Shashin Shiko Zu (捨身飼虎図)
(“A Picture of Bodhisattva’s Abandonment of Himself to the Tiger”)
Japan on wood, c. 650 CE
Source: “Shashin Shiko Zu“, ja.wikipedia.
Shashin (捨身) means abandonment or renunciation of oneself;
shiko (飼虎), nurturing of a tiger or tigers.
On one side of a box-type shrine crafted for prayer called the Tamamushi Shrine (Tamazushi no Zushi 玉虫の厨子) housed at the Treasure House of the Horyuji Temple, Nara, Japan, a significant picture is illustrated. This japan-on-wood picture shows a Bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be, Prince Sattva or Satta Ohji 薩埵王子) jumping down from a cliff to nurture a tiger facing extreme starvation. It also vividly shows a tiger devouring the offered Bodhisattva. The themantic should be equanimous compassion and resolute acceptance of death.
The Oxford English Dictionary (Kindle edition) defines Bodhisattva as follows:
In Mahayana Buddhism, a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings. <ORIGIN> Sanskrit, “a person whose essence is perfect knowledge”, from bodhi “perfect knowledge” (from budh- “know perfectly”)+ sattva “being, essence”.
Bodhisattva (“Bisatsu 菩薩” in Japanese) is called Ajita (阿逸多) in Sanskrit, which means “unconquerable”.
Tatsuo Murata made a very significant discovery as follows. The poet T. S. Eliot wrote the “three white leopards” passage in Ash-Wednesday (1930), drawing on the Bodhisattva tale entitled “Shashin Shiko” which is included in the Jataka tales.
Lady, three leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd. (Ash-Wednesday)
Murata says that, as a graduate student at Harvard in 1912-13, Eliot read the Jataka tales (Eriotto 26; “Buddhism in T. S. Eliot” 22-23) (Note 1). He adds that Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia (which is famously Eliot’s very favorite book) contains the same story in it:
Our Lord spied, as he passed,
A staring tigress. Hunger in her orbs
Glared wit green flames…
two cubs, whining with famine, tugged and sucked,
Mumbling those milkless teats which rendered nought.
. . .
Seeing which bitter strait, and heeding nought
Save the immense compassion of a Buddh,
Our Lord bethought, “There is no other way
To help this murderess of the woods but one.
By sunset these will die, having no meat:
There is no living heart will pity her,
Bloody with ravin, lean for lack of blood.
Lo! if I feed her, who shall lose but I,
And how can love lose doing of its kind
Even to the utter most?” So saying, Buddh,
Silently laid aside sandals and staff,
His sacred thread, turban, and cloth, and came
Forth from behind the milk-bush on the sand,
Saying, “Hoo! mother, here is meat for thee!”
Whereas the perishing beast yelped hoarse and shrill,
Sprang from her cubs, and hurling to the earth
That willing victim, had her feast of him
With all the crooked daggers of her claws
Rending his flesh, and all her yellow fangs
Bathed in his blood: the great cat’s burning breath
Mixed with the last sigh of such fearless love. (Arnold 80; Book the Fifth)
Regarding interpretations and comments of “three” white leopards made by Grover Smith, B. C. Southam and so forth, Murata says: “The main reason why the confusion is prevalent [among Eliot critics] derives from the fact that those critics did not notice that Eliot heavily drew on the Buddhist tale” (241).
The tale of “Shashin Shiko” tale should be accessible in standard books containing representative Jataka tales or Honsho-tan (本生譚). The full e-text is available at <http://www.upf.edu/materials/huma/central/historia/xinamon/docums/budisdoc/tigre.htm>.
It would be appropriate here to point out that there is a slight problem about Murata’s presentation of basic evidence. A closer examination of the related pages of his book reveals that for some indefinite reason he does not give vitally important evidence to show that Eliot specifically read the very “Shashin Shiko” tale.
A Sanskrit Reader: Text, Vocabulary and Notes by Charles Rockwell Lanman, which Eliot read during 1911-1912 (Murata, Eriotto 17), contains “The story of Nala and Damayanti” from the Maha-Bharant; “The old tiger and the traveller”, “The ass in the tiger-skin” and “The hermit and the mouse that was changed to a tiger” from The Hitopadeca; and other stories from The Katha-Sarit-Sagara, The Manava-Dharmacastra and others. But Lanman’s Reader does not include the Shashin Shiko tale.
Earlier in his book Murata specifically say that the Reader includes the tale “The old tiger and the traveller” (Eriotto 20). In contrast, he says nothing about the particular book in which Eliot read the “Shashin Shiko” tale. He only makes it clear in general terms that the tale in question is contained in the Jataka tales which he had the experience of reading during 1912-1913 (236).
NOTE 2: This Shashin Shiko story is described in various texts like Sanskrit texts, a variety of Chinese and Tibetan translations but does not appear in any of Pali texts (Watanabe 165).
SUPPLEMENTARY COMMENTS BY TATSUSHI NARITA:
(1) The literal translation of Shashin Shiko Zu (捨身飼虎図) is “A Picture of Bodhisattva’s Abandonment of Himself to the Tiger”. Murata consistently uses the Japanese title “Shashin Shiko” in his vernacular book. In his English article for the Modern Schoolmen, the English title he employs is “The Sacrifice to the Starving Tigers” (22) with the plural “tigers”. In the article, his main concern seems to be with the way Arnold depicts the tale.
(2) Compassion plays a central role in the “Shashin Shiko” tale. “Holy men are born of pity and compassion” (“The Bodhisattva and the Hungry Tigress”, Buddhist Scriptures 25). “So, his [Mahasattva’s or Bodhisattva’s] heart filled with boundless compassion” (26). The tale is in accord with the main principle of the Mahayana School of Buddhism, one of the two main sects of Buddhism. Mahayanaic Buddhism emphasizes the altruistic salvation of other people while Hinayanaic Buddhism the individual believer’s liberation from suffering. Somehow, the story should remind us of Christ who saves mankind by his death by offering himself as an atonement for the sins of the whole world.
(3) While writing the “three leopards” passage Eliot was conscious of a line from Dante’s Prugatorio xxiv: “Such a one am I who take note when love inspires me, and in what manner he dictates within me, go uttering it” (qtd. in Smith 144). (“One am I who indite/ When love inspires, and as he speaks within,/ So, in accordance with his bidding, write”–translated by Ichabod Charles Wright.) In view of the line, I consider it important to presume that after the tiger has devoured her prey, she kept the Bodhisattva alive inside her. For that reason she most likely did “go uttering it [Bodhisattva]”.
(4) “Salutation” (Part II of Ash Wednesday) celebrates “the theme of joy in the acceptance of death” (Smith 143). Cf. “Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still” (Part I of Ash Wednesday; CP 90 ).
The prophet Elijah prayed to God “under the shade of a juniper tree” that God would take his life since he was no better than his fathers (Jain 219 on 1 Kings xix, 1-8). It was under the Bodhi tree (ficus religiosa or bodaiju 菩提樹 in Japanese) that Gotama meditated and achieved enlightenment.
(5) The exoteric path is full of myth and allegory. In the Upanishads, it figures as a realm of gods who live in a constant symbiotic relationship with humans. This relationship is symbolized through the activity, for example, of “eating and being eaten”. Kearns continues as follows:
“This whole world, verily, is just food and the eater of food”, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1. 4. 6). Whoever sees the divine as duality, whoever worships God outside the self, “is like a sacrifical animal for the gods.” “Verily, indeed, as many animals would be of service to a man, even so each single person is of service to the gods,” and they will therefore attempt to keep humans from the knowledge of esoteric truth (1. 4. 10). According to [Paul] Deussen, Shankara speculated a good deal on this problem of eating and being eaten on the exoteric path as described in the Brhihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads. It was written that the pious received the reward of being “nourishment for the Gods.” Yet for Shankara, “Surely there can be no enjoyment in being devoured by the Gods as if by tigers!” His solution, according to Deussen, was to take the passage metaphorically as meaning “the enjoyable intercourse” between the gods and the pious. Nevertheless, the conclusion was evident: In Shankara’s Vedanta this exoteric, symbiotic relation of eating and being eaten was a lower bliss, and recognition of the identity of the deep self and Brahman abolished the distinction on which it was based. (Kearn 47-48)
In the “Shashin Shiko” tale, the tiger represents humans. The Bodhisattva’s compassion for them and desire to save them led him to sacrifice his own existence. Here humans are devouring tigers. All this reminds us of the Christian tradition in which Christ the Son sacrificed himself for the congregation and that the congregation do eat the divine body.
Humans devour tigers and, importantly, vice versa. That is, God is a fierce devourig tiger. Eliot’s “Gerontion” (1919) explores the extent in which the old, shrivilled man is too insipid and unworthy to accept “Christ the tiger” (CP 37). “The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.” (CP 38) However, Gerontion remains “undevoured” by the wrathful Christ who would otherwise pounce at his target.
Gerontion hesitantly hangs between life and death. That is in striking contrast to the admonition (“be absolute for death”) which, in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, the Duke of Vienna, disguised as a friar, gave to the young Claudio who was sentenced and about to be executed (Jain 81). However, the tiger leaves “the scattered bones to wait for symbolic resurrection” (Smith 144). Smith immediately adds: “The death provokes joy for the potential reward of strength as life” (144).
As shown in the quotation above, Shankara said, “Surely there can be no enjoyment in being devoured by the Gods as if by tigers!” No doubt this phrase of Shankara caught Eliot’s attention and soon led him too fascinated to prolong a literary experiment playfully inspired by the idea of the equation of God with a tiger.
(6) The figure of Bodhisattva flying “upside down in air” down the “blackened wall” from the cliff should remind one of a scene of The Waste Land. In the poem’s “What the Thunder Said” section, the poet represents the bats as follows:
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells…. (CP 73)
It is noteworthy that Bodhisattva is represented as flying through the pitch-black or lacquer-black space like Eliot’s bats. Cf. Hieronymus Bosch’s version of Inferno or Purgatory where human beings are depicted as falling downward upside down against the backdrop of Inferno full of fire.
(7) Bodsattava regards his body as something degraded, deprived and detestable, speaking of it specificallt as “putrid” or “futile”:
For a long time I [Mahasattva or Bodhisattva] have served this putrid body and given it beds and clothes, food and drink, and conveyances of all kinds. (Buddhist Scriptures 25)
When I [Mahasattva or Bodsattva] have renounced this futile body, a mere ulcer, tied to countless becomings, burdened with urine and excrement…. (Buddhist Scriptures 26)
The Buddhist view of this mundane sphere basically as depraved, futile and putrid (or edo 穢土) might be reflected in Eliot’s view of the world and body as something unworthy. Also, I consider it very noteworthy that Eliot was most likely fascinated by the literary experiment with what such a view of body would bring forth if pushed to an extreme. Cf. (1) “And I must borrow every changing shape/ To find expression… dance, dance/ Like a dancing bear,/ Cry like a parrot, chatter like an ape” (T. S. Eliot, “Portrait of a Lady”, CP 21). (2) “So he [Saint Narcissus] became a dancer to God” (T. S. Eliot, “The Death of Saint Narcissus”, CP 606). (3) The Buddhist view of this world shares similarity with the Plato’s view of the mundane sphere as a mere reflectin of the real world of idea.
(8) The Tamazushi Shrine picture represents both past and present in exactly the same space. One may say that the construction and design of the picture is intrinsically “time-cubist” if Pablo Picasso might be said to be a “space-cubist”.
(9) For Ezra Pound’s abiding interest in Bodhisattva and its relevant figure Kwannon or Kuanon, see Ronald Bush.
(10) Ernest F. Fenollosa’s Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art (1912) refers to the Tamamushi Shrine (59). It also illustrates the Shrine’s photo (between 48 and 49).
(11) In Nepal, legend says that it was while walking through a small town called Dhulikhe located near Kathmandu that Buddha felt great compassion to the pitiable sight. In commemoration of the sacrificial action of love, a stone statue of Buddha, a tiger and her cubs were created.
(12) As for a short description of Tatsuo Muara’s life, visit a page <http://kpapoem.web.fc2.com/iinn/murataiin.htm>. While the page is written in Japanese, there is a beautiful snapshot on it.
- 1927: Born at Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture (near Kyoto). Attended Otsu Shogyo in due years.
- 1943: Entered Military School and joined the army in China. Returned to Japan in 1946.
- 1947: Earned MA at the Graduate School, Doshisha University.
- 1952: Taught at Zensho High School.
- 1966: Worked for Baika Women’s University.
- 1980: Visiting Scholar, Wolfson College, Cambridge University.
- 1999: Professor Emeritus, Baika Women’s College.
Source:”Marco Polo: Travel Nepal” <http://www.marcopolo.com.np/nepal/valleyrim.php>; and “Nambo Buddha” <http://www.tours2nepal.com/offers/tour/namo-buddha>.
(12) Japanese novelist Akihiro Mita takes up the Shashin Shiko episode in his novel Shika no Oh: Bosatsu Honsho Tan (“The Cervine King: Bodhisattva Jataka Tales”) (1994). Cf. George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876).
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