Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Working on an interesting phrase 滅神入禪 T08n0224_p0465a10

滅神入禪. This is constructed in an unusual way which does not immediately yield a clear meaning. The wording of the Dàoxíng would suggest: ‘extinguishes those dhyānas that enters into (the realms of the) spirits’. In the corresponding passage in the Sanskrit (Vaidya 1960, p.211) we find ‘ dīrghāyuṣkeṣu deveṣūpapadyate..’ which has been translated by Conze (1974, p.250) as: ‘..does not get reborn among the long-lived Gods’. The expression 長壽天 (Southill & Hodous p.284) for this class of devas is a clearer linguistic correspondence but does not enter the Chinese Buddhist lexis until its usage by Buddhayaśas in the 長阿含經 (T) his translation of the Dīrghâgama; during 5th century CE.

As elsewhere in this text, 入 denotes entrance into a destination, in the sense of future rebirth and arguably corresponds to the Sanskrit bhavati, 'to become, to happen, to come o be'. The implication is not a physical act of translocating from one side of a passageway to another but the change of state that results from such a movement. The choice of the term 神 for dīrgha-ayuṣka deva (Conze 1967, p.200) is an unusual one as the general practice within the Daoxing is to associate the term with one of two ideas: 1)  non-heavenly non-corpreal beings, typically yaksas (eg 鬼神, 火神) or, 2) the possesion of some magical ability as if possessed by a devata or the Buddha (eg 威神). Perhaps the inclusion was to  provide a closer cultural association with the immortal deities of Chinese mythology rather any Indo-European devata. Interestingly, the word 滅 is not a clear equivalence of the sanskrit ‘na’ which would the Chinese 不. The implication necessarily lies in the sense of bringing existing practices to an an end rather than merely not to engage in them from the outset. Whilst a single phrase such as this provides no conclusive proof, one possible explanation for the occurance of such a unique phrase is provide a cultural reference to longevity practices found in the alchemical practices in mystical Daoism.

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