Monday, November 30, 2015

Proverbs of Dezhung Rinpoche

On the high roads from India, the Dharma spread.
Before the Dharma spread, the conch spread.
The white conch opened the way for the Dharma.
On the low roads from China, law spread.
Before law spread, cloth spread.
The white cloth opened the way for the law.

(This ‘proverb’ reflects the fact that the religious teachings of the Buddha which form the basis of Tibetan spiritual life, came from India. In the story of the Gautama Buddha’s life, the god Indra gave Him a conch shell trumpet symbolizing the ‘broadcasting’ of His message.  The ‘cloth’ is made to symbolize the various aspects of material culture and social institutions adapted from China.)

* * *

The knotted cloth of religious rules needs to be tied.
But, while tied, the inside should be loosened.
The golden yoke of Chinese laws should be heavy.
But, while, heavy, it must be light inside.

(Make strong rules and laws, but don’t enforce them too stringently.)

* * *

The son of a good mother is someone you can confide in.
Good gold can be filed.

(Because the inside is also good.)

* * *

If you hit something above you,
you hit the white god Brahma.
If you hit something below you,
You hit the heart of the Naga spirit.

(You get in trouble for doing injury to anyone, high or low.)

* * *

The round, smooth stone does not move with the wind.
But the rock mountains of the north are moved by the wind.
The suing mouth will not die in a famine.
But the mouth of me, a beggar, will.

(Only well-to-do and established people can afford to pursue legal cases.  The other implications are clear.)

* * *

The blue cuckoo bird is tired in the tree.
The old blonde frog is tired in the marsh.

(I’m tired.)

* * *

It’s not necessary to wipe a white silver mirror.
It’s not necessary to explain a lady’s hair.

(The obvious needs no discussion.)

* * *

The flowers and meadows that grow in the summer
Will not grow so well in the waters and floodbanks.

(Don’t generalize.)

* * *

When, from the top of the yellow mountain, fog forms,
Then definitely the sun is not warm.
When a ‘boiled smell’ is put off by the puffed barley,
Then definitely the sausage will not taste good.

(When you start talking to someone, you can see right away if your ideas will have a good reception.)

* * *

In the lineage of Kargyudpa teachers,
There is not one who is not a religious person.
Among the puppies of a red bitch,
There is not one who is not a thief.

* * *

Whether a man is big or small, he needs to be reliable.
Whether the meat is big or small, it needs to be cooked.

* * *

If you are a success, bad appearances don’t matter.
If you are happy, merit’s no big deal.

* * *

Son of a good father.
Leather of a good yak.

* * *

Words can turn human thoughts into cannibals.
Words can give cannibals the thoughts of gods.

* * *

Bad ideas outside,
Inside no success.

* * *

Hear nothing.  See nothing.  Know nothing.
These words have great power in the Tibetan world.

* * *

I curse at the white clouds.
I walk on the black earth.
I carry a load in back
Tied with a knot in front.
I’ve turned my back on my dear mom and dad.
I’ve abandoned the land of my birth.

(Don’t criticize me.  I’m an ordinary, honest person doing the best I can.)

* * *

There’s no going back on the karma of previous lives.
There’s no wiping away the wrinkles on an old man’s brow.

(What’s done is done; the truth is self-evident.)

* * *

If a mountain is carried away by the wind,
It is hard to find rocks to hold it down.
If the ocean is consumed in a fire,
It is hard to find water to put it out.

* * *

The old man sits inside his house
And old legal disputes fall inside his window.

(I haven’t done anything, but trouble still seeks me out.)

* * *

The Chinese home is good, but like a doorless stronghold,
From the outside you see no cracks.
From the inside you see no patchwork.
The Tibetan home is bad, but like a butterchurn full of feathers.
Each man has his own hole.

(A Tibetan may admire the Chinese for their fastidiousness, but at the same time deplore their comparative lack of personal autonomy.  The Chinese Taoists would agree.)

* * *

Water has no paws,
But still it runs straight through the valley.
Words have no arrow point,
But still they cut the human mind to pieces.

* * *

If enlightenment grows, the mother grows and the son grows.
If birds fly, the mother flies and the son flies.

(vs. selfish pursuance of religion.)

* * *

The beautiful song of a beggar finds no listeners.
A King may be a weakling,
But rare is the man who will give him a heave.

* * *

For pleasant words we have the King of India.
For unpleasant words we have the King of China.

(India is known for its highly ornamental poetry, while China is known for harsh laws.)

* * *

It is better just to bow down quietly with good thoughts
Than to recite ‘Mani’ with bad thoughts.

(‘Mani’ is a name of the famous mantra, “Om mani padme Hum.”)

* * *

If I am a yak calf tied at the end of a tether,
The tether is a danger to the thief.
If I am a poor man living in a ditch,
There is always a danger someone will fall in.

* * *

(She who has) teeth white as glaciers is completely content
But talk of glaciers brings no contentment (to the young man).
Food brings the stomach complete satisfaction
But the depths of the mind remain unsatisfied.

(Eyes are bigger than stomachs.)

* * *

The place to appeal is the official.
The place to catch is the neck.

(Go straight for the jugular vein.)

These proverbs (གཏམ་དཔེ་) were written down from memory by Dezhung Rinpoche.  He is not the inventor or author of these sayings.  His role here is as transmitter of the oral genius of Tibetan society.

Translated by Thubten Jigme Norbu with the assistance of Dan Martin.

Originally published in The Tibet Society Newsletter, no. 12 (Fall 1984), pp. 4-7. 

Note: I should add for clarity’s sake that while the proverbs were written down from memory by Dezhung Rinpoche (1906-1987),* the parenthetical comments were written by myself in an effort to communicate the understanding of Taktser Rinpoche Thubten Jigme Norbu (1922-2008). For a magisterial biography of Dezhung Rinpoche, see David P. Jackson, A Saint in Seattle: The Life of the Tibetan Mystic Dezhung Rinpoche, Wisdom [Somerville 2003].

(*His complete name — སྡེ་གཞུང་ལུང་རིག་སྤྲུལ་སྐུ་ཀུན་དགའ་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མ་ — Sde-gzhung Lung-rig Sprul-sku Kun-dga'-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma — Dezhung Lungrig Tulku Kunga Tenpai Nyima.)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Padampa's Plant Community: P’i-kuo's Response

You may recall that in our latest blog there was a bit about the botanical identification of the mkhan-pa plant that grew where Padampa stayed when he first arrived in Tingri. We're still not 100% sure what it is exactly. We based ourselves on the first source at hand when we identified it with Tanacetum, but from now on we will definitely identify it as Artemisia (or Mugwort, although this word doesn’t sound so nice). What follows is a comment, now transformed into a guest blog, from the pen of P’i-kuo:

Sorry to interrupt with a more prosaic matter, but are you sure about the identification of mkhan pa as Tanacetum? I've googled around a bit and most of what I found seems to be pointing towards wormwood/mugwort (Artemisia).  
First there's Mia Molvray's Glossary of Tibetan Medicinal Plants (now available online), where mkhan pa appears as a name for several species of Artemisia (though not specifically vulgaris; this will become important later), while Tanacetum shows up under other Tibetan names. Three of Molvray's sources for the Artemisia identification are ultimately traceable to Northern (incl. Mongolian) contexts, which you would expect to overlook Tanacetum as it doesn't seem to grow there, but her fourth source is Tsewang Jigme Tsarong who was the director of the Tibetan Medical Centre in Dharamsala. 
More sources (including, recursively enough, Molvray above) are listed by Yumiko Ishihama 石濱裕美子 et al. here supporting the Artemisia theory; the species do include vulgaris. Their sources are given here, and the only one mentioning Tanacetum are the Tibetan Medical Paintings edited by Parfyonovich et al. 
Chinese sources also translate mkhan pa as 蒿 hāo or 艾 ài (as in Ai Weiwei) i.e. 'wormwood' or 'mugwort'. (This is from an article in Chinese Tibetology; 蒿 hāo is used to translate mkhan pa, one of the 'five nectars' (bdud rtsi) listed in the Cha lag bco brgyad.) 
Now a very common mugwort is Artemisia vulgaris, in Chinese 北艾 běiài ('Northern mugwort') and maybe also 白蒿 báihāo ('white wormwood'). It grows up to 2 m tall, and is edible, to some extent. 
(Admittedly Padampa wasn't eating the mkhan pa, but maybe he could pluck a leaf or two to season his droma spuds.) It would seem to grow in the roughly relevant geography, and indeed there is one var. xizangensis found in e.g. Qinghai and Western Sichuan, including over 2500 m above sea level. 
Tanacetum aka Ajania, on the other hand, while just as medicinal and arrestingly beautiful, seems rather less hospitable to hide in. The tallest species I found about stay around 70 cm. T. nubigenum or Ajania nubigena, in particular, which does grow in Tibet (Gyirong), is just 30 cm tall. 
And if I may abuse your comment section's hospitality even more egregiously by nitpicking on Latin gender agreement: it's Taraxacum officinale

I’ve changed my mind, P’i-kuo. I’m convinced. I’ve looked today for mkhan-pa in a lot of Tibetan-made materia medica reference books and they practically unanimously identify it with Artemisia. There is also a small literature on the Hidden Country of Mkhan-pa-lung, “Artemisia Valley” (see the listing below). I guess one of the best known usages of Artemisia is as a source of vegetable tinder for Chinese moxibustion. It’s definitely known as a medicinal and an aromatic, and has properties that may repel small biting insects at the same time it attracts moths and butterflies. I’m liking it more and more all the time, the more I look at it. How tall did you say it could get? Two meters?

I won’t try to speculate which variety of Artemisia is the one in question. Tibetan medicine generally recognizes four main ones:  white, lightish, black and red. One reference work identifies the black one as Artemisia vulgaris, but another says it’s the white one.

~  ~  ~

Olaf Czaja, “Tibetan Medical Plants and Their Healing Potentials,” contained in: Franz-Karl Ehrhard and Petra Maurer, eds., Nepalica-Tibetica:  Festgabe for Christoph Cüppers, International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (Lumbini 2013), vol. 1, pp. 89117. Particularly recommended to those who doubt the difficulties of identifying botanicals used in Tibetan medicine, difficulties exacerbated by the widespread practice of substituting locally available plants.

Hildegard Diemberger, “Beyul Khenbalung, the Hidden Valley of the Artemisia: On Himalayan Communities and Their Sacred Landscape,” contained in: A.W. Macdonald, ed., Mandalas and Landscape (New Delhi 1997), pp. 287-334. This author wrote a dissertation on the same subject. It's worth considering that the place usually identified as Khenpa Lung is in the general surroundings of Mount Everest, and so is Tingri, not that this makes them all that close, although I suppose we could speak of neighboring plant communities.

Hildegard Diemberger, “Lhakama (Lha-bka'-ma) and Khandroma (Mkha'-'gro-ma): The Sacred Ladies of Beyul Khenbalung (Sbas-yul Mkhan-pa-lung),” contained in:  E. Steinkellner, ed., Tibetan History and Language: Studies Dedicated to Uray Géza on His Seventieth Birthday, ARbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität Wien (Vienna 1991), pp. 137-154.

Hildegard Diemberger, “Political and Religious Aspects of Mountain Cults in the Hidden Valley of Khenbalung: Tradition, Decline and Revitalisation,” contained in:  Anne-Marie Blondeau & Ernst Steinkellner, eds., Reflections of the Mountain: Essays on the History and Social Meaning of the Mountain Cult in Tibet and the Himalaya, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 1996), pp. 219-231.

Giacomella Orofino, “The Tibetan Myth of the Hidden Valley with Reference to the Visionary Geography of Nepal,” East and West, vol. 41, nos. 1-4 (1991), pp. 239-272.

J. Reinhard, “Khembalung: The Hidden Valley,” Kailash, vol. 6, no. 1 (1978), pp. 5-35.  Contains the Tibetan text སྦས་ཡུལ་ཁན་པ་ལུང་གི་གནས་ཡིག་མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་ -  Sbas-yul Khan-pa-lung-gi Gnas-yig Mthong-ba Don-ldan.
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