Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Like a Circle of Light from a Firebrand (or a Sparkler on Bonfire Night)

From Nāgārjuna's Ratnāvalī (A String of Jewels): 

skandha-grāho yāvad asti tāvad evāham ity api |
ahaṃkāre sati punaḥ karma janma tataḥ punaḥ ||
Ratnāvalī 35||
So long as there is skandha-grasping, 

So too is there the thought that "I am." 
There being "I"-making  turn, turn   there is karma, 
And from that karma  turn, turn  there is rebirth. 

tri-vartmaitad an-ādy-anta-madhyaṃ saṃsāra-maṇḍalam |
alāta-maṇḍala-prakhyaṃ bhramaty anyonya-hetukam ||Ratnāvalī 36|| 

three-track circuit with no beginning, end, 
Or middle, is this cycle of saṁsāra. 
Like a circle of light made by a sparkler, 
Round and around it goes, one thing leading to another.

From the Tibetan translation of Nāgārjuna's Śūnyatā-saptati-kārikā (Seventy Verses on Emptiness), which is no longer extant in its original Sanskrit: 

Produced phenomena [saṁskārāḥ] are similar to a village of gandharvas, an illusion, a hair net in the eyes, foam, a bubble, an emanation, a dream, and a circle of light produced by a whirling firebrand. 

Translated into English by David Ross Komito, in his book Nāgārjuna's Seventy Stanzas. 


ahaṃkāra, "I"-making, means in other words self-consciousness, or the processes leading to consciousness of a psycho-physical self. 

tri-vartman, the three tracks would be: 
1. "I"-making -- covering the arising of pyscho-physicality, grounded in divided consciousness, grounded in habitual doings, grounded in ignorance (and especially the ignorance in which the five skandhas are clung to as self); 
2. Karma; 
3. Rebirth, or further becoming. 
These three thus sort of summarize the twelve links in the chain of the dependent arising of suffering. 

alāta: [MW] n. a fire-brand, coal. 
The simile of the circle of light left behind by a whirling firebrand or a sparkler on bonfire night is a useful reminder that, of the twelve so-called links in the chain of the dependent arising of suffering, none exists independently as a separate thing-unto-itself. 

To conceive habitual doings as the enemy, or to conceive as the enemy the ignorance from which habitual doings emanate -- insofar as that conception includes seeing doings or ignorance as things in themselves -- is to miss the point. 

saṁskārāḥ in verse 66 of the Seventy Verses literally means what has been put together, constructed, concocted, compounded, fabricated, manufactured et cetera -- hence "produced phenomena" or "compounded phenomena." When categorized three ways, as in MMK26.1, saṁskārāḥ are bodily, verbal and mental doings. 

These are the two basic meanings of  saṁskāra  in MMK -- what is put together, and the ignorant doing that does the putting together.  For one English word that fits both meanings of saṁskārāḥ"doings" might come closest.  

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