Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Latest Thing in Old Histories

Although I can imagine that the blogosphere as a whole will find little thrill in it, I am personally overjoyed to report to whoever might be interested on a very new publication of an old Tibetan history book. It is so new I could only discover very few mentions of it on the entire internet. You can see the details of the publication here. A transcribed version of the Tibetan text has been made available here.

This history was written in 1474 CE, in the same year the First Dalai Lama died and the Upper Tantra College was founded in Lhasa. The front title says "Precious Dharma Origins of India and Tibet" (
Rgya bod-kyi chos-'byung rin-po-che) but the title at the end, in the colophon, is much more colorful, "Biographies of Holy Personages: The Geese of Faith Frolicking in the Ocean of Learning" (Skyes-bu dam-pa'i rnam-thar thos-pa rgya-mtshor dad-pa'i ngang-mo rnam-par rtse-ba). The title is clarified in the closing verses: The biographies are the ocean on which we the readers are to swim about and derive blessings from them (the biographies), just as the geese (according to an old Indian poetic conceit adopted by Tibetan writers) can extract milk that has been mixed into the water, and thereby attain Buddhahood quickly. It was written by Geyé Tsültrim Senggé, a person about whom little is known. He wrote several other books that may be found listed here and there (the books themselves do not seem to be around any more). One is a life of the Buddha. Another is on poetics (kavya in Sanskrit, or nyängag [snyan-dngags] in Tibetan). And still another is on vocabulary of Indic inspiration favored in Tibetan literary works (abhidhana, or ngönjö [mngon-brjod]).

In its content it has a lot in common with Gö Lotsawa's history known as
The Blue Annals, which was written between the years 1476 and 1478, just a few years after Geyé's history. Both Gö's and Geyé's histories are even-handedly ecumenical. They encompass all the Tibetan Buddhist schools and spiritual lineages of note, although both might be faulted for neglecting the traditions based on Nyingma revelations called terma as well as Bon. Geyé differs from Gö in being much much briefer, and therefore rather thin on details. Still, there is much information that will be of interest to Tibet historians. I've noticed that some otherwise undatable persons are given birth and death dates here that appear to be perfectly correct as best I can see.

There is no Chapter One here. It should have been on the life of the Buddha, but perhaps his separate Buddha biography was supposed to serve as the first chapter. Chapter Two covers Buddhism in India. Chapter Three tells how Buddhism came to Tibet, covering the dynasty of the Tibetan emperors quite briefly. Chapter Four is on the spread of monasticism in what is known as the Later Spreading, starting in the late 10th century. Chapter Five is on the Bengali teacher Atisha and the founding of the Kadampa School by his Tibetan student Dromtönpa in the 11th century. Chapter Six is devoted to the Sakyapa school. Chapter Seven is on the Kagyüpa and its many lineages. Chapter Eight is on the Tibetan transmissions of the Kalachakra. Chapter Nine covers a variety of what were, in those days at least, less prominent or less well established spiritual lineages. This includes the Gendenpa (better known in later times as the Gelugpa), the Zhijépa lineages from Padampa Sanggyé, the Shangpa Kagyüpa from Kyungpo Neljor and his Indian teacher Niguma, the Bodongpa, and the Kharag Korsum.

Many thanks to Otani University for at last making available to the Tibetan-reading world this 500-year-old history that seems to exist today only in the form of a unique manuscript in their library. The publication details follow:

History of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism by dGe ye Tshul khrims seng ge: A Critical and Facsimile Edition of the Tibetan Text with Summary and Index, Otani University Shin Buddhist Comprehensive Research Institute, Tibetan Works Research Project (2007). The editors are Khetsün, Shin'ichiro Miyake, Maho Uichi, and Shoko Mekata. Congratulations on what appears to be a meticulous job in the editing, also. This will be a work of permanent reference value for all Tibeto-logical historians. Thank you thank you thank you and thank you!

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