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!
17 October 2011
mantra(sanskrit)-"awareness spell" According to traditional etymology, mantra gets its name from providing protection (trâna) for the mind (manas).
A mantra can consist of a single letter, a syllable, a word, or even an entire phrase.
The next editor expanded this a little including the phrase:
Originally these were meaningless, and were a mechanism used to prevent thought. Usage in Western society today is primarily with meaningful phrases that an individual wishes to bear in mind constantly, particularly when striving to create personal change.and a see also reference to "OCD" (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This was the state I found it in. I set about writing a lot more text, under my then online nom-de-plume. Little of what I wrote 9 years ago remains, but what I wrote spurred people to edit and write more so it was almost worth it. Subsequently Wikipedia realised that they needed editorial guidelines and these shaped the article as it evolved. I don't participate in Wikipedia much these days - I post in some discussion pages but I don't edit. I haven't even read the latest entry just in case I get drawn into it again.
It is one of the interesting features of Wikipedia that the entire history of an article is preserved and can be accessed. We can see how entries evolved, and not doubt as we speak someone is doing a PhD on just this topic. At least with Wikipedia we get a sense of the article as an evolving, changing thing unlike a print encyclopedia where the process of creation is completely hidden.
Wikipedia even provides stats. The article has been edited 1373 times, an average of once every 2.28 days since 16 March 2003. A total of 599 users have been involved! Each making on average 2.29 edits. 2008 was the peak year for edits with 317. Since then the rate has dropped off steadily so that last year there were only 115. Nearly half the edits were by the most active 10% of users, which suggests that the other 90% made about 1 edit each.
14 October 2011
We see this in the phrase:
akāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ ādyanutpannatvātwhere akāro means the 'letter a', anutpanna is the keyword indicated by 'a' and it means non-arisen. And the whole phrase reminds us that dharmas are just mental events and that nothing substantial arises when we have an experience.
19 September 2011
Enter coupon code OKTOBERFESTUK305 at checkout and receive 15% off your order.
The maximum savings for this offer is £200. Sorry, but this offer is only valid in Pounds and cannot be applied to previous orders. You can only use this code once per account, and unfortunately you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer expires on 23 September 2011 at 11:59 PM, so don't miss out! While very unlikely, we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so. This coupon is good for self-purchases (i.e., Authors buying their own books) and/or it can be shared with Readers and Buyers. Lulu incurs the cost of this discount, so it does not impact the Author's proceeds of the book. This coupon will work for multiple titles but savings cannot go past the maximum of £200. Finally, this coupon does not pertain to shipping costs or taxes.
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15 September 2011
The book can be purchased right now by following this link: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/visible-mantra-visualising-writing-buddhist-mantras/10070917
But it will take a little while to re-appear in my Lulu 'author spotlight'.
11 September 2011
I will let you know when it's working again.
23 August 2011
26 July 2011
It looks like dbu me or one of the other headless scripts. I'd guess it says:
"object of knowledge"
When I searched for shes bya I found this book, and the image on the book jacket appears to confirm my suspicions: c.f. the first characters of this book jacket.
Am I correct?
20 July 2011
by Hartosh Singh Bal
What conclusions there are, are based on the idea that Soma was a hallucinogen. Though I do not think there is any consensus on what Soma was (it has since been lost and replaced by another plant) it seems to me that the most likely candidate is ephedra which has ephedrine as an active ingredient. Ephedrine is a stimulant rather than a hallucinogen. In his documentary "India" Michael Wood seeks out and takes Ephedra tea in a market in Peshawar and describes the effects on camera: a feeling of energy, heightened senses, and talkativeness.
17 July 2011
"Reverend Richard Coles explores the world of spiritual sound and meditation and tries to understand what it is about certain sounds and chants which gives practitioners a sense of proximity to the Divine."
12 July 2011
evaṃ mayā śrutaṃ
Earlier on this blog I did my own version of evaṃ in Siddhaṃ script.
Here is my take on the Wartu script bīja based on Tashi's calligraphy.
10 July 2011
This is the mantra of Avalokiteśvara.
** oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ ||
The script is called Wartu and is an adaptation of Lantsa - a headless form - from Tibet. I don't know this script, but have based this on some calligraphy by Tashi Mannox.
09 July 2011
I recently did a weekend workshop on Tibetan calligraphy with Tashi Mannox. I would not say that I have progressed beyond the level of beginner, but after a couple of weeks of practice I think this is not too bad.
This is the mantra of Avalokiteśvara.
** oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ ||
The script is called dbu can, pronounced like 'uchen', and is from Tibet.
07 July 2011
As a publisher I'm delighted to be able to finally offer this book because it achieves the goals of the project in a way that the website cannot. It combines a higher quality of calligraphy, and the use of fonts for mantras to provide a great deal more consistency and generally higher quality. It brings together other material on mantra from my blog, and I think makes an attractive package.
As an author I am painfully aware of all of the inconsistencies, the imperfections and omissions that are left. But the project needed to have an end point, and with my publishers hat on I've said "this is it". It's time to let it go, and if necessary start collecting ideas and corrections for a second edition. I only hope that my readers will be forgiving and appreciate the spirit behind the endeavour.
This book has been an incredibly difficult project - many scripts, many languages, hundreds of images, 75,000 words of text, and I have done most of it myself - though with help from many people. To get to this point, even if there are still remaining imperfections feels like a milestone in my life! The idea came six years ago on my ordination retreat when there were a lot of questions about seed-syllables and mantras that I was answering as best I could. As I say - this is a book I wanted to read rather than write.
So here it is. I must say I'm extremely anxious at this point, but here goes... I hope you will find the book as enjoyable and informative as people tell me the website is. I think the book is a great improvement on the website, and this means I have a lot of work ahead bringing the website up to scratch!
I've thanked many people in the book, including many of you who will be reading this and who have contributed via the blog or Facebook, or other media (not least to correct my spelling which seems to be getting worse lately!). Thanks again. And thanks also to those people whose donations, past and present, small and large which pay for the website, and my calligraphy pens! I'd like to make special mention of my friend Maitiu O'Ceileachair whose contribution is felt throughout the book.
03 July 2011
An interesting thing about Lakṣmī is that she is not a Vedic goddess, i.e. doesn't appear in the Ṛgveda. She does appear - under the name Sirimā or Śrī - in the Pāli Canon (Rhys Davids Buddhist India, p.216-9). So she seems to have been a local goddess in North-East India that was adopted into both Buddhism and Hinduism. She puts in an appearance as Lakṣmī in the Golden Light Sūtra. Note that Wikipedia doesn't mention either her origins or her Buddhist associations. I have written on my other blog about how the Buddha describes village people as maṅgalika or superstitious, i.e. concerned with omens and luck (see: Gesundheit! Making Accommodations with Custom).
One also sees this written in Lantsa with a long ā and short i - i.e. लाक्ष्मि - this is common, though I think it is certainly an error. For example there is this image of the corrupt version with two hanzi: 壽 & 福 (Shòu & fú) literally 'life' and 'blessing'. More calligraphy of this version can be found on the East Wind Gallery site.
One sees the problem of mixed up vowel lengths a lot in Chinese and Japanese Siddhaṃ - for example the bīja dhīḥ is routinely written as dhiḥ (with a short i) in Japan. John Stevens says, in regard to other spelling errors that: "rightly or wrongly they have become part of the tradition." (Sacred Calligraphy, p.33). Personally I'm inclined to correct them as I say here and here.
For another (and much better) image of Lakṣmī's bīja written correctly see George Fisher's Indian Scripts website (the link is to a pdf, scroll down, Lakṣmī is the last bīja). The main website is www.lantsha-vartu.org.
30 June 2011
27 June 2011
Tibetan Calligraphy Course With Tashi Mannox. What a great way to spend a weekend, though I think we were all exhausted by the end! Pictures are on my Flickr Site. They're all a bit grainy, but email me if you want to get copies of the originals.
My own calligraphy is here.
23 June 2011
Well, here is the final cover design for the book. Front and back. The background image is made from layered Mandlebrot set images I made a while back (see more on my Flickr site). The lettering on the front is a garbhadhātu maṇḍala with a, ā, aṃ, aḥ, and āṃḥ, and the Avalokiteśvara mantra in white. The back is part of the Karaṇḍamudrā Dhāraṇī. I'm quite pleased with this, it is striking and communicates something of the content, and the fire of my own passion for the subject.
I still want to check a few little details - for example I need to thank another friend in the acknowledgements that I had overlooked. But the text is basically finished. I hope to be able to announce that it is for sale by the end of next week - but you know if you've been following this thread that everything takes longer than expected! Nearly there.
If anyone is going to be at the Tibetan Calligraphy workshop with Tashi Mannox in London this weekend, then I look forward to meeting you, and I will have a proof copy of the book to look at.
07 June 2011
Just bought this for £5 from a charity shop. Trying to identify the script. It looks a bit like Sinhala to me, but the images on the cover are of Ganeṣa, Dūṛga and Hayagrīva. Clearly it is some kind of Southern Brāhmī script.
Can anyone shed light on what this script is?
Most of the manuscript is in poor condition, and very difficult to read.
I went through the Manuscript again, actually the transcribed sentence should be:+රරූඩ්කොටවෙලාද්රග+(The vertical loop is the virama. The /i/ sign is more open looped in the manuscript). In cursive handwriting, the adjacent /aa/ vowel sign seems to have written connected to the ka. Though I am not sure of /ḍ/ & /d/ readings.
කොටවෙලා/කොට වෙලා seems to give some Google hits in Sinhala.
I could make out some thing with 7th line of the left section:[+]දේ කිරි ගෙනෙල්ලා කටෙ තිය[+]
[+]de kiri gĕnĕllā kaṭĕ tiya(de is probably a partial word ending)කිරි/ගෙනෙල්ලා/කටෙ/තිය as individual words give Sinhala hits in Google. The Combined කටෙ තිය is also giving hits. In the initial part of the manuscript, කේ ke (with explicit long o) is written, which is characteristic of Sinhala. (Similary /re/ is written with explicit long /e/ )
Also, there seem to be some word endings with /ya/ - again pointing the Sinhala (Even the Skt. sutra is written as sutraya in Sinhala ). The document is most probably Sinhala. If you can get some one with working knowledge of Sinhala, the content of the manuscript can be figured out.
[Thanks Vinod. Something odd happened with your comment so I cut and pasted from the email notification - hope you don't mind. Thanks for your help! JR]
06 June 2011
I will be attending Tashi Mannox's calligraphy workshop in London on the 26th June and hope to have a few copies with me for that. (Reminds me I must brush up on the Tibetan alphabet!)
01 June 2011
24 May 2011
Then I'm done... years, months, and weeks have telescoped into days.
My other project on reprinting Plato's Cratylus along with Kūkai's Shōji jissō gi ('Explaining Sound, word, reality') and Thomas Kasulis's article linking the two of them is going well. I have the permissions I need (at a price I can afford!) and I've commissioned Dr Margaret Magnus of Margo's Magical Letter Page to write an introduction to Plato and Sound Symbolism. I will write an introduction to Kūkai and some background on Shōji jissō gi. I'm thinking about soliciting a celebrity forward from someone. I'm excited about this bringing together of East and West. I don't expect to sell many copies, but it's a book I'd love to read!
Kūkai is much on my mind as the Visible Mantra project comes to fruition. I'm a non-fiction writer rather than a story teller, but I love the story of Kūkai's journey to China and it lacks a really good retelling in English. Yet another book I want to read, but may end up having to try to write!
23 May 2011
ye dhammā hetuppabhāva
tesaṃ hetuṃ tathāgato āha
tesaṃ ca yo nirodho
evaṃ vādī mahāsamaṇo
Of those experiences that arise from a cause,
The Tathāgata has said, 'this is their cause',
And this is their cessation.
Thus the Great Striver teaches.
22 May 2011
- dbu can
- soyombo (A Mongolian script based on dbu can)
- dbu can
- Classical Mongolian
The next line reads: **|| la kṣiṃ dza nya sukha hī paṃ ||
This is not a mantra I'm familiar with, but in any case I was mainly interested to draw attention the the marks I have transcribed as * and ||.
The sign transcribed by * I only know by its Tibetan name yig mgo pronounced 'yimgo'. It is followed by the vertical stroke । in Sanskrit is called daṇḍa 'rod, stick', and in Tibetan shad (pronounced shé), which here is doubled ॥ . In this case the Tibetan yig mgo combines both the standard yig gmo - ༄ - and the 'following' yig mgo - ༅ - to give ༄༅. This and even more ornate forms are often found at the head of texts. The Lantsa yig mgo adds what looks like the long ā diacritic which probably is the same idea.
The latter is simply the double daṇḍa or nyis shad in Tibetan. The daṇḍa is the only form of punctuation regularly used in Sanskrit. In poetry a single daṇḍa marks the end of a line, and a double daṇḍa marks the end of a stanza. In prose it is used more freely where in English we might use commas, semi-colons, dashes, colons, and full-stops.
I'm planning a longer article about these and similar marks for my blog in a couple of weeks, and have more detail in my forthcoming book.
19 May 2011
Kasulis, Thomas P. ‘Reference and Symbol in Plato’s Cratylus and Kūkai’s Shōjijissōgi’ Philosophy East & West, Vol. 32, 1982.I will be reprint the article courtesy of the University of Hawai'i Press. It will be accompanied by translations of both the Cratylus dialogue (an out of copyright edition); and Kūkai's Shōji jissō gi (声字実相義), in Yoshito Hakeda's translation courtesy of CUP. I've asked Dr Margaret Magnus, author of Gods of the Word and The Magic Letter Page, to write an introduction to Plato and Sound Symbolism. I will write an introduction to Kūkai and the Shōji jissō gi.
This brings together several strands of interest for me, but especially helps to make the link between sound symbolism, especially Margaret's work on phonosemantics, and Buddhist mantra. I hope to publish this as the 4th offering from Visible Mantra Books sometime in late 2011.
I've approached another author about an existing unpublished manuscript on Buddhist mantra, and hope that it will be our 5th book sometime in 2012. I'm trying to encourage friends of mine to produce a book of audible mantras - i.e. to notate the tunes we use for mantras in the Triratna Community.
16 May 2011
11 May 2011
Just to clarify there is no word rastu (in Sanskrit). The word is astu, which is the 3rd person singular imperative of the verb √as 'to be' and means 'may there be, may it be'. This leaves us with siddhir, which we can see is the word siddhiḥ (nominative singular) meaning 'accomplishment, perfection'. It is affected by the sandhi rule that -iḥ followed by a vowel becomes -ir: hence siddhir astu 'may there be perfection'. Note that when we transliterate Sanskrit in Roman script we break the word between the consonant and the vowel. However in Devanāgarī the situation is more confusing because the whole thing is written as one word - the r and a are combined into a single akṣara : सिद्धिरस्तु the syllables being सि द्धि र स्तु (si ddhi ra stu). This is one of the disadvantages of Indic scripts, and part of what makes learning Sanskrit difficult. To read it you have to know the suffixes and sandhi rules very well.
This kind of mistake is quite common amongst Buddhists, i.e. the mistake of seeing a familiar word like siddhi, and breaking there, even when it produces non-sense words like rastu. It seems to have happened in Tibetan readings of the Vajrasattva mantra from the Sarvatathāgata-tattvasaṃgraha as well - as I discuss in my Western Buddhist Review article on the mantra: The Hundred Syllable Vajrasattva Mantra. The best example is the phrase sarvakarmasu ca me cittaṃ sreya kuru' and, in all actions make my mind more excellent' being read as sarva karma suca me cittaṃ śreya kuru, thereby obliterating the sense of the words, leaving words without any grammatical relationships, and creating the nonsense word suca. Basically it's what happens when you have a tradition in a language you don't speak.
This does not explain the form found on page 33 of John Stevens' Sacred Calligraphy of the East: siddhāṃrastu (which I have commented on before). But at least we can now see where it comes from. What was written on ancient Sanskrit manuscripts was not siddhāṃastu, or even siddhamastu, but siddhir astu.
Roth, Gustav. (1986) 'Mangala-symbols in Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts and Inscriptions' in Bhattacharya, G (ed.) Deyadharma : Studies in Memory of Dr D. C. Sircar. Sri Satguru Pubs. Delhi, p. 239-250.
09 May 2011
van Gulik, R.H. (1956) Siddham: An Essay on the History of Sanskrit Studies in China and Japan. New Delhi: Aditya (reprinted 2001).It's part of Śata-piṭaka series produced by Lokesh Chandra and his illustrious father, Raghu Vira, who have been incredibly prolific in making this kind of material available. The book cost 1000 Rs in India and about 4x as much here in the UK, though I've seen copies advertised on Amazon for 4x as much again.
For anyone interested in the script and the history this is a very good book to own. Not only does it have the essay, but it contains examples of Siddhaṃ calligraphy from many eras of history stretching back to the mid 8th century. Many of the familiar images of Siddhaṃ calligraphy have been originally copied from this book I suspect.
04 May 2011
Ideally the diagonal lines would all be parallel - note mine aren't! The bindu of the candra-bindu gives the smallest unit - the nib width. In western calligraphy the nib width is critical to understanding the design of a script. Here though we do find half-widths partly because the pen is always (supposed to be) at 45°.
Horizontally the body of the syllable is about 3 nibs wide - with some extension beyond in the outer details (the tail of the ha for instance). Vertically the main part of the ha is 4 nibs. The candra-bindu is about 2.5; while the ū is about 2. In an ideal world the ratios height to width of the ha, and the height of the candra-bindu to the height of the ha would approach the golden ratio ~ 1.618.
Without being perfect this figure points to where perfection lays. And there is a deep truth here that Buddhism taps into. There is a Mahāyāna sūtra which describes the whole world as a scroll, and all the dharmas, all the mental phenomena, as letters on that scroll. However the sūtra says that each letter contains the whole of the Buddhadharma. In other words each and every experience we have is pointing towards the same truth - that experience itself is insubstantial and unsatisfactory.
By a deep analysis of the flaws of my calligraphy I come to see where I might improve. I gain a deeper understanding of the way this script works, and with it a deeper understanding of my own experience of the world. Gradually I improve. I began, as all beginners do, copying the work of masters - my master was not present to correct me, but I could see his calligraphy, and I was able to correct myself. This is a slow way to make progress I may say. It is much better to have a teacher - but I am somewhat stubborn and Siddhaṃ calligraphy teachers are hard to come by. Even so after some years I have come to my own understanding of the form. I would not say that I have mastered the art, but I know good from bad calligraphy these days, and I am usually honest with myself about my own efforts. One needs to be critical without being harsh, which is a fine line sometimes.
Calligraphy is a fascinating art because each time one writes something, even after years of practice, there are variations. Training oneself to notice these variations is important. It is all part of Buddhist practice. We have to see clearly what has been done, comparing it with the intention, with the template one is trying to copy - whether it is the syllable executed by a master, or the internal model that develops with time - to see how we have deviated from our aim. We may even come to understand why we deviate.
Achieving perfection is definitely the goal, but in the meantime we focus on the striving for it - on the technique. Along the way one sometimes reaches a milestone in understanding and practice. It's good, in my opinion, to celebrate these milestones. I often post something on my blog or on Flickr that seems especially good. Then in a few months or years one can look back and see the imperfections and wonder at one's own superficiality and naivety! LOL! I look at the calligraphy on my own website and think that most of it is poor, some of it very poor. It was the best I could do at the time, but now I know I can do better.
When doing calligraphy it is good to be aware of your body, your breathing. Your whole body contributes to the process - not just the hand. One must have a firm base for instance. The hand and arm are connected to the trunk by many muscles and sinews. In order to have a free hand, one must have free shoulders, for instance. And of course in order for the body to be relaxed and free, the mind must be relaxed and free. The lack of calm and freedom is the main source of imperfection in calligraphy. This is perhaps why some of the greatest calligraphers of Japan -- Kūkai, Hakuin, Ryōkan -- have also been masters of meditation.
A single syllable can be a challenging practice. We tend to do the syllable again and again. Mantras of several syllables give a different challenge - each syllable in a mantra like oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ has it's own form and harmony. The intense focus of the bīja must broaden out to encompass the multiplicity of forms. A long mantra, like the 100 syllable Vajrasattva Mantra or some of the long dhāraṇīs are another challenge. When working with ink on paper, the slightest lapse in concentration results in an error. The paper is then ruined and one must start again. I once did calligraphy of the Heart Sutra which is almost 500 syllables. The effort was a great strain and I don't know if I could manage it again! 500 syllables without a significant error in writing. This took careful planning and study of the Sanskrit, and was certainly not achieved on the first attempt. It is the sort of thing best attempted whilst on a solitary retreat I think.
Clearly calligraphy is a good śamatha practice, but it has the potential to be a vipaśyanā practice as well. The close examination of the tiny differences, and the attention to what happens when we set off to write something, can allow us to see just how our mind works to create experience. The interconnectedness of mind and body, and the interplay of the two in calligraphy show us something about the interconnectedness of the phenomenal world.
Those who merely cut and paste, or who use fonts instead of spending years learning the script and putting in the 100s and the 1000s of hours required to become proficient, are really missing the point. Some people seem to think that calligraphy is just images to be consumed, owned or tattooed. But that is only the most superficial and naive response to the art. Perfection is something that we each, individually strive for. Without the striving there is no perfection. Simply copying the master is not enough, even if one does it by hand. Owning an image is truly worthless. On his funny, if coarse, blog "Shit my Dad says" Justin Halpern recalls showing off his newly acquired cellphone to his now infamously cantankerous father. Dad replies:
"Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn't invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that."
My own favourite calligrapher (there aren't that many of us) is Tashi Mannox (website and blog). Tashi first trained as an artist, and then spent 17 years an a monastic scribe. It shows both in his art, and in his manner (I would say from our correspondence and one meeting ). Tashi makes amazing and inspiring works of calligraphic art, I would say he's a master calligrapher. But in some ways I prefer my own calligraphy, because it is the result of my own striving. I draw inspiration from Tashi's work, but I would never be content merely to own something he did (though I do have a few samples he kindly gave me when I visited him in London a couple of years ago). I learn so much more from keeping up my own practice. I hope that others are inspired to take up the art of calligraphy - it has been a very rewarding practice for me.
25 April 2011
24 April 2011
This syllable āṃḥ contains many symbols - vision and transformation, śūnyatā, nirvāṇa, triratna etc. And it has great calligraphic potential as you see. It's made from four syllables: a ā aṃ aḥ so also is a 5-fold maṇḍala. Everything is here.
21 April 2011
In creating this translation I have also consulted the Sanskrit edition by Dutt (1934); the Chinese translations by Kumārajīva (T. 223) and Xuán Zàng (T. 220 - incorporating PP versions in 18k, 25k, and 100k lines) as found in CBETA online version of the Taisho Ed. of the Chinese Tripiṭaka ; and Edward Conze’s English translation (1975), particularly his notes on translation and ms. variants. Conze cites Mokshala [sic] which I take to be a reference to T. 221, the translation of the PPS by Mokṣa (or Mokṣala); and Yüan-tsang [sic; i.e. Xuán Zàng] which I take to be a reference to T.220.
I have also used Brough’s (1977) discussion of the Arapacana in 普曜經 (Pǔ yào jīng = The Lalitavistara Sūtra; T. 186), translated by Dharmarakṣa in 308 CE, to shed light on Chinese translations. Brough himself also refers to Kumārajīva’s translation of the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa (T. 1509 ) a commentary on the PPS attributed to Nāgārjuna which appears not to coincide with T. 223 in every detail; and Xuán Zàng’s various translations of the large Perfection of Wisdom text contained within T. 220.
In addition there is a very old Arapacana Alphabet in the Bajaur Collection which is mostly unpublished and I have consulted it where possible. Salomon (1990) is invaluable for understanding the alphabet in any script or language. The Sanskrit editions, and presumably the Sanskrit mss. contain several conflicts that are resolved by Conze – and in each case I have followed his example, but only after consulting some of the same sources (particularly the Chinese texts) and the secondary literature. The last few lines are very confused and show a great deal of variation in both the syllable and the keyword, not to mention the fact that the number of syllables varies from 41 – 43, while the text itself later refers to 42 letters ‘dvācatvāriṃśad akṣarāṇi’.
Download a pdf of my Arapacana Translation
Please contact with any comments on this work. My thanks to readers of my VM Facebook page for contributing to Chinese translations.
17 April 2011
15 April 2011
13 April 2011
There's quite broad agreement up to about letter 26. Note that Conze also uses the Chinese translation by Mokṣa of Khotan (Taisho 221), but so far I haven't identified the arapacana alphabet in this text. All the lists except Conze include repetitions. Conze's solutions to this problem look likely and involve Prakrit spellings of Sanksrit words, i.e. ṣaṃga for saṅga at no.10. (Note that the Chinese transliterations support this sustitution by using an aspirated sibilant sound.) The number of syllables in the various alphabets various from 41-43 (Dutt has 44!) but we know that later in the Pañcaviṃśati the text is expecting 42 (dvācatvāriṃśad akṣarāṇi PSP_6-8:67-8).
12 April 2011
阿 羅 波 遮 那 邏 陀 婆 荼 沙 和 多 夜 [口*宅] 迦 娑 磨 伽 他 闍 [其*皮] 馱 賒 呿 叉 哆 若 拖 婆 車 摩 火 嗟 伽 他 拏 頗 歌 醝 遮 [口*宅] 荼Google offers the following transliterations:
Ā luó bō zhē nà luó tuó pó tú shā hé duō yè [kǒu*zhái] jiā suō mó jiā tā dū [qí*pí] tuó shē qū cha duō ruò tuō pó chē mó huǒ jiē jiā tā ná pō gē cuó zhē [kǒu *Zhái] tú.I'm looking at the Sanskrit version and got interested enough to track this down. This version has 42 syllables which fits the number mentioned in the text. Conze's translation has 43 letters, and the two Sanskrit editions online at the Gretil Archive (Dutt and Takayasu) both have 41.
Ideally I'd like to get more info about the fragment from the Bajaur collection to compare the versions. We know it has 42 letters and what a few of the key words are, but the conservators of the collection are occupied with other texts at present (and have been for some years now!)
BTW The reason I'm looking at this is because I am doing my own translation for the book. I could use Conze's but it is covered by copyright and I'm trying to minimize the amount of copyright material in the book (hopefully I'll eliminate it altogether because applying for permission is slow and time consuming, and potentially expensive!). But as I go I find I am not at all satisfied with Conze's translations any way - at times I am none the wiser about what the Sanskrit means for having read his translation. Unlike translating Pāli texts in which one can usually see quite easily what is meant, the Perfection of Wisdom texts are esoteric in the sense of requiring a commentary that I lack access to if it exists!
09 April 2011
अकारो मुखः सर्वधर्माणामाद्यनुत्पन्नत्वात्
Sanskrit translates as: "The letter 'a' is an opening because of the primal quality of non-arising of all mental phenomena." [my translation]
First line of the Arapacana acrostic as found in the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramita Sūtra (The Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra in 25,000 lines). More info on the Visible Mantra Arapacana page.
Each line of this acrostic has a key word which begins with the the corresponding letter of the Gāndhārī alphabet (as envisaged by Sanskrit speakers). The whole collection make up a meditation practice in which the practitioner tries to see the true nature of experience as empty of independent existence - i.e. that all experiences are conditioned by the meeting of mind and mental objects.
(Thanks again to Dksht for spotting errors. I think both the Siddhaṃ and Roman are correct now)
08 April 2011
akāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇām ādyanutpannatvāt,
repho mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ rajo 'pagatatvāt,
pakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ paramārthanirdeśāt,
cakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ cyavanopapattyanupalabdhitvāt,
nakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ nāmāpagatatvāt,
lakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ lokottīrṇatvāt, tṛṣṇālatāhetupratyayasamudghātitvāt,
dakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ dāntadamathaparicchinnatvāt,
bakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ bandhanavimuktatvāt,
ḍakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ ḍamarāpagatvāt,
sakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ saṃgānupalabdhitvāt,
vakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ vākpathaghoṣasamucchinnatvāt,
takāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ tathatācalitatvāt,
yakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ yathāvadanutpādatvāt,
stakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ stambhānupalabdhitvāt,
kakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ kārakānupalabdhitvāt,
sakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ samatānupalabdhitvāt,
makāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ mamakārānupalabdhitvāt,
gakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ gaganānupalabdhitaḥ,
sthakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ sthānānupalabdhitaḥ,
jakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ jātyanupalabdhitaḥ,
śvakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ śvāsānupalabdhitaḥ,
dhakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ dharmadhātvanupalabdhitaḥ,
śakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ śamathānupalabdhitaḥ,
khakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ khasamatānupalabdhitaḥ,
kṣakāro mukhaḥ sarvadharmāṇāṃ kṣayānupalabdhitaḥ,
stakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmās tac cānupalabdhitaḥ,
jñakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ sarvajñānānupalabdhitaḥ,
hakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ hetor anupalabdhitaḥ,
cchakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāś cchaver apy anupalabdhitaḥ,
smakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ smaraṇānupalabdhitaḥ,
hvakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā āhvānāpagatatvāt,
sakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā utsāhānupalabdhitaḥ,
ghakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā ghanānupalabdhitaḥ,
ṭhakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā viṭhapanānupalabdhitaḥ,
ṇakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā raṇavigatatvāt,
phakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ phalānupalabhitaḥ,
skakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ skandhānupalabdhitaḥ,
jakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā jarānupalabdhitaḥ,
cakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāś caraṇānupalabdhitaḥ,
ṭakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmāḥ ṣṭaṃkārānupalabdhitaḥ,
ḍhakāramukhāḥ sarvadharmā ḍhaṃkārānupalabdhitaḥ.
07 April 2011
Unfortunately, Sacred Calligraphy of the East is out of print. Our last printing of this title was in 2002 and there is no planned future reprinting. Once books go out of print, they are harder to find and the prices to buy them does go up quite a bit. [sic]Only demand is likely to result in the book being reprinted. Please consider writing to Shambala Publications (email@example.com) to ask them to reprint the book. Meanwhile I will investigate the possibility of producing my own edition of the book. I suspect it might be more than I can afford, but hopefully we can work something out.
I think we should be clear that these forms are just wrong, and that a mistake repeated for 1000 years is wrong on a much larger scale. Everything that is faulty with religion is summed up in this idea that we should simply accept something we know to be erroneous because 'that's how we've always done it'. The whole point of retaining the Siddhaṃ script in East Asia was in order to preserve the Sanskrit pronunciation. As Kūkai himself says:
"The mantras, however, are mysterious and each word is profound in meaning. When they are transliterated into Chinese, the original meanings are modified and the long and short vowels are confused. In the end we can get roughly similar sounds but not precisely the same ones. Unless we use Sanskrit, it is hardly possible to differentiate the long and short sounds. The purpose of retaining the source materials, indeed, lies here." - Kūkai. Shōrai mokuroku. Hakeda. Kūkai: Major Works, p.144.What's more these are elementary mistakes, one's that even with a little Sanskrit anyone can see. So, let's correct them.
Siddhāṃ is wrong because siddhaṃ is a neuter word and the form should be siddhaṃ with a short a. This is precisely the kind of problem with long and short vowels that Kūkai had in mind I think!
Siddhāṃrastu is wrong again because of the long ā, but in addition because there is no word 'rastu'. Judging from the translation 'may there be perfection' we can guess that what is intended is the word astu. This is the 3rd personal singular imperative of the verb √as 'to be' and means 'may it be'. Where the ra comes from is a mystery, and it renders the phrase meaningless. The correct form (with sandhi) is siddhamastu.
Namaḥ sarvajñāya siddhāṃ presents more of a challenge. Steven's translation is 'homage to the all-knowing perfection'. Here sarvajñāya represents a kind of false Sanskrit - it uses the idea that if you just add -ya onto a word it makes it into the dative case indicating 'to' or 'for'. We find this in the homage 'namo buddhāya' for instance, which works OK because Buddha is a masculine noun in -a. But jñā is a feminine noun in -ā, and the dative would be jñāyai. This form is found in the homage to the perfection of wisdom for example: oṃ namo bhagavatyai prajñāpāramatāyai. But in a sense this is beside the point because the word is clearly intended to from a compound with siddhaṃ. 'The all-knowing perfection' would be sarvajñāsiddha - taking it as a karmadhāraya compound. In this case the first element loses it's case endings and only the second element is declined. In this the dative form would be: sarvajñāsiddhāya. So the correct form of this would namaḥ sarvajñāsiddhāya. There is an option sandhi here which would affect the final visarga in namaḥ giving namassarvajñāsiddhāya.
I note btw that Sacred Calligraphy seems to be out-of-print. It is selling on Amazon UK for £30 second-hand and up to £150 new! The RRP is US$32.50 on my copy (about £20). This is outrageous and I can only hope that Shambala Publishing opt to reprint soon!