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.

Comfort and ease

The meaning of zì zai (Chin.), resp. chaje (Kor.)


The 20th of March 2016 a Korean Buddhist group proposed to build a hospital for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist monks. The group dubbed this initiative the “Ulsan Chaje Bhikku Hospital“, Ulsan being one of the big cities in South Korea, and chaje (Kor.), resp. zì zai (Chin.) meaning free, unrestrained, comfortable, at ease. Hence we must translate the phrase as “the Ulsan Hospital for bhikkhus (monks) where their health is restored to its former comfort, ease.”

The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism under the guidance of Robert E. Buswell Jr. and Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2014 Princeton) translates chaje and zì zai in an altogether different way. Nonetheless the lemma accompanying this sentence in which we come accross “ba da zizai wo” (Chin.), resp. “p’al tae chaje a” (Kor.) clearly refers to the physical prowess of “buddhas and bodhisattvas”. This lemma says:

Ba da zizai wo (J. hachidai jizaiga; K. p’al tae chaje a) In Chinese the “eight great types of autonomy of the self”. In distinction to mainstream Buddhist teachings about the absence of a perduring self … the Chinese recension of the Mahāyana Mahāparinirvānasūtra teaches a doctrine of a “great self” (dawo, S. mahātman) that is realized through enlightenment. According to the Chinese renderings, a buddha, having realised this great self, is capable of eight kinds of miraculous transformations (ba shenian; ba zizai): (1) self-manifesting (he has the power to make his body appear as multiple emanations; nengshi yishen wei duoshen); (2) infinite enlargement (his physical body appears to fill the myriad world systems; shi yichenshen man daqian jie); (3) levitation and translocation (viz., to transport himself to remote places through space; dashen qingju yuandao); (4) incarnating into myriad species or categories of sentient beings (xian wulianglei changju); (5) intentional synesthesia (e.g. to see with his ears, to smell with his eyes, etc.; zhugen huyong); (6) attaining any ability imaginable, but without giving rise to the (conceited) thought of attainment (de yiqie fa wude xiang); (7) elaborating on the meaning of a single scriptural stanza for innumerable eons (before exhausting his knowledge and eloquence; shuo yiji yi jing wuliang jie); (8) pervading all of infinite space (shenbian zhuchu youru xukong). Other Mahāyana scriptures outline similarly fantastic and dramatic depictions of greatly apotheosized buddhas and advanced bodhisattvas.

The “Princeton” “eight great types of autonomy of the self” ought therefore be translated as “the eight  great attainments, while demonstrating physical ease and comfort“. This is in accordance with descriptions in the Mahāyana sūtras such as the Avatamsaka Sūtra and others.

In translating correctly we do not draw the “wo” (Chin.), resp. the “a” (Kor., litt. I or me) into the atman/anatman (Skr. for self/not-self) discussion, but merely acknowledge the fact that “wo”/”a” stands for this particular individual in its physical appearance: a buddha, or a bodhisattva in his highest “stage” of attainment. The sūtra says that it is capable of performing supernormal feats. The above-mentioned “dawo” (Chin.) is therefore not to be translated as “Great Self” in the sense of the Sanskrit mahātman, but rather as physically infinitely large, great, all-pervading. And indeed, in Chinese religious circles this greatness is taken literally (1); it literally permeates the cosmos: look at me — dawo, immense me!

Close-reading of the Mahāyana sūtras results in the realisation that here we find not only wishful thinking with regards to supernormal prowess. In first and last instance it is a visualisation-meditation: wish it were true; if I apply my thoughts well enough, maybe, just maybe, it will come true; at least in my own practice buddha is indeed immense, his words resound throughout the cosmos, to be heard by all and sundry.

(1) Chinese pre-Buddhist philosophy and folk-religion knows gods like the earth-god or the mountain-god that necessarily demonstrate themselves as physically immense. Buddha cannot be smaller; his appearance needs to include, or better, needs to visually obliterate the popular gods that fade in his presence. One day on a Taiwanese mountains the popular gods were carried out of their own shrines to be placed at the feet of the Buddha image in the temple hall that opened its doors for a day long Buddhist cultivation. The populace — that fiercely would not accept a no for an answer — placed their folk gods in the temple hall to receive the empowerment of Buddha; their gods would become better gods through being present.

Sāgara, samudra

Sāgara (Skr. and Pali) and samudra (Skr.) or samudda (Pali) are the two words that early Buddhist writers used when describing huge water surfaces. As of the earliest translations into German, French and English sāgara and samudra have almost exclusively been rendered as ‘ocean’. More recent linguistic and geographical studies show however that during the rainy season rivers running over their floodplains also belonged to the category sāgara and samudra: a person standing on one bank could only imagine the further shore.
As a result of visions of this immensity of samudra[s] (samudda[s]) stories and parables came into existence. We know a story in which the sāgara/samudra is the recipient of anything and everything without showing preferences. It symbolises the epithome of equanimity. There is another story in which even the slightest drop of water eventually dissolves into this ocean — and is thus liberated. Nevertheless, this latter image is basically a Hinduïstic concept, as we shall see below.

“It is like the water flowing from the lake Heatless; by four great river currents it suffices the continent, inexhaustible, ever increasing, benefiting infinite beings, and finally pours into the great ocean: that water from the very beginning is headed for the ocean.”

This short passages is to be found in the Avatámaka sūtra [Garland sūtra], the book The Ten Stages. That is to say, it at least belongs to the second or later Tibetan inspired version translated under the supervision of Shiksha-nanda (652-710). Shikshananda headed the royal translation bureau in the northern Chinese capital of Luoyang. It is possible, and even highly likely that in his translation office there were Tibetans among his scribes who had finished their studies at Nalanda in Northern India but who were not yet prepared to go back to the precarious living conditions in Tibet.

An earlier Avatámaka sūtra translation, this time under the supervision of Buddha-bhadra (359-430), came to be written (and printed) in Xi’an, another former capital of Northern China.
Nalanda as “university” may have existed in Buddhabhadra’s 4th-5th Cent., but as Buddhism entered Tibet (and today’s Bhutan) not before the 6th Cent., it is highly unlikely that Tibetan Buddhist monks were present in Buddhabhadra’s translation office. Hence the shortness of the Buddhabhadra-version as compared to Shikshananda’s manuscript. It lacked at least the versified resumés of the later extended version. We may assume that Shikshananda’s translation received additions and embellishments written by Tibetans who remembered “Lake Heatless”, i.e. Lake Manasarovar with its four great rivers. Manasarovar is also called Anotatta (Pali), Anavatapta or Manasa (Skr.).


To take up the image of ‘heatless’ (Heat, root: ‘tap‘). The Advaita-tradition of Hinduïsm has a saying that runs as follows: “the heatless, smokeless light of the Divine Effulgence, of “Vedanta Incarnate“. Whether the “heatless” in this sentence should rather be compared with the “tapas“, the extreme physical effort of the saintly sadhu, which thus is rejected, is a discussion that we will leave in the capable hands of Hindu scholars.

Dissolving into the ocean. The said Advaita-tradition is all about stressing the concept of non-duality, i.e. the One.
In particular the Buddhist Lankāvatāra sūtra contradicts this concept of Oneness in the Hinduïstic sense of the word. Or rather, becoming One is strongly rejected. The “Lanka” rather stresses a “not-two = not-two; it is not One either”. Chapter III illustrates it in different ways. E.g.:
“There is an exalted state of inner attainment which does not fall into the dualism of oneness and otherness, of bothness and not-bothness; …” (III, 172)

“There is nothing but that which is seen of the Mind itself, the duality too is of the Mind; …” (III, 181, 65)

“… some philosophers … declare this to be Nirvāna: that there is a primary substance, there is a supreme soul, and they are seen differently by each, and that they produce all things from the transformations of the qualities. … All these view … are not in accord with logic, nor are they acceptable to the wise.” (III, 183-184 Tr. D.T. Suzuki)



Michael W. Charney, in his article on Mrauk-U (Journal of Burma Studies, Illinois 1998) speaks of the “rulers of the Early Mrauk-U Dynasty (c.1430-1603)” in their capacity of developers of several trade routes. It must have been these rulers who developed the several Buddhist sites, possibly by building on ancient edifices and vihara that have disappeared under the brickwork of later ages.

Since there is hardly any English language information on the ancient Buddhist site of Mrauk-U in the Myanmarese Arakan state the relevant pages of U Aung Thaw’s book are repeated here, together with the pictures that illustrate the chapter on Mrauk-U in his “Historical sites in Burma”, written and published in 1972.

The pictures of artifacts and monuments  were taken before serious restauration activities began. Some smaller items may have disappeared, some monuments may have collapsed.

Some English language information on the ancient site of Bagan (Pagan) can be found on the site www.buddha-dharma.eu/Birma-boeddhisme.html#item3. Scroll for the history of the Pyu to page 4 of this blog.



HISTORICAL SITES IN BURMA is written by Aung Thaw, Director of Archeaeology. The Mrauk-U chapter: pp. 117-125

  • Mrohaung = Mrauk-U
  • Arakan, also Rakhine
  • Dinnyawadi, also Arakan / Rakhine
  • Mahāyānism: one of two main strands of Buddhism
  • Hinayana, also Theravāda; the other main strand of Buddhism
  • Bengal = the undivided West-Bengal (India) and (Bangladesh) before the separation of India and Pakistan
  • Pagan, also Bagan
  • naga = mythical snake or dragon
  • kinnara = mythical bird
  • Játaka = Birth story; legends about Buddhas former existences
  • stūpa, see http://www.ancient.eu/stupa/





According to local chronicles Arakan (Dinnyawadi) has a long history as an independent state from very early times before the Christian era. But we learn form an number of inscriptions and antuarian remains that a Hindu of Hinduised dynasty was ruling ar Vaisali (Wethali) [north of Mrohaung/Mrauk-U] about the 2nd century B.C. It was succeeded by the Candra dynasty in the middle of the 4th century. There were 16 kings in this line and the total regnal years was given as 230. Dven Candra ([Birmese:] Taing Sandra) was the first king and the 16th and last was Dhrti Candra. After some years of interregnum there succeeded a third dynasty which lasted from the end of the 6th century to the beginning of the 8th century. Anánda-candra, the last king of that dynasty, recorded the genealogical list of his predecessors in his Sanskrit inscription on a four-faced stone pillar originally set up in Vaisali. Centuries later it was removed to the Shitthaung pagoda at Mrohaung where it is now preserved. The chroniclas give a much later date for the Candra dynasty but the inscriptions are corroborated by the coins of those kings. These early kings professed Mahāyānism.


The Arakanese established themselves about the middle of the 10th century and soon after moved successively to the new capitals of Pyinsa, Parin, Hkrit and Launggyet. Their religion became more Hinayanist and by the 11th century Arakan became feudatory to Pagan. The Kings of Ava tried to reassert their suzerainty and invaded Arakan in 1404. Minsawmun left Launggyet and took refuge in Bengal which was already under Moslem rule. When Nazi-ud-din became Sultan of Bengal in 1426 Minsawmun prevailed upon him to restore him to the throne of Arakan as his tributary, and after many years of exile he was ultimately re-installed in 1430. It remained the seat of the Arakanese rulers until 1785 when Arakan was invaded by Bodawpaya. The Arakanese kings of Mrohaung, though Buddhists, saw it fit to use Mohammedan names in addition to their own names and even struck medallions bearing the Mohammedan confession of faith in Persian script.


Mrohaung lies on the rocky plain or watershed between the Lemro and Kaladan rivers intersected by ranges of hills and numerous canals. The hills provided natural defense and rendered the city the most secure spot of the capital of Arakan. The openings in the hills surrounding the town also contain remains of defense. The ruins of the fort are still [1972] in existence: they consist of three square enclosures, one within the other, surrounded by masonry walls of very considerable thickness, built of hewn stone and brick set in mortar. As each successive enclosure is higher than the preceding one the topmost is about 50 feet above the level of the lowest platform. Of the old palace itself only traces of the walls remain.

As in old Burmese capitals the architectural activity was the outcome of strong religious fervour. The monuments which dotted the plain and capped the ranges of hills mostly date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Their interest lies in the fact that some of them are unlike in style to anything met with in the rest of Burma: they were temples as well as forts ate the same time. Most of them are of stone and brick, but those entirely built of stone are generally the best preserved monuments at Mrohaung.


Shitthaung temple, lying on a hillock to the north of the palace site is more a fortress than a pagoda. The main edifice faces the steep, almost inaccessible hill on the east. The first terrace is reached by a flight of steps on the south. A covered path leads to the upper terrace which rises thrity feet above the lower court. On the west and south sides of the principal platform are stone walls 9 feet thick and originally 12 feet high. On the north and south walls are small brick pagodas, the gaps between them being filled with stone slabs sculptured in bold relief on both sides. Some of these slabs are still intact [in 1972], while other have fallen down and are buried in the debris. The side of the slab facing the inner temple usually represents a Buddha, the outer side an ogre, a naga or mythical birds or beasts. The inner temple court east of the main shrine is occupied by a wooden prayer hall which houses innumerable Buddha images. The shrine itself has a gallery all round the structure and a dark passage which leads to the inner chambers. The sanctum enshrining the main image is accessible through a passage opening from the east. Along the outer wall of the gallery are deposited hundreds of Buddha images of varying sizes.


The interior wall of the vaulted gallery is composed of three horizontal rows of ridges between alternating fillets cut into the stone surface. The ridges as well as the fillets running right round the central structure are decorated with sculptures in high relief. The figures represent kinnaras, birds and animals in the lower rows and seated men holding flowers in the top row. At the corners are large sculptures depicting scenes from the Játakas. The temple is virtually a store house of sculptures exhibiting not only Buddhist, but also, to a lesser degree, Brahmanic influence. The superstructure of the temple is of brick. It is a cylindrical stupa with a square relic chamber between the dome and the finial [which is in accordance with the traditional Indian/Srilankan architecture]. The temple was built by Minbin, also known as Minbagyi (1531-53).


Another fortress-like temple the Htukkhan-thein, built by King Minphalaung (1571-93) lies about 300 feet to the west of the Shitthaung. The structure stands on a hill, 30 feet high. It is reached by stone stairways on the east and south. Built of massive stone walls the basement pierced with small square holes has straight sides on the north, east and south, measuring 106 feet. The west side which is slightly convex is connected to an oblon chamber. The entrance on the east side, close to the south-east corner, leads to a long vaulted passage which spirals round in two tiers till it reaches the central chamber. The superstructure, a bell-shaped dome [i.e. a stupa-like dome] on receding terraces, is similar to that on the Shitthaung, but here a tall opening with square arch is provided on the east face to admit light into the central chamber. At each corner of the basement stands a small stupa. This temple is noted for the stone sculptures in the vaulted passages, especially the figures of seated ladies, with different styles of coiffure, in the attitude of offering lotus buds.


Close to the north of the Shitthaung is the Andaw temple built by King Rajagyi (1593-1612). It is a small structure of stone lying on a hillock. The platform is accessible by flights of stairs on all sides except the west. The main shrine is octogonal in plan and faces east. There are two corridors round the central block which supports the octogonal stupa above. There are scores of seated stone Buddhas within niches cut into the interior walls which are decorated with arch-pediments and jambs finely carved in low relief. On the platform are small ruined stupas ranged along the enclosure walls and the walls of a rectangular prayer hall attached to the east side of the main shrine.

Mrohaung abounds with numerous solid stupas also, largely built of hewn stone. The Ratanabon, built by king Minphalaung (1571-93) lies on a hillock to the north-east of the Shitthaung temple. The plan of its high plinth is octogonal [illustrating the Noble Eightfold Path] with four long sides [illustrating the Four Noble Truths] facing the cardinal points and four smaller sides at the corners. From the east side there projects a long quadrangle. There are no terraces and the bell-shaped body [built after the stupa dome] with three prominent mouldings round it [illustrating Buddha’s bowl, a compilation of four stacked bowls] rises directly from the plinth. The cylindrical dome is also low. It is topped by a short conical spire [illustrating ultimate enlightenment].

Examples of tall attenuated stupas in stone are to be found in the Sakyaman-aung, Ratna-man-aung and Zina-man-aung pagodas. The Sakyaman-aung [Sakyamuni-…] built in 1629 by Thirithu-dhamma-yaza has a unique plan in the form of a sixteen petalled lotus flower, the petals being of three sizes: the largest four face the cardinal points [east, west etc.] while four medium sized petals and eight smaller ones are interspersed betwee them. This design is carried to the fourth terrace from the top of which rises the intermediate base, octogonal on plan [the Noble Eightfold Path]. The bell is also eight-sided. The total height of the pagoda is 117 feet.


The Ratna-man-aung built by Sandathu-dhamma-yaza in 1652 is 180 feet high. The base of this pagoda is also octogonal. The Zina-man-aung, 135 feet high, has a similar plan but the terraces have angular corners and there is a circular shrine within it, to which access is made by a long narrow passage opening to the east.

On the hills surrounding the town are countless square temples enshrining fairly large images of Buddha in stone. No proper excavation has yet [in 1972] been done at Mrohaung nor at the earlier site of Wesali just a few miles north of it. But a large collection of ancient sculptures and inscriptions has already been made. Among the exhibits in the site museum may be seen a stone relief of [the Hindu god] Súrya riding a chariot drawn by seven horses. This rare sculpture belonging to the 8th century was discovered on the hill of Shin nge-det-taung at Mrohaung. Other Brahmanical images are that of Vishnu and goddess Ganga with two dwarfs [both belonging to the the Hindu lore]. From Teja-rama monastery was found a square stone pillar three sides of which are ornately carved with standing figures of gods and goddesses in low relief. Several inscriptions in Sanskrit and Burmese and a few in Persian or Arabic are also preserved in the museum, the most important among them being the epigraphs in mixed Sanskrit and Pali in North-eastern Nágari script of the 6th century dedicated by Niti Candra and Vira Candra.


There are a vast number of books and articles that deal with the Japanese taboo on the class of people that are tanners (burakumin).

A recent article (January 2016) mentioned that with the introduction of Buddhism in Japan this taboo came to be reinforced as a result of Buddhism’s stance on not killing animals, and hence on not taking up the profession of being a slaughterer and/or tanner.

With the exception of the word “taboo” this opinion could hold, as long as one makes a distinction between the rules that Buddhist monastics have to live by and the Buddhist laity that knows no rules but advice. Advice is free; advice may be compelling, but it’s free, and a Buddhist who sees no other way out of poverty than by taking up the profession of e.g. tanner finds himself in a rotten position but is not a bad person, a bad Buddhist, or a non-Buddhist. Only when he forgoes the opportunity to leave his tanner profession beind may he be called a stupid blockhead, but even then, he’s still not bad or evil, just simply blindly ignorant and a prey for his co-Buddhists who will not rest until he sees matters clearly.

Neither the Pali language, nor Sanskrit know a literal translation of the word taboo. At least in Buddhism the word taboo is taboo.

However, as per Pali text the Buddhist monastic, not the layman, receives the following advice (source: Khúddaka nikáye; Thera padánapali ; 1. Buddhavaggo 214):

Rajaka pesakara ca, cammakara ca nhapita;
Pasannacitta sumana, pugadhammam akamsu te.

(Not to be) a dyer (rajaka), a servant (pesakara) and, moreover (nhapita), not being a tanner (cammakara)
(but to) direct one’s mind (pasannacitta) towards a joyful disposition (sumana), towards the superior dhamma (pugadhamma), and towards the state of mind that is (joyfully, “su”) undisturbed (akamsu).

This however is not all there is to it. A Buddhist monks rule on not being a dyer (foul smelling dyes) and not being a tanner (equally foul smelling hides) can only be understood against the cultural background of a region where one eats without forks and spoons, all dipping one’s fingers in the same pot. Such was and is the case in India. And here is the root of casteism and the concepts of high (non-smelling) and low (foul-smelling) occupations, classes and/or castes. This aspect of Indian culture was introduced to Japan, on the back of the Buddhist elephant so to speak, and together with the above-mentioned advice to monks it slightly adapted itself to society. Japan was lead to the opinion that Buddhism knows taboos, in this case the taboo that used to be associated with the occupation of burakumin. Much is done to dispense with this taboo, not least by the burakumin themselves.

Cremation and sarīra

The Hindu Brahmin’s disgust of the impure is illustrated by the taboo on obtaining bodily relics after a cremation. A foul smelling corpse is more or less cleansed by the pyre’s fire, but whatever remains is certainly not kept as a holy relic, a sarīra, as Buddhists do by placing these remains of a holy man inside a stūpa. Hence it stands to reason that those Bramins who enter the Buddhist monkhood, or those who become lay followers of Buddhism will never make an offering of a bodily relic to be placed in a stūpa, but rather offer precious stones.

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.