Blemmya

Ancient Origins, the August 5, 2016 edition, allows Clyde Winters to dwell on historian Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942) who believed, but could not prove, that there were Buddhist settlements in Egypt during the ‘Persian Period’ (approx. 525 – 405 BC).

Mr. Winters goes on to say that the “Gymnosophists” of Upper-Egypt and the Meroïc Empire were Buddhists too. And he reminds us of the word “Blemmya”.
J. Duncan M. Derrett (1922 – 2012 — “A Blemmya in India”, Numen Vol. 49, No. 4, 2002, pp. 460-474, Leiden) consulted “the” Vinaya of the Buddhists and concluded that the word “Blemmya” that he came across in “Vinaya 60, 146” had to be translated or interpreted as “Africans”.

A little research shows that the word Blemmya does not occur in the Pali Vinaya. This Vinaya has 12 Khanda (sections), not 60, and the longest Khanda has 27 Vagga (books), not 146.
Perhaps Mr. Derrett consulted the Mahāsangika Vínaya, a longish collection of monks’ rules that seems to have remained reasonably intact despite the fact that it has become obsolete, possibly 1000 to 1600 years ago.
And there is the Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya as per today used in the Himalayas among the Northern Buddhists. Even if this Mūla-sarvastivāda Vínaya were the source of Mr. Derret’s surmise, it would still not prove the existence of African Buddhists in India, or Buddhists in Africa (Egypt).
There is no extant dictionary or anthology of Buddhist texts that has the word Blemmya, let alone a description of its meaning. If at all to be interpreted or “translated” we would be more inclined to consider the Tamils of the Southernmost part of India as looking the part, that is, black, or in Mr. Derrettt’s thinking: “Blemmya”. The skin colour of the Southernmost Tamils is indeed is just as dark as that of sub-Saharan Africans. We come across these Tamils on the walls and ceiling of the caves at Kizil, along the Silk Road.

For the time being the word Blemmya is intranslatable.

Being yoked and emptiness

Both David J. Kalupahana (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna, Delhi 1991) and Joseph Walser (Nāgārjuna in Context, New York 2005 – don’t waste your money on it) consider Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā to be an implicit reaction on the Pali Scripture the Kaccāyanagottasutta.
The monk Kaccāyana is mentioned in the Mūla, hence the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā has him as addressee, they said. Could be. Let’s not go too far into it and not add to the wild speculations of especially Mr. Walser.

One of the verses in the Mūla, Ch. 24, 14, seems to render Nāgārjuna’s thinking on emptiness most clearly, and at the same time most intricate. David Kalupahana, the only one who bothered to give us the transliteration of the Sanscrit verses (a posthumus thank you to Mr. Kalupahana), made his own translation. Mr. Walser used M. Sprung’s 1967 version (Lucid Exposition of the Middle Way: The Essential Chapters from the Prasannapada of Candrakirti, p.235. London 1967).

Both translations differ in the rendering of the words “yujyate” and “sūnyatā/ sūnyam”.

Here are the two lines:

Sarvam ca yujyate tasya sūnyatā yasya yujyate,
sarvam na yujyate tasya sūnyam yasya na yujyate.

David J. Kalupahana translated them with:

“Everything is pertinent for whom emptiness is proper. Everything is not pertinent for whom the empty is not proper.”

M.Sprung offered the translation:

“All things make sense (yujyate) for him for whom the absence of being (sunyatā) makes sense. Nothing makes sense for him for whom the absence of being does not make sense.”

Yujyate – derived from the stem yuj. We see here how one translator used “(being) pertinent”, and the other choose “make (making) sense”.

In Sanskrit the stem “yuj” is applied in many ways, such as in -yujya: to yoke, to fix, to charge, to concentrate, to join, etc.
In Pali things seem to be a lot simpler. We come across “anuyoga” [Sk. Anu + yuj] which stands for application, devotion to, execution, and practice of.

To a Buddhist mind the word sūnyatā appears to be a lot less complicated. The Pali interpretation is indeed “absence of self” (atta), by Mr. Sprung understood as “absence of being”.
The Mahāyāna Sanscritic interpretation of sūnyatā goes beyond the discussion of the self and implies the ultimate ens-lessness of beings and things, the lack of enduring essence in whatever there might be in the universe.

So we might be tempted to amalgamate both translations of the two lines and conclude that, as “yuj” is intrically linked with the meditative mind that is totally absorbed in the subject, the text ought to be understood as

“As long as your (meditative) mind is totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) utter lack of essence (sunya-) in everything, the ens-less makes sense.
But so long as your (non-meditative) mind is not totally yoked (yuj-) to (the concept of) of utter lack of essence (sunya-), the (abstract concept of) ens-less does not make sense, does not speak to you.”