himalayan Buddhist Masters,” too, up at the top of Tibeto-logic’s sidebar. It’s beta, which means ‘in process,’ but shows a great deal of promise for future perfection in my opinion.)
Another short biography of Orgyanpa, with a remarkable wall-painted icon, may be found here.

Not many other Tibetan speakers actually reached Orgyan and returned to tell the tale. The only ones I know of with certainty are Tagtsangrepa and Khyungtrul.

The first one, Tagtsangrepa Ngawang Gyatso — that's him you see here in a Hemis wallpainting — is best remembered as the founder of Hemis Monastery in Ladakh. Well, I’m not entirely certain he was the founder, but the monastery was founded somewhere close to his time, and his reincarnations have been regarded as the chief Lamas of Hemis since then.

Our second Orgyan visiter who came there from Tibetan-speaking regions, Khyungtrul, a Bönpo, went there somewhere toward the mid-20th century. He tells the story in chapter eleven of his autobiography. By some weird coincidence — or is it? — this same Khyungtrul was perhaps Tucci’s best friend among the western Tibetans. They bumped into each other not only near Kailash, but also in lushly green Kinnaur.

The original Sanskrit name of Swat — both the river and its valley — is Suvastu, and Swat is just a ‘chipped-down’ version of that. Su means ‘good’ but vastu is a little harder to put a finger on. It means a kind of essence that is more real than the thing of which it’s the essence. It might mean property or wealth or commodities... among still other meanings.

Wait... If vastu comes from a different vas root it could mean ‘dawn.’ But then again, I’m thinking it might need the length-mark on the first vowel, and vāstu means a dwelling or habitation, or a foundation for the same, and it can also mean the ‘siting’ of a dwelling within a landscape. Nowadays it’s very popular in India (simply Schmoogling will reveal that dozens of books with “vastu” in their titles have come out in recent years) to reclaim as Indian cultural property the teachings of Feng-shui. Hmm...
Does that mean Swat had good Feng-shui?


Thanks to Tenpa of Digital Altar fame who touched off this brief fit of blogging with his comments to the blog that came before.

I may have to enter into a work mode soon that won’t leave much time or energy for this financially non-rewarding, and therefore fun, activity. We’ll see how that will work out. I enjoy this so much I'd just hate to give it up.


Things to read or scan, as you please, in the forms of articles, books & internet links:

Lokesh Chandra, Oḍḍiyāna: A New Interpretation, contained in: Michael Aris & Aung San Suu Kyi, eds., Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, Vikas Publishing (New Delhi 1980), pp. 73-78. Orgyan is located in South India, in Kañci, according to this author, who is not just an Indologist, but also has a high profile in the realm of Tibetan Studies. Other Indian scholars have located Oḍḍiyāna in Assam, in Andhra, near Delhi, etc. etc.

Ronald M. Davidson, Hidden Realms and Pure Abodes: Central Asian Buddhism as Frontier Religion in the Literature of India, Nepal and Tibet, Pacific World, 3rd series, no. 4 [Fall 2002] 154-181, at p. 160 you find the comment on Orgyan. I think you can locate the download link here.

Per Kvaerne, Khyung-sprul ’Jigs-med nam-mkha’i rdo-rje (1897-1955): An Early Twentieth-Century Pilgrim in India, contained in: Alex McKay, ed., Pilgrimage in Tibet, Curzon (Richmond 1998), pp. 71-84.

Stag-tshang-ras-pa Ngag-dbang-rgya-mtsho (1574 1651), O-rgyan mkha’-’gro’i gling-gi lam-yig thar lam bgrod-pa’i them-skas (Chemre 1968). The title can be translated “Staircase for Traveling the Path to Liberation: Itinerary to the Isle of Dakinis, Orgyan.”

Giuseppe Tucci, Travels of Tibetan Pilgrims in the Swat Valley, Greater India Society (Calcutta 1940). But the original publication is quite rare, so you are more likely to find it as reprinted here: Giuseppe Tucci, Opera Minora, Giovanni Bardi (Rome 1971), vol. 2, pp. 369-418.

This photo was evidently taken by Tucci or a member of his expedition near Mt. Kailash. If you would like to compare Li Gotami’s photograph of Khyungtrul Rinpoche, see this.

For a much more ambitious and well-written essay on Orgyan, with a lot more details than you will find here, see this anonymous work at H.H. The Karmapa’s website.
Still, if I may say so, any suggestion that there is a connection between the word (and consequently placename) udyāna (‘garden’) and Uḍḍiyāna would demonstrate a lack of familiarity with the ways Sanskrit works. I think it most likely that Uḍḍiyāna is derived from the root ḍī, which means ‘fly, soar.’ The initial two letters are a prefix (ut-), meaning ‘upward.’ It means ‘soaring upward.’ Lokesh Chandra finds that in Tamil and other South Indian languages oiyāa (with many alternative ways of spelling the word) is a kind of belt with metallic decorations worn by women. One explanation or the other might help explain why all the women there seem to be sky-traveling Ḍākinīs.

Enrica Garzilli’s brief blog on Tucci and the Swat Valley is here.

On the destruction done in 2007 to a rock-carved Buddha image believed to date to the time of Guru Rinpoché, look here.

This other picture shows you what it looked like in 2004, but also an impression of just how large it is.

This iconoclastic act of destruction was noticed at Digital Altar earlier this year. The world is poorer.

These are the same people who kill dancers for dancing and destroy 200 schools in the Swat Valley, most of them girls' schools.

Pakistan Paedia” has a nice page promoting tourism in the Swat Valley. At the moment, given present conditions, I would highly dis-recommend it... It’s beautiful, OK, clearly, but don’t go there now. Hear me?

There are plenty of news stories about the activities of Taliban forces in Swat Valley in recent times. You can find them with incredible swiftness and ease with a ‘news search.’

Just last month it was announced that the Swat Museum will reopen, which could be a sign of peace in Guru Rinpoché’s valley’s future, we can hope, although I have no way of being sure if there are reasons for it (hope) or not. Here is an interesting blog about the museum, with a photo, from early this year.


My heart has become
receptive of every form.
It is a meadow for gazelles,
a monastery for monks,
an abode for idols,
the Ka`ba of the pilgrim,
the tables of the Torah,
the Qur'an.
My religion is love —
wherever its camels turn,
Love is my belief, my faith.

Muhyiddin Ibn `Arabi (1165-1240 CE)


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Prof. Harrison on The Diamond

If that peaked your interest, you might want to try reading Paul Harrison's long article entitled Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā: A New English Translation of the Sanskrit Text Based on Two Manuscripts from Greater Gandhāra, contained in: Jens Braarvig, general editor, Manuscripts in the Schøyen Collection: Buddhist Manuscripts Volume III, Hermes Publishing (Oslo 2006), pp. 133-159. It might take half an hour or a little longer. Depends on you.

If for some odd reason you're not willing to sacrifice the time and effort required to search out this publication in a large university research library near you, it would be worth your while to try reading this page in any case. Quicker, but not quite so rewarding.

I think it's interesting to gain some insight into what professional academic Buddhologists (if you prefer, we could call them Buddhist Studies experts) are up to. If you are young and you feel inspired to follow this career route, get started learning the languages you will need. If you were to follow my advice, you would start with Sanskrit and/or Pali. Then move to Chinese or Tibetan, in whichever order you prefer. Finally, Japanese is today the most important language for contemporary research about Buddhism. If you don't learn it you will always find reasons for regret. You might also want to seriously consider Korean or one or two of several Southeast Asian languages. Mongolian and Manchu are interesting options, since you find huge collections of Buddhist scriptures in them, also. I'm thinking it would not be good to neglect Khotanese Saka. Don't be too discouraged, though. In actual practice, there are a number of very respectable Buddhologists who do make do with fewer than all of these languages. Did I mention Apabhramsha? Guess not.

Oh, and Tangut. Don't forget Tangut.

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