QUERY> Lapis Lazuli Vase?

Joseph Walser's picture

At two places in Yampolsky's 1971 translation of the writings of Hakuin [The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings, pp. 94 and 144], Hakuin refers to the state of either great death or great doubt as being like one "seated within a lapis lazuli vase."  Does anyone know more about the social context of lapis lazuli vases in 17th-18th century Japan? Were they used in funerals by any chance?

Any pointers would be appreciated.

Joseph Walser

Department of Religion

Tufts University

Medford, MA 02155

Dear Joseph Walser, I'm not at all a specialist of Hakuin or Japanese funeral rites, but here are some thoughts. I've so far only checked Orategama zokushū (Yampolsky's p. 144), but there the original word corresponding to "lapis lazuli" is "ruri." If so, I'm skeptical about this translation. First, the context is as follows (loc. cit.):

When a person faces the great doubt, before him there is in all directions only a vast and empty land without birth and without death, like a huge plain of ice extending ten thousand miles. As though seated whiten a vase of lapis lazuli surrounded by absolute purity, . . .

Thus, the point of this simile is that this person is seated in a vast space without hindrances. However, lapis lazuli is mostly opaque material. So, if one were seated in a vase of lapis lazuli, one would be confined in a tiny space, which does not fit the context. Second, lapis lazuli is an extremely precious (costly) and hard-to-get material, and I think it is unlikely that such material was used for urns (if this is what you mean).

In Shōsōin, there are objects called "ruri cups," which are transparent glass cups. In Orategama zokushū also, I suspect that "a glass (perhaps, crystal) vase" is what is intended.

Hope that this is of some help.

Nobuyoshi Yamabe

Waseda University

 

Ruri=琉璃, Early Middle Chinese (Pulleyblank) [毘]琉璃 *[bji]luwli (the trisyllabic form does occur sometimes, even if the dysyllabic 琉璃 *luwli is far more common) is a phonetic rendering of a Middle Indic form related to Ardhamāgadhī [ve]ruḷiya, Pāli [ve]ḷuriya, etc. (sanskritized to vaiḍūrya). Now, that veruḷiya/vaiḍūrya was, for much of Indian history, 'beryl' and not 'lapislazuli' is conclusively proven by Alfred Master in pp. 304-307 of his article "Indo-Aryan and Dravidian" (BSOAS 11, No. 2, 1944). In fact, veruḷiya and the 'beryl' are etymologically related through Greek, whose source is the prakrit word! In modern Mandarin 琉璃 liuli is exactly colored glass, as Prof. Yamabe points out.  

namaskaromi,

Diego      

My sincere thanks to Professors Loukota and Yamabe for their helpful observations. I can work with this.
Sincerely,

Joseph Walser
Department of Religion
Tufts University
Medford, MA 02155