Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tibetan Proper Name Index

For nearly 30 years I’ve been collecting references to Tibetan personal and place names from all kinds of sources, but generally from works in Tibetan language. Even the couple of devoted Tibeto-Logic readers that have stayed with me all this time may not be aware of the fact, but one of the primary reasons I started this blog five years ago was to create a platform for the distribution of the reference works I’ve been working on. There were obstacles to overcome, not least of all the limitations of the blog format, which forced me to open a webpage called Tibetological.  Most of the larger ones, like Tibskrit and Tibschol, and TibHist, too, have already been posted at Tibetological website (or uploaded to a download site and then linked at Tibetological). TibVocab has been made part of the 'translation tool' at THlib.*  
(*Even after all these years THlib hasn’t managed to put up the bibliographical references, which I believe to be absolutely essential for what is after all largely a citation dictionary. The absence of the key also means that many of the entries are only semi-intelligible. Although there is a dedicated bibliography for TibVocab that I could easily make available to anyone who wants it, many of the same abbreviated references used there are also used in PropNames.)

My vanity usually forbids me from admitting to selfish motivations, unless cornered, but in this case I can say that one motive is clear, which is to preserve for the future a body of data that might otherwise be in danger of getting lost. That would be work wasted... *my* work. But seriously, this isn’t the kind of reference work that will be easily consulted by a great number of people. So there is no good reason to worry about it, is there?  Vanity-wise, I mean.

You will know if you can benefit from it or not. If you not only studied a little Tibetan in the past and know how to look up words in a Tibetan dictionary, but also developed some talent for converting Wylie transcription to Tibetan script in your mind, you’re already ready to make serious use of “PropNames” as I call it for short. If not, I would advise you to wait.

It is taking me a lot of time, time I don’t really have, to fix up the pages and make them presentable, and double-check things where it seems necessary. So even if I’d like to say that the 100 pages of the first fascicle will quickly be followed by a second 100, other matters are pressing for my attention. I haven’t even been able to complete the first letter of the alphabet. So I put this up mainly as an encouragement to myself, to keep working on it.

If you are ready to go there, the first 100 pages of PropNames are here.

The bibliographical key, which PropNames simply cannot do without, is here.

(Note!  Sorry, but both these links moved in 2014 to Tiblical website.  Try here and here!!)

I'm sure I’ll hear some complaints about it, but I don’t mind. I’ve found it very useful as a research tool over the years, and I’m confident the Tibetologists for whom it is intended, particularly younger and more energetic researchers, will find it useful as well. Well, yes, that means when the full 1,600-page work is finally made available, as it will be, I promise. You can hold me to it.

Bietala (1683)

PS:  I’m sorry, as A.W. pointed out to me, that until today I only supplied links to the "html" at Tibetological, where the Word files overloaded my storage limits, as a flashing sign so kindly informed me. (This being a free account, how can I complain?) Well, for Part One you may go to Megaupload here. For the bibliographical key, try here.* I try my best to keep these links to upload sites up-to-date here, at a page of Tibetological website. But I understand there are limits to the number of downloads permitted during a certain period of time, as well as limits on the time the file will be kept there if nobody has bothered to download it. If you do not succeed in downloading a file, put it off for another day. If it still doesn’t work for you, I will be glad to do what I can do about it, which probably isn’t very much.
(*January, 2012:  As you may know, Megaupload was taken down from the web.  Along with it went all my download links.  At the moment, only the HTML versions of the PropNames files are available.)

As of February 23, 2012, I have placed at the update page linked above, new download links for the first part of TibProp (now covering about 1/7th of the whole work) together with a revised and enlarged bibliographic key that is absolutely necessary to make use of it. (No PDF versions have been posted as of yet, and I am not even sure if anyone would want or prefer them.)  

For a direct link to the first fascicle now in "Tiblical" website, working as of May 1, 2014, try HERE.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No Jewel (as such) Fell in Tibet

Near Oberndorf in Tirol, August 2008

I just finished reading the very thing I recommended in the last blog, the article entitled, “The Wish-Granting Jewel: Exploring the Buddhist Origins of the Holy Grail.”

I must say, I still do much recommend it overall. That India’s story of the Wish-Granting Jewel is not only older than, but could well have informed, through intermediaries, the Western European Grail stories appears to be likely. Yet beyond that I’m not eager to accept guesswork scenarios that may be deemed to somehow plausibly account for the transmission, and I don’t think our author expects us to do anything more than entertain the possibilities. I would be very surprised if he did. However, in one key point it seems to me — from a Tibeto-logical perspective mind you — to fall flat. If you will bear with me for a few minutes you will see [1] that in earliest sources on the event of the items falling on the roof of Lha Totori’s palace (look here), there is not even a mention of the Wish-granting Jewel.  [2] In later sources, that *do* make use of the term Wish-granting Jewel, it is still the case that it was not a jewel, as such, that fell from the sky.

Verily I tell you, I am not the expert to be telling you about this, but in the Eschenbach (he's dated to decades surrounding 1200 CE) version of the Grail legend, what we today usually imagine as a chalice (perhaps one with a relic of the blood of Jesus crucified, or in any case an object with strong Eucharistic symbolism, not to mention its association with all those medieval tales of knightly chivalry and valor) was a jewel, not a cup. I’m only saying this as a favor to people who haven’t read the article yet... so they’ll have an idea about what I’m going on and on about.

I’m not going to put my dear friends and readers through a gruelingly obsessive survey of every single word in every single historical work. One reason is, well, I don’t have to.  Stein and Sørensen have already supplied very nearly all of the more important sources for all those willing to look into them. Since Stein, although less thorough than Sørensen in supplying references, draws upon the material in greater detail, I will refer you to those pages in his Tibetica Antiqua (bibliographical details below for all who demand them).

What we learn from Stein’s listing is that the earliest use of the Wish-granting Jewel word (here given as Sanskrit in Tibetan transcription, “Tshindhama-i”) is in the famous history of 1373 that is in fact the one translated by Sørensen.  This source doesn’t say exactly what it means by Cintāmai. But even here it most definitely isn’t a jewel per se, but a tsatsa mold. True, people often stumble badly over the odd word that is used here for ‘mold,’ which is [b]skol-phor. Stein in translation reads as bolus, but looking back at the original French version we read bol. Checking the closest handy dictionary, I see that the ‘English’ (here meaning Latin, of course, but ultimately Greek) translation of French bol as bolus might have fallen upon the wrong choice of meaning. The French can mean both a ball of nutritive substances (like a pill) similar to bolus, but it may also mean a bowl or basin. I believe Stein intended the latter, mainly because I think it is nearer to the truth. I myself feel quite certain about the meaning of the word, because I’ve encountered it once in the Zhijé Collection and several times in the works of the 12th-century Kagyü teacher Zhang Yudragpa, as for instance in the following sentence:
skor phor la ri mo myed na 'byi 'byi tsha tshar myi 'gyur.
I don’t know any other way to translate this than this: 
“If there is no design in the mold (skor-phor), the ball ('byi-'byi) will not turn into a tsatsa.”
— See Zhijé Collectionvol. 2, p. 270.

Perhaps better than any longwinded explanation, this picture ought to tell you what the mold would have likely looked like:

Two tsatsa molds, called tsapar in modern Tibetan

What fell from the sky was (apparently) a dhāraṇī in chapter 12 (or chapter 14, depending on the version; it is absent from the shortest version) of the Golden Light Scripture (Suvarṇaprabhāsa Sūtra). However, it is also possible that the mold was intended to make clay moldings of an image of the particular form of Avalokiteśvara called Cintāmai. It depends on which account you are reading. If I had time and energy to go into this in more depth, I would definitely want to study the chapters devoted to this form of Avalokiteśvara in the Mani Kambum (Ma-i Bka'-'bum) collection.

My point here is that it wasn’t until a century and a half after Eschenbach* that an account of something that has to do (somehow) with the Wish-granting Jewel was said to have fallen from the sky in Tibet. Therefore it will be very hard for us to hold on to the idea that Eschenbach's account would have been inspired by the Tibetan story. Argument over.
(*This statement has to be modified since it proves incorrect; see the comment section below.  October 20, 2011.)

But just to tidy up and tie one loose end, I should say that I’m not 100% sure that there is absolutely *no* Tibetan account that could be correctly translated as saying that a Cintāmai, among other things, descended on the Yambu Lakhang in the Yarlung Valley in very early times. However, van der Sluijs gives (on his p. 6, note 35) only one source supporting this, and I know of none.  I think I can demonstrate that this is not an especially good source for founding any arguments. It appears to be based primarily* on the English translation of Emil Schlagintweit’s book Buddhism in Tibet... (1863, p. 64, where we find the word “gem”), in its turn based on Isaac J. Schmidt’s translation (1829) of the Mongolian-language history by “Ssanang Ssetsen” (for the bibliography, look here). At the moment, I don’t see the profit in pursuing this particular paper trail further, especially if you consider what can happen to translations that go from Tibetan to Mongolian to German to English.
(*Well, he also gives as a source the better-known English translation of the Kun-bzang Bla-ma'i Zhal-lung, which says, at p. 341, that the object in question was " image called the Cintamani, representing the body of the Buddhas..."  If you do go to the book [or Googlebook], have a peek at the footnote, which has something amusing and informative to say about how Tibetan scholars differ on what this object really was...)

To wind this down to a close, since I’m nearly out of typing energy, not to mention the mental focus, I’ll just say that our quest for the Grail in Tibet leads to this dead end, or perhaps into thin air.  No jewel fell from the sky onto a Tibetan palace. Even if it had, it wouldn’t have done so soon enough to inspire Eschenbach. Lha Totori is not Titurel. If you believe this conclusion is grievously unacceptable, I hereby challenge you to prove me wrong by coming up with a datable Tibetan source that would demonstrate otherwise. You’ll find me mounted on my trusty steed by the banks of the Tsangpo, lance drawn and ready, not to mention my lustrous shield.

§   §   §

Written resources:

Hugh Richardson, "The Dharma that Came Down from Heaven" — A Tun-huang Fragment, contained as chapter 10 in: High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, ed. by Michael Aris, Serindia (London 1998), pp. 74-81. Translation of a Dunhuang text entitled "Gnam babs kyi dar ma."

Per K. Sørensen, Tibetan Buddhist Historiography, The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies: An Annotated Translation of the XIVth Century Tibetan Chronicle rGyal-rabs gsal-ba'i me-long, Harrassowitz Verlag (Wiesbaden 1994), pp. 137-8 (note 356), 150, 534-5.

Rolf A. Stein, Tibetica Antiqua IV: The Tradition Relative to the Debut of Buddhism in Tibet, contained in:  Rolf Stein's Tibetica Antiqua: With Additional Materials, tr. by Arthur McKeown, Brill (Leiden 2010), pp. 191-230, with the main listing, the one made use of in this blog, found on pp. 220-224. This was originally published in French, under the title "Tibetica Antiqua IV. La tradition relative au début du Bouddhisme au Tibet," Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême Orient, vol. 75 (1986), pp. 169-196. You may be able to access the French version at Persée website (try pressing here).

An example of a clay tsatsa (tsha-tsha)

P.S. The story of the books (etc.) falling on the roof of Lha Totori’s palace was prefigured by the falling of books (the Mahåyoga tantras), in India, on the roof of King IndrabhËti (in Tibetan sources often called “King Dza”).

P.S.S.  One significant point I thought I could make in the blog, basing myself on Stein's essay, got overturned in the comments section, so you had better go ahead and read the comments this time, by which I mean particularly the one from our old and true friend Sam from Early Tibet blog. I’m still a little sore from the well-landed lance blow to my left shoulder, but I think I’ll recover in time for the next jousting season. The main thesis, that no jewel as such fell in Tibet, remains unaffected, as stable as Mount Meru.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Is the Wishing Jewel the Holy Grail We Seek?

Nicholas Roerich (1933), White Stone (Sign of Chintamani
or Horse of Happiness)

yid bzhin nor bu'i dgos pa gang yin ltos //
What use is a Wishgranting Jewel? Look into it!

— Padampa's Mahāmudropadeśavajraguhyagīti.
Dergé Tanjur - Tôh. no. 2440.

Today’s blog isn’t meant as much more than an alert for a new article that deserves notice. Not because I think it’s the answer to everything, just that it may be the most detailed and serious study yet of a very interesting problem in Eurasian cultural history. And not because I know the author. I have no idea who he is, except that his name is Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs, and he lives in Surrey in the UK. (Oh, wait, I think I found a photo and a website here.  Maybe he’s in the U.S., or somewhere else in the world? You know, it really is hard keeping up with those young people these days...)

His widely ranging article opens the latest (2011) issue of the well-known [Euro-]medievalist journal called Viator (issue no. 2 of vol. 42).

The title is, and I can’t emphasize this boldly enough, The Wish-Granting Jewel: Exploring the Buddhist Origins of the Holy Grail.

Here is the official abstract:
“It is argued that the specific portrayal of the Holy Grail as a miraculous gemstone, first found in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, was ultimately inspired by the concept of the cintāmani or “wish-granting jewel” in the literature of India. Traditions regarding this object were popular in Buddhist folklore and parallels with the Grail literature are drawn from Japan, Indonesia, Śrī Lankā, and especially Tibet. Lha Thothori Nyentsen, king of Tibet, is identified as a plausible model for Titurel, the Fisher King. Parallels drawn from the legendary biography and the extant allegorical writings of Padmasambhava, a Gnostic, alchemist and warrior-monk revered as the principal founder of Tibetan Buddhism, extend to the entire core narrative of Parzival’s quest. It is suggested that these traditions reached medieval literati as a part of the astronomical, astrological, and alchemical corpus that was conveyed from India to Baghdād by Kanaka, translated into Arabic by Māshā’allāh, and rendered into Hebrew by Abraham ibn ‘Ezra.”
If your academic library has kept its JSTOR subscriptions up to date, go there and find it. If not, you may need to take your photocopy card with you, or use the interlibrary loan. When you’ve read it, come back here and put up your comments. I’ll do the same. Is this what we’ve been looking for? Have we reached the end of our quest? Will light come flooding into the most obscure corners of the world?

•  •

Don Croner’s blog about the three-ball motif in Ottoman carpets possibly being the Triratna is here. (I wonder if the Triratna, representing the Three Jewels — Buddha, Dharma and Sagha — might have gotten crossed somewhere along the way with the Wishgranting Jewel or Cintamāṇi? Not that I don’t empathize with and even share in the confusion, but one very simple thing ought to be clear, or made clear. The Wishgranting Jewel is a single jewel. The Triratna is the Three Jewels, represented by, well, three jewels. The Roerichs in the early ’30’s had a campaign to make the triple ball into a symbol to mark and protect cultural monuments in order to prevent their destruction in war. A most excellent idea that hasn’t gotten all that much attention, really, although if humanity would just grow up, learn from past mistakes, and abandon this other form of child sacrifice altogether, that would make even more sense. If it interests you, by all means look here. What, you may be asking, do the triple balls have to do with the Triratna? The three balls were standing for art, science and religion in the Roerichian system, the last I heard.

I must say, though, a Wishgranting Jewel isn’t just any old jewel. It is to be found only with extreme difficulty (remember that long and rambling sea captains’ blog?), and once found must be treated in very special ways. Otherwise it isn’t going to grant much of anything. It has to be ritually bathed, attached to the tip of a Victory Banner (Gyeltsen) and honored with incense and offerings. Then a solemn aspiration prayer (monlam) has to be made. Most or all of these elements are to be found wherever and whenever the Cintamāṇi appears, which is, to say the least, in very few places and seldom. For a typical story, look here, at p. 34 and following. As long as you have this entire scenario straight in your mind, I will allow you go to on and say that either one or all three of the Three Jewels are (metaphorically speaking!) a Wishfulfilling Gem. No problem. Just p-l-e-a-s-e don’t rush into it too quickly.

•  •  •

For more visual and verbal information about the three ball motif than you are likely to be willing or able to process, have the patience to download this PDF. I believe the author is Julie (Julianna) Lees, the owner of this presently-linked site full of really great photo albums (enter at your peril, since exiting may not be so easy once you get started admiring what you will find there).  And no... no, I know what you're thinking, but I don’t know this person either.

yid bzhin nor bu'i gter thob pas //
rmongs pa'i dbul ba sel bar byed // gsungs so // • //

When you've found your treasure of a Wishgranting Jewel,
make use of it to get rid of the poverty of confusion.

Padampa's Vajraḍākinīgīti 
(Dpal rdo rje mkha' 'gro ma'i mgur).  
Dergé Tanjur - Tôh. no. 2441.

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