Ksémendra’s riddles

The Vaisnavist (devotee of the Hindu god Vishnu) Ksémendra, who at the same time happened to be an admirer of Buddhism as it was presented to him, composed in the year 1052 a series of verses on the subject of Dependent Origination.

The Chain of Dependent Origination is presented in its twelvefold appearance, a half-loop forward starting with ignorance leading ultimately to death, and a half-loop backwards beginning with death (and rebirth) which inevitably leads to ignorance in the end. Both semi-loops vacillate back and forth, back and forth until the truth about this chain is seen and hence broken.

Ksémendra’s poem is kept at several places in blockprint-copies in both Sanskrit and Tibetan. This author collected his bundle of verses under the title “Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā“: Narrations on the glorious exploits (avadāna) of the bodhisattva, narrations that are like the fabulous creeper (kalpalatā) [which according to the earlier strands of Vaisnavisme granted all wishes].

Mr. Marek Mejor has done the world a service by transliterating Ksémendra’s poetry. His bundle appeared in 1992 in Tokyo, at the International Institute for Buddhist Studies. In his bundle he not only presented us with a transliteration, but also ventured into a translation. Considering the play on words so appreciated by writers of Sanskrit who with their intertwining of names, concepts and verbs rather venture into riddles than into literature that is comprehensible to all, the unravelling of all this is no minor task.

To illustrate Ksémendra’s word play we may repeat the first Sanskrit stanza of his opus magnum:

sarvam avidyamūlam samsārataruprakāravaicitryam /
jñātum vaktum hantum kah sakto nyatra sarvajñāt.

Marek Mejor translates:
Who is able, except the Omniscient, to know, to tell of, to destroy all the varieties of different kinds of the world-tree, having as its root(s) ignorance?

It may well be that Marek, with the above kalpalatā (creeper) in mind, and coming across both the word -mūlam (root) and the difficult to understand composite samsārataruprakāra-, decided that where there are roots there must be a tree.

I present another solution to the riddle:
All rootcauses of ignorance, manifold [as they are throughout] samsāra, are verily made manifest by the All-knowing; who else but [he] sees and knows them, speaks of them and [personally] made an end to them.

(Samsāra is the endless roundabout of the world and everything on it.)

To repeat with the Sanskrit components added:
All (sarvam) rootcauses of ignorance (avidyamūlam), manifold (vaicitryam) [as they are throughout] samsāra (samsārata), are verily (kāravai) made (kār[a]) manifest (ruprat)/
by the All-knowing (sarvajñāt); who else (kah) but (nyatra) [he] sees (sakto) and knows (jñātum) them, speaks (vaktum) of them and [personally] made an end to (hantum) them.


Pasanna and prasada

Not all who study the Pali texts belonging to Southern Buddhism agree on all translations of for example the word pasanna. It is noteworthy that the word is clearest connected with the ancient Gandhārī word of prasan[n]a that morphed into the Pali pasanna (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/gandhari-language). Prasanna however remained intact as part of Sanskrit, or either, it flowed from it: prasanna — clear, bright, pure. One of the Sanskrit-Hindu texts speaks of prasanna with regard to the “tranquil limbs” of Buddha, which, according to this list is one of his “80 minor marks”.

There is the interpretation of the Pali concept of  citta-pasanna, a heart full of grace. Pasanna (clear, bright) occurs in the well-known word vipasanna which is loosely translated with “seeing clearly”.
Pasanna is also rendered as “flowing out, streaming, issuing forth”. In the late Pali text the Visuddhimagga (409) it stands for “happy, gladdened, reconciled, pleased”.

In the Pali Dhámmika Sutta Buddha speaks of the layman who cannot live the life of a monk because his duties prevent him from doing so. Nevertheless, says the text, if he joins in and shares the ceremony of upósatha (full moon recitations performed by the monk- and nunhood) with pasanna citta, a purified heart, a pure mind, he is well on his way to enlightenment (though possibly not in this life).

In the Aggapassadasuttam we find the sentence (bhikkhave – monks:) buddhe pasanna, agge te pasanna: Buddha is purified, be you purified (i.e. emulate this example).

The Diamond Sūtra, one of the two sections of the early mahāyana Prajña paramitā-collection has the Hybrid Sanskrit composite bhasyamanesvekacittaprasādamapi: allowing the well-prepared, well-purified (strain of) thought(s) or mindset to surface. In this sentence the well-prepared, well-purified or bright is a rendering of the Sanskrit prasāda (clearness, brightness, pellucidness, purity) which in Pali translates as passāda. It is almost identical with pasanna. Both concepts refer to a purification process of thoughts that lead to purified or clear faculties such as hearing more clearly, smelling more clearly, tasting more clearly (and hence making better choices in life). The early texts of Southern theravāda Buddhism show a number of occasions where this link between purity and the physical faculties occur.