Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Micro-Consecration of a Punctuation Mark

 {KHA} ||Yig-ge Sgra-yi Mnga'-dbul bzhugs-s.hô||
Note: Click on the photos and they ought to expand
Every consecration rite of any significant length includes near its end a kind of paying tribute, or royal honors, or enthronement rite. I’m not sure which is the best way to translate it, or if it matters very much. This rite comes near the end because it is connected with the first offerings offered to the newly completed and, in effect, already-consecrated temple, image, book or chörten. I believe that one significance of the consecration is that it makes the work of Buddhist art or architecture into a field of merit, so that when offerings are made to it they actually aid the quest for Enlightenment. Or, to put it another way, they are enabled to serve as bases for the two accumulations: Merit (bsod-nams) is the first of the two accumulations (tshogs gnyis), the other Full Knowledge (ye-shes). These are like the two wings of a bird, both equally necessary for any progress to take place. I hope those are familiar terms, since they are quite basic to understanding Mahâyâna ideas about the Path to Enlightenment. In any case, it is interesting to see that for at least the last thousand years Tibetans of both the Bon and Chos sides are in considerable and substantial agreement when it comes to consecration, and the royal honors is one example of it among others. 

You have seen up above the second title contained in the Bon consecration volume (notice it is marked with the key-letter kha). It contains a lengthy ritual recitation that goes through, one after the other, all the punctuation marks and letters, treating each one to what I would like to call a micro-consecration, following the pattern of a sâdhana in that it involves visualizing an exalted version of the mark or letter that is then brought down and unified with the lower physical one. It is interesting that this text has no colophon, and no sign of who composed or excavated it, but I suppose it’s just as old as the texts surrounding it and assume it, too, belongs to around the 11th-12th centuries. If you remember, the dang-thog (the word is unique to Bon, but not the thing itself) is that peculiar punctuation mark that appears on the front side of every leaf of a Tibetan text. You can see a rather fancy example here on the first folio verso. The ordinary form looks like this: ༄༅. Many people believe the origins of it lie in the forms the syllable om takes when it appears in Indic scripts, although Bonpos are likely to have a different idea about this. But please, let’s leave those minor controversies behind, and concentrate on the punctuation mark itself, and what this consecration rite does with it:

To give a sketch of the structure of this passage, with a hope of clarifying what is going on, it brings to mind the ‘past event’ that in some sense preordains and justifies the rite. Later on, when the lights are emitted from the punctuation mark, it looks much like any typical sâdhana. It entails the divinization of a punctuation mark, if you will. The scriptural volume is not only consecrated as a whole, but also consecrated in each of its component elements, in each of its tiniest parts. The very lines of the letters and punctuation marks inscribed in it are made holy. Then, as is usually the case with mantras, the partially-Sanskritic Zhangzhung mantra found near the end of the passage is resistant to translation, although parts of it are intelligible and so I offer a half-hearted attempt. The last line of the mantra I haven’t even tried to translate. Some mysteries should remain mysteries, I suppose. Well, in any case they will.

(Today's blog is a continuation of this one that will itself be continued: To Bind a Book is to Protect It from the Elements.)

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Scriptural Letter Magic

In a story well known to adherents of Bon, the Magic King Kongtse builds the most amazing temple on an island. To build it, Kongtse has to call upon some very dubious characters — a few of them with names that seem to come straight out of Indian epic literature — and these same characters tear it down again...*

(*This story has been told by Karmay Samten Gyaltsen and Gurung Kalsang Norbu, so I won’t repeat it here. Today’s blog is a continuation of this one.)

As part of this narrative of temple building, one of Shenrab’s wives is deluded by a demon into burning the “scriptural to bag” (bka'i gto sgro) that contains the set of scriptures known as the Four Bon Doors and Treasury making Five.*  Looking at the consecration literature of Bon, it eventually becomes more and more clear that the temple building of Kongtse and its consecration was the single past event that serves as paradigm for all later performances of consecration rites.
(*Some may want to take the syllable sgro to intend sgrom, meaning box, but no, it does indeed mean a bag or pouch.)

This story, told in all the three major biographies of Lord Shenrab, is also told in the first text that appears in the consecration volume of the Bon Kanjur.  Its title page is the one you see below.

This title conceals within it two texts each with its own colophon. The first of these gives the name of a concealer in the imperial period that you see here below in the 2nd line: De Gyimtsa Machung.

I would just like to point out that there is a person with a very similar name in the Old Tibetan Annals entry for the year 653, where one named “Spug Gyim-rtsan Rma-chung” is appointed governor of Zhang-zhung. Here is another one of those Bon connections with Dunhuang documents that needs to be studied and contemplated.* But anyway, as the text was hidden at Sham-po, we may understand that this, along with the other text, was a 12th-century discovery of Matön Sherabsengé, although he is not directly named here in this text.
(*There is the not-so-small problem that the initial syllables, in the position where we would expect a clan name or the like, are different. I don't know enough about Lde and Spug[s] as clan names to make arguments or come to conclusions. The Spug/Sbug[s] clan seems to have existed in imperial times in both Kokonor area and in southwestern Tibet. A figure named Spug Gyim-tang Rmang-bu surfaces three times in a Dunhuang document, PT1287, with the clan name given as both Spug and Spung.)

Out of the ashes of the incinerated scriptures emerge the Five Heroic Letters. These letters transmute into the complete set of scriptures that is then written down in five Volumes. Letter magic of Bon, in some part at least, corresponds with phonetic arrangements of the letters. So I would say their magic is not entirely disconnected with linguistic science. It could be closely linked together with it. The first chart you see below is based on a passage taken from a relatively recent Bon grammatical text. The Five Heroic Letters are given in the first column, with their elemental correspondences in the 2nd, while columns 3 to 9 are the letters generated from them. The yellow chart beneath it is placed here for comparison. It marks not only the elements, but also the points of articulation. The correspondences between the letters contained two charts may be only partial, but I suggest that they share larger ideas in common.

These volumes, as you would expect, are called glegs-bam, but they are, as it says, “bound into glegs-bam  (gleg-bam-du sbam, and we also find sbams-su sbams, bound into bindings). This active verb that means to bind you do not encounter very often. The sections that involve the punctuation marks and letters in this text are interesting, but I should like to mention a few other things found in it before moving on to the next. One substance that is not used in Chos consecrations, or more particularly in the exorcism rite that forms a part of every consecration ritual, is ephedra (mtshe).  In Chos consecrations gu-gul* and mustard seed are used, while in this Bon text it is ephedra and mustard seed.
 (* Although it does surely come from an Akkadian word for frankincense, in Modern Tibetan it  can mean Google, which is rad or even a bit wack. Ephedra has special usages in early Tibetan rituals that deserve more attention than I can give them here.)

The concealed 2nd title that begins on p. 55 is if anything even more interesting than the first. It is here that we find not only yet another section on the letters of scripture, but some interesting things about pens, ink, and paper. There is even a section that could be regarded as a semi-independent consecration rite specially done for the paper both during and after its making... oddly so, since consecrations are normally done only after the object is fully completed. This is a rarely spoken but hardly ever broken rule. I’ve made a draft translation of this passage, but will save it for another time after I find ways to improve it.

More unexpected details pop up, even a reference to the two string-hole circles (p. 61) called spyan-skor, or ocular circle. You can see them in this surely pre-Mongol and possibly even late imperial period example:

Folio no. 259 of the 4th volume of an Hundred Thousand Perfection of Wisdom manuscript

In another blog, we’ll continue taking notes, looking at some of the other texts found in the consecration volume of the Bon Kanjur. 

Next: “The Micro-Consecration of a Punctuation Mark.”

§  §  §

On some sources on consecration and so on:  

For an extensive bibliography of both Indian Buddhist and Tibetan consecration literature, see Yael Bentor’s book, Consecration. Since it is brief and no more than an outline, we haven’t taken into consideration the text of the Great Translator Rinchenzangpo, although it is frequently cited in the later literature. Atiśa's text was composed in Sanskrit at Vikramaśīla Monastery near the Ganges River. He translated it together with his Tibetan disciple in around 1040 CE and apparently took the only copy with him to Tibet, as I know of no indication that it had any influence in India, no surviving Indian manuscript fragments and so on. The other Indic consecration works are detailed in Bentor, Consecration, pp. 349-353.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not Found! Those Are Not After All the Works of the Deposed Song Emperor.

Break of Dawn

Today's is a guest blog by Rory Lindsay. Although I gave it a title and a frontispiece, everything else is in his words and not mine:

Many thanks to Dan for drawing our attention to the collected works of Grub chen Chos kyi rin chen (BDRC: W3CN2940) and for allowing me to be a guest blogger. This is a fascinating collection that I had not seen until now. It seems, however, that it was not authored by the banished Song emperor (as exciting as that would have been!), but rather by a later Sa skya pa scholar.

The first clue appeared while I was reading through volume three. This volume begins with a text titled Gzhan phan 'od zer gyi ngag 'don lag len gzhan phan gsal ba, which concerns Rje btsun Grags pa rgyal mtshan's (1147–1216) Kun rig gi cho ga gzhan phan 'od zer, an influential work detailing the funerary rites to be performed based on the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra. Given that my doctoral dissertation examines the Gzhan phan 'od zer and related texts, I started here. I soon discovered that it quotes Ngor chen Kun dga' bzang po's (1382–1456) Dpal kun rig gzhan phan mtha' yas on folio 12a: “gzhan phan mtha' yas las/ de nas phyag rgya bzhi'i rgyas gdab pa ni….” This passage appears (with some variants) on pg. 65 of the Sde dge edition of the Gzhan phan mtha' yas (see volume 4 of Ngor chen's collected works: BDRC: W11577). Since Ngor chen was born after the Gongdi Emperor’s passing, it would seem that we have another author on our hands.

After discussing this with Dan, I found references to a Grub chen Chos kyi rin chen in Jan-Ulrich Sobisch's “The 'Records of Teachings Received' in the Collected Works of A mes zhabs: An Untapped Source for the Study of Sa skya pa Biographies,” which is included in Tibet, Past and Present: Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies. Sobisch notes on pg. 176 that Chos kyi rin chen (aka Byams pa Chos kyi rin chen) was from Rdza zhul and was the founder of Lo phu dgon. He is included in a line that traces back to the Sa skya pa Rdzong pa Kun dga' rgyal mtshan (1382–1446), though his precise dates are not given.

After speaking further with Dan, he noted that some of the colophons in the collection reference the place name Lo phu, which would appear to confirm that this collection belongs not to the exiled emperor, but to the later Sa skya pa scholar Grub chen Chos kyi rin chen.


Rory Lindsay
PhD Candidate, Department of South Asian Studies
Harvard University

Friday, May 19, 2017

Now Found: Tibetan Works of the Banished Song Emperor

Image result for "Zhao Xian"
Gongdi Emperor (1271-1323 CE).  From Wikicommons

Every now and then in the Tibeto-logical world something pops up that is truly astounding. For the life of me, I never ever expected to see a collection of works of this particularly fascinating individual of the late 13th century. He has recently been written about by Leonard van der Kuijp of Harvard University, and a peripatetic and precocious young scholar named Hua Kaiqi. Paul Pelliot’s treatment is an old but still good one. The Chinese name of the person in question is, in the old Romanization Chao Hsien, and in the new, Zhao Xian. As ruler, a position he held very briefly, he was called the Gongdi Emperor. He belonged to what is called the Southern Song Dynasty. The Mongols had already conquered the north. 

He ruled as an infant, obviously not without assistance, very briefly from 1274 to 1276. From that time onward he was little more than a captive of the Mongol rulers. In 1288 Khubilai Khan had him sent to Sakya in southern Tibet where he stayed in exile, a quite evidently involuntary exile, for almost all his life. He had taken on monastic robes even before moving to Sakya. In what would turn out to be very nearly his last days the Mongols recalled him from Tibet, and on his way back, in the Hexi Corridor area, he lost his life. My guess is the Mongols were concerned he could serve as a figurehead for an anti-Mongol rebellion and therefore preferred to have him securely out of the way. The Wiki article, which I am in no position to contradict, says he was forced to commit suicide on account of his poetry causing the Mongol ruler Yinzong displeasure.

Some four years ago when I was fortunate to hear Kaiqi’s lecture on the subject, I thought I could find out more about his life in Tibetan sources, but came up with disappointingly little. Well, his name does appear several times in colophons of Tibetan canonical texts as either translator or reviser of earlier translations, and there are Sakya histories that mention him briefly. We know he kept up his knowledge of Chinese in Tibet, since his translation activities were all based on Chinese.  

You can scarcely imagine my surprise to suddenly find out that he authored books in Tibetan during his 35-year-long exile in Tibet. Who knew? Nobody as far as I know. It happened just this morning, as I was looking at some texts newly uploaded by the recently renamed TBRC. Besides the writer’s name given as Chos-kyi-rin-chen, there was no further clue who the author was, and no cataloging of the content. I had no idea who he was when I started looking to see what was there and ran across what looked like a surprisingly long work of praise devoted to the famous Phagspa Lama. My interest piqued, I went on to look for the title in TBRC to see if it might appear elsewhere in their catalog (and thinking to perhaps in the process further identify the author). But no, the Phagspa praise seemed to be unique. It was only when I started checking my reference works to determine which Chos-kyi-rin-chen the author might possibly be that I started putting 2 and 2 together.  

Now I do not expect that the political scientists will be happy at what they find in his compositions, quite the contrary, although students of Tibetan Buddhism will find them fascinating without a doubt. Most of them, except nos. 2-5 with their lineage prayers and praises to the famed Sakya teachers Drakpa Gyaltsen and Phagspa, are on those difficult -to-comprehend and forbiddingly secret Vajrayâna practices of guruyoga (nos. 1 & 6), initiation and sâdhana. For today it isn’t so much that they are fascinating for what is written in them, but that they exist at all.

§   §   §

Here is a list of the titles for those who find it interesting:

1. Bla ma'i rnal 'byor dngos grub kun gyi 'byung gnas.  5 fols. (running nos. 1-5).

2. Rje btsun grags pa rgyal mtshan la rnam thar gyi sgo nas bstod pa.  3 fols. (running nos. 6-8). In the colophon the author gives his name as simply Byams-pa (but see the colophon of no. 3 that follows, where we see that Byams-pa was part of his name). It was composed at "Dpal-'byor-bkra-shis-'jom-pa'i Bla-brang.

3. 'Phags pa rin po che la bstod pa. 9 fols. (running nos. 9-17),  Author's name given on final folio as Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, scribe: Dge-bshes Smon-lam-'phel. This actually contains several prayers, and not just one as the front title would seem to indicate.

4. Bcom ldan 'das 'jam dpal khros pa'i bla ma brgyud pa la gsol ba 'debs pa sa lam ngo sprod ma byon.  6 fols. (running nos. 19-23).  Seems to include and continue a lineage prayer composed by 'Phags pa.  Colophon on final folio gives author as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, the scribe being Nam-mkha'-chos-dar.

5. A 2- fol. text with no front title, containing lineage prayers and a praise to Rje btsun Rnal 'byor ma. The author in the colophon on the final folio refers to himself by an interesting expression "ya pho ba'i lag tu shor ba'i spre'u lta bu'i rnal 'byor pa."  I like to try and translate this as "Composed by a yogi who is like a monkey that fell into the hands of men of distinction."  The translation of ya-pho-ba as 'men of distinction' is the problematic bit here. The rest is very clear.

6. Bla ma'i rnal 'byor dbang bzhi gdan thog cig ma.  1 fols. (running no. 26).  It says it was composed in the Lu-phu Chos-kyi Pho-brang, the scribe being Shâkya'i Dge-slong Nam-mkha'-chos-dar.

7. Dpal kye'i rdo rje'i lam dus kyi dbang gi chu bo ma nub par len pa'i man ngag dri med kyi byin brlabs.  10 fols. (running nos. 27-36).  Author gives his name as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, place of writing Bsam-rdzong Chos-sde'i Dben-khang Skyid-phug.

8. Dbang gong ma gsum gyi khrid yig gi zin bris.  14 fols. (running nos. 37-52).  A note on fol. 15 verso says that two folios were lacking (in the 'mother copy'), so it appears the text is not complete, and it ends suddenly without a colophon.  TBRC has scanned separately a ms. of unidentified authorship with this same title.

9. Bcom ldan 'das dpal chen po'i bdag 'jug sku bzhi mngon du byed pa'i thabs.  28 fols. (running nos. 53-82). In penultimate folio, the author names himself as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Se-mkhar-chung Rdo-rje'i Brag-gi Yang-rtse.  Scribe named as Dge-bshes Lha-dbang.

10. Dpal chen po'i rgyu dbang lam du bya ba ting nge 'dzin gyi dbang blang ba.  8 fols. (running nos. 83-90).  Author gives his name on final fol. as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Bsam-rdzong Chos-sde'i Dben-khang Skyid-phug.

11. Bcom ldan 'das rdo rje 'jigs byed kyi mngon par rtogs pa'i dka' 'grel gsal stong dbyer med kyi ngo bo rgyud gsum gyi rba rlabs g.yo ba. 165 fols. (running nos. 91-255).  Author gives his name as "nus pa med kyang nus ston gyi tshul gyis Dge-slong Rig-pa-'dzin-pa Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Lu-phu Chos-kyi Pho-brang. The modest expression that precedes his name appears to be saying that he is one who seems to display ability while lacking the same.

Parting clouds

§  §  §

Tips for finding sources of knowledge & a few notes:

The cursive manuscript was scanned and posted by TBRC is labelled as being the Collected Works of Grub-chen Chos-kyi-rin-chen. In case you would like to try to gain access to it, you had best know that the work number is W3CN2940.

Hua Kaiqi, entitled “Journey of Zhao Xian (1271-1323) from Chinese Emperor to Tibetan Monk under the Mongols,” a lecture delivered on Nov. 26, 2013.

Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp, The Kālacakra And the Patronage of Tibetan Buddhism by the Mongol Imperial Family, Central Eurasian Studies Lectures series no. 4, Dept. of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University (Bloomington 2004), p. 57.

There is an entry “Facfur” in Pelliot's Notes on Marco Polo (Paris 1963), pp. 652-661, with the relevant part beginning on p. 657. If you go here, you may be able to get to the digitized version.

Our frontispiece is the only portrait I know about right now, and what you see is a bad xerox-quality b&w photo taken at an angle of something originally in color. At the moment this was the best I could do.

The southern Sung (Song) is rarely mentioned in Tibetan histories, and when it is it’s called something like Sman-rtse or Sman-rtsi, both of them Tibetanizing spellings of the borrowed Chinese term Man-tzu, or Manzi. 

If you don’t mind the cyborg voice — and you might! — Wikiaudio has put up a Youtube on the conquest of the south here.



As it turns out, on the same day I put it up, I found out this blog has a nearly fatal flaw.  I'm going now to put up a second blog entitled  "Not found! Those Are Not the Works of the Deposed Sung Emperor after All." It may not exist just yet, but I'm working on it.
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