Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Word for the Gaze


His divine fish-soul hung there, poised in its alien element, gazing, gazing through huge eyes that perceived everything, understood everything, but having no part in what it saw.  
—Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza.

I’ve long been on the lookout for any sign of Padampa’s South India heritage, and one thing I was always hoping to find was a trace of a Dravidic language in records of his speech. It wouldn’t matter if it were Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam. In fact I’m still looking, since I’ve found not one clear example.* There are a few, very few, occasions when Padampa while speaking, as he did, in Tibetan, drops an Indic word into the sentence. Each incident of ‘code switching’ as our modern linguists would like to call it, needs to be thought about separately, since there may be more than one reason to try and get by with a word most likely unintelligible to your audience. Why risk getting a blank face in return? One very possible reason is the frustration of trying to put a complexly embedded cultural term into another language, just because the target language has no word for exactly what it is you want to say. For English speakers, examples like Gestalt and simpatico are first to come to mind, although the fact is English vocabulary has absorbed and naturalized so many of these kinds of foreign words that we would hardly ever recognize them as being foreign as such, such as ketchup or pyjamas or the drink called punch. We know just what is meant when we hear these words, origins be damned.
(*Although not a vocabulary example, one thing I have noticed is the unusual number of sea turtle metaphors Padampa used. When we compare the most common metaphors used in Indian epic literature with those of Padampa this is one of the most striking differences. I believe it must be due to Padampa's close proximity to their coastal nesting areas during his childhood, before age 15 when he was sent to study in a monastery in the Gangetic plain of north India. We also know that his father was a sea captain, so a home close to the sea is in any case very likely.)

As a long-time adult learner of modern Hebrew, I’ve found some excellent examples of code switching there: Two words that English-language speakers in Israel cannot avoid using are davka and stam, and they are placed in English sentences in much the same way they are found in Hebrew.

Davka (Hebrew)

Emphasis on first vowel (first syllable stress is davka unusual).

A word with several meanings:

1. Done on purpose/done in spite.

Example: “Jon pushed that kid davka.” (This means he pushed him on purpose, not by mistake)

2. On the contrary/actually.

Example:“I thought you didn’t like basketball.”“What do you mean? I davka ADORE basketball.”

Stam (Hebrew)

“With no purpose, value or significance.” "Just because!"

Example: “What is that?”  “Oh, that’s stam an old bucket.”


“Why did you step on the ant?”      “Stam!”
But it is not the case that entire sentences using these words are untranslatable. It’s just that single word that immediately makes translation appear to be impossible. And if you have these alien words in mind when you are mentally translating from Hebrew, you simply cannot give them up for some English word that doesn’t quite fit. They are too useful. So you keep them. Even at the risk of not being understood at all, there is no way you can settle for some fuzzy approximation that stam doesn’t have the same punch to it.

Some other examples go in an opposite direction supplying us with more germane analogies, English words that routinely pop up in everyday Hebrew sentences, words like fair and chance. This is a problem of matching, since Hebrew davka does have abundant terms for concepts of justice, rightness and opportunity. Words are not the problem.

I imagine a similar phenomenon taking place when Padampa ‘saved’ the word karaa for the yogic gaze. Part of his problem is that the term has a very rich range of usages and meanings in Sanskrit, and he couldn’t come up with a Tibetan word that would share the same semantic range.

Karaṇa in truth is one of those simple Sanskrit words... Well, simple in the sense that it easily and obviously derives from a very common and basic root √kṛ, the ordinary verb meaning to do. It shares the same root with that by-now English word karma. But such simplicity can conceal considerable complexity when we consider usage.

करण  —  expressive move, operation (?).

The Sage Bharata's Dance Manual is one of the earliest works of identified authorship in India, although there is wide disagreement just how early it was, or how late were its final redactions. It was written in a time when there was no distinction made between dance and drama, just as there was no difference between song and poetry. In this work the word karaa has a technical meaning for a selected list of standard stances or postures to be performed on stage.  Although technically beyond numbering, discussion is limited to 108 of them.* Each posture is defined as a combination of two things: [1] particular positions taken by the feet, and [2] the same for the hands. The text goes on in great detail to speak about positionings of other parts of the body as well, and not just postures but types of transitions from one posture to another. Well, acting in itself could be nothing but posing, I suppose, but all the same we usually associate it with movement.
(*They are illustrated in 13th-century South Indian friezes on the outer walls of Cidambara Temple. It was raised up by the Cola King Kotottunga III, who reigned from 1178 to 1216 CE.  Photos of some of the karaas are displayed here.)
Finally, to wind this down, I have to admit that I haven’t really solved the problem. Nested inside the mystery are more mysteries. It may be entirely understandable to use a term of dramatic arts for the yogic gazes, but I still don’t see any positive evidence that would link the two together in Indian sources. The ironic thing is that something we inevitably think of as an unblinking gaze, a steady stare of total concentration, would go by the name of an expressive dramatic pose or movement of the arms and legs. I think I’d like to return to this subject when I know more about it, when I get a better sense of where things are going.


Stuff on code switching, gazing, staring and so on 

A.E., The Candle of Vision. See the PDF archived here. Both this fairly famous literary figure and his admirer Aldous Huxley, recommended staring intently at a candle, something yoga practitioners, at least nowadays, would call trāṭaka | tratakam. Try looking for it.  

Aldous Huxley, By the Fire.

Aldous Huxley, Scenes of the Mind. 


The normal Tibetan word for these gazes would be lta-stangs, or gzigs-stangs, a term much used in Dzogchen. And sure enough, there is one place in the Zhijé Collection where ka-ra-na is directly defined by the word lta-stangs. It’s in volume 2, p. 12, line 5: ka ra na ni rgya skad de / don la blta bstangs bya ba yin teThat means, “Ka-ra-na is Indian language, it signifies what is known [here in Tibet] as blta-bstangs.”


Padampa uses the term in particular contexts implying that by keeping the gaze steady, distractions coming your way from the world of objects cease, the disturbing thoughts go into stop motion, and sinking and scattering don’t stand a chance.*
(*Oh, and there are quite a lot of names for special eye postures, most of them named after animals, after all. Certain animals both domestic and wild are proven masters of the art of the stare. If you will permit me, I would love to talk about these another time.) 
Bharata, The Nāṭyaśāstra (A Treatise on Indian Dramaturgy and Histrionics) Ascribed to Bharata‑Muni, vol. I (Ch. I‑XXVII), tr. by Manomohan Ghosh (Calcutta 1967). Republished in the Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies series no. 118 (Varanasi 2003), in 4 volumes.

See chapter 4, verse 29 ff., where 108 karaṇas are enumerated.  These 108 ‘dance phrases’ may be found demonstrated on the internet if you search for them, but since these URLs tend to be highly unstable I hesitate to put any up for you.

H. Brunner, G. Oberhammer & A. Padoux, Tāntrikābhidhānakośa, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 2004). 

In vol. 2, pp. 50-52 is quite an interesting discussion of various Hindu tantric usages of the word karaṇa. The only part of it that directly references gazes is as part of a larger set of yogic prakaraṇas that largely correspond to something well known to Tibetan Buddhists as the Seven-Point Posture of Vairocana (རྣམ་སྣང་ཆོས་བདུན་), seven bodily positionings that ought to be assumed in preparation for meditation. And only one of those seven has to do with what to do with your eyes.

Kalsang Yeshe སྐལ་བཟང་ཡེ་ཤེས་༽, “A Preliminary Note on Chinese Codeswitching in Modern Lhasa Tibetan,” contained in: R. Barnett and R. Schwartz, eds., Tibetan Modernities, Brill (Leiden 2008), pp. 213-248.

Nicholas Tournadre, “The Dynamics of Tibetan-Chinese Bilingualism: The Current Situation and Future Prospects,” China Perspectives, vol. 45 (2003), pp. 1-9.
Look here:

Although I wouldn’t call it code switching necessarily, it does happen that in early Tibetan-language narratives about sojourns in India one finds words and phrases in something like colloquial Hindustani.  For examples, see Ulrike Roesler, Rgya gar skad du — ‘in Sanskrit’?  Indian Languages as Reflected in Tibetan Travel Accounts, contained in: Oliver von Criegern, et al., eds., Saddharmāmtam. Festschrift für Jens-Uwe Hartmann zum 65. Geburtstag, Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität Wien (Vienna 2018), pp. 351-368.

A note on the frontispiece: What you see here is a detail from an old thangka painting of the Zhijé Lineage illustrated in an earlier Tibet-logic blog. Look very closely and intently at Padampa's eyes. Tell me if they don’t resemble the eyes of the peacock. And aren’t peacock feathers the very thing Indian hypnotists waved in place of the swinging pocket watches of western hypnotists? 
This brief video needs no translation.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Śākyaśrī's Chronology of 1207 CE

Everything you need to know about Śākyaśrībhadra you will find in this biographical sketch by Alexander Gardner. Otherwise I would have to teach you Tibetan, and then your work will be cut out for you. But rest assured you'll lead a full life with hardly ever a dull moment worth mentioning.

During his stay in Tibet, the Kashmiri monk and master, arriving in Tibet after a long stay in Bihar and Bengal, made date calculations three times, the first time at Khro-phu in 1204, the second time in 1207 at Sol-nag Thang-po-che Monastery and yet a third time in 1210. However, it was the second of the three, the one done in 1207, that is remembered in the Tibetan sources. And it is the one that concerns us right now.  

The core chronological passage, in verse, could be translated like this:

In the middle of the night on the eighth day

of the white part of the month with moon in the Pleiades,

at the same time the moon was setting on the mountain,

the Munīndra completely passed beyond suffering.

Counting from that time, 1,750 years plus two and one-half


and indeed five days have well passed by.

The time left for the Teachings in the future

is 3,249 years,

nine months, and ten days.

It was the svabhava year, or in other words the Fire Female Hare

(1207 CE),

the middle month of summer, the daylight of the fifth date

in the white half of the middle month of summer, known as the

Rooster month,

in the place called “Thang-chen,” that this was calculated by the

Dharma Lord.

If you wouldn't mind reading Tibetan in transcription, you will find the relevant materials typed at the end of this blog. If you are restricted to English, I'd recommend looking at A.I. Vostrikov, Tibetan Historical Literature, tr. by Harish Chandra Gupta, Indian Studies Past & Present, Soviet Indology Series no. 4 (Calcutta 1970), pp. 111-112, but note that the earliest citation of the passage, in the works of 'Bri-gung 'Jig-rten-mgon-po (1143-1217), was not available to Vostrikov in the time he was writing, or even at the time the English translation of his book was published, an event long post-dating his execution.

One point that could be made about all this is that of the dozen or so chronological discussions well known to Tibetans, they almost all give the historical Buddha death dates between 800 and 2100 years BCE. It's this chronology by Śākyaśrībhadra that comes closest to more common ideas current in our times about His dates since he places the Buddha's death at somewhere right about 544 BCE.*

(*I can predict your next question, but no, I can't tell you for sure what the actual date of the Parinirvana was. If you're curious, read this 525-page book: Heinz Bechert, ed., The Dating of the Historical Buddha. Die Datierung des Historischen Buddha, Part 1, Symposien Zur Buddhismus Forschung, IV, Vandenhoek & Ruprecht (Gottingen 1991).)

Oh, another interesting thing. It looks as if Buddha Dharma is going to last until the year 3792 CE. I suppose that means our world, too, will remain for at least that long. So a solution to global warming is going to be found after all.

§   §   §


For a newly released chronology of Tibetan history by Katia Buffetrille, see "Chronology of the History of Tibet: 7th to 21st Centuries."

Here is the entire text containing the words of Śākyaśrī with the commentary surrounding it added by 'Jig-rten-mgon-po. It is found in the following:

The Collected Works (Bka’-’bum) of Khams-gsum Chos-kyi-rgyal-po Thub-dbang Ratna-srī (Skyob-pa ’Jig-rten-gsum-mgon); Tibetan title page: Khams gsum chos kyi rgyal po thub dbang ratna shrī’i phyi yi bka’ ’bum nor bu’i bang mdzod, H. H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Konchog Tenzin Kunzang Thinley Lhundup, Drikung Kagyu Institute (Dehradun 2001), in 12 vols., at vol. 3, pp. 548-550. It has a descriptive title added by the modern editors.*

(*In the older publication of his works in 5 volumes, at vol. 3, p. 61.4, is another mention. We also found the Śākyaśrī chronology in the Klong-chen-pa history (1991 ed.) that isn't actually by the famous Klong-chen-pa, p. 456, where it has no textual differences that effect the meaning.)  

310. Sangs rgyas kyi 'das lo dang bstan pa'i gnas tshad pan chen shākya shrī'i gsung du nges pa. [p. 548]

om swa sti /

dus gsum bla ma yi dam dang ||

ma lus bla med dkon mchog gsum ||

bstan pa'i mnga' bdag dge ba'i bshes ||

kun kyi zhabs la gus phyag 'tshal ||

'dzam gling rgyan gyur dge ba'i bshes ||

lnga rig mkhas pa shākya shrī ||

rdo rje gdan sogs yul dbus kyi ||

bstan pa'i mnga' bdag gnas brtan mchog ||

rgyal po sing ga la rigs kyis ||

gces par 'dzin pas bstan pa 'di ||

ji tsam gnas pa rtsis pa yi ||

lugs su mkhas pa chen pos gsungs ||

[Note that the following section is repeated, with no significant differences, by Mkhas-pa Lde'u and in the Klong-chen-pa history.]

smin drug zla ba'i dkar phyogs kyi ||

tshes brgyad nam gung mnyam pa la ||

zla ba ri bo la nub tshe ||

thub dbang yongs su mya ngan 'das ||

de rjes lo ni stong phrag cig ||

bdun brgya dang ni lnga bcu dang ||

zla ba gnyis dang zla ba phyed ||

de bzhin nyin mo lnga rab 'das ||

lo ni stong phrag gsum dag dang ||

nyis brgya dang ni bzhi bcu dgu ||

zla dgu dang ni nyin mo bcu ||

ma 'ongs bstan pa'i lhag mar gnas ||

zhes pa me mo yos kyi lo {1207}

dpyid zla 'bring po'i gral tshes lnga'i nyin mo / yar lung sol nag thang (thang po che zhes kyang zer) gyi gtsug lag khang chen por / chos kyi rje pandi ta chen po kha che [550] shākya shrīs rtsis pa lags so //

[Here begins 'Jig-rten-mgon-po's commentary:]

bdag gi rnam par rtog pa la ||

ston pa mya ngan 'das 'og tu ||

slob dpon chen po 'phags pa byung ||

dgung lo drug brgya'i bar du bzhugs ||

'phags pa'i slob ma zla ba grags ||

de sras rig pa'i khu byug gis ||

a ti sha la dbu ma bshad ||

ston pa mya ngan 'das 'og tu ||

lo ni dgu brgya lhag tsam na ||

slob dpon chen po thogs med byung ||

lo ni brgya dang lnga bcur 'tsho ||

thogs med slob ma dbyig gi gnyen ||

de sras 'phags pa rnam grol sde ||

de bzhin so skye rnam grol sde ||

rab mchog sde dang dul ba'i sde ||

bai ro tsa na'i sde yis ni ||

seng ge bzang po nyid la bshad ||

de yis ratna pha la la ||

des kyang ghu na mai tri la ||

de yis gser gling pa la bshad ||

des kyang a ti sha la gsungs ||

brgyud pa mang dang nyung na yang ||

don gyis legs par dpyad pa las ||

chos rje pan chen gsung du nges [551] ||

'di la dga' ba chen po skyes ||

bstan pa yun ring gnas pa dang ||

bdag cag bsgrub pa byed pa rnams ||

'bras bu rgya chen thob pa la ||

mkhas pa dga' ba cis mi skye ||

slob dpon chen po 'bum .tig mkhan pos* / de bzhin gshegs pa mya ngan las 'das pa'i 'og tu / lo lnga stong gi bar du dam pa'i chos gnas par 'gyur te / de la lo lnga brgya phrag bcu yod de lnga brgya phrag dang po la dam pa'i chos spyod pa rnams phal cher dgra bcom pa'i 'bras bu thob par gyur la / gnyis pa la phyir mi 'ong ba'i 'bras bu thob par gyur la / gsum pa la lan cig phyir 'ong ba dang / rgyun tu zhugs pa'i 'bras bu thob par gyur ba mang ba ste / lnga brgya phrag gsum po de dag gi tshe ni chos rtogs shing 'bras bu thob pa mang ba'i tshigs zhes bya'o //

(*This probably means Daṃṣṭrasena / མཆེ་བའི་སྡེ་, often identified as the author of the Hundred Thousand / འབུམ་ commentary.)

lnga brgya bzhi pa la ni lhag mthong gi shas che zhing shes rab rno ba mang ngo //  lnga pa la ni zhi gnas shas che [552] ste / ting nge 'dzin bsgom pa mang ngo //

drug pa la ni tshul khrims dang ldan pa mang ste / lnga brgya phrag gsum po de dag gi tshe ni / zhi gnas dang lhag mthong bsgom zhing tshul khrims dang ldan pa mang bas bsgrub pa dang ldan pa'i tshigs zhes bya'o //

lnga brgya phrag bdun pa la mngon par dar bar 'gyur / brgyad pa la mdo sde dar bar 'gyur / dgu pa la 'dul ba dar bar 'gyur te / lnga brgya phrag gsum po de dag la bcom ldan 'das kyi zhal snga nas gsungs pa'i sde snod gsum pa la brten cing lung la spyod pa mang bas lung gi tshigs zhes bya'o //

lnga brgya phrag bcu pa la sde snod gsum la yang brtson par mi byed / chos bshad pa rnams kyang gzhung las bshad pa bzhin du legs par nyams 'og tu mi chud /  mtshan ma tsam zhig spyod pa mang bas mtshan ma tsam gyi tshigs zhes bya ste / de ltar lnga brgya phrag bcu'i mtha' ma 'di la phyi ma'i dus lnga brgya mtha' ma zhes bya'o //  [553]

de'i dus su yang shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa 'dis sangs rgyas kyi bya ba byed par 'gyur ro zhes gsungs pas / 'bras bu thob par 'gyur ba mang nyung tsam du gsungs pa las / 'bras bu mi thob pa ni ma gsungs te /


bstan pa nub pa'i dus su yang dgra bcom pa des pa 'byung ba dang / sangs rgyas mya ngan yong mi 'da' // chos kyang nub par yong mi 'gyur // gsungs pa lags na /

gdul bya smin pa dang grol ba rgyun chad par ga la 'gyur te / tshe lo bcu pa'i dus su yang rgyal po rdo rta can dang / bcom ldan 'das mgon pos tshe lo brgyad khri'i bar du 'khrid ces grags pa dang / 'khor ba ma stong gi bar du 'phags pa rgyun mi 'chad pa las shes par bya'o //  //


For the quotation in Bu-ston's history, see Obermiller's English translation (corrected in Vostrikov's book), vol. 2, p. 107, or this passage in the digital version of the Tibetan text:

kha che shâkya shrîs | shing pho byi lo la khro phur brtsis pa dang | me yos la sol nag thang chen du brtsis par | 

smin drug zla ba'i dkar phyogs kyi | 

tshes brgyad nam gung mnyam pa la | 

zla ba ri bo la nub tshe | |

thub dbang yongs su mya ngan 'das | |

de rjes lo ni stong phrag cig | 

bdun brgya dang ni lnga bcu dang | |

zla ba gnyis dang zla ba phyed | |

de bzhin nyi ma lnga rab 'das | |

lo ni stong phrag gsum dang ni | |

nyis brgya dang ni bzhi bcu dgu | |

zla ba dgu dang nyi ma bcu | |

ma 'ongs bstan pa'i lhag mar gnas zhes | 

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