Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Micro-Consecration of a Punctuation Mark

 {KHA} ||Yig-ge Sgra-yi Mnga'-dbul bzhugs-s.hô||
Note: Click on the photos and they ought to expand
Every consecration rite of any significant length includes near its end a kind of paying tribute, or royal honors, or enthronement rite. I’m not sure which is the best way to translate it, or if it matters very much. This rite comes near the end because it is connected with the first offerings offered to the newly completed and, in effect, already-consecrated temple, image, book or chörten. I believe that one significance of the consecration is that it makes the work of Buddhist art or architecture into a field of merit, so that when offerings are made to it they actually aid the quest for Enlightenment. Or, to put it another way, they are enabled to serve as bases for the two accumulations: Merit (bsod-nams) is the first of the two accumulations (tshogs gnyis), the other Full Knowledge (ye-shes). These are like the two wings of a bird, both equally necessary for any progress to take place. I hope those are familiar terms, since they are quite basic to understanding Mahâyâna ideas about the Path to Enlightenment. In any case, it is interesting to see that for at least the last thousand years Tibetans of both the Bon and Chos sides are in considerable and substantial agreement when it comes to consecration, and the royal honors is one example of it among others. 

You have seen up above the second title contained in the Bon consecration volume (notice it is marked with the key-letter kha). It contains a lengthy ritual recitation that goes through, one after the other, all the punctuation marks and letters, treating each one to what I would like to call a micro-consecration, following the pattern of a sâdhana in that it involves visualizing an exalted version of the mark or letter that is then brought down and unified with the lower physical one. It is interesting that this text has no colophon, and no sign of who composed or excavated it, but I suppose it’s just as old as the texts surrounding it and assume it, too, belongs to around the 11th-12th centuries. If you remember, the dang-thog (the word is unique to Bon, but not the thing itself) is that peculiar punctuation mark that appears on the front side of every leaf of a Tibetan text. You can see a rather fancy example here on the first folio verso. The ordinary form looks like this: ༄༅. Many people believe the origins of it lie in the forms the syllable om takes when it appears in Indic scripts, although Bonpos are likely to have a different idea about this. But please, let’s leave those minor controversies behind, and concentrate on the punctuation mark itself, and what this consecration rite does with it:

To give a sketch of the structure of this passage, with a hope of clarifying what is going on, it brings to mind the ‘past event’ that in some sense preordains and justifies the rite. Later on, when the lights are emitted from the punctuation mark, it looks much like any typical sâdhana. It entails the divinization of a punctuation mark, if you will. The scriptural volume is not only consecrated as a whole, but also consecrated in each of its component elements, in each of its tiniest parts. The very lines of the letters and punctuation marks inscribed in it are made holy. Then, as is usually the case with mantras, the partially-Sanskritic Zhangzhung mantra found near the end of the passage is resistant to translation, although parts of it are intelligible and so I offer a half-hearted attempt. The last line of the mantra I haven’t even tried to translate. Some mysteries should remain mysteries, I suppose. Well, in any case they will.

(Today's blog is a continuation of this one that will itself be continued: To Bind a Book is to Protect It from the Elements.)

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