"Many fantastic beings are thought to inhabit the yama"

"On the Extinction of the Japanese Wolf" (1997), by John Knight:

Although the Japanese wolf officially became extinct in 1905, this position has been challenged by many local sightings across the country. The present paper, presenting data from the Kii Peninsula, analyzes the wolf controversy as a form of environmental symbolism. Wolf folklore is presented to show how, for generations of Japanese upland dwellers, the moral character of the wolf was environmentally predicated. Similarly, modern and contemporary local claims about the presence of the officially absent wolves can be understood as metonymical references to the yama (mountain forests) and to the historical changes that have taken place in the upland environment in modern times.

Takeaway: wolves are awesome.

This is something related to the third main feature of the wolf: its discreet observance of human beings. This is reflected in the okuri-ōkami tales noted above. Japanese folklore credits other wild animals, such as the fox, tanuki 狸 (raccoon-dog), and snake, with a capacity for concealment. The difference is that these animals are said to achieve this by assuming human (often female) form, while Japanese wolf-lore—unlike European wolf-lore (e.g., NOLL 1992; RHEINHEIMER 1995)—has little to say about wolf shapeshifting or lycanthropy. Rather, the Japanese wolf is concealed by the natural environment itself. This virtual invisibility of the wolf in the yama is the basis for the claims to have encountered it after its supposed extinction. Even when the wolf actually did exist, in the yama it was able to keep well out of sight of man, while keeping man in its sights.

Don't miss Knight's account of his attendance at a sasoidashi 誘い出し, an attempt to trick otherwise undetectable hypothetical wolves into answering recorded howls, in Chichibu.

The etymology of ōkami is interesting, by the way: the most favored explanation nowadays seems to be the straightforward analysis: in Frellesvig-style OJ orthography, /opo/ "great" + /kamwi/ "god". But there doesn't seem to be any slam-dunk evidence for this theory. The word opokamwi appears in the Man'yōshū, but it just means "great god", not "wolf." Elsewhere, in the Hitachi Fūdoki, there's a bit that goes:


The waystation here is named "大神" [great god]. It is called this because many 大蛇 [giant snakes] live there.

You can't be 100% sure because the original didn't include a pronunciation, but the modern scholarly consensus seems to be that both 大神 "great god" and 大蛇 "giant snake" were intended to be pronounced /opokamwi/.

As this excellent essay explains, what it comes down to is that there doesn't seem to be any contemporary evidence for the now-standard story that in ancient Japan, wolves were revered as gods, and great ones at that. The word kami (the essay points out) never seems to be applied to actual, close-at-hand animals like that, no matter how scary they were; you need some sort of supernatural or otherwise fantastical connection. (Giant snakes, giant monkeys requiring human sacrifice, animals found only on the continent, etc.)

That doesn't necessarily mean that the etymology is wrong, of course. (There certainly doesn't seem to be a better alternate theory.) It just suggests that even if modern ōkami does literally descend from a word meaning "great god", that original word wasn't necessarily meant to convey the sort of supernatural awe that you might assume. (For example, maybe it was simple euphemism: the ancient Japanese didn't consider wolves actual gods, but spoke as if they did in order to stay on the wolves' good side.)


Bao Pu and Imre Galambos

So via Chris Fraser's blog on classical Chinese philosophy, I discovered Daoism autodidact Scott Barnwell's blog "Bao Pu" (抱樸), which is just amazing. And via that I discovered that Imre Galambos has put his entire 2006 book Orthography of Early Chinese Writing online.

I haven't finished R-ing TFB yet, but it's stimulating stuff so far: the basic hook is "the principle of looking at uninterpreted character forms [...] without assuming the existence of a correct form." In other words, by "examin[ing] pre-Qin writing on its own terms," Galambos hopes to shed new light on its actual nature, including the "specific patterns behind [its] variability," and thereby on the development of the Chinese writing system in general.


The world is lost

This weekend I enjoyed reading Ven. Analayo's Brahmā's Invitation: the Ariyapariyesanā-sutta in the Light of its Madhyama-āgama Parallel. The abstract:

The present article begins by surveying the role of the ancient Indian god Brahmā in the early Buddhist discourses as exemplifying a tendency referred to in academic research as "inclusivism".

A prominent instance of this tendency can be found in the Ariyapariyesanā-sutta of the Pāli canon, which reports that Brahmā intervened to persuade the recently awakened Buddha to teach. This episode is absent from a Madhyama-āgama parallel to the Ariyapariyesanā-sutta, of which I provide a partial translation. The translation is followed by a brief evaluation of this difference between the two parallel records of the events surrounding the Buddha's awakening.

"Brahma's invitation" is really more of a plea, and is probably one of the more famous events in the Pali canon. The Buddha, having achieved enlightenment, realizes that the dhamma that he has attained is "profound, obscure, hard to understand, still, pure, inaccessible to reason, subtle, and for the wise [only]" (gambhīro duddaso duranubodho santo paṇīto atakkāvacaro nipuṇo paṇḍitavedanīyo), while the people around him are into attachment. And a poem comes to him about the situation:

Kicchena me adhigataṃ halan-dāni pakāsituṃ;
rāgadosaparetehi nāyaṃ dhammo susambudho.
Paṭisotagāmiṃ nipuṇaṃ gambhīraṃ duddasaṃ aṇuṃ
rāgarattā na dakkhinti tamokkhandhena āvaṭā

No point in preaching what with difficulty I obtained;
This dhamma is not easily realized by those overcome by greed and anger
It goes against the stream, it is subtle, profound, obscure, minute;
Those steeped in lust, those covered in darkness will not be able to see it.

Yep -- the Buddha almost gives up on us! Seeing this, Brahmā Sahampati becomes alarmed: "The world, alas, is lost! the world, alas, is utterly lost! -- insofar as the mind of the Tathagata, of the arahant, of the perfectly enlightened one, is inclined to inaction and not to dhamma-teaching!" (nassati vata bho loko, vinassati vata bho loko, yatra hi nāma Tathāgatassa arahato sammāsambuddhassa appossukkatāya cittaṃ namati, no dhammadesanāya). So he beams down right in front of the Buddha and begs him, also partly in verse, to teach the dhamma, because there will be some who recognize its value (aññātāro bhavissantī).

Reconsidering the situation, the Buddha realizes that there will indeed be some worthy of his teaching (using the "lotuses grow out of the mud" metaphor, among others), and so he agrees to teach it to them. Brahmā Sahampati beams back up, and the Buddha starts thinking about who to explain things to first.


Writ in water

In the December 2012 (inaugural!) edition of Anahorish Bungaku — which is indeed named after the Seamus Heaney poem — Nishizawa Kazumitsu 西澤一光 has an article entitled "Tekisuto to shite no Man'yōshū" テキストとしての『万葉集』 ("The Man'yōshū as text") where he mentions that:

In fact, innumerable quotations from Chinese texts are woven into their [the Man'yōshū poets'] original text[s]. For example, Kakimoto no Hitomaru's orthographic expression (文字表現) indicates not only that he was an avid reader of the Classic of Poetry and the Selections from Literature, but also that at the same time he had read the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra and the Suvarṇaprabhāsa-sūtra closely enough to recite [parts of] them from memory.

This sounded interesting, so I tracked down the reference, which was to another paper of Nishizawa's: "Man'yōshū to 'mujō'" 『万葉集』と「無常」 ("The Man'yōshū and 'impermanence'"), in Takaoka-shi Man'yō Rekishikan ronshū 13: Sei no Man'yōshū 高岡市万葉歴史館論集13 生の万葉集 ("Takaoka Manyou Historical Museum essay collection 13: The Man'yōshū and life"; Kasama Shoten 2010). Unfortunately, though, the evidence for all this sutra-memorizing is thinner than I had hoped.

There is certainly interesting information in the paper, like a brief discussion of Yamanoue no Okura's consistent use of the spelling 世間 (Sino-Buddhist jargon for our impermanent world, corresponding to Pali/Sanskrit loka) for the native Japanese word yo no naka ("[in] the world"). But then the fact that Hitomaro didn't use 世間 for that world — he used 世中 instead — is interpreted as an intentional avoidance of Buddhist jargon on Hitomaro's part, because "it is surely impossible to imagine that [he] ... did not know the Buddhist word 世間". This is a rickety platform to raise a thesis on.

The next piece of evidence is a poem by Hitomaro written 水上如數書吾命妹相受日鶴鴨. This is traditionally read something like:

midu no pe ni/ kazu kaku gotoki/ wa ga inoti/ imwo ni apamu to/ ukepituru kamo

Meaning something like "My life is like marking a count on water [i.e. futile]; How I have prayed to see my love" or "I have prayed my life away to see my love, as futilely as marking a count on water," etc., depending on where/how you cut and some other technical details. Nishizawa notes that 畫水 ("write on water") is a common metaphor in the Chinese canon for futility, and that Keichū pointed out a similar passage in the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra:

T0374_.12.0367b06: ... 是身無常念念不
T0374_.12.0367b07: 住。猶如電光暴水幻炎。亦如畫水隨畫隨合。

This body is impermanent; it does not abide for an instant. It is like lightning, a storm, illusion and flame; and it is like drawing [a line] in water: no sooner does one part the water than it is reunited again.

Again, though, this is slim pickings. I'll buy that Hitomaro was struck by the metaphor of writing on water when he encountered it in Buddhist writing, and it certainly seems possible that 水上如數書 is a direct reference to 如畫水, but I was hoping for a rather smokier gun than "they share a metaphor that appears in multiple Buddhist texts and that Beaumont and Fletcher also came up with independently in England."



Reading Ōshima Shōji 大島正二's Chūgokugo no rekishi 中国語の歴史 ("History of the Chinese language"), I came across an interesting comment on the Chinese word for "grammar."

As any fule know, the word for "grammar" in Japanese is bunpō 文法 ("sentence/writing rules"). Its use as a term of art in the field of linguistics dates from the 19th century, but the two-character combination has been around for much longer with related but premodern meanings (e.g. in the 17th C. Nippo Jisho 日葡辞書 it's defined as the rules for writing letters correctly). I don't have a cite, but it seems likely to me that in this sense it goes back to Chinese.

However, the standard word for "grammar" in contemporary Mandarin is yǔfǎ 语法 ("word rules"). This word is also in Japanese, but with a much more restricted meaning: the rules for manipulating and using individual words, not for combining them into sentences.

Ōshima points out that there was a time when 文法 was used in Chinese too, as can be seen from the very titles of books like Lí Jǐnxī 黎锦熙's 1924 Xīnzhe guóyǔ wénfǎ 新著国語文法 ("New grammar of the national language"). Around 1942-1943, though, books began appearing with 语法 (well, at the time, 語法) in the title instead.

Zhōngguó xiàndài yǔfǎ 中国現代語法 ("Contemporary Chinese grammar"), by Wáng Lì 王力, was one such book. According to Ōshima, Wáng explained his use of 語法 as follows: of the three words in current usage, 文法 refers properly to written language and 話法 ("speech rules") refers to spoken language. Only 語法 can refer to either, and therefore it is the best neutral term for "grammar".

Ōshima speculates that the triumph of 语法 may reflect the Chinese view of grammar as something that boils down to the correct arrangement and use of (fixed, atomic) words — as opposed to, for example, the Indo-European and even Japanese model where the words themselves change according to their role in the sentence — but I don't know enough about Chinese attitudes towards their own language to assess that hypothesis.


The Fire Sermon: now with flying!

So in my ongoing quest to learn everything I have finally been upgewisen to SuttaCentral, an "online sutta correspondence project" that lets you, for example, find sutras in the Chinese canon corresponding to a known sutra X in the Pali canon.

The correspondences aren't exact, of course, because it wasn't a case of hauling the Pali canon north and translating it: the relationship isn't parent-and-child, it's more like cousinhood (at a remove or two, at that). So there's lots of surprises lurking in there.

For example, searching for the Fire Sermon, I found that there is a sutra that corresponds to it in the Taisho canon, except somewhere along the line someone prepended a totally awesome introduction. Here's a quick and dirty translation; the terminology is probably very nonstandard, but I'm fairly confident that the meaning is basically right (not least because Jeffrey Kotyk was good enough to explain to me the most difficult parts; remaining errors are my own, but anything I got right is probably thanks to him).

Thus I heard. At one time the Buddha was staying at Gayāsīsa 迦闍尸利沙支提 with one thousand monks who were all former tangle-haired Brahmins 舊縈髮婆羅門 [?]. At that time the Buddha, for the benefit of the thousand monks, manifested three aspects 三種示現 to convert 教化 them. What three aspects? The aspects of omnipresence and transformation 神足變化示現, of mind-reading 他心示現, and of persuasion 教誡示現.

The aspect of omnipresence: right on the spot, the Buddha entered dhyana-samadhi 禪定正受. He rose into the air 陵虚 and moved to the east. There he demonstrated the four modes of walking, standing, sitting, and reclining before entering fire samadhi and emitting all kinds of fire and light. Both water and fire appeared, in the colors blue, yellow, red, white, crimson, and crystal. Fire emerged from his lower half, and water emerged from his upper half; fire emerged from his upper half, and water emerged from his lower half. He repeated this for each of the four cardinal directions. Having thus performed these various transformations, he sat back down among the crowd. This is called the aspect of omnipresence 神足示現.

The aspect of mind-reading: according to the minds of others, the wills of others, the consciousness of others, [he was able to say], "He must think thus, and not think thus"; "He must have equanimity like so"; "He must abide thus in bodily realization". This is called the aspect of mind-reading.

The aspect of persuasion: the Buddha taught as follows. 'Monks, all is aflame 一切燒然. In what way is all aflame? I tell you that the eye is aflame. So too are forms, eye-consciousness, eye-contact, and sensations that arise dependent on eye-contact 眼觸因緣生受: pain, pleasure, the absence of pain and the absence of pleasure; these too are aflame. So too are the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind aflame. So too are entities 法 [eye:forms::mind:entities], mind-consciousness, mind-contact, and sensations that arise dependent on mind-contact: pain, pleasure, the absence of pain and the absence of pleasure; these too are aflame. With what are they aflame? With the fires of greed 貪火 are they aflame. With the fires of hate 恚火 are they aflame. With the fires of ignorance 癡火 are they aflame. With the fires of birth, aging, sickness, death, grief, pity, worry, and pain are they aflame.

At this time the thousand monks, having heard the Buddha's sermon, were liberated at heart from the arising of any fault 不起諸漏心得解脫. Here the Buddha finished his sermon, and all of the monks, having heard the Buddha's sermon, rejoiced in devotion 歡喜奉行.

Apart from the awesome introduction, one difference from the Pali equivalent (English translations: one, two) that interests me is the handling of repetition. In Pali, as I understand it, repeated paragraphs are either written out in full or with the equivalent of ditto marks (and then at least read in full). But the Chinese version has a different summarizing technique: the first and last in the series are written out ("eye ... forms, eye-consciousness, etc." and then "mind ... entities, mind-consciousness, etc."), and everything else is provided as a list in between. That is, we are to understand that it is not just the ear that is aflame, but also smells, ear-consciousness, etc., and so on for all the sense organs.

I do not believe that lists of this sort in Chinese scripture were intended to be expanded upon reading, either. There is an example of the technique in the Heart Sutra: "無眼界、乃至無意識界" is often translated something like "no realm of vision and no realm of thought," but what it really means is "no realm of vision through to no realm of thought" — a comprehensive dismissal of all of the eighteen realms. But I've never heard of someone reciting the sutra actually filling in the missing sixteen realms.