Saturday, October 08, 2011

Is the Wishing Jewel the Holy Grail We Seek?

Nicholas Roerich (1933), White Stone (Sign of Chintamani
or Horse of Happiness)

yid bzhin nor bu'i dgos pa gang yin ltos //
What use is a Wishgranting Jewel? Look into it!

— Padampa's Mahāmudropadeśavajraguhyagīti.
Dergé Tanjur - Tôh. no. 2440.

Today’s blog isn’t meant as much more than an alert for a new article that deserves notice. Not because I think it’s the answer to everything, just that it may be the most detailed and serious study yet of a very interesting problem in Eurasian cultural history. And not because I know the author. I have no idea who he is, except that his name is Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs, and he lives in Surrey in the UK. (Oh, wait, I think I found a photo and a website here.  Maybe he’s in the U.S., or somewhere else in the world? You know, it really is hard keeping up with those young people these days...)

His widely ranging article opens the latest (2011) issue of the well-known [Euro-]medievalist journal called Viator (issue no. 2 of vol. 42).

The title is, and I can’t emphasize this boldly enough, The Wish-Granting Jewel: Exploring the Buddhist Origins of the Holy Grail.

Here is the official abstract:
“It is argued that the specific portrayal of the Holy Grail as a miraculous gemstone, first found in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, was ultimately inspired by the concept of the cintāmani or “wish-granting jewel” in the literature of India. Traditions regarding this object were popular in Buddhist folklore and parallels with the Grail literature are drawn from Japan, Indonesia, Śrī Lankā, and especially Tibet. Lha Thothori Nyentsen, king of Tibet, is identified as a plausible model for Titurel, the Fisher King. Parallels drawn from the legendary biography and the extant allegorical writings of Padmasambhava, a Gnostic, alchemist and warrior-monk revered as the principal founder of Tibetan Buddhism, extend to the entire core narrative of Parzival’s quest. It is suggested that these traditions reached medieval literati as a part of the astronomical, astrological, and alchemical corpus that was conveyed from India to Baghdād by Kanaka, translated into Arabic by Māshā’allāh, and rendered into Hebrew by Abraham ibn ‘Ezra.”
If your academic library has kept its JSTOR subscriptions up to date, go there and find it. If not, you may need to take your photocopy card with you, or use the interlibrary loan. When you’ve read it, come back here and put up your comments. I’ll do the same. Is this what we’ve been looking for? Have we reached the end of our quest? Will light come flooding into the most obscure corners of the world?

•  •

Don Croner’s blog about the three-ball motif in Ottoman carpets possibly being the Triratna is here. (I wonder if the Triratna, representing the Three Jewels — Buddha, Dharma and Sagha — might have gotten crossed somewhere along the way with the Wishgranting Jewel or Cintamāṇi? Not that I don’t empathize with and even share in the confusion, but one very simple thing ought to be clear, or made clear. The Wishgranting Jewel is a single jewel. The Triratna is the Three Jewels, represented by, well, three jewels. The Roerichs in the early ’30’s had a campaign to make the triple ball into a symbol to mark and protect cultural monuments in order to prevent their destruction in war. A most excellent idea that hasn’t gotten all that much attention, really, although if humanity would just grow up, learn from past mistakes, and abandon this other form of child sacrifice altogether, that would make even more sense. If it interests you, by all means look here. What, you may be asking, do the triple balls have to do with the Triratna? The three balls were standing for art, science and religion in the Roerichian system, the last I heard.

I must say, though, a Wishgranting Jewel isn’t just any old jewel. It is to be found only with extreme difficulty (remember that long and rambling sea captains’ blog?), and once found must be treated in very special ways. Otherwise it isn’t going to grant much of anything. It has to be ritually bathed, attached to the tip of a Victory Banner (Gyeltsen) and honored with incense and offerings. Then a solemn aspiration prayer (monlam) has to be made. Most or all of these elements are to be found wherever and whenever the Cintamāṇi appears, which is, to say the least, in very few places and seldom. For a typical story, look here, at p. 34 and following. As long as you have this entire scenario straight in your mind, I will allow you go to on and say that either one or all three of the Three Jewels are (metaphorically speaking!) a Wishfulfilling Gem. No problem. Just p-l-e-a-s-e don’t rush into it too quickly.

•  •  •

For more visual and verbal information about the three ball motif than you are likely to be willing or able to process, have the patience to download this PDF. I believe the author is Julie (Julianna) Lees, the owner of this presently-linked site full of really great photo albums (enter at your peril, since exiting may not be so easy once you get started admiring what you will find there).  And no... no, I know what you're thinking, but I don’t know this person either.

yid bzhin nor bu'i gter thob pas //
rmongs pa'i dbul ba sel bar byed // gsungs so // • //

When you've found your treasure of a Wishgranting Jewel,
make use of it to get rid of the poverty of confusion.

Padampa's Vajraḍākinīgīti 
(Dpal rdo rje mkha' 'gro ma'i mgur).  
Dergé Tanjur - Tôh. no. 2441.


  1. Hi Dan,

    I haven't found the wihsgranting jewel, so I can only offer more confusion.
    Nearer to (my) home, we have the pre-celtic triple spiral ( Which, I was told in Newgrange, symbolises eternity: father, mother and child. The symbol has perhaps been preserved in the form of a shamrock as a national symbol. With the triratna symbol it should be easy enough for Buddhism to become the new Irish religion.


  2. Hello Janus,

    I've been having 2nd thoughts about this Holy Grail blog, and am already dreaming up the blog to overturn it. Where I grew up finding a 'four-leafed clover' was such a big deal we sometimes split one leaf in two to make four out of three so it would *create* especially good luck. An early lesson in how fate and destiny are two different things! I think Buddhism is already the new Euro religion. Well, sometimes it seems so, doesn't it?


  3. After I finished reading the article, I did have some second thoughts on one particular part of it, as you will see here:

  4. Greets,

    I love these cross-cultural studies! Personally, I believe the "grail" hails from the Middle East. Now whether the dating belongs to the Early Church period, the Byzantine period, or the Middle Ages is another question.


  5. Dear Short,

    I have to apologize to you. I got distracted and never answered your comment, did I? I think most people agree with Eschenbach himself (in his Parzival) in accepting an Arabic source for the grail legend. Whether that makes the Middle East the origin, or just a rest-stop on its way from India (or even perhaps Tibet), is the bigger and (for me) more interesting question.

    I understand that some, like Loomis, thought the Middle Eastern origin was just part of the legend-telling itself, while the real origins have to be sought somewhere else, like Ireland for Loomis. Finding out how much Alexandrian romances and Solomonic legends have entered into it makes for interesting explorations as well...

    Isn't it the story Eschenbach tells... that Lucifer accidently knocked a jewel out of the crown of the Almighty when he was cast down from heaven? Then the first human Adam kept it inside a cave...

    The main thing that connects this jewel with the Wishgranting Jewel of India is, besides both having amazing powers, the extreme difficulty in finding them. You have to face a lot of obstacles along the way and try to find ways to overcome them. Goals always seem to be like that don't they... a little out of reach.


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