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Re: snakes

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  • Stephen Hodge
    Hello Bhante, You wrote: Three Pali tetrads of snakes come to mind, but I m not sure if any are quite what you re looking for. Perhaps you could state which
    Message 1 of 4 , Jun 9, 2004
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      Hello Bhante,

      You wrote:

      Three Pali tetrads of snakes come to mind, but I'm not sure if
      any are quite what you're looking for. Perhaps you could state
      which bad things they represent. Otherwise it's hard to know what
      to look for, since Pali has at least thirty words for 'snake'.
      Anyhow, these are the tetrads I can recall now:
      *****
      Thank you for your reply. I'm not interested in the symbolism attributed to
      snakes nor the legendary anthropomorphic nagas, but I am trying to ascertain
      i) what names are given to the individual snakes in the fairly common set of
      four, and ii) what actual snakes they correspond to. All too often with
      flora and faunna, one encounters unhelpful glosses in dictionaries etc "a
      kind of snake" etc. I'm translating some material from Tibetan and can
      reconstruct the Sanskrit for three of the four: aa`sii-vi.saa,
      d.r.s.ti-vi.saa and naaga -- there is a fourth which is puzzling. In the
      Lanakavatara-sutra, mention is made of the first two above with bhujaga and
      ghora as the other two, although some people have incorrectly understood
      these as epithets.

      *******
      > Then in the Aasiivisasutta (S iv 172-5) the four mahaabhuuta are
      compared to four (unspecified) kinds of viper. The Atthakathaa
      gives these names based on the effects of their venom, but these
      are not normal Pali words for snakes: ka.t.thamukha, puutimukha,
      aggimukha, and satthamukha.

      Yes, it is this group of four -- but I do not believe that they are all
      vipers. Regarding the names, as one can see from above, the Skt names also
      seem to be derived from the effects of the venom -- for example, there is
      another called `svaasa-vi.saa. In my sources, mention of the four most
      feared venomous snakes clearly refers to actual snakes. Since modern Indian
      sources state that there are four extremely deadly snakes (saw-scaled
      vipers, Russell's vipers, spectacled cobras and the common krait, which
      between them kill over 25,000 people per annum in India), I think it is
      reasonable to assume the the four classical venomous snakes and the four
      "modern" ones. I would just like to know which is which -- but
      surprisingly, nobody seems to know.

      >The ka.t.thamukha's venom (representing pa.thavii) makes the
      victim's body and limbs become as stiff as a board. The
      puutimukha's venom (representing aapo) makes the body ooze with
      pus like an over-ripe jakfruit. The aggimukha's venom
      (representing tejo) makes the victim feel as if the body were on
      fire. The venom of the satthamukha (representing vayo) makes him
      feel he is being drilled full of holes.
      [snip]
      However, I wouldn't expect much material from Pali
      sub-commentaries to be present in non-Theravaadin texts.

      ***
      This is, of course, interesting but still not helpful. Regarding Pali
      commentorial sources, one thing that did occur to me is that these highly
      venomous snakes don't actually live in Sri Lanka -- could that be the case ?


      Thank you for the obvious trouble you have gone to over your reply -- I'll
      let you know if I ever resolve the problem.

      Best wishes,
      Stephen Hodge

      *********

      > June 10th: Say NO to European Union.
      > United Kingdom Independence Party -- http://www.ukip.org
      It's just a pity that many UKIP representatives also espouse quasi-racist
      opinions -- a kind of soft version of the BNP ?
    • dhammanando@csloxinfo.com
      ... Hello Stephen, I have now finished examining all the occurrences of ka.t.thamukha, puutimukha etc. in the Pali, Atthakathaa and .Tiikaa. My conclusion is
      Message 2 of 4 , Jun 13, 2004
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        Stephen Hodge wrote:

        > Thank you for your reply. I'm not interested in the symbolism
        > attributed to snakes nor the legendary anthropomorphic nagas, but
        > I am trying to ascertain i) what names are given to the
        > individual snakes in the fairly common set of four, and ii) what
        > actual snakes they correspond to.

        Hello Stephen,

        I have now finished examining all the occurrences of
        ka.t.thamukha, puutimukha etc. in the Pali, Atthakathaa and
        .Tiikaa. My conclusion is that there is no evidence at all that
        the commentators thought of these as specifying any actual
        snakes. The ka.t.thamukha, for example, appears to be simply any
        kind of snake whose venom makes one's body stiff, but cannot be
        limited to any particular snake of this sort. The closest the
        commentators come to making an identification is in the SA
        passage that I appended to my last post. But this only comes when
        the commentator gets down to the sub-sub-species and consists
        only of ".....like a tree-snake". If even a sub-sub-species can
        only be identified in this vague manner, it seems unlikely that
        the commentators intended any greater degree of specificity for
        the main species.


        > All too often with flora and faunna, one encounters unhelpful
        > glosses in dictionaries etc "a kind of snake" etc.

        Sometimes it can't be helped. Even ancient dictionaries like the
        Abhidhaanappadiipikaa and its .tiikaa will sometimes just say "a
        kind of bear" or "a small tree". The best one can then hope for
        is that the word will have survived (with unchanged meaning) in
        Sinhalese or some modern Indian language.

        > I'm translating some material from Tibetan and can reconstruct
        > the Sanskrit for three of the four: aa`sii-vi.saa,
        > d.r.s.ti-vi.saa and naaga -- there is a fourth which is puzzling.
        > In the Lanakavatara-sutra, mention is made of the first two
        > above with bhujaga and ghora as the other two, although some
        > people have incorrectly understood these as epithets.

        You perhaps will have noticed in the SA passage in my last post
        that there is a tetrad comprising:

        1) da.t.thaviso
        2) di.t.thaviso
        3) phu.t.thaviso
        4) vaataviso

        This would seem to partly overlap with the ones you name above,
        but again there is no evidence that the Pali commentator
        understood them to be actual snakes. They are merely the
        sub-divisions of the main groups. An aggimukha da.t.thavisa, for
        example, would be a snake that bites and whose bite makes you
        feel your body is burning.


        >> Then in the Aasiivisasutta (S iv 172-5) the four mahaabhuuta are
        >> compared to four (unspecified) kinds of viper. The Atthakathaa
        >> gives these names based on the effects of their venom, but these
        >> are not normal Pali words for snakes: ka.t.thamukha, puutimukha,
        >> aggimukha, and satthamukha.


        > Yes, it is this group of four -- but I do not believe that they are all
        > vipers.

        You're right. I was under the impression that 'viper' meant any
        kind of venomous snake. Now I find it only means the viperidae
        family.

        > Regarding the names, as one can see from above, the Skt names also
        > seem to be derived from the effects of the venom -- for example, there is
        > another called `svaasa-vi.saa. In my sources, mention of the four most
        > feared venomous snakes clearly refers to actual snakes. Since modern Indian
        > sources state that there are four extremely deadly snakes (saw-scaled
        > vipers, Russell's vipers, spectacled cobras and the common krait, which
        > between them kill over 25,000 people per annum in India), I think it is
        > reasonable to assume the the four classical venomous snakes and the four
        > "modern" ones. I would just like to know which is which -- but
        > surprisingly, nobody seems to know.
        >
        > Regarding Pali commentorial sources, one thing that did occur to
        > me is that these highly venomous snakes don't actually live in
        > Sri Lanka -- could that be the case ?

        It seems unlikely to me. The four you named above are all found
        in Sri Lanka, but even if it were some snake unique to India one
        would expect that Buddhaghosa -- a native of Bodh Gaya -- would
        have known about it.

        A likelier explanation is that the Pali commentators had either
        had no contact with those traditions in which the snakes were
        given identities, or else they knew about it but thought it an
        unnecessary distraction from the purpose of the simile. (The
        snakes are not referred to in any other context in Pali sources).

        Best wishes,

        Dhammanando

        P.S.

        > It's just a pity that many UKIP representatives also espouse quasi-racist
        > opinions -- a kind of soft version of the BNP ?

        I see them as tough Tories rather than soft fascists. Their
        small-government conservatism has little in common with the
        authoritarian centralism advocated by the BNP.
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