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Vom Omen zum Orakel. Bemerkungen zu einigen Todesvorzeichen der indotibetischen Tradition

Pages 739 - 766



In Sanskrit the term ariṣṭa means „sign of death‟, such as omens, dreams and physical symptoms that are believed to be precursors of impending death. Lists of ariṣṭas were compiled in medical and religious scriptures by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Especially important is the deterioration of sight and hearing. In a number of texts we find instead of the loss of sight a unique testing procedure: the closed eyes are pressed with the thumbs, in order to produce the sensation of flashing lights (phosphenes). Irregularities which may indicate death in the following days or months are interpreted according to a sophisticated system. In a similar way instead of the loss of hearing there is an examination of the humming sound that arises when one covers the ears with the hands; from anomalies death may be predicted within a wider span of time, ranging from a few days to several years. Together with a third omen (that of flickering air above a person's shadow during the midday heat) these procedures were shaped into a triad of divinatory methods reported by the Buddhist author Vāgīśvarakīrti (11th century) and the Jain scholar Hemacandra (12th century). It is clear that at the end of the first millennium an otherwise unknown group of practitioners of Tantric yoga arranged oracle-like procedures based on older omens. In this development Buddhists and Jains participated equally. The Tibetan Bar-do-thos-grol (the so-called „Tibetan Book of the Dead‟) incorporates two different traditions of divination by eyes and ears. The first of these shows little variety in prognosis, but is characterized by poetical descriptions of ominous symptoms; it was handed down by both the Rnying-ma-pas and Bon-pos. The second is by and large identical with the elaborate system of Vāgīśvarakīrti and Hemacandra. From minor features it appears that the Bar-do-thos-grol was influenced by a tradition also present in some prognostic charts associated with Vāgīśvarakīrti's treatise in the Tengyur.


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