tantra and paa, suutra and nuul

thompson at jlc.net thompson at jlc.net
Tue Apr 22 12:42:01 UTC 1997

Wolfgang Behr wrote:

>Classical Chinese has a word jing1 (< Old Chinese *ke:ng), regularly used
>for "classic" or "canonical text", which originally meant sth. like "warp"
>or "thread" during the Archaic period. Other Classical usages include "rule",
>"norm",  "law"; "to regulate", "to plan"; "to pass  through" etc. The word
>is written with a character that consists of a  phonetico-semantic element
>that is usually explained as a depiction of a "hand-loom" by modern paleo-
>graphers, and a (semantic) siginific meaning "silk" or "thread", which was
>added to the original character during the early classical period. It comes
>as no surprise then, that jing1 is used as _the_ standard translation of Skt.
>suutra in Chinese Buddhist texts, although it occasionally stands for prava-
>cana, pi.taka, nirde"sa, upade"sa, even "saastra as well.
>For a (_semantic_) comparison of the Sanskrit and Chinese concepts see
>(inter alia)
>        Corless, Roger J. (1975)
>        "The meaning of ching (su1tra?) in Buddhist Chinese",
>        Journal of Chinese Philosophy 3: 67-72
>        Victor Mair (1990)
>        "File on the Track and Dough[tiness]",
>        Sino-Platonic Papers 20: 6-68

Thank you very much for these references, which appear to confirm the point
that the association of weaving and speech is by no means "unique" to the
Indian sub-continent.
>PS: George Thompson wrote on the same subject:
>        |I could cite ... Semitic, and Niger-Congo language
>        |families, if anyone is interested.
>    I am, if it is not too much of a hassle for you. Thanks
>    for taking the time to answer.
The Semitic reference is to the Hebrew root Aleph-Resh-Beth, "to weave",
which was cited by someone in a private e-mail, in response to a discussion
on another list.  I do not have solid text references yet [they have been
requested], but for the time being I can cite Driver's "Hebrew English
Lexicon of the Old Testament", pp. 70-71, which cites Is. 59.5 for the
metaphor "weave a spider's web" = "intrigue".  When more explicit
collocations surface I will forward them.

Dogon, a Niger-Congo language of Mali, attests the metaphor, speech =
weaving, in a way that is remarkably suggestive of the Vedic set of
metaphors.  The Dogon term "soy" refers to  woven material on the one hand
and "it is the spoken word" on the other [cf. Griaule, already cited,
p.28].  To corroborate this, compare Dieterlen: "chez les Dogon, le mot
*so* signifie 'parole'.  Le mot *soy*, qui de'signe  le ve^tement ,
signifie litte'ralement 'c'est la parole'.  Tout le monde le sait.  Le
tissage est conside're' comme un entrelacs de 'paroles'.  L'homme nu est
diffe'rent de l'homme habille', car ce dernier est ve^tu de 'parole'...."
["Syste`mes de Connaissance" in *African Systems of Thought: Studies
presented and discussed at the 3rd International African Seminar in
Salisbury, December 1960*, ed. M Fortes & G. Dieterlen, 1965, Oxford Univ.
Press].  More detailed discussion can be found in Calame-Griaule:
"Ethnologie et langage: La parole chez les Dogon" [1965, Gallimard], which
unfortunately I no longer have access to.

I would not be surprised if the metaphor appeared also among, say, the
Navaho of No. America, or in Indonesia, cultures which exhibit refined
weaving traditions laden with elaborate symbolisms.

Best wishes,
George Thompson

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