Ideas from Indian Religion, Philosophy and Literature in Parsifal
he following extract has been translated from the final section of Richard Wagner och den Indiska Tankevärlden (Stockholm, 1985) by the Indologist and Sanskrit scholar, Professor Carl Suneson. Neither this section, or indeed any of Suneson's fascinating monograph, has, to my knowledge, been published in English translation. This is a pity because it contains information and insights that deserve to be available to all who are interested in the dramatic works of Richard Wagner. Those who wish to read the entire book (of approximately 100 pages) but who cannot read Swedish might like to seek out the German translation by Gert Kreutzer, published under the title Richard Wagner und die Indische Geisteswelt.
or the reader who is accustomed to thinking of Wagner's Parsifal as an exclusively Christian work that is based upon a particular medieval poem, Wolfram's Parzival, some of this extract might come as a surprise. In his monograph on the Indian influence (direct and indirect) upon Richard Wagner and his dramatic works, Carl Suneson both summarised and extended all previous studies in this area. It might be noted that Wolfgang Osthoff's study of Die Sieger (The Victors) is contemporary with Suneson's book; these separate studies of the Buddhist elements in Wagner's works are complementary and together throw new light on this aspect of the Wagner canon.
hose of us who incline towards the view that Schopenhauer's philosophy was the dominant influence on all of Wagner's later works (i.e. after the 1854 watershed), while accepting the importance of the Buddhist and Brahmanist (i.e. Hindu) influences, tend to regard them as secondary. It is also possible to take the view that these oriental ideas influenced Wagner directly and independently of any Schopenhauerian context. In any case, in order to understand what happens in Parsifal it is first necessary to recognise the importance of Wagner's belief (clearly stated in a letter of August 1860) in reincarnation and karma; this subject was explored in depth by Osthoff. It is more difficult to take seriously, in the light of the studies by Osthoff and Suneson respectively, the extreme view of Parsifal forcefully put forward in Richard Wagner: Parsifal by Lucy Beckett, that this drama is an exclusively Christian work in which Buddhist and Brahmanist ideas -- which, it should be noted, Wagner often blended and confused -- like karma, if present at all, are insignificant. The Indian concepts of karma (literally actions, also used in a wider sense to mean the results of actions) and punya (merit, which accumulates from good actions) are of fundamental importance in Wagner's Parsifal, a fact that has escaped most commentators, among whom Carl Suneson and Wolfgang Osthoff are the notable exceptions.
ranslator's note: I have omitted some of the Sanskrit and Pali quotations, retaining only an English translation of the Swedish text. I have included English prose translations of the Middle High German quotations but I have provided translations only for some of the modern German quotations. One MHG quotation has been replaced by a link to another page on this web site where several descriptions of Condrie are provided for comparison. Where lines from Wagner's Parsifal are not translated below, I refer the reader to my annotated English translation of the libretto. I have kept most of Suneson's footnotes (marked as "author's footnote") except for those that only reference the poem of Parsifal in Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen; and I have added a few explanatory footnotes of my own (marked as "translator's footnote") as well as a few in-line clarifications (contained in [brackets]). Section headings have been added to assist the reader; they do not appear in the original.
agner's "Bühnenweih-Festspiel", completed in the twilight of his life, is a summary of his musical and literary achievements, and the light of the Grail reveals reflections from many cultures and epochs. Sacred and profane, occidental and oriental, Christian and Buddhist, all included in this unusually beautiful and multifaceted synthesis.
he formal starting-point for Wagner was Wolfram von Eschenbach's medieval epic-poem Parzival, completed around 1210. This work, a broad fresco in which all of the richness and motley of medieval society is brought to life, is characterised by a direct, popular and burlesque style. So it is quite unlike Wagner's Parsifal in character. Wolfram's medieval realism can be seen as a contrast with the idealism of Wagner and the nineteenth century, and although Wagner and his contemporaries received Parzival as a mystical and allegorical work, the modern scholar is more likely to emphasise its political and didactic content. Already in Wagner's Dresden library there was the Middle High German "editio princeps" of the text, Karl Lachmann's edition, Berlin 1833, together with the modern German translations respectively by San-Marte (1836) and Simrock (1842), and Wagner made his first acquaintance with Parzival already in 1845.
uring the long process through which the Parsifal -drama grew to maturity, before it could be performed for the first time in the summer of 1882, elements of widely varied traditions and diverse origins were assimilated and blended together. Wagner took from Wolfram personal names and specific incidents, and he decorated the outer frame with Christian symbols in accordance with the aesthetic- religious view of art that he made his own. This does not hide the fact that motives with their origins in non-Christian world- views also found their way into the work.
t should also be recalled, as Karl Heckel demonstrated already in 1891 1, that even two earlier works by Wagner contributed to the diversity of ideas in Parsifal: the unfinished drama Jesus of Nazareth from 1848 and even more so, The Victors [Die Sieger]. The extremely intimate relationship between The Victors and Parsifal was something on which Wagner himself remarked 2 and it appears with extreme clarity in a diary entry made by Cosima on 6 January 1881. This establishes a link between Prakriti and Kundry, in that the essence of both works is said to be the redemption of a woman:
n the diversity of motives and representations which can be found in Parsifal, there are many which have oriental connections. The worlds of the Grail and of Klingsor respectively might suggest an Iranian background, and the strange and suggestive final words of the work could be seen as referring to gnostic ideas of a god who permeates matter:
rabian references are prominent in Wolfram's poem, naturally enough in a work written
at the time of the Crusades, and their weak echoes can be heard in Wagner's drama. Of special interest in this context is the revision of the spelling of the
name of the title character, from Parzival to Parsifal, on which Wagner decided and which Cosima recorded on 14 March 1877:
agner had found a reference to this false etymology when he read Joseph von Görres edition of Lohengrin, ein altdeutsches Gedicht ..., Heidelberg 1813, where the author put forward the following argument:
arsifal is in my opinion, of Wagner's completed music-dramas, that in which the Indian influence is most demonstrable. In what follows below, a number of episodes and ideas in the work will be subjected to analysis and discussion, which with a high degree of certainty can be said to derive from Indian tradition and Indian thought. This appears more natural when we consider Parsifal's dependency upon The Victors, even if an exact delineation of which motives are Indian, and which are not, might not be possible. Departures from Wolfram will be noted, although it should not be overlooked that even in that medieval work, despite its somewhat fluid geography, there are significant Indian contents 3.
lready in their outer framing Wolfram's Parzival and Wagner's Parsifal reveal significant differences. Wolfram's colourful medieval world, full of contrasts, with its tumble of characters, tournaments and battles, is marked by its almost total absence in Wagner's drama, where in its place there appears a portrayal of nature and scenery which are closer to those of Indian literature. The naturalistic description of the area surrounding Monsalvat, which has no counterpart in Wolfram, is more suggestive of an Indian hermitage (ashrama) in which the Grail knights, especially Gurnemanz, are more like Indian ascetics (sannyasin) than Christian templists. In the third act Gurnemanz explains to Kundry the ascetic ideal, in which one lives like the animals on herbs and roots from forest and meadow:
he sacredness of animals, something quite alien to the western medieval world, clearly is promoted in the first act when the squire says:
to which Kundry replies:
espect for life and non-violence (ahimsa) belong to the ethical foundations of almost all Indian religious and philosophical traditions. This solidarity with and fellow- feeling for all that lives is forcefully expressed in Gurnemanz's condemnation of Parsifal after the latter has shot down a swan:
he nature-poetry passages in Parsifal, with serene woods and meadows in which humans and all kinds of creatures live together in total harmony, have countless parallels in descriptions of Indian ashrama. The epic poem Ramayana, which Wagner praised highly 4, contains an abundance of such descriptions. Here is one such, of a hermitage in the forest of Dandaka, where an ascetic speaks to Rama:[Sanskrit quotation omitted]
[Ramayana book 3 (Aranyakanda) chapter 8]
e have already seen how Parsifal makes his entry on stage after shooting a swan with an arrow, and how this results in moral condemnation from Gurnemanz. At this point it seems appropriate to address the question of where this scene came from, since there is nothing directly comparable in Wolfram. A certain commonality of motive might be claimed with Parzival 118, 4-10, in which the young Parzival with bow and arrow hunts birds and bursts into tears whenever he kills one:
remote similarity can perhaps be traced in Parzival 281, 23 to 282, 22, where Arthur's falcon, which happens to be near to Parzival, attacks a flock of geese. The falcon wounds a goose, causing three drops of blood to fall upon the snow, which causes Parzival to think of his wife. The origins of the episode are more likely, however, to be found in two very different areas of Indian traditions, presumably combined by Wagner: one Buddhistic and one epic 5.
he underlying Buddhist tradition is one of several that are connected with Devadatta, who in Buddhist texts is usually described as a cousin of the Buddha. He is said to have sought to dominate the Buddhist order, to have attempted to divide it, and to have attempted a series of coups against the Buddha. There are many accounts of these events preserved in the Buddhist tradition but the brief episode that is relevant to Parsifal is found only in the tradition of "mulasarvastivada", one of the many early Buddhist schools that flourished around the time of the birth of Christ. Here it is told how Devadata shot with an arrow a hamsa, a goose, which fell to the ground near to the Buddha; who sharply reproaches him, heals the goose and refuses to accede to Devadatta's demands for its return, with the argument that he has a better right to the goose than has Devadatta, on account of the merit he has gained in countless earlier lives. Mulasarvastivada's canonical texts in Sanskrit had been thought lost but parts of them were rediscovered in the twentieth century6. Before then only Chinese and Tibetan versions were known, and in Wagner's time only a very limited number of translations from these versions were available. The probable source for Wagner was an article of Anton Schiefner entitled, Eine Tibetische Lebensbeschreibung Çakjamuni's, des Begründers des Buddhathums which appeared in Mémoires des savants étrangers, Tome VI, St. Petersburg 1851, pages 231-333. (Articles by Schiefner in Tome I of this publication were mentioned in Schopenhauer's reading list [item 6, in On the Will in Nature]). In this article Schiefner gives a translation of the episode of Devadatta and the goose from a Tibetan version of 1734, prepared by the Tibetan scholar Rin chen chos kyi rgyal po (page 238):
he connection between the goose in this Buddhist tradition and Wagner's swan is explained by the fact that the [Sanskrit] word hamsa (cognate with German Gans) was, in accordance with European poetic tradition, often mistranslated as "swan". In two important respects Wagner's version differs from the Buddhistic: in the Parsifal-text he mentions a pair of swans which circled above the lake, when the male is killed, not just wounded. A more exact parallel to Parsifal can, however, be drawn with the already- cited epic Ramayana. A later interpolation in this epic tells of a famous episode: Valmiki, the poet to whom the epic is attributed, was wandering by the river Tamasa when he witnessed a hunter kill a krauñca-bird (presumably a kind of crane), at which he cast a curse upon the hunter for this wicked deed. Here are the lines:
ere Ramayana is consistent with Parsifal in mentioning the female (
he act of Parsifal that is most influenced by Indian motives is without doubt the second, which in a powerfully expanded form builds upon a central episode in the biography of the Buddha. The Buddha's life-history is related piecewise in the oldest Buddhist texts in Pali, and it was only in the first century after the birth of Christ that there were compiled two complete Sanskrit biographies of the Buddha, although in different literary forms. Both works build upon an already long-established oral tradition and contain many legendary episodes. This applies especially to Lalitavistara, an undated anonymous composition from one of the first centuries of the Christian era, which contains both older and newer parts. The work reflects ideas that characterised a recent development in Buddhism, Mahāyāna. The Buddha character has developed transcendental properties and his life-history is played out on a cosmic stage. Lalitavistara was a significant component in the foundation that underlies the Tibetan text that Schiefner translated. The other work, Buddhacarita, is an early example of the most advanced verse form in Sanskrit, kavya, and was written in the middle of the first century after Christ, by a Brahmin who had converted to Buddhism, Asvaghosa. Buddhacarita gives a significantly more credible account of the Buddha's life than Lalitavistara. The later work had not been published in its Sanskrit original text during Wagner's lifetime although it could be studied in the French translation of the Tibetan text which Foucaux published in 1848 (see Schopenhauer's reading list no.11). The other early account of the Buddha's life, Buddhacarita, would not be published before a decade after Wagner's death. We can take it for granted that Wagner obtained his basic knowledge of the Buddha's biography from the work of Burnouf (no.10 on the reading list) and later from Köppen (no.26)).
he central episode in the life of the Buddha takes place under the Bodhi-tree where he sits in deep meditation is search of highest wisdom and with it supreme enlightenment, thus to become a Buddha. This turning point in Buddha's life and development takes place despite the determined attempt of the evil tempter Mára to turn him from the path of meditation and wisdom. This event is described in detail and with artistic, dramatic power in the Buddhist texts. Mára attacks both with the help of his seductive daughters and with his warriors, armed with all kinds of weapons. Buddha resists the daughters' seductive temptations, and the weapons, stones and rocks that hail down upon him are changed to offerings and a peaceful rain of flowers, so that Mára finally accepts that he has been defeated.
t is not difficult to see similarities between this scene and Klingsor's magic garden in the second act of Parsifal: Mára's daughters = flowermaidens; Mára = Klingsor; Buddha = Parsifal. The character of Klingsor appears in Parzival, of course, but there he plays an insignificant role. Wolfram's Clingschor, a conventional sorcerer, is in Wagner's version transformed into a satanic incarnation of evil, more like Mára, and a worthy opponent for Parsifal. The traditional Buddha biographies lack, however, any parallel to the very climax of the second act of Parsifal, in which Klingsor hurls at Parsifal the holy spear, which remains hanging in the air above his head:
Parsifal grasps the spear, makes the sign of the cross and with it all of Klingsor's world collapses:
exact counterpart to the motive of the spear that hangs in the air above Parsifal's head is not found either in Lalitavistara or in
Buddhacarita 7, and it appears neither in Köppen's book or in Schiefner's
article. However, a parallel to this motive appears in a regional tradition of Ceylon, where already centuries before Christ was a Buddhist stronghold. The previously-mentioned Karl Heckel drew attention many years ago to a passage in the Manual
of Buddhism, 1853, by Spence Hardy, which might have been Wagner's source. This unique work, which Schopenhauer praised highly (and included as no.24 on his
reading list), reflects a living tradition from Ceylon as it was in the first half of
the 19th century. The author, who had spent more than twenty years on that island, presents Buddhism not only on the basis of study of the texts of the Pali
canon, but also from the oral tradition and popular religious literature, sannaya, in Singhalese. The version of the event at the Bodhi-tree which
Spence Hardy translated tells how Mára, when all of his previous attempts had failed, himself mounted his elephant and grasped his fearful weapon, a discus. He
hurled the weapon towards the Buddha, but like a leaf it remained hanging in the air above his head. In colourful terms the attack is described as follows (page
[A Manual of Buddhism in its Modern Development, Robert Spence Hardy, 1853.]
pence Hardy wrote his book at a time when the Pali texts had not yet appeared in Europe. Today there are several texts available in which the motive of Mára and his discus can be found8.
lthough the Indian Buddhist sources first became available in the west only in the 19th century, many centuries earlier echoes of the life of the Buddha had reached Europe in the indirect form of the once widespread Christian legend of Barlaam and Josaphat. Presumably during the 8th century Christian monks in Central Asia had come into contact with traditions of the Buddha and elements of these traditions, including the temptation scene, were woven into Christian proselytising in the form of the tale of the prince Josaphat, who was converted to Christianity by the monk Barlaam. From an original, now lost, in the middle-Iranian language, pahlaví, this story was transmitted in Arabic and Greek versions, which were translated into practically every language of the Christian world. In and with the 12th century Latin version which was the basis of translations into west-European languages, the legend achieved an unprecedented popularity in the middle ages, when Barlaam and Josaphat were regarded as historical individuals, finally resulting in their canonization by the Catholic Church.
hese names can be traced back to Indian originals. Barlaam might have been originally the Sanskrit word bhagavan, the venerable one, a common term used for divinities and persons of high religious status. Josaphat might, perhaps through the Arabic form Budhasaf, derive from the Sanskrit word bodhisattva, a term applied to one who is on the way to becoming a Buddha. Three versions of Barlaam und Josaphat appeared in Middle High German, of which one from 1325-30, attributed to Rudolf von Ems, was the most renowned. Rudolf's version was reprinted in Leipzig in 1843, and came into Wagner's possession in his Dresden period 9 and so might have been a source supplementing the Buddhist tradition. The Indian king Avenir has given the sorcerer Thêodas the task of persuading his son Josaphat to renounce his Christian faith. Thêodas sends to him a woman who offers Josaphat her erotic services, in exchange for allowing herself to be baptised. Preaching the Christian faith, Josaphat resists the temptation, and this seduction scene resembles that between Kundry and Parsifal in the second act of Wagner's drama:
here can scarcely remain any doubt that the prototype of Parsifal's second act is to be sought in the Buddhist tradition; although Peter Wapnewski, the foremost medieval specialist who has also written about Wagner 10, takes the view that it derives from Parzival 619, 1-15, where Orgeluse tells of her encounter with Parzival:
hat is related in this short passage, however, is only Orgeluse's offer of marriage to
nother Indian angle on Parsifal concerns the character Kundry. This mysterious double-creature, whose existence alternates between demonic and servile, is perhaps the most fascinating of Wagner's female characters, and although in her he has combined aspects of Cundrîe in Parzival, Mary Magdalen in Jesus of Nazareth and Prakriti in The Victors, she is and remains uniquely "sui generis". Already in Wolfram there is a hint of Cundrîe's two natures, and her origin is given as India. See the description of Cundrîe in Parzival 312, 19 to 314, 6 in Wolfram's characteristic, rough-hewn, pithy and lightly ironic style ...
n one side of Cundrîe's personality there is an elegant lady of the world, who is able to converse from a
knowledge of scholarship and in several languages including Latin, French and "heathen", i.e. Arabic. She dresses in the latest fashions, with an excellent
French cloak (
olfram refers to India by the curious name of Trîbalibôt. The name (Trî)balibôt probably derives, via the Greek form Βαλιβοθρα, from the Sanskrit Pataliputra [the modern Patna], the capital of the old kingdom of Magadha in the east of India, which has connections with the earliest history of Buddhism.
undrîe's double nature in Parzival develops with Kundry in Parsifal into something of metaphysical dimensions, and her later development from defiant heathen into humble penitent is missing from the former. If Wolfram's Cundrîe symbolises that which is alien, then Wagner's Kundry is more the carrier of fundamentally Indian ideas. As it was in The Victors, in Parsifal the idea of reincarnation is a fundamental motive, and it is in the character of Kundry that it finds its clearest expression. In the first act Gurnemanz refers to her rebirth and atonement for guilt in her present life:
n the opening scene of the second act, when Klingsor awakens Kundry's demonic nature, he mentions her different incarnations, of which Gundryggia perhaps represents
an "Indian" form of name for Kundry:
he state of hibernation which Kundry enters between her errand for the Grail and her awakening to serve Klingsor might be compared to the Indian [Vedic] concept of suṣupti, deep sleep. This is a state, deeper than dreaming sleep, described in Indian texts as one in which the ātman is briefly released from the bands of matter, and which therefore involves a foretaste of mokṣa [release, Erlösung], the complete release from saṃsarā [the cycle of rebirth] 11. Kundry is in a similar way, while she hibernates, beyond the separation of the material world into good and evil domains. Kundry, who is more than any other character in Parsifal a figure representing the cycle of rebirth, embodies both of the forces that permeate the entire work, Verlangen [desire] and Erlösung [redemption]. These terms can be equated respectively with the Buddhist terms tṝṣṇā (thirst or craving) or upadana (clinging to existence); and mokṣa (release from the wheel of existence). Driven by lust and desire, she is at the same time gripped by a longing for redemption. Since her fateful meeting with Christ and his curse on her, she has wandered like a female Ahasuerus from existence to existence in vain search of her redeemer, with whom she seeks physical union. She gives Parsifal a harrowing account of saṃsarā's irresistable, driving rhythm which never lets her rest but which drives her to new incarnations:
arsifal, who now perceives the path of awakening and who has become aware of his mission, declares the
incompatibility of craving and release. He brings home to her, in almost Buddhist terms, that a precondition of die Erlösung is
the denial of the craving for life:
hat sinful lust is the decisive factor preventing awakening and liberation is a recurring theme in Suttanipāta, the only Pali text of which Wagner owned a translation, in which one verse reads as follows:[Pali quotation omitted]
[Atthakavagga, Kamasutta 3.]He who escapes sinful desire, like the head of a snake at his feet, he overcomes that desire fully conscious in the world.
ust as for Prakriti, for Kundry it is
renunciation and an asexual love that leads to
he Indian teaching of wisdom's decisive importance for final redemption coexists in Parsifal with
Christian teachings. This true knowledge naturally affects the central character, Parsifal, and his development from der reine
Tor to Gralskönig. The theme of der reine Tor is already, in some respects, found in Wolfram. Parsifal is
obviously also a kind of Christ- figure, one who suffers the torments of Christ, although Wagner's understanding of Christ is highly individual, complicated, and
in some ways incompatible with the Saviour known to Christian theology. Christ is, for Wagner, both Erlöser and in need of
Erlösung (recall "Die Gottesklage" in the second act:
n later Buddhist tradition, a bodhisattva 12 is one who is on the way to becoming a Buddha and who has vowed to postpone their final transition to Buddhahood, to work for the salvation of all sentient beings and in a totally self-sacrificing manner to serve them. The bodhisattva doctrine includes a description of the transfer of merit from a bodhisattva to those in need of help. The being who receives this help is freed from further rebirth and the consequences of their actions in earlier lives, karma, are not brought to maturity but absorbed in the depths of the bodhisattva's boundless sea of mercy. Parsifal's confused outburst to Gurnemanz in the third act can be interpreted as a reflection of this teaching, also in terms of reincarnation:
arsifal rightly accuses himself of having caused, in his ignorance on his previous visit, the present distress of
the Grail knights. Yet he also states that he bears a burden of guilt
t is nevertheless possible to present this part of the text in a way that unambiguously reveals the
bodhisattva-ideal. According to the Buddhist scriptures the [advanced] bodhisattva should possess a certain number, usually ten,
perfected attributes, the so-called pāramitā 13. The two most vital attributes that
go to make up the ethical character of a bodhisattva are karunā, fellow-feeling [or compassion], and prajñā,
wisdom 14, which together express the highest Buddhist ethic. Fellow- suffering was for Wagner, as for
Schopenhauer, the highest ethical imperative, and therefore Buddhist fellow- feeling had a special resonance for him. The bodhisattva's
two cardinal virtues,
[Wagner's Parsifal, act one.]Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor, harre sein', den ich erkor.
omparison with Wolfram reveals that Wagner has deepened the prophecy motive and given it both ethical and metaphysical dimensions. In the medieval text, 781, 15-16, Parzival reads on the Grail, which in Wolfram is not a chalice but a stone, the laconic statement:
daz epitafium ist gelesen: du solt des gräles härre wesen.
hen the prophecy is fulfilled and Parsifal is anointed as Grail king in the third act, Gurnemanz calls upon Christ, who has shared Parsifal's sufferings. This solemn climax is bathed in a radiance of fellow-feeling and wisdom and Gurnemanz, as he blesses Parsifal, accords to Christ the epithets mitleidsvoll Duldender and heiltatvoll Wissender:
he terms Mitleid and Wissen again appear together in Parsifal's final words when he heals
Amfortas' wound with the holy spear:
nce again Wagner has blended together Christian and Buddhist representations. Suffering has led to compassion and understanding, and it is through the power of these attributes that Parsifal has become worthy of the kingship and thus able to uncover the Grail.
he heart of Parsifal is the scene in the third act known as the "Karfreitagszauber", which wonderfully reveals Wagner's ability to extend and enrich an episode from Wolfram, while at the same time interpreting it both from Christian and Indian perspectives. Parzival 448, 1-20 describes how on Good Friday the title character meets a grey knight, with his wife and two daughters:
his is a short but significant scene in Wolfram's poem. Dressed in armour, the ignorant
Parzival is sharply corrected by the knight and informed of the day's religious significance (
Footnote 1: Jesus von Nazareth - Buddha ("Die Sieger") - Parsifal, Bayreuther Blätter, pages 5-19. [Author's note]
Footnote 2: Well aware of this fact, G.H. Welbon expressed some uncertainty:
Asked about the work two decades later, Wagner responded that its essence had been pressed into his Parsifal. It is not altogether clear, however, what essence he had in mind.The Buddhist Nirvana and its Western Interpreters, page 178. [Author's note]
Footnote 3: These passages are, however, mostly of a general and often negative character. An imaginative but extreme attempt to read Wolfram's Parzival as in large part a contemporary account of the Far East and India, was made by the Indologist H. Goetz in his study Der Orient der Kreuzzüge in Wolframs Parzival, Archiv für Kulturgesichte, Band 49, Heft 1 (1967), pages 1-42. Goetz thought that he had been able to identify various Indian place-names and historical Indian persons in the poem, as well as finding several allusions to important political and military events which occurred in association with the Turkish invasion of north-west India at the end of the twelfth century. His conclusions might be described, however, as a quagmire of uncertain speculations. [Author's note]
Footnote 4: Wagner was reading Ramayana (in Holtzmann's less than literal translation) in the weeks preceding the Munich Prose Draft of Parsifal. See the Brown Book, entries for 15 and 16 August 1865. [Translator's note]
Footnote 5: Without presenting any argument, Lucy Beckett claimed that the two above-mentioned episodes in Wolfram represent Wagner's only sources for the swan scene in Parsifal. See Richard Wagner: Parsifal, Cambridge 1981, pages 14-15. [Author's note]
Footnote 6: These Sanskrit originals became known through the discovery of the so-called Gilgit-manuscript and they began to be published in the 1930s. The part of the canon containing the episode of the Buddha and the goose, Sanghabhedavastu, was published by R. Gnoli in The Gilgit Manuscript of the Sanghabhedavastu, Serie Originale Roma, Rome 1977. [Quotation omitted] ... An analysis of the various Buddhist traditions concerning Devadatta's many confrontations with the Buddha has been made by B. Mukherjee in Die Überlieferung der Devadatta, dem Widersacher des Buddha, in den kanonischen Schriften, Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, Beiheft J, München 1966. [Author's note]
Footnote 7: In her article Richard Wagner's Art in its relation to Buddhist Thought, Dorothy W. Dauer briefly mentions the element of the spear and Mára's weapon over Buddha's head (page 30) and in connection with this she gives an incomplete reference to Buddhacarita in R. Schmidt's translation Buddha's Leben, Asvaghosa's Buddhacaritam, Hannover 1923 (reprinted Osnabrück 1972). This reference I find rather mystifying, given that this motive, as mentioned above, does not appear in Buddhacarita, nor does it, consequently, in Schmidt's translation. [Author's note]
Footnote 8: The motive is found for example in the anonymous and undated Pali text Apadanatthakatha, a commentary to the first part of the compilation of stories that is known as Apadana. These stories tell of remarkable and heroic deeds performed by Buddhist monks and nuns (Pali apadana = Sanskrit avadāna). The events under the Bodhi-tree are described in the introduction to the commentary. [Pali quotation omitted] ... The essence of this passage might be paraphrased as follows:
The wrathful Mára, unable to contain his surge of anger, cast his discus towards the future Buddha. The weapon remained standing like a flowery canopy over the one who was deep in meditation on the various perfections.[Author's note]
Footnote 9: Curt von Westernhagen, Richard Wagners Dresdener Bibliothek 1842 bis 1849, Wiesbaden 1966, page 85. [Author's note]
Footnote 10: Der traurige Gott, Zweite erg. Aufl., München 1980, page 221. [Author's note]
Footnote 11: Obviously this is not a Buddhist concept, since it is widely held that the Buddha denied the existence of a soul or ātman. In the Māndūkya Upanishad existence is described in terms of four states: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the self itself.
When one is fast asleep, bereft of dreams and desires, that is prâjña, the self in the third state. As the darkness of night drives away the visible world, so does the dreamless sleep push aside the world of objects, external or internal. Experiences now collapse into one undifferentiated point of consciousness, restful and blissful.Māndūkya Upanishad, verse 5. [Translator's note]
Footnote 12: In the Mahāyāna tradition the generic term bodhisattva is normally used with the narrower meaning of bodhisattva-mahasattva, where mahasattva means great being. In this narrower usage, which is clearly that intended by Suneson, the term bodhisattva denotes one who has taken the vow to be reborn, no matter how many times this may be necessary, in order to attain the highest possible goal, that of Complete and Perfect Buddhahood, for the benefit of all sentient beings. In this Mahāyāna sense of the bodhisattva-ideal, the concern of the bodhisattva is with liberation (i.e. Erlösung), not for himself alone but for all sentient beings. The bodhisattva develops great compassion (mahakarunā) and his deeds and attitude are sealed with the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā). Suneson's description of the bodhisattva as one who postpones their transition to Buddhahood is an inaccurate one, since the bodhisattva (in the Mahāyāna tradition to which Suneson is clearly referring), as described in most western writings on Buddhism, postpones not their transition to Buddhahood but their transition into nirvāṇa; or to put it another way, they scorn the lesser nirvāṇas which are the goal of non-Mahāyāna traditions, in order to work towards the higher goal of perfect Buddhahood and with it, transition to the ultimate nirvāṇa of the Buddhas. [Translator's note]
Footnote 13: "Mahāyāna and non-Mahāyāna sources refer to a number of perfections (pāramitā) mastered by the bodhisattva as he or she follows the long path to perfect Buddhahood. The most frequently quoted (Mahāyāna) list contains six: giving (dāna), morality (śīla), patience (kśānti), effort (virya), meditative concentration (dhyāna) and wisdom (prajñā). The perfection of wisdom is primary; it is said to lead the other perfections as a man with eyes leads the blind." Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations, Paul Williams, 1989. Har Dayal (see note 14) notes that Eugène Burnouf, who was Wagner's first point of contact with Buddhism, preferred an etymology in which the term pāramitā was derived from pāram, meaning, the opposite bank or the further shore. Here, suggests Dayal, he had been misled by Tibetan sources who had interpreted the term in this way. The derivation that Dayal prefers (page 166), however, is from the root parama, meaning: highest, best, most excellent or superior. The path of the bodhisattva, as it is described in later Buddhist texts, has ten stages; it is at the sixth stage that the bodhisattva achieves the perfection of wisdom, which suggests that there was an earlier scheme which only described six stages, perhaps coordinated with the six perfections, later replaced by a more extended description of the path which attempted to describe the progression of the advanced bodhisattva from the sixth perfection to perfect Buddhahood. In the Mahāyāna tradition there is not one but several kinds of nirvāṇa; at the sixth stage of the path the fuel of saṃsarā is burned out and so, if the bodhisattva had not taken the vow to follow the bodhisattva path to the ultimate goal, he or she could have entered into a lesser nirvāṇa at this stage. Having taken the vow of the bodhisattva, however, the one who follows that path will not enter into nirvāṇa until they reach the higher nirvāṇa of perfect Buddhahood. Some texts describe, therefore, further perfections beyond the sixth stage of the path, although different schools of Buddhism have different ideas about these higher reaches of the path. Some texts suggest that the advanced bodhisattva is already in a kind of nirvāṇa, in which he or she remains in the world but is no longer of the world. [Translator's note]
Footnote 14: The standard reference work concerning the bodhisattva doctrine is by Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature, London 1932 (reprinted Delhi 1970). The two terms karunā and prajñā are discussed on pages 178-181 and 236-248 respectively. [Author's note]
Concerning karunā, Dayal informs us:
No one word can convey an adequate idea of what karunā means. It is mentioned in an enormous number of passages in all the principal treatises. It is perhaps the word that occurs most frequently in Mahāyānist literature. According to the Sata-sāhasrikā prajñāpāramitā, a bodhisattva shows his karunā chiefly by resolving to suffer the torments and agonies of the dreadful purgatories during innumerable æons, if need be, so that he may lead all beings to perfect Enlightenment. He desires Enlightenment first for all beings and not for himself. He is consumed with grief on account of the sufferings of others, and does not care for his own happiness. He desires the good and welfare of the world. All his faults and sins are destroyed, when his heart is full of karunā. He loves all beings, as a mother loves her only child. This famous simile sums up a bodhisattva's ideal of karunā.The translation of prajñā (when used by Buddhists in its religious-technical sense) as wisdom (or as Wissen) is inaccurate; the word prajñā is used by Buddhists with a range of meanings, none of which exactly corresponds to wisdom/Wissen. In most cases the meaning of prajñā seems to be closer to understanding, which is arrived at by analysis. This can be a practical kind of understanding, such as might be acquired by a doctor or an engineer (Dayal comments,
but this original sense of prajñā was not adopted in systematic Buddhist philosophy); it can also be a metaphysical understanding, resulting from deep and insightful thinking about the way things really are. In the latter sense, prajñā means an understanding of the world, which at least in the Indian and Tibetan Buddhist traditions is the result of analytic and conceptual thinking. The perfection of wisdom, which might be what Wagner meant by
reinsten Wissen, is the wisdom of the advanced and compassionate bodhisattva, which goes beyond the wisdom of the world. [Translator's note]