Wednesday, July 29, 2015


How regrettable this version of this book is edited but far from the original


This new edition, revised as they say and expanded as they say too, is not complete, far from it, maybe 50% of the full work, though it is better than the first edition in 1962 by the same Massachusetts Institute of Technology that was half the size of this edition, hence something like 30% at most of the original work. No one in the scientific world has the right to reduce the work of any scientist for their own sake, be it to select some ideas or concepts or to save some money. And MIT has still not corrected what is a scientific mistake. This is not a translation. This is a rewriting of Vygotsky central work.

There is though no escape from this work and what it contains about the maturation of a child’s conceptualization power, because it is a power. Piaget some thirty years after Vygotsky’s death declared that he would have changed some of his own ideas if he had known of this work. Unluckily Vygotsky died early in 1934, officially of tuberculosis and he was more or less forgotten for a while due to the emergence of the Stalinist dictatorship in the USSR. What’s more this situation blocked Soviet thinkers and sciences from being presented and introduced to the rest of the world.

The main difference between Vygotsky and Piaget is that Piaget worked with the privileged children of the upper classes in Switzerland. He did not have to bother about the maturation process of the children’s conceptualization power. He could only observe it because their social environment was highly cultural and the children were constantly surrounded by stimulating elements that came naturally around them. Vygotsky on the other hand was dealing with the mass of children, most of who were from environments in which cultural incitation and culture in general, particularly abstract, academic and artistic cultures, were mostly reduced to little or absent. Vygotsky had to take into account the necessity to incite children, to help the same and to make them (to) open up to new elements, develop their conceptualizing power, acquire and develop concepts.

If you want to intervene in that maturation to push it upward and even accelerate it, you have to know very precisely the various rungs on that ladder to always ask the child to consider the immediately next rung upward. If it is under the real level of the children, it is useless. If it is too high as compared to the real level of the child it is unreachable, ineffective. That’s what Vygotsky calls the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky then studied these rungs, and found out three basic phases that I am going to cover here from the book under scrutiny.

“three basic phases.
The first phase of concept formation […] the young child puts together a number of objects in an unorganized congeries or “heap” […] a vague syncretic conglomeration of individual objects that have somehow or other coalesced into an image in his mind […] three distinct stages
[1] the first stage in the formation of syncretic heaps that represent to the child the meaning of a given artificial word […] trial-and-error stage
[2] spatial position of the experimental objects […] a purely syncretic organization of the child’s visual field […] contiguity in space and time […]
[3] third stage […] the syncretic image rests in a more complex base […] elements taken from different groups or heaps that have already been formed by the child in the ways described above. […]
The second major phase […] thinking in complexes […] In a complex, the bonds between its components are concrete and factual rather than abstract and logical […] direct experience […] five basic types of complexes:
[1] associative type […] any bond between the nucleus and another object suffices to make the child include the object in the group […]
[2] collections […] association by contrast, rather than by similarity, guides the child in compiling a collection […] participation in the same practical operation […]
[3] chain complex – a dynamic, consecutive joining of individual links into a single chain, with meaning carried over from one link to the next […] the chain complex has no nucleus […]
[4] diffuse complex […] [any particular analyzed trait or feature among the various objects] complexes resulting from this kind of thinking are so indefinite as to be in fact limitless […]
[5] pseudo concept […] the appearance of a concept that conceals the inner structure of a complex
[The] third phase […] subdivided into several stages
[1] the first step toward abstraction […]the child groups together maximally similar objects, e.g., objects […] small and round, or red and flat […]
[2] the next stage […] grouping on the basis of a single attribute […] potential concepts […] functional meanings […] what the object the word designates can do, or – more often – what can be done with it
“A concept emerges only when the abstracted traits are synthesized anew and the resulting abstract synthesis becomes the main instrument of thought.”

This summary and quick but systematic presentation of the development of conceptualization in children can only work if the children have language at their disposal. I mean the articulated language that Homo Sapiens invented during his emergence from Hominin to Homo Sapiens, modern man. The child receives that language or those languages, because there is no obligation for a child to receive only one language, as soon as he can hear, that is to say as soon as the 24th week of his mother’s pregnancy. And that’s where a difference can be seen between Piaget and Vygotsky.

Let’s take the example of the conservation of volume or quantity such as the volume of liquid transferred from one container to another of different shapes. Piaget tests the children and pinpoints the very moment when a child acquires this capacity. Vygotsky wants to develop the children who need developing, and for him they all need, even if the need is not the same among all children. He will then work on the comparatives and he will find out that the conservation of quantity will be acquired when the comparative of equality which implies the others (inferiority and superiority) are acquired to be able to express the conservation of quantity or volume. When the work on comparatives comes at the proper time for the child it will help him or her to acquire that conservation of quantity. It cannot happen before the proper “age” or “stage” but if it is done properly it may accelerate the procedure and hence this explains why in some culturally stimulant environments children are advanced as compared to children from non-culturally stimulant environments.

In other words a child does not possess language at birth, in spite of the many weeks of exposure during the end of his mother’s pregnancy, and he does not possess the power to conceptualize. Both are acquired and developed and in some circumstances both can be blocked. The point here is that what Piaget considered as natural, leading thus to behaviorism which treats as natural, practically genetic, the influence of the environment on children, Vygotsky considered it as acquired through a process of development and acquisition that adults influence by their speaking to the children, by their inciting the children to discover the world, by their surrounding the children with cultural artifacts and objects, by their encouraging them to speak and express what they experience. All that is natural in a highly cultivated family. But all that has to be developed and supported in most families of average or low cultural content.

We seem to forget that if a child is not properly lateralized in his or her physical dealing with the world extremely early in his life, if a child is not properly trained into an articulated language as early as possible (adults must speak to the children and incite them to speak) the mind of the child, the intellect of the child and at times the physical body of the child might not develop properly; That leads to dyslexia for instance and if that dyslexia is not treated as soon as it appears (it might be the result of a trauma, but also of a simple defective acquisition of balance and lateralized behaviors) then the child might develop very serious deficiencies in his or her conceptualizing power, such as spatial or temporal agnosia, innumeracy, digital illiteracy (or illectronism), and finally dyslogia.

In that perspective Vygotsky is essential and a lot more stimulant than Piaget himself. Many psychologists, but also linguists, are rediscovering Vygotsky because he is a deeply cognitive scientist. He deals with the cognitive procedures by which language is acquired and the mind developed, both moving forward or upward at the same pace, the development of one causing the development of the other as much as the development of one is the result of the development of the other. Mutual development is the only way to understand the cognitive dimension of Homo Sapiens. Maybe Homo Neanderthalensis was a good hunter and some kind of attractive if not sexy hominin but he was only that and his cognitive power never reached that of Homo Sapiens.

Thus it is regrettable that MIT decided to only publish a shortened version of this book, even if they admitted they were wrong since from 1962 to 2012 they doubled the amount of “selected” passages actually “edited” meaning adapted to what they decided was supposed to be revealed. You of course can check the Russian or French full editions. If you read these languages.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Un pionnier du cognitivisme


Ce livre ancien est inestimable car en dehors de l’édition russe de cet ouvrage il n’existe qu’une édition anglaise abrégée publiée par le Massachusetts Institute of Technologie (MIT), en fait réduite à 25% dans la première édition et réduite à environ 60 % dans la plmus récente édition de 2012 (une édition qu’ils déclarent révisées et augmentées, mais certainement pas complète). Ici nous avons l’édition complète de l’ouvrage en français. Cette traduction avec la réaction de Jean Piaget a permis de clairement voir que Vygotski a eu le malheur de mourir trop tôt, officiellement de tuberculose, et n’a donc pas pu porter son travail sur la scène internationale bloquée de toute façon du fait de la dictature stalinienne qui se mettait en place. En fait Piaget a découvert que Vygotski travaillait sur des axes de recherche proches des siens à la même époque que lui-même mais environ trente ans après la mort de Vygotyski.

Mais il y a une différence entre les deux qui est capitale. Piaget travaille dans des écoles suisses qui le mettent en contact avec les enfants de la classe supérieure et donc qui sont issus d’un milieu intellectuellement privilégié et culturellement bien irrigué. Il peut alors travailler sur la maturation conceptuelle de ces enfants sans vraiment avoir à se soucier de la « mécanique » mentale et psychologique qui est derrière car il n’a pas à intervenir pour guider, conduire ou accélérer cette maturation qui se fait apparemment naturellement. Vygotski travaille lui sur la masse des enfants et il est donc confronté à la difficulté de beaucoup de franchir les étapes de cette conceptualisation. Il doit donc intervenir et aider cette maturation. Il doit donc bien déterminer les étapes pour être sûr qu’il intervient intelligemment.

C’est justement là l’enjeu. Si l’intervention ne tient pas compte des étapes fines de la maturation conceptuelle l’intervention sera inefficace soit parce qu’en dessous de l’état atteint et donc inutile, soit trop au-dessus de l’état atteint et donc inopérante. Pour aider ce mouvement de maturation mentale et intellectuelle le formateur doit intervenir en proposant à l’enfant des activités qui ouvrent sur l’échelon immédiatement supérieur à l’échelon atteint. D’où la nécessité de bien connaître ces échelons. On voit l’avantage de Piaget qui lui n’a pas à intervenir car le milieu familial et culturel des enfants avec lesquels il travaille intervient de façon permanente et les enfants sont ainsi influencés « naturellement » et leur machine mentale ne retient que ce qui est efficace.

Sans entrer dans le détails de ces étapes, j’aimerais cependant les résumer. Une remarque doit être faite d’emblée. Il n’y a pas de conceptualisation qui ne soit saisie par l’utilisation des mots qui expriment ces concepts. Il y a là une double dimension. La première est pratique : l’utilisation des mots est facile à repérer et surtout à mesurer. Piaget a fait la même chose. Pour savoir si l’enfant a acquis le concept de conservation des volumes ou quantités la façon la plus simple est de voir s’il domine les comparatifs dans des situations expérimentales qui transvasent des liquides d’un récipient à un autre de formes différentes. Mais quand Vygotski pose des racines profondes dans l’enfance, ou quand Piaget considère que ces processus sont naturels et liés à la simple maturation de l’enfant ils font tous les deux une erreur qui n’est pourtant que partielle.

C’est le cerveau humain d’Homo Sapiens qui est capable de passer d’une sensation à une perception par travail mental puis de cette perception à une identification par reconnaissance ou par simple classification (tous les animaux font cela sinon ils ne seraient pas capable de repérer leurs proies ou leurs prédateurs. Mais Homo Sapiens a inventé et développé un langage articulé qui lui permet de nommer les choses ainsi perçues et cette nomination est la première étape vers la conceptualisation et seul Homo Sapiens peut faire cela car seul Homo Sapiens a inventé et développé un langage articulé qui lui permet de produire des milliers d’unités vocales articulées grâce à la rotation des consonnes et des voyelles du fait des mutations qui ont abaissé le larynx et qui ont augmenté l’innervation de tout l’appareil respiratoire et articulatoire pour permettre la course bipède longue distance rapide (simple outil de chasse et de survie), et le tout avec le développement de la zone de Broca sans précédent pour coordonner tous les systèmes nécessaires à cette course, du mouvement des jambes au diaphragme en passant par la la pompe respiratoire du larynx et le cœur, sans compter de l’articulation buccale pour cette même respiration.

C’est donc bien le langage qui permet la conceptualisation, mais un langage articulé reçu par l’enfant dès qu’il peut entendre donc dès la 24ème semaine de la grossesse de sa mère.

La deuxième remarque est que pour Piaget la situation de communication est naturellement stimulante alors que pour Vygotski la dite situation de communication doit être nourrie et enrichie. Mais dans les deux cas c’est cette situation de communication qui est la matrice de la communication, donc du langage, du discours à la langue. Cela est négligé par Piaget mais cela n’est pas entièrement reconnu par Vygotski. C’est que l’on est là dans la dimension cognitive du langage et de la communication. Sans approche cognitive pas de progrès dans ce domaine. Pour Piaget cela se fait naturellement (c’est à dire quotidiennement dans les milieux favorisés concernés) alors que pour Vygotski la structure d’apprentissage doit intervenir de façon intense pour enrichir cette dimension cognitive de l’univers quotidien de l’enfant.

Vygotski travaillait de toute évidence à partir des pratiques pédagogiques de Makarenko, le Freinet russe. Célestin Freinet lui aussi est un cognitiviste qui considère que l’on ne peut comprendre, raison de plus transmettre et pratiquer, l’apprentissage du savoir que si l’on prend en compte la dimension cognitive du cerveau humain qui devient la dimension cognitive du comportement humain. Là où le behaviourisme a vu de la transmission sociale quasi génétique, les cognitivistes voient des acquisitions sociales anciennes qui peuvent soit bloquer, soit stimuler les acquisitions nouvelles.

Les étapes de cette conceptualisation chez Vygotski sont, à très gros traits, les suivantes :

« Le premier stade la formation du concept […] la constitution d’une masse indistincte et sans ordre, la sélection d’un tas d’objets quelconques […] ce stade à son tour se décompose en trois étapes […]
[1] la première étape de la formation de l’image syncrétique […]
[2] dans la deuxième étape la disposition spatiale des figures […]
[3] enfin la troisième étape […] les représentants des différents groupes, déjà réunis antérieurement dans la perception de l’enfant, sont ramenés à une signification unique. […]
« Le deuxième grand stade [stade de la formation des complexes] […] pensée par complexes […] cinq formes fondamentales de complexe […]
[1] complexe associatif […] toute liaison associative entre le noyau et un élément du complexe […]
[2] deuxième phase […] le complexe-collection est une généralisation des choses sur la base de leur participation à une opération pratique unique, sur la base de leur collaboration fonctionnelle […]
[3] le complexe en chaîne […] réunion dynamique et temporaire de maillons isolés en une chaîne unique et […] transfert de signification d’un maillon de la chaîne à un autre […] une vague et lointaine impression de communauté […]
[4] la quatrième phase dans le développement de la pensée par complexes – le complexe diffus […]
[5] un pseudo concept […] extérieurement c’est un concept, intérieurement c’est un complexe […] Ainsi le pseudo-concept, considéré comme une phase spéciale dans le développement de la pensée par complexes chez l’enfant, clôt le deuxième stade en son ensemble et amorce le troisième, servant de maillon de liaison entre eux.
« [Le troisième stade] C’est un pont jeté entre la pensée concrète, par images intuitives et la pensée abstraite de l’enfant. […] le troisième grand stade, qui, comme le deuxième, se divise en une série de phases ou étapes distinctes. […] La fonction génétique du troisième stade dans l’évolution de la pensée enfantine est le développement des décompositions, de l’analyse, de l’abstraction. […]
[1] la première phase […] sur la base d’une ressemblance maximale entre ses éléments […]
[2] deuxième phase […] celle des concepts potentiels […] ici le trait distinctif qui détermine l’insertion d’un objet dans un groupe général est un trait privilégié, qui a été abstrait du groupe concret de traits distinctifs auxquels il est lié de fait. […]
« L’enfant n’en vient à la pensée conceptuelle, […] il n’en termine avec le troisième stade de son développement intellectuel qu’à l’âge de transition. […] La première chose qui mérite ici d’être notée, c’est la profonde discordance, que l’expérimentation fait apparaître, entre la formation du concept et sa définition verbale. […] La présence d’un concept et la conscience de ce concept ne coïncident ni dans le moment de leur apparition ni dans leur fonctionnement […] L’adolescent utilise le concept dans une situation concrète. »

On comprend aisément que cet âge de transition est ce que d’autres appellent l’âge de raison et que l’on peut appeler la puberté, le début de l’adolescence. C’est d’ailleurs à cet âge là que les dysfonctionnements consécutifs à une dyslexie non traitée que sont l’agnosie spatiale, l’agnosie temporelle, l’innumératie, l’illectronisme et la dyslogie deviennent patents et handicapant, ce qui exige alors que l’on repère ces dysfonctionnements de façon précoce pour les traiter au mieux. On voit bien dans la perspective vygotskienne que ces dysfonctionnements sont conséquents à une dyslexie ancienne, la dyslexie étant un trouble de positionnement et repérage de l’individu dans son environnement immédiat. Cela peut-être le résultat d’un traumatisme de la première enfance, mais aussi du développement physique non équilibré dans sa latéralisation. Vygotski est une des sources du cognitivisme moderne incontournables.



Jacques Coulardeau at (35)

There is hardly anything more inspirational than these 547 Jatakas collected and reunited in three books by the Pali Text Society. Buddhism is there being born after a long journey through previous life in old Hinduism and other brahmanism. 

These Jatakas are showing how hard the birth of Buddhism was and how hard it was for it to emerge from the gods, goddesses and other deities, from the caste system and from all other alienation and exploitation instated and ossified by older religious practices.

I have been working on Theravada Buddhism, and other forms of Buddhism since a long time ago and particularly since 2005 when I spent three months attached to a Buddhist monastery and training center in Pidurangala in Sri Lanka, teaching the English of Buddhism to monks and other students.

The jatakas are for me the forest out of which Buddhism emerged with Buddha himself and his teachings, and then the transcripotion of these teachings into the canonical texts. Buddhism emerged from older religious and social traditions and lilttle by little pushed aside all forms of divine alienation and human Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, what they call "tanha."

That's the tremendous merit of the Pali Text Society to have collected the six volumes in three books and to have made them available (in good price conditions only through them) since 1895 when the first volume was published. The notes, indexes and tables of contents are essential for the reader to appreciate these 547 Jatakas.

The notes and indexes of this edition are unique and the best of tools you can imagine.
Research Interests:

Buddhism, Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Buddhist Philosophy,Buddhist Studies, South Asian Studies, Spirituality, Jatakas, Theravada Buddhism, and Buddha


The richest and densest fictional and inspirational forest


This is a general assessment for the whole collection. You can get the three volumes separately on Amazon, but you can get the three volumes in one operation from the Pali Text Society that is clearly identified and described on the Internet.

These 547 stories are essential in Buddhism, particularly in Theravada Buddhism. They are the 547 lives of Buddha before his last birth and life when he reached nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit). You can then take them as stories and read them as literature. The fact that they are attributed to Buddha himself who would have told them is purely anecdotic and secondary, and by the way either fictional or the revelation of a great literary imagination in Buddha himself. They are varied and all of them very interesting. They often go long before and beyond Buddha himself and have deep roots in Indian religious traditions of old forms of Hinduism.

But these stories were originally written in Pali, which means they had been transcribed into Pali long after the death of Buddha himself since Pali was a language devised to transcribe the canonical preaching of Buddha in the Theravada tradition four or five centuries after his death. We must understand the great advantage of Pali for the spreading of Buddha’s teachings: Pali does not have a writing system of its own and it can be transcribed with any writing system available in the Indian subcontinent and in South East Asia, provided these writing systems are based on the phonetics of the language, hence is alphabetical based on phonemes, though some maybe syllabic writing systems which is secondary since then they have diacritic signs or single vocalic signs for the various vowels to change the basic vowel that is attached to the consonant of the syllable.

These stories have become very popular and are the objects of a lot of interest, with festivals, recitations, readings, theatrical performances, illustrations of many types. Among these 547 lives the last ten are emphasized more than the others because they are closer to Buddha’s last enlightened life. They should be studied from a Buddhist point of view with one question in mind: what prevented Buddha from reaching nibbana in every single of these lives? This is typical of the last one in which Prince Vessantara who is the embodiment of the future Buddha is pushing the desire to give so far that he gives away the elephant which is considered by the people of his community as the national symbol of the kingdom where he lives. But even worse: when he is banned from his community he goes as far as giving his own children into slavery to a Brahman and his wife as a concubine to a god disguised as a Brahman. Obviously here he demonstrates his obsessive compulsive disorder that is simply called “tanha” in Pali, excessive attachment, and that is part of his merit, but a negative part. He has to become detached from even this desire to be detached from all possessions and understand that children, spouse and quite a few other things are not private possessions you can give away.

This reading is still missing in many ways.

In the same way these stories give life to many divine beings and gods or goddesses and that goes against Buddhist teaching: Buddha refused to commit his life and mental consciousness to any divine creature or creator because such gods explained no mystery in life but only replaced one with another. In the same way this rejection of any divine creation of the world and humanity enabled Buddha to reject the caste system that is based on each caste being created from one part of the divine body of Brahma himself, the Dalits, the untouchables being created from no part of the divine body at all, hence not being human beings, hence being nothing but animals. The recent case of human sacrifice of a ten year old child in Nepal in a Dalit community shows how far their rejection out of humanity can go in the negation of basic human rights and dignity and the internalization of this negation in the victims themselves. We are here living a permanent trauma in a community and that trauma creates a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that can easily become murderous or criminal. Buddha is the negation of this system by his negation of the existence of gods and even the concept of god.

These volumes are superbly precious in the way they are built. First each volume has a long and very detailed table of contents identifying each jataka. Then the last book has a long and detailed general index. But the main advantage is in the body of each story. A rich corpus of notes in each story gives the various variants of the jatakas, and important linguistic remarks about the Pali original terms used in the original jataka, which enables us to verify the translation. The translation itself is an old translation when the theory was that you had to find an “equivalent” in English of each Pali phrase. The equivalent was then typical of English culture and conveyed an English interpretation, hence at times moving the text from one meaning to another. These notes thus restore some authenticity since we can go back to the Pali concepts that have at times very little to do with English. I used the concept of “tanha” in this review with the meaning of “obsessive compulsive disorder” and with the traditional rendering of “excessive attachment.” It is obvious the concept of OCD could not be used in these translations since it is a modern concept and in the older period we are speaking of (more than one century ago) even the concept of excessive attachment was not used for “tanha” which was only understood as “attachment” which transfers the negative dimension of “tanha” from the attachment itself to what this attachment is attached to, hence the object of the attachment. That is the very germ of ascetism that Buddha rejects: to be detached from food, let’s get rid of food altogether.

My last remark is about the verses that are integrated in the jatakas and that are translated in versified verses in these translations. It is where I miss the original text most to verify the versification of the original because the versification itself is meaning something with the focalization on and topicalization of some elements by the linguistic form itself and that cannot be kept in English. But the original can be found on the Internet though it is rather hard to find it in Latin transcription since the original Pali versions are for southern and south-eastern Asian communities, hence in the writing systems they commonly practice.

This set of three books bringing together the six volumes two by two is a great tool for the discovery of this Buddhist culture that is too often only seen through the glasses of Tibetan Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism is for me a lot more human because it does not believe in the transmigration of the perfect enlightened Buddha, or whoever, beyond his or her enlightenment. In other words the concept of Dalai Lama is in full contradiction with the concept of nibbana that is central in Buddhism in general and in Theravada Buddhism in particular since enlightenment, or nibbana, takes the enlightened Buddha out of the cycle of dukkha, of birth-life/decay-death-rebirth, hence liberate the enlightened Buddha of the fate of being reborn.


Monday, July 27, 2015


José Valverde @ self-edition (34)

José Valverde @ self-edition (34)

Et réponse à Tariq Ramadan
Par José Valverde

Le Coran est un livre sacré pour plus d'un milliard de musulmans dans le monde et c'est pourquoi « Il fait peur » à plus de cinq milliards de non musulmans. Car les informations sur la situation explosive mondiale, sont la conséquence directe du caractère guerrier de l'islam.

En effet, le Coran est une compilation d'ordres guerriers, donnés à des guerriers dans le désert il y a quatorze siècles, par un chef de guerre, qui se considérait comme « prophète » d'une nouvelle religion.

Aujourd'hui, si la dimension « spirituelle », comme pour toutes les religions, peut être utile aux musulmans, par contre, la dimension politique est incompatible avec la démocratie.

Ce livre est une invitation pour mes amis musulmans à faire la distinction entre le « spirituel » et le « temporel ». L'Etat ne doit pas tolérer la moindre « exception » aux principes de la laïcité et du « Droitdelhommisme » la religion du XXlème siècle.

VAL VERDE est un vieil homme de théâtre qui a toujours lié son activité artistique à ses prises de position sur les sujets qui agitent la Cité. Officier des Arts et Lettres. Grande Médaille de vermeil de la Ville de Paris.


Texte déposé SNAC
Tous droits réservés
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15 €uros


US President Barack Obama's speech to Kenyans at Kasarani Stadium

The first Kenyan American President of the USA is reaching out to the real world that once was the slave reservation of the whole world


A miracle of beauty and spirituality


This book gives a full reproduction of the 31 meter long scroll painted by Sopha Pangchat to illustrate the Vessantara Jataka, a scroll that was completed in 1960 (year 2503 of the Buddhist calendar).

The first great quality is that the pages overlap as for the reproduction of the scroll so that there is no gap since it goes slightly further than the dividing line on the right and it starts slightly before the same dividing line on the left on the next page. Under this first reproduction the scroll in the book the authors give a summary of the story. The story itself is extremely long.

In the last section of the book each part of the scroll will be reproduced in a smaller size and every element written on the scroll will be given in Thai Lao, in Thai and in English with notes along the way. It sure is not the story itself but the information enables the audience to follow the story which implies it is painted for an educated audience which know the story enough to follow it with these short indications on the scroll itself. It is the proof that this story is extremely popular.

The main remark to be made on the artistic side of the scroll is that the dominant color is saffron with a little bit of green for various vegetal elements and some curtains or dressing elements. Many scenes are divided in some type of temple or shelter images in saffron color and between two of these a vision of the mountain, the forest essentially depicted in green and some black or dark purple.

The last two sections that are supposed to repair the damage done by Prince Vessantara when he gave his children as slaves and his wife as concubine, and to bring  him back to his country and his throne, are progressively moving out of the mountain and some strange elements are integrated. Let me give two of these. First the group of five dancers and musicians near the end of section 11, Maharat. These dancers and musicians, reduced to four will appear again in the next and last section 12, Chokasat. They are here to evoke the joy of the people on the return of the Prince but also some kind of joyful celebration for the end of this giving depravation, because he who gives his children into slavery and his wife into adultery is depraved. It has to be celebrated because it is brought to an end and repaired because it was evil in a way since it was tanha, excessive attachment to giving. Giving is good by principle, over-giving is tanha and is bad or even dangerous for the giver maybe but especially for the people he decides to give away as if he possessed them, though he is possessed by his tanha for giving.

This ambiguous dimension of the Jataka is probably implied by the three sayings that are integrated in Maharat:

“To harm the elephant for its ivory is acceptable.”
“To harm the dog for its fangs is acceptable.”
“To harm the tribe for his headscarf is acceptable.”

The first case is practiced but you kill an elephant for his tusks, something like 0.5% of the animal and the rest is abandoned to rot. The second case is absurd since then the dog can no longer go hunting or protect you. The last one is more than absurd since it beheads the tribe that is then abandoned without any leadership or leader. The note in the book suggests these may be some of the “ancient prescriptions for battle” ordered by King Sonchai. They may well be but in the context it is definitely negative because it shows how going too far in doing something good can lead to the worst catastrophes, like the loss of an elephant, the loss of your defenses or hunter power and the loss of your leader or leadership.

Between these two renderings of the scroll several articles explain the value of scrolls in various festivals or performances of popular celebration. It also gives some other illustrations of the same story by other artists on other material media like for example walls in temples but none of these have the color power of saffron and many insist on showing Prince Vessantara as being the Buddha, which is wrong since it is supposed to be the last life of the one who is going to be the Buddha in his next life only. He is not the Buddha yet. The scroll under scrutiny here is very careful to keep that distance. If Prince Vessantara were the Buddha he would not have to die and be reborn one more time, but at the same time the story would endorse over-giving as a good thing and then we would be brought back to the ivory of the elephant, the fangs of the dog and the headscarf of the tribe.

It is necessary though to reflect a little bit on this Jataka on Obsessive Compulsive Giving which is a disorder because of its obsessive compulsive (meaning Tanha) dimension.

Jataka 547, the very last of the standard collection, the very last birth of Buddha before his final life to enlightenment is deeply contradictory at several levels. Let me express these contradictions in questions.

First is it acceptable to compulsively and obsessively give away one’s possessions? If giving is the basis of goodness how can those who have nothing give anything and hence be good? Can only rich people be good?

Second is it acceptable to cause the suffering of other people by giving things they consider as theirs and they deem sacred, like the sacred elephant that supposedly brings wealth to the nation and that Prince Vessantara gives away to another city?

Third is it acceptable for a ruler to follow the will of the people and hurt someone who has officially done nothing wrong, even if somewhat excessive? Is the vox populi respectable and acceptable in the political management of the world’s affairs?

Fourth is it acceptable to give away one’s children or one’s wife just as if they were belongings? Note the case of giving away one’s husband is not even considered. Isn’t it sexist to imagine a husband could give his wife away to a stranger and contemptible to even imagine it could be a good thing to give one’s children into slavery?

Fifth isn’t it caste-critical to imagine that the main beneficiaries of such gifts are Brahmins. Are Brahmins all and always well inspired? Is it good to give to someone who obviously is greedy? Is that a criticism of the caste system?

Sixth if tanha is something to avoid absolutely, can we consider tanha may exist for a positive action or thought. Can good doing be negative?

Seventh if dukkha has to be avoided at all cost and can only be pushed aside by being detached from the possession of anything – including mental positive orientations, even if then it is the subject who is possessed by these mental positive orientations? – can we be detached from other human beings to the point of causing their own suffering, their own misery, their own dukkha?

The conclusion is quite clear then, still in the form of a question. Is there a selfish practice of Buddhism, a self-centered interest in abiding by the ethical rules of Buddhism? Why was this birth not the last one? What was missing to reach enlightenment? Is restraint essential even when doing something good is considered? Why couldn’t Vessantara reach nibbana?


Sunday, July 26, 2015


Vanessa Chevallier at (33)


Deux sœurs.
Une maison de rêve.
Un petit coin de campagne paisible.
Paisible? Si au début de leur installation, les sœurs Brausch pensent retrouver le domaine familial et renouer avec leurs souvenirs d'enfance, le rêve pour elles va vite tourner au cauchemar.
Le Mal se cache parfois dans la douceur d'un paysage, le long d'une rivière qui vient frapper les pales d'un moulin endormi dans la plaine. Mais le Mal peut prendre plusieurs visages et n'est jamais celui auquel on s'attend.

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Quel bonheur de pouvoir lire un premier roman ! Et celui-ci ne dépareille pas à ce plaisir. Il y a une certaine naïveté dans ces personnages, deux femmes essentiellement, et un père de toute façon qui vient juste de mourir et que les deux sœurs enterrent ensemble et ainsi se retrouvent, l’une s’installant dans le moulin du père mais elle était restée pas très loin, l’autre venant la rejoindre et laissant Paris derrière elle, faisant de Paris ce qu’il est profondément, un décor temporaire pour visiteurs toujours éclairs. Y a-t-il des Parisiens de souche, surtout quand ils sont nés là par une sorte d’accident de parcours dans une pérégrination sans fin ?

Mais le roman devient rapidement dans le petit village où nous sommes, presqu’une petite ville de canton provincial écarté, le cadre d’une sinistre querelle territoriale. C’est à toi, je le veux, tu me le donnes où je te tue. Et tout va balancer entre un moulin ancien et un pigeonnier tout aussi ancien, entre une cleptomane pie voleuse et un vautour médical mangeur de chairs. Un peu d’amour pour ces deux sœurs, mais si peu et toujours frustré par une mort soudaine. Le suspense sentimental se double et s’enfle d’un suspense criminel.

Et le meurtrier, si ce n’est pas une meurtrière, fera feu de tout bois, n’hésitera sur aucun investissement sanguinaire, ne reculera devant aucun obstacle charnel. Qu’on s’en débarrasse et laissons au charnier le soin de trier avec un peu d’aide de la gendarmerie. Ce cynisme assassin est pire encore que l’envie criminelle.

Le pire étant que justice sera faite de facto mais pas de jure. Comme on faisait au Moyen Age. Nos villages de la France profonde n’ont toujours pas changé.

Ce qui est le plus troublant, mais aussi fascinant reste le fait que on passe du point de vue d’une sœur à celui de l’autre sœur et qu’entre deux l’auteure se fait redresseuse de récit pour lui donner la direction nécessaire pour aller sinon droit au but, du moins dans la bonne direction. Et ici et là une vue en plongée dans les profondeurs troublantes et obscures du psychisme de ces gens biens sous tous rapports, comme ils disent après le drame qui a surpris tout le monde tellement ces gens-là étaient normaux. Et le pire c’est qu’ils étaient et sont toujours pour les survivants encore plus normaux que normaux, banals comme les fours et les moulins d’autrefois.


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