The Twilight Language

The Twilight Language

A twilight language (Sanskrit:"sandha-bhasa", Tibetan:"gongpe-ke") is a polysemic language and communication system associated with tantric traditions in Buddhism and Hinduism. It includes visual communication, verbal communication and nonverbal communication. Tantric texts are often written in a form of 'twilight language' that is incomprehensible to the uninitiated reader. As part of an esoteric tradition of initiation, the texts are not to be employed by those without an experienced guide and the use of 'twilight language' ensures that the uninitiated do not easily gain access to the knowledge contained in these works. According to Judith Simmer-Brown:

As has often been said, tantric texts are written in "twilight language" ("sandha-bhasa", "gongpe-ke"), which, as the "Hevajra-tantra" states, is a "secret language, that great convention of the "yoginis", which the "shravakas" and others cannot unriddle". This means that the texts of Buddhist tantra cannot be understood without the specific oral commentary by authorized Vajrayana teachers [cite book|last=Simmer-Brown|first=Judith|title=Dakini's Warm Breath:The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism|publisher=Shambhala Publications Inc.|location=Boston and London|date=2002|pages=p.169|isbn=1-57062-920-X]

The book

"The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism" is a 1986 book by Roderick Bucknell and Martin Stuart-Fox. The authors explore the existence of a "Twilight language" (Sanskrit "IAST|saṃdhyā-bhāṣā") employed in the exegesis of sacred texts and communication systems within dharmic traditions. This 'twilight language' is employed to simultaneously evoke a spectrum of sub rosa meanings and concealment of esoteric truths through intentionally opaque language, metaphor, gesture, codes and signs.

To provide a cypher of the code of "IAST|saṃdhyā-bhāṣā", the authors drew upon: semiotics, symbolism, iconography, Asian religions, Asian Philosophy, Indian religions, Indian philosophy, Buddhist symbolism, temple architecture, cosmology, mathematical notations, Zen Buddhism, Japanese Art, meditation, personal sadhana, tantra, macrocosm-microcosm parallelism, dialogue with many teachers including Anagarika Govinda and senior members of the Krishnamurti community. (1986: p.vii-xiii)

Classifications and numerology

Numbers, numerology and the spirituality of numerals is key to the twilight language and endemic to Vajrayana as it is throughout Indian religions. Numbers that are particularly frequent in classification are three, five and nine. As Bucknell, "et al." (1986: p.110) state:

The fivefold classification presented in the "tantras" is remarkably comprehensive, embracing objects of every conceivable type; it includes the infamous set of 'five Ms' (fish, meat, wine, "mudrā", sexual intercourse) and even a set of five 'body fluids' faeces, urine, blood, semen, flesh. [On the 'five Ms', see Benjamin Walker, "The Hindu World", vol. I (New York: Praeger, 1968), p.221; on the five 'body-fluids' see Elder, 'Problems of Language in Buddhist Tantra', pp.241 - 2.] In addition it includes sets of doctrinal principles, such as the five "skandhas" (factors of existence), the four "kāyas" (Buddha-bodies) and the triad "prajña", "upāya", "bodhicitta" (wisdom, means, enlightenment-mind). For example, "prajña", "upāya", and "bodhicitta" are identified with the triads female/male/union, Amitābha/Akṣobhya/Vairocana, and so on, and are thus implicitly assigned to the water, fire, and space groups respectively. [See Wayman, 'Female Energy and Symbolism', pp. 89-90; also Snellgrove, "The Hevajra Tantra" vol. I, p.27.]

Pali Canon

Although 'twilight language' is primarily a feature of esoteric traditions such as the Vajrayana, Bucknell, "et al." (1986: p.vii) cite the Thai bhikku Buddhadasa as having explored "the importance of symbolic language in the Pali a number of lectures and publications." [Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). "The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism". Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4] . Twilight language is a more highly codified form of the symbolic language that is prevalent in much religious and spiritual literature.

Vajrayana Tradition

As Bucknell, "et al." (1986: p.vii) concisely state in implying a dichotomy between Indian Vajrayana and Himalayan Vajrayana:

In the Vajrayana tradition, now preserved mainly in Tibetan sects, it has long been recognized that certain important teachings are expressed in a form of secret symbolic language known as IAST|saṃdhyā-bhāṣā, 'Twilight Language'. "Mudrās" and "mantras", IAST|maṇḍalas and "cakras", those mysterious devices and diagrams that were so much in vogue in the pseudo-Buddhist hippie culture of the 1960s, were all examples of Twilight Language [...] [Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). "The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism". Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4.]

In Tantric Practice

As well as providing a means of protecting the secrecy of esoteric teachings, 'twilight language' is also, in itself, a means of instruction. According to Layne Little:

Tantrism plays with language much like it plays with the social conventions and the ethical structures which it subverts. It employs an enigmatic language which is said to project the yogin into the "paradoxical situation" which is "indispensable to his training." [cite web|url=|title=Writing at Twilight:"O' Shariputra, the sandhaa-bhashya of the Tathaagatas is very difficult." |last=Little|first=Layne|accessdate=2008-07-08]

ee also

*Language of the birds
*Image schema
*Conceptual metaphor
*Visual thinking
*Visual language


Further reading

*Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin (1986). "The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism". Curzon Press: London. ISBN 0-312-82540-4
*Nordstrom, L. (1989). "Philosophy East and West". Pp: 104-106. (A detractory review of Bucknell et al's "The Twilight Language".)
*Bucknell, Roderick & Stuart-Fox, Martin, "Response to Lou Nordstrom's Review of "The Twilight Language: Explorations in Buddhist Meditation and Symbolism", Philosophy East and West (1989).

External links

* [ Writing at Twilight: "O' Shariputra, the sandhaa-bhashya of the Tathaagatas is very difficult." by Layne Little]

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