I'm currently studying the book "Buddhist Cosmology. Philosophy and Origins" by Akira Sadakata in translation by Gaynor Sekimori. Published by Kôsei Publishing, Tokyo in 1997. The English version is also from 1997, my copy stems from 2004.
The book is hilarious.
Not because of the sometimes strange Buddhist cosmology - I'm acquainted with that because I have already written some works about Realms of Punishment in Hindu- and Buddhist lore.
Yet this book? I'm torn between laughing, crying and throwing a fit.
I would say it is eurocentristic, but it's written by a Japanese scholar so that one scholar is probably just as bonkers as a cat on catnip.
Because I don't want to be alone with these atrocities that came to my eyes, I want to share a "best of".
Before that let me say that the book in itself is not an abomination, the buddhist content is quite fitting, yet the style of writing makes me want to claw my eyes out. Many sources are used and indicated, there are many very beautiful and detailed diagrams that only a maths-fetishist can create in this glory. It is also a good comprehension of the cosmology both of early Buddhism and the Mahayana. But these are things that make me go crazy:
We begin with the structure of the world by separating it into elements. Sadakata evaluates the five (!) Buddhist elements in detail, which is fine, but compares them to the Greek study of elements. He is seriously saying that the Buddhist, who have a fifth element "ahkahsha"(space), grabbed the school of elements from the Greek but were too dumb to make it right, quote p.25: "... we can conjecture that they copied Greek philosophy but erred in interpretation". WHAT? Way to be condescending. First: This elements in Buddhism were developed long before there was Buddhist iconography, which really may be influenced by Greece, when shall these geek have arrived there to spread their school of elements?!
Besides, how about thinking of the school of elements of, I don't now, China maybe, which is THE COUNTRY RIGHT BESIDES INDIA?! And already contains five elements?!
* Geography in MY cosmology? ... it's more likely than you think!
Next there are some explanations of early Indian and Buddhist thoughts how the world and the continents could look like. Keep in mind that these are thoughts of 800-1200 YEARS AGO.
Now enjoy this tasty piece of condescending, mis-aimed superiority-complex:
p. 36: "The ancient Indians placed the four landmasses to the north, south, east and west, and though that their positions were unalterable for as long as the present kalpa lasted (a kalpa is an incalculably long period of time). Our knowledge of continental drift, however, tells us that this is not possible." Those silly ancient Indians! How dare they not knowing what we haven't known for 200 years more than 1000 years ago?!
"We know, through examining the directional flow of terrestrial magnetism and the distribution of geological forms, which allows us theoretically to fit continents together, that the Indian subcontinent was once located near the South Pole, connected with Antarctica, Africa and Australia." Yes, of course "we" know this for 1000 years or something... oh! Wait! We also just -recently- (in Earth Time) found out about that and our own cosmologies were no less silly! Especially you, Mr. Sadakata, who come from a country that was closed up from foreign development for several centuries, should know that *serious face*.
The following three pages educate us about the geological means of travelling continental plates. Great. It's 8th grade Geography all over again! "Mr. Teacher I know something! I know something! Pay attention to me!"
I absolutely needed that in my book about Buddhist cosmology.
* Oh those silly Indians! (again)
Page 38 shows another piece of Mr. Sadakatas chronologically-challenged status: After an description how the old Indians imagined the nature and movement of the sun and the moon, were the weaker light of the moon is explained with it being an embodiment of water, Sadakata adds: "Thus the sun shines brightly and is hot, whereas the moon gleams coldly. (The ancient Indians do not seem to have considered that the moon reflects the light of the sun.)"
No, WHAT? REALLY? Are you telling me, Mr. Sadakata, AGAIN that the people 1000 years ago didn't know about things we "educated" people haven't known about for 500-200 years? A-fucking-MAZING, Sherlock!
* Thou arrogance is not enough!
Right on the next page, 39, we enter the question why the days over a year are of different length. The old Indians explained that this is through the sun pendling between north and south of all four world continents, which isn't that far from reality.
I guarantee the following quote is not altered besides the bold print:
"The Abhidharmakosha says, 'When the sun moves to the southern part of Jambudvipa [...], the nights grow longer, and when it moves north [...], the days grow longer.' This analysis is faulty. It is true that the sun continuously moves between north and south. This movement, however, does not explain the changes in the lengths of day and night; for this, knowledge of the earth's roundness is indispensable. Jambudvipa, however, is on a plane surface."
OH MY GOD! The Indians thought the world was flat! Horrible, I say, horrible! How could they? And that were it only took 4000 years from the first Greek mathematician thinking about the world being round until it became a matter of fact! And may I remind you, dear Mr. Sadakata, that the Chinese and Japanese cosmology also thought the world was a SQUARE until the western scholars invading their countries told something different?
The following is not the fault of the author, I just include it because it is so sad it's hilarious. Referring to page 50ff. the seems to be a very special kind of hell for pedophiles (yay!) in classic India (6th century) as read in the Sutra of Stability in Contemplation of the True Dharma (Saddharma-smrity-upastha(h)nasutra), it's depiction in the Japanese script "Essentials of Salvation" (Ojô Yoshu) by the priest Genshin (942-1017) it is depicted that "Those who have taken hold of the children of others and done evil things to them, causing them to weep and cry, fall into this hell and receive its agonies"
However the first "torture" means that they see their children being tortured by having put hot iron rots into their genitals (wait... what? the children (even if illusions) are tortured for the sins of their parent?) and only after that hot liquid copper is put into the anus of the sinner. Thinking of the legends with Kappa-Yokai... I call fixation ;)
Calmed down a bit?
Great, so I hope you won't have a heart attack like I had reading the following.
* CHALK IS MADE OF SKULLS!
After several pages about the formation and structure of different kinds of hells, we come back to the etymology of hell-names we had before. Three of the eight "cold hells" are called Utpala (blue lotus), Padma (red lotus) and Mahapadma (crimson lotus). It is said in some sources that the names refer to the colors of the hells. Now grab your seats, Mr. Sadakata writes the following:
"It is hard to understand how this description could cause terror, through perhaps the ancient Indians had some kind of psychological fear of these colors"..
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
Of course the Indians had a deep rooted psychological fear of red and blue! Every time they saw a red flower they SCREAMED IN HORROR and of course we all know that the old Indians lived like moles under the earth because looking at the blue sky made them SHRIVER IN FEAR.
This is also the reason why red is the most positive color in the Indian culture! Don't you see? You equal the most horrifying, hell-like thing you know with love, wealth and marriage!
This is especially great because on page 53 follows another explanation he deems better:
"[a scripture of Pu-Kuang] includes a more satisfying explanation. 'The hell called Utpala is so named because the skin of an evildoer splits open because of the dreadful cold, and the body resembles a blue lotus. The hell called Padma is sonamed because here the skin splits and resembles a red lotus. The hell called Mahapadma is so named because here the skin splits and resembles the crimson lotus'".
Uhm, yeah, of course giving the same explanation for three different colors makes totally more sense.
*I'm so creeped out!
The whole description ends with Sadakatas words: "It is hard to say whether the image of bodies that are like blue, red and crimson lotus flowers vying to bloom on the surface of a dark pond is horrifying or beautiful."
If it is... what are you... omg... *speechles, takes a step back*
Mr. Sadakata, you seem like a deeply disturbed person and I hope I will never meet you because I'm scared to my bones. If you really can't decide if split bodies are more horrifying than beautiful, maybe you should get some help. God.
If I find more pieces of rage, I will quote them here.