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I’ve stumbled on this citation of the Brief History of Wei by one Yú Huàn, from the 3rd century, in a chapter describing the Roman empire. The author ends the chapter with this beautiful observation, in which the “puddle left in the hoof print of an ox” sounded specially remarkable.

Yú Huàn observes: It is commonly believed that a fish living in a little stream does not know the size of the Yangtze River and the sea. The mayfly, for that matter, does not know of the changing of the four seasons. Why is this so? Because one lives in a small place, and the other’s life is short.

I am, at the moment, intensively examining the Roman Empire and all the other foreign kingdoms. Still, it seems to me that I am neglecting to fully instruct the uninformed.

Moreover, as to the speculations of Zou Yan, or the hypotheses of the Dayitai xuan, “The Great Mystery of the Noble Yi-jing”, alas, I am limited to travelling by foot, and living in the puddle left in the hoof print of an ox. Besides, I don’t have the longevity of Peng Zu.

It has not been my fate to see things first hand, travelling with the rapid winds, or enlisting swift horses to view distant vistas. Alas, I have to strain to see the three heavenly bodies [the sun, moon, and stars] but, oh, how my thoughts fly to the eight foreign regions!

(edited; source)

As the translator says in the source link, the phrase 牛蹄之涔 is probably a borrowing from Sanskrit. In Sanskrit that should be goṣ-pada-, like vanas-pati- ‘lord of the forest; tree’ &c, with what looks like the genitive of the first member of the compound.Pāḷi doesn’t quite like its Ṣs, so gopada- it’s there.

I’ve found several times the mention of an early use of gopada- in the Pāḷi canon in the aṅguttara-nikāya, but I couldn’t quite find it. (By the by, Buddhists seem particularly fond of enumeration.) In the mahā-prajñā-pāramitā-śāstra, though, there is this:

The Mahāyāna is like the sea,
The Hīnayāna like water in the hoof print of an ox.

The small cannot contain the great:
This comparison is applicable here.

(edited; source)

That the text is from the Mahāyāna shouldn’t surprise anyone.

· © Edgard Bikelis (eſb) created using Emacs 29.0.50 (Org mode 9.5.3) ·
· created: 2019-10-15 last modified: 2020-05-23 ·