Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Naga Queen Cosmogenesis

A gracefully uplifting Nâga figure extracted from the famous tomb-chortens of Densatil
HAR 32071, from a private collection

out of the becoming that was not-at-all-becoming...

out of the duration that was in the nature of a void...

a void space came.

As even the tiniest part of the becoming that would emerge

had not yet become, there is no way to say

that anything existed or did not exist.

From the space of moist bliss

something like a rainbow came.

And that something like a rainbow,

in order to be pleasing to look at took on color.

Something that could not be an object of perception came.

But still, that something was as-if an external object.

Out of the shining colors, a vital essence came.

Out of the vital essence, something the size of a sesame came.

That sesame-sized something broke itself open

and from the vital essence it contained came

a pregnant woman with a full belly.

From the full belly of that pregnant woman

was born one with thick limbs.

One with a mouth uttering various sounds was born.

One whose body completely embraced miracles of Great Compassion,

whose mind embraced the universe comprised of a thousand universes each

comprised of a thousand universes was born.

To her a name was given,

in Zhangzhung language Sangkaraste Kutukhyab.

In Sumpa language, Molgazhi Kunkhyab.

In Tibetan, the Naga-queen-who-gave-order-to-becoming.

From the vapor issuing from the top of her head

the turquoise blue sky became.

From the vapor, becoming took shape.

But while it could be seen it was not an external object

and there was no thing whatsoever that was not covered by that sky.

In Zhangzhung language it was called Tongpa Kuntukheb, Void-covering-everything.

In Sumpa language, Khebdal.

In Tibetan and the language of Eternal Bon, Nam meaning ‘sky.’


It continues with sun and moon, planets and so on all emerging from parts of her body.

I've always loved cosmogonical accounts of every kind, and this appreciation in no way depends on believing them in theientirety or not. You can think about this what you want, I just point out that modern physics professors were not the first ones to think they might try to comprehend the time-space singularity that came before anything did. And this despite the impossibility. Notice, as well, that this Bon cosmogony recognizes the mind-boggling multiplicity of worlds. And do I even need to point out to a careful reader such as yourself that the primordial evolution of everything was entirely due to a female who gave of Herself to make our world what it is

This female Nâga cosmogenesis may be regarded as an example of a ‘dismemberment’ cosmogony, a typological category developed by moderns.* It may lend an impression of primitivity and sacrifice, but it also sets up a sophisticated set of macrocosm-microcosm correspondences such as might be found for example in the Body Mandala of Vajra Vehicle Buddhism, a model of consummate insight backed by considerable theoretical sophistication.

(*Other commonly mentioned types are the emergence, earth-diver, egg and ex nihilo cosmogonies. These were identified by comparative folklorists of the last century or two. They are not set in stone, and often elements of one are found in another. Technically the label 'dismemberment' is not applicable to our particular example, since there is no subject performing it on an object.)

I thought I would type out the Tibetan text for those who might find use for it, but I couldn’t get very far into it before irritating malfunctions got in my way (these seem to be happening more and more as time goes by), so I guess I'll link you to a scanned version of it instead:

གཙང་མ་ཀླུ་འབུམ་ཆེན་མོ། ཀླུ་འབུམ་ཁྲ་བོ།







རླན་བདེ་བའི་ངང་ལས། འཇའ་ཚོན་འདྲ་བ་ཅིག་... ... ...

One curious thing, the Sumpa and Zhangzhung language terms are actually supplied here in Tibetan language forms. It’s as if they were translated for the benefit of Tibetan speakers, with the original foreign-language terms omitted. In Chinese, the Sumpa were called Supi (Supiya) and were regarded as Qiang people, a very vague and not very illuminating category. The nature of the Sumpa language in those days seems to be unknown even if most likely Tibeto-Burman. In fact Sumpa is mentioned a lot more than is normal in Bon texts, and one suspects therefore that the Klu-'bum, regarded as one of the earliest excavated treasure texts of Bon sometime around 900 CE, may have emerged from the direction of the northeastern part of the Plateau. But the tradition is that its treasure site was in Pu-hrang, which means western Tibet, a part of what was once Zhangzhung. You would need seven leagues boots to take such massively giant steps across the Himalayan ranges.

For the rest of the text, go to Gtsang ma klu 'bum chen mo, a Reproduction of a Manuscript Copy Based upon the Târanâtha Tradition of the Famed Bonpo Recitational Classic, Volume II: Klu 'bum khra bo, Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre (Dolanji 1977), at vol. 2, pp. 44 ff. It just keeps going and going, like the universe itself, and I can’t tell you where it ends. Nobody can. Any more than they can tell you how it was when it began.

... ... ...

A Short Reading List

Agata Bareja-Starzynska, “A Bonpo Text on the Propitiation of Serpent Deities (Klu ’bum dkar po) in Mongolian,” contained in: Charles Ramble & Hanna Havnevik, eds., From Bhakti to Bon: Festschrift for Per Kvaerne, The Institute for Comparative Human Culture, Novus Forlag (Oslo 2015), pp. 39-52. There were, about a hundred years ago, several studies on Klu-'bum by Lalou, Laufer, and Schiefner, but I won't list them all here.

Bernard F. Batto, In the Beginning: Essays on Creation Motifs in the Ancient Near East and the Bible, Eisenbrauns (Winona Lake 2013). The most interesting is the first chapter that surveys various ideas about the beginnings of things in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Canaan and so on. The Egyptians had a number of world-initiating scenarios, including most remarkably and uniquely, the idea that the creator impregnated himself by an act of onanism (p. 13) that started the gestation of the world. As with a number of known Tibetan cosmogonies, very often the first beginnings of things require one major further step, putting things into a kind of 'primitive' order, assigning things to their place. In Egypt this role is likely to be assigned to the goddess Maat.

Lawrence Parmly Brown, “The Cosmic Man and Homo Signorum,” Open Court, issue 1, article 2 of 1921. Find a PDF here. Since the same author wrote a book called The Cosmic Teeth, we may safely assume that he belonged to a prominent family of New England dentists. Which reminds me, I'm very late for my cleaning. For more on those teeth, keep reading.

Helmut Hoffmann, Tibet, a Handbook, Indiana University Publications (Bloomington 1973), p. 108:

“...another ancient tradition of the origin of the world should be adduced, according to which the world originates from the death or division of a primordial being. This myth was held by several of the peoples of antiquity, for example, the Iranian myth of the Primordial Man, Gayômard. One Bon-po scripture, The Hundred Thousand Water Spirits, states that the world originated from a primordial female water spirit, a kLu-mo, who is given the indicative name of ‘The kLu Queen who put the World into Order.’ From the upper part of her head sprang the sky; from her right eye, the moon; from her left, the sun; and from her upper four front teeth, the four planets. When she opened her eyes day appeared; when she closed them, night came on. From her twelve upper and lower teeth emerged the lunar mansions of the zodiac. Her voice became thunder; her tongue, lightning; her breath, clouds; and her tears, rain. Her nostrils produced wind, her blood became the five oceans of Bon-po cosmography, her veins became rivers. Her flesh was converted into earth, her bones into mountains.”

Per Kvaerne, “Tibet, la mythologie, introduction au problèm,” Dictionnaire des mythologies (Flammarion). An English translation is also available in Yves Bonnefoy, Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 1993), pp. 301-303, including a detailed bibliography. Other entries in the same publications by the same author are relevant, in particular “The Importance of Origins in Tibetan Mythology,” contained in: Yves Bonnefoy, ed., Mythologies (Chicago 1993), vol. 2, pp. 1077-1079, and especially, in the same volume, pp. 1079-1082: “Cosmogonic Myths of Tibet.”

Bruce Lincoln, “The Indo-European Myth of Creation,” chapter 15, contained in: Idem., Religion, Culture and Politics in Pre-Islamic Iran, Collected Essays, Brill (Leiden 2021), pp. 239-264.

Claudia Seele, Traditionen kosmogonischer Mythen in den Urzeitlegenden der Bönpos, M.A. thesis (Magisterarbeit), Rheinischen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (Bonn 1995), in 178 pages. ‘Traditional cosmogonic myths in the primordial legends of the Bonpos.’ This thesis is unfortunately not made available in published form, although it ought to be.

Postscript (October 14, 2021)

With thanks to J.B. for pointing it out via email, the myth of the Naga Queen has been well studied, as part of a more general discussion of Bon Cosmogonies, in John Vincent Bellezza's book Zhang Zhung: Foundations of Civilization in Tibet, A Historical and Ethnoarchaeological Study of the Monuments, Rock Art, Texts, and Oral Tradition of the Ancient Tibetan Upland, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 2008), pp. 342-356, and more particularly pp. 343-349. This supplies a more extensive translation than the brief sample given above, and I much recommend it.

Update December 14, 2021)

I just happened to read an interesting paper about Panku, the main figure in a classic Chinese account of creation. It’s different, but in some ways similar to the Naga Queen cosmogenesis. The main similarity is that various parts of the body go into making specific parts of the world. Both myths might be misnamed by us moderns as ‘dismemberment cosmogonies’ when in fact in neither of them is there an actual sacrifice done by some type of sacrificer. The dismembered one is the agent as far as we can see. In the case of the Panku, it is almost as if the huge proto-cosmic being dies body part by body part, and in the process things in the universe come in to take their places. In other words, the death process is simultaneous with the creation process, each stage in the dissolution resulting in the creative generation of this thing or that, whther it be sun, moon, trees or humans. Everything comes from something. Unless, of course, you buy that ex nihilo argument.

Gábor Kósa, “Pangu’s Birth and Death as Recorded in a Tang Dynasty Buddhist Source,” Oriental Archive, vol. 77 (2009), pp. 169-192.
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