25 January 2014

Siddhaṃ and Maṅgala = Success and Luck.

As we know, after a certain period Buddhist manuscripts begin with the word siddhaṃ. It is this practice which lead to the script that developed after the Gupta Empire to be called Siddhaṃ or Siddhamātra. In Patañjali's Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya (Great Commentary on Grammar) composed about 150 BCE, he says explains why this word was emphasised:
maṅgalārtham . māṅgalikaḥ ācāryaḥ mahataḥ śāstraughasya maṅgalārtham siddhaśabdam āditaḥ prayuṅkte . maṅgalādīni hi śāstrāṇi prathante vīrapuruṣakāṇi ca bhavanti āyuṣmatpuruṣakāṇi ca . adhyetāraḥ ca siddhārthāḥ yathā syuḥ iti . (I.6.26 - 7.2)
For the sake of good luck (maṅgala). A superstitious (māṅgalika) teacher begins his great, extensive treatise with the word "siddhaṁ" to bring good luck. For treatises with a lucky beginnings spread (far and wide) and produce men who are heroic (vīra) and long lived (āyusmat). And those who study [that treatise] will accordingly achieve their goals (siddhārtha). 
This suggests that the practice dates from much earlier than the period associated with the Siddhaṃ script. In a Buddhist context the Buddha is said to have been critical of those who were māṅgalika, but was not beyond making accommodations with the customs of superstitious lay people. See my essay Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom.

27 May 2013

Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā 1.1

na svato nāpi parato na 
dvābhyāṃ nāpy ahetutaḥ |
utpannā jātu vidyante 
bhāvāḥ kva cana ke cana ||

Not from self, nor from other, nor from both, or for no reason;
Are any beings found to arise anywhere.

06 May 2013


sunyata by jayarava
sunyata, a photo by jayarava on Flickr.

Got my calligraphy pens out for the first time in ages to do some words for a new internet project.

24 March 2013

Dhāraṇī vs Pidgin

"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

Yet Another Heart Sutra Ms.

Click to Embiggen

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

Another Heart Sutra

Another Heart Sutra - 20th century, Newāri script. Black in on paper, with red ink decorations. The image in the centre is a four-armed Prajñāpāramitā.

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

Heart Sutra.

ADD 1485 open. Heart Sutra. by jayarava
ADD 1485 open. Heart Sutra., a photo by jayarava on Flickr.

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

Mantra of a Living Buddha(?)

Someone recently sent me a picture of a bracelet with a mantra on it, asking if I could translate it. The mantra seemed to transcribe as 

ༀ ཨཱཿ ཧཱུྂ གུ རུ བྷྱཿ ཉ༔ ཨ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔ ཧ༔ པཪྨ ས མ སེདྡྷེ ཧཱུྂ 
 oṃ aḥ hūṃ guru bhyaḥ ña a śa sa ma ha parma sa ma siddhi hūṃ 

 There is a difference between ཿ and ༔, the former (visarga) affects the sound, the latter (gter tsheg; treasure mark) seems to be decorative. The syllables decorated with the ༔ are a series of bīja or seed-syllables, some times called a thödröl (thos grol) mantra. The symbol is used with terma (gter ma) or revealed teachings. There is a minor error here ཉ༔ should read འ༔ which would transcribe as 'a. So the sequence in the middle is:
'a a śa sa ma ha

This is sometimes written as a ah sha sa ma ha. Some sources say that this mantra requires a special transmission before it can be used. The mantra seems to be associated with passing through the bardos. 

The word parma might be a Tibetan word, or more likely a corruption of padma པདྨ. The more I look at it the more it seems that padma was what was intended. 

In the word གུ རུ བྷྱཿ (i.e. gurubhyaḥ) the last syllable is badly formed (the top should join up with the vertical stroke on the right), but it must be this. In Sanskrit is the dative plural from of guru, and means 'to or for the gurus'. In Tibetan salutations one sometimes sees 

namo gurubhyaḥ namo buddhāya namo dharmāya namo saṅghāya  
homage to the teachers, homage to the Buddha, homage to the Dharma,
homage to the Saṅgha

So the mantra, with these minor corrections appears to read: 

oṃ aḥ hūṃ gurubhyaḥ 'a a śa sa ma ha padma sama siddhi hūṃ 

With this in mind we start to see references to whose mantra this on the internet. It's the mantra of a self proclaimed Living Buddha, by the name of Lian Sheng, the founder of the True Buddha School. He's apparently popular in East Asia, though not uncontroversial. Lian Sheng seems to be a Chinese form of the name Padmasambhava and the mantra employs elements from the Vajra Guru mantra: oṃ aḥ hūṃ vajra guru padma siddhi hūṃ; plus the bardo mantra: 'a a śa sa ma ha

Though he is said to be a "Living Buddha" and have 5 million followers I had never heard of him before today. I'd suggest caution in taking him at face value.


30 January 2012

Sanskrit Manuscripts at Cambridge University

The University of Cambridge embarked on an exercise of 'linguistic archaeology' late last year, launching a project to survey their extensive collection of India and Nepalese Sanskrit manuscripts. Most of these are Buddhist. Some 2000 birch-bark, and palm-leaf manuscripts were collected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and not all have been properly catalogued. The manuscripts themselves date from as far back to the 9th century - making them amongst the oldest surviving India manuscripts. Because there has previously been no systematic survey of all the texts it is possible that some treasures may lie waiting to be discovered.

The project includes plans to digitise some of the texts and make them available via Cambridge University's Digital Library, which recently added images of Isaac Newton's papers. I think everyone is hoping for a renaissance of Sanskrit studies at Cambridge, and perhaps also for Buddhist studies (CU presently offers no separate courses in Buddhism).

Last Friday I attended an informal talk by visiting scholar Harunaga Isaacson and saw pictures of some of the manuscripts. I felt privileged to be amongst such illustrious scholars (people who are fluent in Sanskrit and the many variations of the scripts). I will try to add updates about the project as it goes.

Image and text borrowed from the University of Cambridge Website. Their account of the project is here: Powerful Words.

17 January 2012

New Siddhaṃ Calligrapher

vāṃḥ in siddhaṃ script.
There's a new Buddhist calligrapher on Flickr. Levente Bakos does work in Siddhaṃ (left) and Tibetan scripts. Some beautiful work here, and with a distinctive style of his own. He does seals as well.