Saturday, August 13, 2011

New Old Histories

Two ragdung players at Tharlam Monastery, Bodhanath 2011; it is said the ragdung was invented for the ceremonial welcoming of Jowo Jé Atiśa into Tibet in 1042 CE - the name rag-dung means brass conch.

I doubt anyone remembers, but I once seriously blogged about an old history that all of a sudden became available some years ago. That was the Dge-ye history,  and the Dge-ye history is in fact one of those numbered among the hundreds of historical and biographical works that we will be seeing in facsimile editions and computer-font paperback reprints over the next year or two from the editorial house of Dpal-brtsegs in Lhasa. All these books, I believe, come from the Drepung Monastery libraries,* that until a few years ago were completely closed off from everyone, it seemed. But then a huge 2-volume catalog was published (Drepung Catalog), and since then some select titles from this ocean of texts have been getting reprinted in one form or another.
(* I should clarify that in the introduction to the small paperback Table of Contents that accompanies the History Set, you find a statement that 50% are from the libraries of Drepung, 30% from other Tibetan monasteries, 10% from private individuals, and a further 10% from foreign libraries.)
The History Set (I’ll just call it “HS” - bibliographical information below) I’m talking about is published in traditional pecha format, but on nice smooth white paper, and thankfully not the brown grocery bag quality paper so much used in Tibet in recent years (sorry to complain about it, but the lack of contrast is really very hard on your eyes when you try reading it for long periods).

I may tell you about more of the important new-old histories another time, but for the moment I will limit myself to the content of volume 19. Perhaps the most exciting new old history, in my book, would be the Kālacakra history by Chag Lo “the Third.”  

This history appeared in the bibliography Tibetan Histories, published by Serindia (London 1997, now out of print, apparently), like this:

late 1400’s
Chag Lo Rin-chen-chos-rgyal, Dus-’khor Chos-’byung Dpag-bsam Snye-ma.  A history of Kâlacakra Tantra. Ref.: MHTL, no. 12258.  Mdo-smad Chos-’byung:  “Chag Lo Gsum-pa Rin-chen-chos-rgyal-gyi Dus-’khor Chos-’byung.” In Mkhas-pa’i Dga’-ston (Lokesh Chandra’s edition, part 3, p. 842), we read:  “Chag Lo Gsum-pa’i Dus-’khor Chos-’byung” (compare Helmut Hoffmann, “Kâlacakra Studies I: Addenda et Corrigenda,” Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 15 [1971], pp. 298-301). This refers to a history of Kâlacakra by “a/the third Chag Lo.”  Evidently we are to understand by this that he should not be confused with, and probably dates from a later time than, the two famous Chag Translators: Chag Lo Dgra-bcom (1153-1216) and Chag Lo Chos-rje-dpal (1197-1264), the former being the uncle of the latter.  We may at least surmise from all of this that our history has to date from somewhere between the 13th and early 16th centuries. It seems most likely that our author is the Rin-chen-chos-rgyal (b. 1447) who became abbot of Rte’u-ra in 1460 (Blue Annals, p. 1060). This Rte’u-ra Monastery had served as the headquarters for both of the famous teachers named Chag Lo (and it does make sense, then, that one of the members of the abbatial succession would be called a ‘third Chag Lo’)...  

(For even more information about this history, see the online Addenda, scrolling down to entry no. 133.)

Congratulations to Dpal-brtsegs for a great job of producing these books, and thank you for making it possible to read hitherto unavailable historical texts that are bound to be found fantastically fascinating for persons of Tibeto-logical interests.

(I have a general policy not to put up links to commercial enterprises, but with book suppliers this is sometimes difficult, and anyway, in this particular case I would be neglecting to point you in the direction of some very important information, in fact two PDFs that tell you the content of the first 60 volumes of the set. Look here. And prepare yourself to be amazed at what you will find. And forgive me for violating my principles...  What?  Again?)

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Drepung Catalog:  Dpal-brtsegs Bod-yig Dpe-rnying Zhib-’jug-khang, ’Bras-spungs Dgon-du Bzhugs-su Gsol-ba’i Dpe-rnying Dkar-chag, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2004), in 2 volumes (pagination continuous).  

HS  —  Dpal-brtsegs Bod-yig Dpe-rnying Zhib-’jug Khang, ed., Bod-kyi Lo-rgyus Rnam-thar Phyogs-bsgrigs (‘Collection of Tibetan Histories and Biographies’), Mtsho-sngon Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Xining 2011), 30 volumes published so far, with another 60 or more said to be forthcoming.  The HS of the abbreviation just stands for “history set.”

 § § §

Vol. 19 (dza):

1 - Chag Lo Rin-chen-chos-rgyal, Dus-’khor Chos-’byung Dpag-bsam Snye-ma.  HS, vol. 19 (dza), pp. 1-458. Notice how, strangely enough, at fol. 106 (meaning page 212) the xylographic printing gives way to manuscript cursive (on line 4) and the text continues on the next folio marked 123 (this and all remaining pages are in cursive). I made a chapter outline (found below), which ought to give a general idea about what is to be found in this history. The colophon doesn’t mention a date of composition, although it does give a problematic date for the carving of the woodblocks. I'm quite sure that the composition must date to somewhere in the vicinity of 1500 CE, since the author’s dates are usually given at 1447 CE, and the colophon mentions a behester (bskul-pa-po) by the name of Skal-bzang-chos-kyi-rgya-mtsho'i-sde. The latter is well known as author in 1494 of a biography of the Buddha that was behested by whom? Well, believe it or not!  None other than our history writer Chag Lo the Third.*  
(*For dating arguments, see Franz-Karl Ehrhard's article in The Birth of the Buddha, Lumbini International Research Institute, Lumbini 2010, pp. 358-360.)

2 - Dpal Dus-kyi-’khor-lo'i Spyi-bshad Mkhas-pa’i Mgul-rgyan [p. 459, with marginal notation ka, as if it were the first part of some set].  HS, vol. 19 (dza), pp. 459-573.  Here is the complete overly-brief colophon from p. 573:  dpal khang lo tsa'i skye ba mkhas mchog gzhan phan dbang po'i sdes mdzad pa'o. This says it was composed by a supreme scholar Gzhan-phan-dbang-po’i-sde, a rebirth of Dpal-khang Lo-tsa-ba (the well-known lexicographer). I’m hoping to learn more about this author, who probably flourished in about the same time as Chag Lo III, or possibly a little later.    

§  §  §

A chapter outline of Chag Lo III's history:

Ch. 1:  Sangs rgyas kyis gsungs pa.  How it was spoken by the Buddha.  1-41.
Ch. 2:  Sa bcu'i byang chub sems dpas bka' bsdus shing 'grel pas bkral ba.  How the Bodhisattvas of the ten Grounds gathered the Word and commentated on it with their commentaries.  41-63.
Ch. 3:  Grub chen rnams kyis thugs nyams su bzhes shing paṇ chen rnams kyis 'bel gtam gyis gtan la phab pa.  How the accomplished ones took the practices to heart and the panditas established the teachings with their fine compositions.  63-102.
Ch. 4:  Lo tsā bas bod skad du bsgyur ba.  How the translators translated it into Tibetan.  102-107.
Ch. 5:  No chapter title given.  The seven schools of Kālacakra transmission in Tibet.
1. Gyi-jo School.  107.
2. 'Bro School.  107.
3. Rwa School.  263.
4. Tsa-mi School.  347.
5. Paṇ-chen Śākyaśrī School.  404.
-. Chag School.  412 (?).
7. Śābara School.  427.

Pechas in Wrappings

P.S.  In case anyone missed it who shouldn’t have, another vitally important source of new old histories is this recent one:
Per K. Sørensen and Sonam Dolma, Rare Texts from Tibet: Seven Sources for the Ecclesiastic History of Medieval Tibet, Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini 2007).

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In case you wonder why this book is supposed to be all that important. I would say there are a lot of reasons, the main one being the coverage it gives for some of the less well-known transmission lineages of the Kâlacakra. Just as a teaser for some of you real history freaks out there, I recommend having a look at page 60 (line 3) which tells us there was a king of Ta-zhig named Mer-mu-le-hab in the time of Sad-na-legs. Chag Lo then adds that this information can be known from the inscribed stone (the rdo-ring) located at the tomb of Sad-na-legs. Skeptics can have a look for themselves, but the inscribed stone at Sad-na-legs’ tomb has been silted over during the intervening centuries, and the lower lines could only be read after much digging and then only with difficulty. Hugh Richardson in his book A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions (pp. 84-91) did his best, but lines 30-46 are in large part missing, a word here and there, so few of them that Richardson didn’t even attempt a translation.  Among those scattered words we may see mention of Turks (Dru-gu) and Upper (Western) Uigurs (Stod Hor). In the clearly now-existing words, it tells us that Sad-na-legs “extended his powerful commands and his dominions to the four quarters and the eight directions.” It is usually the case that the western quarter is represented by the Persians (for whom Ta-zhig is the form used in Old Tibetan texts, with the later spelling being Stag-gzig[s]). I don’t want to pound too vigorously on this point. After all, I haven't identified who this Mer-mu-le-hab might be. What I can tell you is that it is quite possible, nay likely, that having this history at the disposal of historians might help them to fill out a missing detail or two in an early 9th century inscription that serves as one of the primary sources for early Tibetan history. Enough said... for now.*

(*Well, I seem to be having one whale of a time putting in a last word so I can get this thing posted and be done with it. But perhaps needlessly said there is more to this story. Richardson, in his original article on this particular rdo-ring (JRAS 1969, possible to locate in JSTOR), gives a passage from the Rgyal-po Bka'-thang that supplies the names of two Ta-zhig kings, La-mer-mu and Hab-gdal... Those two names have a distinct similarity to our one name! Some have suggested this La-mer-mu might be 'Amr ibn Muslim, while others think it could be al-Mahmun, a 9th-century Abbasid caliph... Well, at least the reign dates of al-Maʾmūn, 813-833, puts him right in the correct time frame to be in some kind of contact with Sad-na-legs. Hab-gdal sure looks like Hephthalites to me, won’t you agree?)

§  §  §

Source:  B.A. Litvinsky, et al., eds., History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume III: The Crossroads of Civilizations, A.D. 250 to 750, Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1999), p. 382:
“The memory of the taxes paid by the Arabs has also been preserved in the Tibetan historical tradition according to which two Ta-zig (=Arab) kings, La-mer-mu and Hab-gdal, ‘having taken kindly to Tibetan command, paid punctually without fail their gems and wealth'.  (Thomas 1935: I 273)  La-mer-mu may be an abridged form of the name ‘Amr b. Muslim, while Hab-gdal may have preserved the memory of ‘Abdallah b. al-Zubair.  The latter evidence may also illustrate the successful resistance of the Gandharan population against the Arab conquest. However, the struggle was not decided here but in the far north at Talas, where the Arabs and Türks won a decisive victory over the Chinese army in 751."
I have to say that this paragraph is a little confusing, since it would seem something was settled in 751 over matters that had to do with the reign of Sad-na-legs in the early decades of the 9th century.  Let's see what Thomas actually published in the work just cited, which is indeed a translated excerpt from the Rgyal-po Bka'-thang, chapter 7:
“In the west the Ta-zig kings there established, king La-mer-mu and Hab-gdal, having taken kindly to Tibetan command, paid punctually without fail their gems and wealth and five-loads of medicaments and acceptable provisions. Under Tibetan sway they made their state to flourish : the orders issued to themselves they heard with respect.”
I left off Thomas’ footnotes, but here's the relevant note on the names (his note 6):  “La-mer-mu and Hab-gdal. Hab-gdal represents, perhaps, the Hephthalite kingdom of the Pamir (supra, p. 150-1), though it might be = ‘Abdu 'llah. La-mer-mu presents difficulty. It can scarcely denote Hârûn al-Rashîd : can it possibly be a corruption of Mâwarâ-un-nahr, which in the form [Stag-gzig-] Mu-wer[-gyi-rgyal-po] we find elsewhere as a designation of the Musalman power ? See Klaproth, Sprache und Schrift der Uigur, p. 34.”

Here's the same passage as it occurs in that popular edition of the Bka'-thang Sde-lnga published by Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang in 1986 (1990 reprint), p. 118:

nub phyogs ta zig rgyal po bzhugs pa yang //

rgyal po la mer mu dang hab gdal gyis //
bod kyi bka' la gces par bzung nas ni //
rin cen nor dang sman gyi lnga dos dang //
kha zas gces pa dus las ma yol phul //
bod kyi mnga' 'og chab srid dam par mdzad //
rang gi bka' bstsal gang yin gus pas nyan //


Thomas’ translation isn’t easily faulted for inaccuracy as far as I can see, and the idea that the rulers in Merv were for awhile in a tribute-bearing relationship with Lhasa in the early decades of the 9th century isn’t particularly implausible.  Is it?
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