Demise of Badri Ratna Bajracharya

The Kathmandu Post reported on October 17, 2016 the demise of “Buddhist scholar Pandit Badri Ratna Bajracharya”. The old teacher died at the age of 84. Pandit Bajr-ācharya belonged to the Newar community of Nepal and passed his knowledge on to young people who wished to become vajr-ācarya in this (hybrid) Buddhist tradition. Among his students were some youth, says the text below, who belonged to the other ethnicity the Sakya (who as an ethnicity do not perform the vajrācarya rituals).

The publication “Revisiting Rituals in a Changing Tibetan World” (Brill, Leiden, 2012, p. 235) has a few words on the deceased:

“In 1979 Badri Ratna Bajracharya (who is the most active and widely respected vajrācārya of present-day Newar Buddhism and since fall 2008 also the head of the Dharmodaya-sabha, a body uniting the principal Buddhist traditions present in the Valley) founded the Vajrācarya-adhyayana-mandala in Kathmandu in order to train vajrācārya youths (a few studens were also Sākyas). This innovative programme was hugely popular and in 1990 led to the institutionalisation at the Mahendra Sanskrit University of a course on bauddha-karmakānanda with its own textbook designed by Badri Ratna Bajracharya (… 1992). In the first year alone there were — according to Astamuni Bajracarya  — 135 students enrolled in the elementary course. These numbers were obviously not sustainable, and nowadays (2012) the courses are no longer taught in this way, but have reverted to their original format and are taught informally at the home of Badri Ratna. Even so, there have been by now, in the words of Naresh Man Bajracarya, a prominent disciple of Badri Ratna, “hundreds” of students who have learnt at least the basics of vajrācarya rituals from the latter.”

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.”

Laozi in translation

It occurred to me that he most striking difference in translation of the last century is probably that between a translation of a section of the Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) by the late Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaiï, Chung-yuan Chang, and that of Étiemble (Gallimard 1967).

In Prof. Chung-yuan Chang the first four lines of chapter 59 run as follows:

In guiding people and working according to nature,
It is best to follow renunciation.
Following renunciation means returning soon.
Returning soon means accumulating attainment.

In Étiemble’s translation we read:

Pour gouverner les hommes et pour servir le ciel,
rien ne vaut la modération,
car seul celui qui pratique la modération
se soumettra de bonne heure au Tao.

(Étiemble’s translation goes on with:
Qui se soumet de bonne heure au Tao
aura double réserve de vertu;
qui a double réserve de vertu
triomphera en tout.
Qui triomphe en tout
ne connaîtra pas de limites à son pouvoir.
Qui ne connaît pas ces limite
peut posséder un royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Qui possède la mère du royaume
peut le garder longtemps.
Voilà ce qu’on apelle :
la voie de la racine profonde,
de la souche solide,
de la longue et de la vision durable.)

It is striking that Prof. Chung-yuan Chang, who knew his mother tongue best, choose the word “nature“, whereas Étiemble gives “ciel” (heaven[s]).
Moreover, Prof. Chung-yuan Chang gave “renunciation“, where Étiemble chose “modération” (moderation).

I cannot cut this cake; my Chinese is no longer what it used to be. I would like to see how the Professor solved the word-problems that follow after these first four lines, but it appears that the book in which we might find this particular translation is no longer available. A Buddhist overseas reproduced these four lines after wading through his library no doubt. It would be interesting to see the rest of Prof. Chung-yuan Chang’s rendering of Laozi’s (Lao Tse) poem or aphorism.

Cittā’s gātā


A recent article about a Japanese scroll in the Museum of Fine Art in Boston mentiones how this scroll is considered to be the first in which an actual landscape is depicted, not a Japanese landscape, but an Indian one: Vulture Peak near the city of Rajgir in the state of Bihar. Vulture Peak is one of those places that frequently occur in Buddhist canonical texts, both the Southern and the Northern manuscripts.

One of Buddha’s contemporaries, the bhikkhuni (senior female monk) Cittā, daughter of a king or chieftain and over 80 years old climbed the slopes of Vulture Peak and had an enlightening experience. Her gātā (song, poem) occurs in the so-called Therīgātā, the “songs of the senior nuns (therī)”.
Following the absolute correct transliteration of Hermann Oldenberg and Richard Pischel (“Therī-gāthā”, PTS, London 1883, p. 126, 28-30) the second half of the gātā runs as follows:

Having laid down my upper robe (samghāti), having put down my almsbowl (patta),
leaning against a hard rock (amhi selamhi) the liberation of my heart overwhelmed me.

These two sentences are followed by a thanksgiving at the address of the Buddha’s Teaching (buddhassa sāsanam).

nikkhipitvāna samghātim pattakam ca nikkujjiya/

nissannā(1) c’amhi selamhi atha(2) cittam vimucci me(3)/

tisso vijjā anuppattā katam buddhassa sāsanam.

1: Skr.: nissah – overwhelming, powerful. We cannot overlook the fact that “pure Pali” does not exist. Cittā had learnt the Vedic lore written in Classical Sanskrit (either in Brahmi or in Devanagari script). She adopted the regional language Pali but couldn’t help inserting a Sanskritic word such as a declination of nissah: nissannā.

2: Atha is an indeclinable copulative and is used in enumerations: and, and, and: ánd I laid down my robe, ánd I put down my patta, ánd I leaned against a rock, ánd I was overwhelmed.
3. cittam vimucci me: my heart/mind/thinking (root: cit) became liberated (vimucci). Compare the “… akuppā me cetovimutti” in Buddha’s First Teaching (Dhammacakkappavattanasutta) : the liberation (vimutti) of my heart (ceto) is undeniable and final (akuppā). (“Me” is pronounced as in “case”.)

Two individuals published their translation of this verse of Cittā’s online.
In “First Buddhist Women: Poems and Stories of Awakening” (Berkeley, 1991) we find :

Robe thrown down,
bowl turned over,
leaned on a rock,
then great darkness opened.

One instance in the Therā-/Therīgātā (Th 1, 1034) has a passage containing ‘darkness’. It has andhakāra, being (mental and fysical) blindness, and also darkness, dullness, bewilderment.
Generally the root tam or tim, dark(ness), is used. Nor a declination of andhakāra or one of tam/tim occurs in the original transliteration.

Another online source, Sutta Central-site, allowed a translation into German language. It closely follows (if not copies) the above translation with one exception: the mention of ‘SELBST’ (written in capitals! — ‘self’):

Die Robe hab ich abgelegt,
die Bettelschale umgestülpt,—
im Fels ich stützte da das SELBST:
Die Dunkelmasse ich durchdrang.

As stated, the editors blindly followed the above-mentioned “great darkness”, and added the Self to the mix.
Speculating on what could have caused these editors to use ‘self’ (Pali: atta, Skr. atman) is useless and would amount to the category of wrong speech. Suffice it to say that the root cit (as in ceto…) cannot be translated as ‘self’. Nor committed Oldenberg and Pischel an orthographical error in writing atha instead of atta. Both the Brahmi and the devanagari alphabets give the sounds th(a) and tt(a) as two very distinct characters; no transliteration mistake is possible. Besides, a sentence with atta instead of atha would have become unintelligable.