Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why are there eighteen elements - Part 3

This is the second part for why there are eighteen elements.

འདས་པ། 'das pa here means past. དང་ dang is a conjunctive particle, translate it as 'and.'

ལྟར། ltar means likewise. གྱི་ gyi is a genitive particle.

ཉེ་བ། nye ba means close, to approach. The ར r is a general sub-ordination particle.

སྤོད་པ། spyod pa is a word used in many contexts, here it's engagement, to enact. Anyway, we need to read these two words together, as ཉེ་བར་སྤྱོད་པ། nye bar spyod pa means to use, to enjoy.

རྣམ་པ། rnam pa here is division or class. དྲུག drug is number six. འཛིན་པ།  'dzin pa means grasp, to hold on. It has a genitive particle at the end, འི 'i. ཕྱིར། phyir means because, and this is a proper sentence ending so it ends with རོ ro.

Anyway, I must confess that just looking at the Tibetan so far would be a very mysterious thing, unless one found out for example from a Sanskrit-Tibetan-Sanskrit dictionary that this all is really a translation for the following Sanskrit term: atitavartamanasadakaropabhogadharanata
What that word means is: the six consciousnesses, visual auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile and mental.

Or, to puzzle this together, this is the parts of past and current experiences via the six consciousnesses. As this adds together with the first twelve we mentioned earlier, we have eighteen elements.

Next, about the twelve sense spheres.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why are there eighteen elements - Part 2

This section will have three parts, in the second part here we will go through two thirds of the answer.

ལུས། lus means body. However, here it is actually the Tibetan word used for the Sanskrit term deha which is the six objects: eye, ear, tongue, body and mental organ.

དང་། dang is a particle, a conjunctive particle. As the name implies, there's a conjunction between the words to the right and what's on the left. So a translator should always use something that binds together. Using the word and is a good choice, using commas is less binding so I think that should not be used.

ཡོཨུངས་སུ། yongs su is an expression: completely.གཟུང་བ། gzung ba is objectification -- to apprehend an object, or to grasp to objects. However here it actually is referring to sense objects and their appropriation. The reason is that this whole part is a translation of the Sanskrit term parigraha which is the six objects: visible form, sound, odor, taste, tangibility and mental objects.

གཉིས། gnyis means two, ཀྱིས། kyis is an instrumental particle, translate here as by.

If you have kept count, we have the two, and each had six parts, so we are up to twelve, we need six more. That's in the next section, as well as it will have one of the longest Sanskrit terms I've personally ever encountered.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why are there eighteen elements?

Next Abhidharma-Samuccaya addresses why there are exactly eighteen elements.

ཅིའི་ཕྱིར། ci'i phyir is why. ཁམས། khams is element, རྣམས། rnams is plural ending, so we are dealing with elements.

བཅོ་བརྒྱད། bco brgyad is eighteen. ཁོ་ན། kho na is only, ཞེ་ན། zhe na is what does it mean.

Puzzling all this together and refining: Why are there only eighteen elements?

Next, this why is answered.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Self as basis for all

We are at the fifth and the last skandha, and why it exists.

བག་གི་གཞི། bdag gi gzhi is the basis of self.

དེ་དག de dag is all that.

གནས། gnas is a good word to memorize, here it means basis.

བརྗོད་པ། brjod pa is expression. It actually has a genitive particle at the end -- 'i -- and this ties to ཕྱིར། phyir, hence. It all also ends with the proper sentence ending vowel doubling, ro.

To translate this: self which is the basis of all that. To really understand this, Abhidharma-Samuccaya has a somewhat bias for the Mind Only world view representation. In this world view, there are seeds in the mind that ripens, stored in the storage house consciousness, and these ripening seeds trigger everything that is mentally experienced. Hence this last description for a skandha that should not be hard to figure out.

Next, we will find out the reason behind the amount of elements.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Self-Base as agent of intention

This is the fourth skandha emerging as a self-base, bdag gi zhi.

ཆོས། chos here is phenomena (dharma.) The next is an interesting twist, you need to be careful when translating. དང་། dang is a connection particle, ཆོས་མ་ཡིན་པ། chos ma yin pa is actually two parts, ཆོས། chos again, phenomena, and མ་ཡིན་པ། ma yin pa means does not exist. So this section is phenomena that exists or not. Or all that exists or does not exist.

མངོན་པ། mngon pa is here to appear, the r at the end is a sub-ordination particle, binding right to left.

འདུ་བྱེད་པ། 'du byed pa is in Sanskrit samskara, conditioning factors, intention, deciding on all what is good and what is bad. So here we are talking about an agent that decides what is good or not good for all phenomena. and བརྗོད་པ། brjod pa is expression.

So here the skandha is: an expression of an agent that decides what is good or bad resulting in a self-base. This is one way to translate it. But you could actually put together all kinds of personal translations based on the data provided. Sometimes you get deeper insights by playing around with the translation options.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Self-Base as Expression

To continue how the self appearance manifests via skandhas.

བདག་གི་ཞི། bdag gi zhi is the self-base, the foundation of self that will emerge.

ཐ་སྙད། tha snyad here is expression.

བརྗོད་པ། brjod pa is also expression. One has to be careful here, translating an expression of expressions sounds like a big mouthful.

So the easiest is to follow along with the simplified translation model and state: self as expression.

As for what skandha this reflects, one way is to think of something that is an expression that someone experiences around oneself...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Self-base as Experience

To continue with བདག་གི་གཞི། bdag gi gzhi, the five aspects. Now, sometimes it is interesting to improvise concerning translations. The earlier given translation, self-base, is one way to state it, or then base of self. But if we look at the word གཞི། gzhi, you could see that it has other variations, foundation, residence, basic nature. So you could create new translations, like a jazz player with chords, and see what resonates with you, as long as the usage of the word makes sense. Sometimes such personal translations are very powerful, for oneself, or maybe for others, too.

ལོངས་སྤྱོད། longs spyod is a word you could also see quite often, here it means actually experience, not enjoyment. And བརྗོད་པ། brjod pa is to be expressed.

So, one longer translation is the self-base expressed as experience. But you could actually make this just shorter and translate it as self as experience -- this assumes that the reader already was informed about the nature of self.

Again, using meditation you might get a connection between this self-base and the specific skandha.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Self as an Expression of Form

This is a somewhat longer sentence, but let's go through it. Look through the earlier postings to get more clues about the words used, as they are repeated in this listing of the five skandhas and the self appearance.

bdag gi gzhi is the self-base.

lus is body. yongs su is another good expression to learn: completely. Here I think these two reflects all physical objects, as lus could also be used for physical entities.

gzung ba here is perception (of objects), or the thing apprehended.

dang bcas pa is another good expression you will see a lot: together with, or accompanied by.

brjod pa is to express. dang is a particle that will bind this sentence with the other four parts that will come next.

If we put together all these separately translated parts, we could get something like: self as an expression of physical objects that are perceived.

Now, which skandha is this self-expression reflecting? There's a classical teaching trick where the someone is given enough clues, and with reflection and meditation it will become clear, as well as internalized.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Happy lo gsar

This is new year's eve in the Tibetan calendar, so happy ལོ་གསར། lo gsar (lo sar).
ལོ། lo means year, and གསར། gsar means new, so now some of you know three new words! This is a nice, simple word for anyone learning the Tibetan alphabet, too. The Tibetan calendar is based on the moon (lunar calendar), so hence the place of new year is based on the lunar state. Another important times are full moon, no moon, and the state transitions from waxing to waning. As the new moon starts tomorrow, the calendar month/year, starts, too. By the way, if you use Google calendar you could add a lunar calendar that shows the lunar states. Believe it or not, full moon is an interesting day/night.

Another online calendar good to consult is the FPMT dharma dates web site. This lists all the important dharma dates related to the Tibetan calender and the lunar positions. As you could see there, a lot of activities happen during full moon.

Anyway, harmonious wishes for the next year and in the future to everyone reading this blog. And to copy from the ལོ་གསར། message from Lama Zopa Rinpoche just sent out:

"The most happy thing in my life, the most fulfilling thing is to work for and to benefit sentient beings. Even just the mere thought to cause happiness to sentient beings, to benefit them, to free them from suffering - this is the BEST offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas, this is the best offering, the best puja, this is what pleases their holy minds the most."
–Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Five Expressions of the Appearance of Self

OK, we will now go through how Abhidharma-Samuccaya describes why there are exactly five skandhas. There are five parts to it!

bdag gi gzhi is the self-base. This word will be used in all five parts. bdag is self, gi is a genitive particle binding right to left, and gzhi is base.

rnam pa is class, type, division. lnga is five, so this has to do with the five divisions of the self-base.

brjod pa is expression in this context. The 'i at the end is again a genitive particle that binds right to left. The right side is phyir, in order to, because. So this is: because of the expression, or due to expressing....

The last word, te, is a particle that shows that there's more to come, in other words, the reason why there are five expression of a self-base will be presented next.

Anyway, the self-base word is somewhat artificial in my taste, so I use the term appearance of self instead. So one way to translate this is, using the backwards reading technique good to use from time to time: Because of the five expressions (or methods) that self makes itself to appear.

That's what we will go through next, and it's not tough to already figure out that there's one expression of self that appears for each of the five skandhas. Anyway, the word appear here is important as it will not define that there's any self-existence -- self just appears, it does not exist from its own side.

Monday, February 04, 2008

bdag and bdag med, self and no-self

I think it's time to switch to lower gears now and then so anyone really new with Tibetan has a chance of a slower pace, so expect from time to time simpler postings just dealing with a keyword or key construct. As we will dwell more in self in the next postings of Abhidharma-Samuccaya, it's good to go through this word that you will encounter hundreds of times in most Tibetan Buddhist texts.

Self is bdag in Tibetan, atman in Sanskrit. Sometimes this is translated as ego, which sounds for me a little bit more like a western psychology term. It's also sometimes translated as soul, which for me is not really a good translation, but it's something that Westerners dealing with Western philosophies and religions might have a connection to.

A somewhat more clear position is to think of this as a self-existent identity, something that exists from its own side, and it is me.

The big debate in ancient India was between those who supported the idea of atman, self, and the Buddhists who subscribed to anatman, no-self, or bdag med in Tibetan. med is a negation, so adding it to bdag makes it the opposite of bdag. Actually, another Sanskrit term for this is nairātmya, and that should sound familiar for anyone studying the Hevajra tantra.

All Buddhist traditions subscribe to this term of anatman. Depending on the school, other Buddhist systems go further and even subscribe to the idea that there's nothing that is self-existent, no self-existent phenomena, no self-existent mind stream, nothing self-existent such as time, space, and so on.

As Abhidharma-Samuccaya is a Mahayana text, it both supports the notion of no self as well as no dependency to self-existent outer things. However, it has an emphasis on the Mind Only view where everything can be connected back to the observer, the mind, and how that triggers various experiences. More about that then much later in the text. Anyway, just by describing various mental processes as parts that interact with each other, and the superficial result appearing as something self-existent such as self, is one of the main purposes of this text.

The astute reader would notice that there's no long stroke (shah) in the first word. The reason is that Tibetans consider the long stroke in the letter ga to work as a stroke. It's a thing good to know as you could find sentence separators this way.

Next, we will indeed connect the notion of bdag (as well as bdag med) with the concept of the five skandhas.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why are there exactly five skandhas?

We come now to really interesting definitions stated in Abhidharma-Samuaccya. This initial question is why are there exactly five skandhas, and the follow-up postings will then go through the answer to this question.

ci'i phyr is the word why. phung po is -- as discussed earlier -- heap (skandha). rnams is the plural ending so we are dealing with skandhas.

lnga is number five. kho na is just or exactly. zhe na is another good expression to learn, it means 'if someone asks why', or 'if one says so.' If you listen to a commentary you might also hear this expression when the Tibetan teacher is teaching.

So next we will unravel this mystery.