Tuesday, February 25, 2014


I have been using the expression “Buddhist Sentientology” (to convey the idea of Buddhist theory of sentient beings). This seems desirable because none of the existing terms seems to be apt and adequate for expressing the idea. The idea of sems can gyi khams and ’dul ba’i khams (Bodhisattvabhūmi, Tib. p. 340f.) would be very much relevant here. It should be possible to avoid any undesirable association and connotation if one takes a closer look at the term and its definition.

“Buddhist Sentientology” may cover Buddhist ideas of (a) sattvaloka, (b) various types of sattvas (based on various criteria), (c) sentience (as studied by our teacher Schmithausen), and above all, of (d) gotra (“Heilsanlage”). (e) My own attempt to look at the notion of sattva in relation to the notions of bodhisattva and vajrasattva would be relevant as well. One gets a feeling that the traditional notion of an ordinary sattva (often called ’ching ba kun ldan) seems to have got modified or revised once the idea that all sattvas are possess tathagatagarbha came to be accepted. The idea that every sattva is actually a vajrasattva came to be accepted in most strands of Vajrayānic form of Mahāyāna Buddhism. In my view, Ratnagotravibhāga  1.47 can work as a justification for making a distinction between an ordinary sattva, a bodhisattva, and a vajrasattva.


Saturday, February 22, 2014


A person who is a specialist in Sanskrit language and literature would be called a “Sanskritist.” But see Marczell 2007: 177, where the word “Sanskritologist” is also used. Following this, Sanskrit Studies can be called “Sanskritology.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

‪Bodhisattvic Polyamory?

In my study of bodhicitta (Wangchuk 2007), of which I am neither too proud nor too ashamed, I briefly discussed an idea in the Bodhisattvabhūmi, according to which “a bodhisattva cares for all sentient beings as a man does for his wife but still remains unaffected by the worldly aspects of such a bond.” This is how I attempted to translate the pertinent passage: 

“These two are the unique, amazing, [and] extraordinary qualities of a bodhisattva who has firmly generated the initial resolve [to become a buddha]. What are the two? [a] [He] embraces all sentient beings as [though they were his] wife, and [b] yet is not tainted by the fault of having taken a wife. In this regard, the fault of taking a wife is this: the defiled gratification or hostility (kliṣṭānurodhavirodha) that comes from the benefit [received or] detriment [sustained by one’s] wife. But these two are not found in a bodhisattva.” 

As a footnote to the word “embraces,” I made the following comment: 

“The choice of the verb parighāti is noteworthy here because it means not only ‘to embrace’ and ‘to assist’ (among many other things), which fit the context better when sentient beings in general are the object, but also means ‘to take (a wife)’ or ‘to marry’ (MW, s.v. pari-grah). The pun, which is certainly intended, conveys the idea that a bodhisattva cares for all sentient beings as a man does for his wife but still remains unaffected by the worldly aspects of such a bond. This issue is addressed once again in Bodhisattvabhūmi 3.2 (Wogihara, p. 362.5–10; Dutt, p. 249.5–7): “Even upon his having first generated the resolve [to become a buddha], all sentient beings are embraced by a bodhisattva as [though they were his] wife. [He will make the following resolution:] ‘For them, all types of [resources required for] their benefit and happiness will be gathered by me to the best of [my] ability and to the best of [my] power.’ And [he indeed] does just that. This is the bodhisattva’s simultaneous embracing of all sentient beings” (prathama eva cittotpāde bodhisattvena sarva sattvadhātu kalatrabhāvena parighīta | eā mayā yathāśakti yathābala sarvākārahitasukhopasahāra karaīya iti | tathaiva ca karoti | aya bodhisattvasya saktsarvasattvaparigraha |). This simile was already noted by Dayal 1932: 63.”

So today on St. Valentine’s Day (14.2.2014), I wish to (by way of fun) discuss briefly if we can speak of “Bodhisattvic polyamory,” or even “Bodhisattvic polygamy” (at least as a metaphor or simile). There is a long entry on “polyamory” (Wikipedia, s.v.) and it is said to be from Greek πολύ (poly), meaning “many” or “several,” and Latin amor, “love” and is said to be “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” If we take the main components of the concept of “polyamory,” namely, “more than one” and “loving,” then we might say a bodhisattva loves more than one but unfortunately, it does not involve an “intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” It is a one-sided love. A bodhisattva is a kind of an “anonymous lover,” an “anonymous husband/wife” of all sentient beings. At least in Tibetan a bodhisattva is described as an “unacquainted kin/relative/friend” (ma ’dris pa’i mdza’ bshes). If we can at all speak of “love” in such a case then perhaps a “Bodhisattvic love” is a “Platonic love.” An important question in this context, in my view, is: Is amor possible without intellectual-emotional defilements (kleśa: nyon mongs pa)?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tibetan Buddhist Hierographology

I have noted this term “Buddhist hierographology” for myself in one of our entries and is meant to express “study of Buddhist sacred scriptures.” Now, I wish to be more specific and talk about only “Tibetan Buddhist hierographology.” To begin with, the following has been said with regard to  the term “Hierographology” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_text):

“Hierographology (Ancient Greek: ἱερός, hieros, ‘sacred’ or ‘holy,’ + γραφή, graphe, ‘writing,’ + λόγος, logos, ‘word’ or ‘reason’) (archaically also ‘hierology’) is the study of sacred texts. Increasingly, sacred texts of many cultures are studied within academic contexts, primarily to increase understanding of other cultures, whether ancient or contemporary. Sometimes this involves the extension of the principles of higher criticism to the texts of many faiths. It may also involve a comparative study of religious texts.”

For my purpose here, I wish to define “Tibetan Buddhist hierographology” as the study or theory of the ideas of sacred Buddhist scriptures that one finds primarily in textual sources in Tibetan language. Although we cannot always isolate the three layers of sacred scriptures, namely, of buddhavacana (sangs rgyas kyi bka’) in the sense of the Buddha’s doctrine or teaching, pravacana (gsung rab) in the sense of scriptures that contain those doctrines, and pustaka (glegs bam) in the sense of tangible and physical books, I think, we have to be very clear about the distinction. I would think that “Buddhist hierographology” would mainly concern pravacana.

Some of the venues of explorations are: (1) nature of Buddhist scriptures, (2) types, (3) functions, (4) formation, (5) translation, (6) transmission, (7) reception, and so on.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Buddhist Demonology = Mārology

In a Wikipedia entry on “demonology,” it is defined as “the systematic study of demons or beliefs about demons.” One would wonder if we could speak about “Buddhist demonology.” Perhaps we could, particularly if we consider the Buddhist beliefs in the “destroyer” (māra: bdud). In fact, in the Wikipedia entry, there is a subsection related to demonology in Buddhism. Actually one may simply define “Buddhist demonology” as “Mārology,” so as to capture the Buddhist philosophy/theory/problem of evil.

Basic information on māra can found in MW (s.v. māra), “(with Buddhists) the Destroyer, Evil One (who tempts men to indulge their passions and is the great enemy of the Buddha and his religion; four māras are enumerated in Dharmasaṃgraha 80, viz. skandha-, kleśa-, devaputra-, and mṛtyu-māra; but the later Buddhist theory of races of gods led to the figment of millions of māras ruled over by a chief māra).” See also the BHSD (s.v. māra): “ … (the Evil One, the adversary and tempter;  … so usually, as the One who tries to thwart the Bodhisattva or Buddha and his followers…; an unspecific plurality of Māras; …there is a Māra named Suvarṇaprabha who tries to interfere with a Bodhisattva named Vimala-prabha in his quest of enlightenment; Māra is converted (!) by Upagupta …; there are ten Māra-karmāṇi, deeds of Satan, of which an erring Bodhisattva may be guilty, in BHS they are standardly four, viz. (the order varies) Kleśa-māra, Skandha-māra, Mṛtyu-māra, and Devaputra-māra (the last means the anthropomorphic Evil One; … others, which mean in effect quasi-personifications of kleśa etc.”

When we hear of māra, we might mostly think of devaputramāra, which is described by Edgerton as “anthropomorphic Evil One.” But philosophically, I find the other three types of māra (i.e. skandhamārakleśamāraand mṛtyumāra) more fascinating. Why are one’s “psycho-physical complex” (skandha: phung po), “intellectual-emotional defilements” (kleśa: nyon mongs pa), and “death” (mṛtyu: ’chi bdag) māras? Why are they supposed to be evil? There would be numerous sources that discuss these four māras in great detail. But I would simply like to point out that these are “destroyers/killers” because they are seen as forces (let us say “demonic forces”) that “overpower” us, “enslave” us, and “rob” us of our “freedom.” We succumb to their power. They have total command over us, over our destiny. For instance, have we heard of anyone who has overcome death? None, not even the Buddha! At the backdrop of such an idea, the idea of nirvāṇa as a “state/sphere of immortality” (amṛtā dhātuḥ) (LS 1969: 158) seems to make sense. According to this line of philosophy, the only way that one can vanquish māra is to obtain nirvāṇa. It is, therefore, not a surprise that one of the epithets of the Buddha is “Mārajit” (bDud-’joms) “the Conquerer of Māra.” This, I think, is the most basic idea in “Buddhist demonology” or “Mārology.”

After having obtained Arhatship or Buddhahood, one can just mock at the māras. So any attitude or action that somehow hinders the attainment of Arhatship or Buddhahood would be seen as “demonic” or “evil.” So in the Prajñāpāramitā scriptures and treatises, we come across hundreds of deeds that are considered “acts of māra” (bdud kyi las). Because the teachings of the Buddha (i.e. saddharma) is said to bring about the attainment of Arhatship or Buddhahood, anything that is opposed to the Buddha or saddharma would generally and by default considered “demonic” or “evil.” If Devadatta, the cousin of Buddha is often called bDud lHas-byin, it is not because he had horns on his head and smelled after sulphur, but because Buddhists saw him as an opponent of the Buddha and of what the Buddha stood for. Similarly, if Tibetan Buddhists considered Emperor U-’dum-btsan-po as a Māra, it is because he supposedly destroyed the teachings of the Buddha that are supposed to bring about happiness in the world and ultimately Arhatship or Buddhahood.

What is still more interesting is how did the idea of four types of māra develop diachronically and synchronically in the history of Buddhism? I suspect that there are highly interesting materials out there particularly in Mantric forms of Buddhism. The kind of soteriology or soteriological model that a system or tradition follows would, I assume, affect its attitude and approach towards the four types of māra. For instance, if a Mantric system adopts a “homeopathic” approach, then māras would be used for soterical purposes.

It will be worthwhile to study the typology of māra (e.g. in the gCod/Zhi-byed tradition). The semiology (e.g. symbolism) of māra would be very interesting as well. There are many more interesting venues to explore.

Addendum: Note that bdud (māra) and mu stegs pa (tīrthika) are often lumped together as perhaps as “endogenous adverse forces” and “exogenous adverse forces” (RZ1: 185). The ability to gain an upper hand over these two kinds of forces is considered a Mantric siddhi.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Buddhist Position on Telling Lies

My freshly gained FB friend, Mike Dickman, posted a link on the FB timeline to a review (“The Unbearable Truth: Why we must tell lies”) by Clancy Martin (a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri at Kansas City). Here is it: http://bookforum.com/inprint/020_05/12752. It is a review of the book, Lying by Sam Harris, and made me reflect on the problems of telling lies from a Buddhist axiological (i.e. ethical-moral-spiritual) standpoint. 

(a) Although lying is one of the four cardinal transgressions, let us say, for a bhikṣu, a fully ordained Buddhist monk, it is not any kind of lie and not by any standard. It has to be a lie about one’s extraordinary (better übermenschliche) spiritual accomplishment or abilities (e.g. the lie that I have uprooted once and for all all my intellectual-emotional defilements such as anger, desire, and ignorance, when it is actually not the case). Also the act of lying would become full-fledged (or fully committed) only if these four criteria are fulfilled: (1) There is a clear motive for deception. (2) There is the credulity of the “intended dupe” (as the reviewer calls). (3) The act of lying is complete/consistent/successful. (4) There is no immediate regret (but rather there is even a sense of success). 

(b) The review also reminds of me a reported accusation (of course jocularly) made by the Tibetan mendicant Mi-la-ras-pa against the Buddha that the latter had deceived sentient beings by lying to them about the true reality. That is,  Mi-la-ras-pa considered  propaedeutic and therapeutic teachings of the Buddha as “lies.” But by traditional standard, and particularly what one might call Mahāyānic standard, it seems that the ethical-moral justifiability or culpability of an act of telling the truth or an act of telling lies is to be determined, not by the act itself, but by the motive behind it. Theoretically, telling the truth out of maliciousness or with an intent to cause harm to the intended target would be (ethically-morally) as problematic or at least as questionable as telling lies with the same motive/intent. Thus, if to use Nāgārjuna’s Mahāyānic ethical-moral yardstick, we could sum up the Mahāyānic position on the problematic issue of telling lies thus: “If it benefits, tell even lies. If it harms, do not even tell the truth.”