Monday, 5 July 2010

Modern scholarship does not necessarily yield new results

Textual studies unlike research into the physical world or even the social sciences does always present new evidence or even provide a framework in which to develop our understanding. At the moment I'm making extensive use of Karashima's 2010 glossary of terms from Lokaksema's Daoxing Banruo Jing. Invaluable a contribution as this remarkable text is, it still draws heavily upon the works of Edward Conze for explanation of terminolgy, works which themselves are quite well established and whose flaws in the interpretation of doctrine are outdated and on numerous occasions mis-placed. I'm revisting the phrase  '甘露法門' in:


I would translate this as the 'amṛta of the dharma gate'. Here's the reasoning:

1) the aim of the Buddha's method is release from birth, old age, sickness and death
2) amṛta is the Buddhist variant of the death-defying nutriment of the Vedic Soma, Olympian Ambrosia or the Golden Apples of the Aesirs, a core theme in Indo-European Religion.

The meaning being that amṛta becomes allegorical, it is the 'stuff' that allows the pursuer to enter the gate which is the 'method' (dharma) that leads to living beings to escape from samsara.

Conze(1974,p.249) gives something extremely unwiedly, '..the door of the deathless element..' It is possible to see the reasoning behind this, but dhatu, in connection to a door would imply a door onto a 'somewhere' and not a 'classification'. Conze (1967, p.69) gives the Sanskrit as: amṛta-dhātu-dvāra. I would translate this as lit: the 'gate to the world of deathlessness'. One thing is for certain, although the passages have much in common interms of general structure, changes in the use of specific terms had resulted in a shift in meaning.

One last word, Conze (1968. p.69) along with Karashima (2010. p.179) give the Tibetan for this phrase as:
bdud-rtsi'i dbyings-kyi sgo. This offers a slightly different meaning, one I am curious enough to want to see the whole passage. Here were have amṛta = bdud-rtsi'i, in an adjectival forms (ie post-fix 'i) and sgo = door. dbyings-kyi, due to the kyi I believe to be be accusative (?) and dbyings which means 'space'. So the overall phrase, I would render as 'the amrta that is the door to space'.

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