Re: An āmalakī in the palm of th e hand

Birgit Kellner kellner at ASIA-EUROPE.UNI-HEIDELBERG.DE
Sat May 7 20:49:54 UTC 2011

Reading once more through this interesting thread, I was just wondering: 
Schmidt's Nachträge to the Petersburg Dictionary reports āmalaka in the 
meaning "rock crystal". Two passages in Somadevasūri's Yaśastilaka 
(Kāvyamālā vol. 70) are given as evidence (vol. II 28,4 and 209,6; this 
is available at Not too much evidence, but 
there might be more, and it might have been overlooked so far, who knows.

In an earlier message, for instance, Lance Cousins cited a passage from 
the older ṭīkā to the Abhidhammāvatāra (final pāda of Abhidh-av v. 181), 
where the āmalaka is compared to a clear gem. The basic text has 
"hatthagatāmalakā viya honti"; the ṭīkā then runs: *hatthagatā* 
hatthapaviṭṭhā *āmalakā viya* suddhamaṇikā viya honti.

One could theoretically interpret this passage in two ways:

- the āmalaka-fruit is seen, and the clarity of seeing the āmalaka is 
further illustrated by the example of a clear gem.
- the word āmalaka here means "rock-crystal", and suddhamaṇikā is then 
just an explanatory gloss on it.

So one might ask whether there's any further unequivocal evidence that 
āmalaka was used in the meaning "rock-crystal" in Pāli or Sanskrit. And 
if that were the case, Tibetan interpretations appealing to translucency 
would appear less outrageous than they initially might have seeemed.

One context where the āmalaka-in-your-palm-example features is the 
discussion of yogic perception in Buddhist epistemological literature. 
See Dharmottara's Nyāyabinduṭīkā ad Nyāyabindu 1.11 (cited according to 
p. 69,1f. from Dalsukhbhai Malvania's edition of the 
Dharmottarapradīpa): karatalāmalakavad bhāvyamānasya arthasya yad 
darśanaṃ tad yoginaḥ pratyakṣam | tad dhi sphuṭābham | Roughly: "Yogic 
perception is the seeing of an object that is contemplated upon like an 
āmalaka in one's hand, for it has a clear appearance."

The canonical Tibetan translation, Derge 4231 (We 44a3), here translates 
āmalaka as śel sgoṅ (also attested as a translation of sphāṭika accordng 
to Negi's dictionary). So these translators definitely understood 
āmalaka in the meaning "rock crystal".

On the face of it, the rock crystal makes in this particlar context 
better sense than the myrobalan fruit. The idea is that the yogin 
contemplates an object, which in the process becomes clear and vivid to 
him, as clear and vivid as a piece of rock-crystal in one's hand. More 
precisely: the rock-crystal as a thing exemplifies clarity and vividness 
more directly than the myrobalan fruit.

And now, I suppose, one would have to look closer at the finer structure 
of āmalaka-similes. Is something said to be as self-evident as the 
SEEING of the āmalaka in one's hand? What is the role of the āmalaka 
being placed in one's hand? (I suppose: the object is close to the 
observer, and so this proximity would further accentuate the 
self-evidence.) Does the comparison attach to features of the āmalaka as 
such? Are there any features of the āmalaka that make it clearer in your 
hand than other fruits? (Colour?) Any commentarial explanations of this?

Maybe the example underwent some changes (in Sanskritic traditions or 
between Sanskrit and Tibetan, who knows). Epistemological discussions of 
yogic perception, for instance, might in the eyes of some interpreters 
have called for a sharper analogy that highlights the clarity of an 
object-appearance - and makes the object itself clear and vivid and 
(coincidentally?) translucent.

Best regards,

Birgit Kellner

Von: Indology [INDOLOGY at] im Auftrag von Peter Szanto 
[peter.szanto at MERTON.OX.AC.UK]
Gesendet: Samstag, 30. April 2011 21:39
Betreff: Re: [INDOLOGY] an āmalakī in the palm of th e hand

Dear readers,

While I do not want to commit myself to any of the siddhāntas expressed 
here, I believe these two passages (sadly, surviving only in Tibetan) 
merit consideration:

Tōh. 1373 *Ṣaḍaṅgayogapañjikā of Avadhūtīpāda (244r)

de ltar mthong ba'i rnal 'byor ba de ni rnam pa thams cad mkhyen pa'i 
sku des ni khams gsum ma lus pa skyu ru ra lag mthil du bzhag pa bzhin 
du thams cad sa ler mkhyen pa'o || chu nang nyi ltar rab snang ba || dri 
ma med pa'i sna tshogs mdog | rnam pa kun du rang gi sems || gzhan gyi 
sems min rang gi sems || rang gi sems yin bde ba nyid || gzhan gyi sems 
min bde ba yin || yul dang rnam par bral ba yin || rang bde yid kyi 
nyams myong ba || gzhan gyi sems bde chen po'i phyir || bde ba bstan du 
mi btub bo || zhes 'byung ngo ||

Tōh. 1415 Vajraḍākavivṛti of Bhavabhaṭṭa (82v)

rdo rje mig gis mthong bar 'gyur || zhes bya ba la rdo rje ni shin tu 
rno ba ste | gsal zhing dri ma med pa des mthong ba'o || ji ltar zhe na 
| lag tu shing tog bzhag pa bzhin te lag pa'i mthil na gnas pa'i skyu ru 
ra'i 'bras bu ltar ro ||

The `Tibetan idea' of transparency could have been induced by passages 
such as the first one (note that `sa ler' is ambivalent, it can mean 
both `entirely' and `clearly'). Well, by using the word induced I guess 
I do find myself more in agreement with what Dominik Wujastyk wrote below.

With best regards,


From: Indology [INDOLOGY at] On Behalf Of Dominik Wujastyk 
[wujastyk at GMAIL.COM]
Sent: Saturday, April 30, 2011 8:21 PM
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] an āmalakī in the palm of the hand

Dear Ryan,

In my view, your Tibetan colleagues are simply wrong.  Or else they are 
in receipt some odd tradition that has strayed far from the original 
meaning of the āmalaka-in-the-hand simile, and got lost on the way.

The āmalaka/ī is and was the Emblic myrobalan (Emblica officinalis, 
Gaertn.<>).   There are 
many pictures on the web, and even one of some emblics in someone's 
hands: here<>.

Emblics are a common fruit in South Asia, and have been so for over two 
millennia.  The word "emblic" was very common in English amongst the 
British in India, as it was a well-known, fruit often consumed daily. 
Many references in 
(who also asserts on good authorities that Skt. āmalaka is the origin of 
the name of the Malay city Malacca!).  My subjective impression is that 
British Indian authors referred to emblics more or less as one might 
today refer to an apple.  "Emblic" wasn't at all a rare word (or fruit).

The simile is just, as you say, something totally obvious.  Think, "as 
plain as an apple in the palm of your hand."

I think we can just set aside all talk of transparency and inner 
structure.  (I also think that the idea that something with an exterior 
can in some sense be explained by reference to its inner structure is 
probably a rather modern idea, and probably not Sanskritic at all.  At 
the very least, it should be questioned, as a concept.  Ask, with what 
vocabularly would such a concept be expressed in Sanskrit?)



On 29 April 2011 07:47, Ryan Damron 
<rdamron at<mailto:rdamron at>> wrote:
Dear all,

I recently came across a reference to the āmalaki fruit in the Buddhist 
Mahāmāyātantra and in its commentary, the Guṇavatī by Ratnākaraśānti. 
The citations are as follows:

First from the root tantra, in Tibetan (there is no extant Sanskrit 
manuscript):  lag tu skyu ru ra bzhag bzhin.

Which Ratnākaraśānti glosses with: svahaste sthitamekamāmalakam 

I initially took this to mean simply that the referent was as clear to 
the subject as a fruit placed in one's own hand.  However, two Tibetan 
colleagues both asserted that the āmalakī fruit, as understood in the 
Tibetan Buddhist tradition at least, is a translucent fruit which 
reveals its inner structure to the subject (not my personal experience 
with the contemporary version of Amalaki fruit).  Thus for a situation 
to be "like an āmalakī fruit in one's own hand" means one is able to see 
the referent inside and out, that is, in totality.  My question then is 
this:  is this analogy common in Indic traditions and, more importantly, 
are there any known references to these properties of the āmalakī in 
Sanskrit works?

Much thanks,


Ryan Damron
Graduate Student
Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Am 01.05.2011 03:17, schrieb c.cicuzza at
> Dear All,
> one more example from the Pali literature transmitted in Siam:
> so pana mahāmoggallānathero yathā puriso āmalakaphalaṃ gahetvā attano pāṇitale ṭhapeti.
> Cf. Buddhapādamaṅgala (ed. in Cicuzza, C., A Mirror Reflecting the Entire World, Bangkok and Lumbini 2011, p. 58).
> Best Regards,
> Claudio Cicuzza
> (Webster University)


Prof. Dr. Birgit Kellner
Chair in Buddhist Studies
Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context - Shifting 
Asymmetries in Cultural Flows"
University of Heidelberg
Karl Jaspers Centre
Vossstraße 2, Building 4400
D-69115 Heidelberg
Phone: +49(0)6221 - 54 4301
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