Saturday, November 21, 2015

Agathokakology in Buddhism

What the hell is “agathokakology”? This word is not found in the Merriam-Webster online. But “agathokakological” is listed as one of the twelve “oversized words.” It is said to mean “composed of both good and evil.” And I cite here what is said about the word: “Agathokakological is likely the creation of Robert Southey, a reviewer and poet who was born in Bristol in the late 18th century. This thorny mouthful is made by combining the Greek roots agath- (good), kako- (a variant of cac-, meaning bad), and -logical (the adjectival suffix based on logos, meaning word). Southey was exceedingly fond of peppering his writing with new coinages (The Oxford English Dictionary lists him as the earliest known author for almost 400 words), very few of which have caught on. The reason for this is that most of them tend to be rather unwieldy, and we haven’t much need to adopt such specimens as futilitarian (a person devoted to futility), batrachophagous (frog-eating), and epistolization (letter writing) in our everyday discourse.” I would like to understand “agathokakology” as the theory of two opposite poles of good and evil that are considered contradictory and are yet natural in a person, place, or time. Recently, I happened to tell my students that the Tibetan Buddhist term rten ’brel (short form of rten cing ’brel bar ’byung ba) seems to be used in the Tibetan cultural context at least in three ways. The first usage is in the sense of “dependent arising.” This is the primary usage. The second usage is in the sense of “auspicious or inauspicious coincidence” (e.g. coming across a person carrying a pot full or empty of water). One can say it was a good rten ’brel or a bad rten ’brel. The third usage is in the sense of the co-existence of good and bad (or two opposed poles) in any time or place. It is a rten ’brel that Devadatta co-existed with Buddha, and that Tīrthikas and Bauddhas in India, Bon and Buddhist in Tibet, profound Dharma and staunch Māra, and the like, co-existed. Perhaps also the idea that a human being is born with lhan cig skyes pa’i lha and lhan cig skyes pa’i ’dre may be relevant here. I also wonder about the history of the idea of lhan cig skyes pa’i lha and lhan cig skyes pa’i ’dre.