Got my calligraphy pens out for the first time in ages to do some words for a new internet project.
06 May 2013
24 March 2013
"Words from early-stage pidgins consist largely of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, with few or no articles, auxiliary verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, or pronouns. As for grammar, early-stage pidgin discourse typically consist of short strings of words with little phrase construction, no regularity in word order, no subordinate clauses, and no inflectional endings on words." Jared Diamond. The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanazee p.142.Cf this dhāraṇi from the Saddharmapuṇḍarikā Sūtra:
Anye manye mane mamane citte carite same samita viśānte muke muktame same avishame samasame jaye kṣāye akṣāye akṣaīne śānte samite dhāraṇī ālokabhāshe pratyavekṣāṇi nidhiru abhyan taranivishṇe abhyantarapāriśuddhi utkule mutkule araṭe paraṭe sukāṅkṣaī asamasame buddhavilokite dharmaparīkṣaite saṃghanirghoshaṇi nirghoshanī bhayā-bhayaviśodhani mantre mantrākṣāyate rule rutakauśalye akṣāye akṣāyavanatāye vakkule valoda amanyanatāye svāhā.Diamond's description of early-stage pidgins is a pretty good description of the strings of words found in dhāraṇīs. Make of that what you will.
17 December 2012
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This is the Heart Sutra manuscript I'm currently working on: Cambridge Ms. No ADD 1680 - part of a large bundle of leaves. It's probably from the 13th century which makes it one of the oldest Heart Sutra ms. still extant. It's written in black ink which is faded in places, on a talipot palm leaf. The writing is one the Nepalese 'hooked' scripts (probably Bhujimol I think).
Unfortunately the first page is missing, but it is still an interesting specimen. It's been very difficult to decipher at times - one has to look for familiar landmarks like 'evaṃ' or 'prajñāpāramitā' and then deduce from there, though in the end I wasn't guessing most of the syllables.
This is not one of the basic mss. that Conze used in his 1948 Critical edition, but he does cite it in the 1967 versions - albeit somewhat speculatively at times. He refers to it as Nk.
12 December 2012
I'll be leading a day of study on the Heart Sutra on 30 Dec at the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. 10-4. All welcome.
06 December 2012
I spent the day transcribing the Heart Sutra found in this manuscript. There really are more than one Heart Sutra - and more than the long and short text as well. This is a variant on the long text.
Ca. 1677 CE. Gold ink on black. Ranjana script. Approx 24 x 7.6 cm. No title. Contains the Heart Sutra along with other dhāraṇī texts (which is where we mostly find the HS in these ms.s). This ms is unusual in that it expands the contractions we normally associate with the HS.
20 May 2012
homage to the Saṅgha
30 January 2012
17 January 2012
16 January 2012
* na maḥ sa rva jñā ya a ryā va lo ki te śva ra bo dhi sa ttva ga mbhī raṃ pra jña
* namaḥ sarvajñāya - homage to the all knowing
aryāvalokiteśvara bodhisattva gambhiraṃ prajña[pāramitā ca]
ryāṃ ca ra mā ṇo vya va lo ka ya ti sma paṃ ca ska ndhaḥ tāṃ śca sva bhā va...
[ca]ryāṃ caramāno vyavalokayati sma pañca skandhaḥ tāṃś ca svabhāva [śūnyān paśyati sma]
The Bodisattva Avalokiteśvara coursing in the course of perfect wisdom, beheld the five skandhas and saw them as empty of independent existence.
04 December 2011
Anusvāra means 'after-sound'. It is was originally written, in the Brahmī scrpit as a small dot on the right-hand side of a syllable, but soon migrated to the top as in modern day Devanāgarī: e.g. ta त vs taṃ तं In Roman script we use an m with an underdot ṃ; or some times an overdot ṁ; or an n with a tail in older books: ŋ. There is also the anunāsika 'from the nose' which is a more general word for nasal sounds including consonants like ṅa, ña, ṇa, na and ma, and the nasalised semivowels e.g. lṃ. The anunāsika is indicated with candra-bindu in Devanāgarī: la ल vs lṃ लँ. Note that in modern languages such as Hindi the anusvāra and anunāsika are used interchangeably, but the anunāsika is used with seed-syllables where is adds to the symbolism.
What the anusvāra does when added to a syllable is nasalise the vowel of the syllable. Even though the sound is indicated by an additional letter in Roman script (the modified m) it is only indicating a change in the quality of the vowel sound. When speaking the air coming out of your lungs to make the sounds usually escapes through he mouth where the tongue and mouth shape the sound into distinct units. With a nasal sound, however, some or all of the air escape through the nasal cavity - which changes the timbre of the sound to produce the distinct nasal drone or buzz. You can experiment with the different sounds by pronouncing pairs of sounds that are only different because on is nasal: pa and ma have more or less the same articulation except the ma is nasal. Similarly ka and ṅa, ca and ña, ṭa and ṇa, or ta and na.
Now a vowel is produced with an open vocal tract - one doesn't interrupt the flow of air with the velum, tongue, or lips. Nasalising a vowel sound only requires a lowering of the velum (the soft palate at the rear of the mouth). The sound is used in English as the end of words like sung, sing, sang.
However there is another way to make a nasalised sound which is to bring the lips together at the end of the syllable, forcing all of the out going air through the nose to make a nasal humming sound. This is different from the ma syllable which begins with closed lips that open suddenly to release the built up pressure With the labial anusvāra the lips stay pressed together.
Both of these methods are common, and as far as I know there is no way to decide which is more correct.
So oṃ can be pronounced two different ways: ong and om (with no release at the end). With oṃ the latter is more common, but when one is learning Indic languages one hears a range of pronunciation of nasalised vowels.
Similarly hūṃ is pronounced as both hoong and hoom. The ū sound is a bit like the English vowel sound in 'hoot', but more open (i.e. the lips are not so bunched up). Make the face for hoot and then relax the lips. But please note that accents are all about how you pronounce vowels. You tend not to hear your own accent, so you pronounce vowels quite automatically. So describing how a vowel sound should be pronounced is usually folly at best. For ū the International Phonetic Alphabet sign is /uː/.
So we see oṃ pronounced more usually with the -m sound, and seed syallbles such as tāṃ, or hūṃ with the -ng sound. Take your pick. What most people do is follow the people around them. And then at least we're all doing the same thing, and what is language but a social convention anyway?
The idea of reproducing the "original" pronunciation is probably just a fantasy. Sometimes we can reconstruct pronunciation from rhyming patterns in verse, but the fact is the we just don't know and we never will, because we can't hear the ancient speakers. Pronunciation changes. Modern day Hindi speakers do not pronounce the vowels exactly as Sanskrit would seem to demand either. For instance they flatten the ai vowel so that it sounds like e. So the "original" pronunciation is lost. We must be content to do our best, and produce sounds that seem to fit what is written.
As I showed in my article on the 100 syllable Vajrasattva mantra in the Western Buddhist Review the errors introduced into mantra recitation are sometimes due to mis-reading rather than mis-hearing. So we are not the first to struggle with these issues!