Friday, July 02, 2010

Lord Shenrab’s Bodily Marks of Distinction

This is the 2nd and last, in a series that began with the Birdhorns blog, of the unpublished sections from my 1991 dissertation.  It has been placed here in order to honour the request of one M.S. Treated as a kind of historic object, it is left almost entirely unchanged, although I did have to struggle to insert the unicode Tibetan letters in one paragraph (with patience you will see what I mean).  Think twice before you start reading it, since it is written in the way that people in Indian and Tibetan studies write for each other, with those transcriptions that have so rightly earned Tibetologists their reputation as a pitiless lot. I started out making a few prophecies about a future that has meanwhile already come. It does seem like a foolish thing to do, now that I come to think of it.

p. 83
1. Problems in the Transmissions 
of the Tibetan Prajñāpāramitā and

Now I would like to put forward some arguments in favor of an alternative view of the Bon scriptures with the help of a few, and therefore most likely insufficient, pieces of evidence. I would call this an ‘attitude shift’ rather than a Kuhnian ‘paradigm shift’, and I hope that my readers will judge it more on the basis of its possibilities and productiveness for future research, rather than its degree of conclusiveness. If it is a paradigm shift, it is one still in process. It began over fifteen years ago,[i] reached a particular turning point only recently,[ii] and will, if I may be allowed a fallible prediction, only find its realization in concrete results for scholarship (Buddhology in particular) during the next twenty years. My assumption is that some Bon scriptures or parts of the same which were excavated by the early Bonpo gterstons might actually represent, even if only in part, survivals of earlier translations of Buddhist scriptures done in the imperial and postimperial times. Even though our understandings of the lines of textual transmission are not especially clear at present, still some shadowy outlines are beginning to emerge; I have become confident that these will gain substance with more careful and detailed studies. The old attitude, that these clearly Buddhistic texts of Bon represent nothing more than devious exercises in plagiarism, has already demonstrated its essential barrenness simply because it presumes that the texts are not worthy of serious attention. There are, of course,

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other ways to account for similarities and differences, especially if we were to consider the variant texts  as being products of different lines of textual transmission which, most significantly for general Buddhology, may in some cases have had their beginnings in divergent transmissions prior to their introduction into Tibet.
Before addressing the issue of the routes of Bon transmission, I will first discuss two texts most important for the Chos schools. The first, the Shesrabkyi Pharoltu Phyinpa  (Sher Phyin) literature as a whole,[iii] is directly relevant to an assessment of the gtermas of Gshenchen Kludga’, since among them were five texts of varying lengths of the Khams Brgyad which represent, in the view of many, ‘adaptations’ or ‘transformations’ (bsgyur may also mean ‘translation’) of corresponding texts in the Chos canon. The Sher Phyin texts have, in the Tibetan tradition, been considered the fundamental texts of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Likewise, the second text to be discussed, the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti, and its Tibetan translation, the ’Jamdpalgyi Mtshan Yangdagpar Brjodpa, has been considered the fundamental text of Vajrayāna Buddhism –– not only, I believe, because it was often considered as a prerequisite text for study, chanting, and memorization before approaching the other tantras, or because it is the first text in the tantra section of the Kanjur, but also because it is an important transitional text, historically speaking, between the Mahāyāna sūtras and tantras.[iv]  I believe that, taken together, these

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avenues of inquiry could lead to a very different assessment of the value of Bon scriptures for Buddhology, even if strictly defensible conclusions may not be immediately forthcoming.
An alternative way of ‘reading’ the charges and countercharges of plagiarism leveled against each other by Bon and Chos apologists is to assume that this is their way of accounting for textual similarities and differences obvious to both of the parties to the debate. Each thereby lays claim to the ‘original’ text at the expense of the other. The Sher Phyin and Khams Brgyad were by no means the only texts under dispute. Although a thorough textual study of the Khams Brgyad literature vis à vis that of the Sher Phyin is an urgent desideratum, it is outside the bounds of this work; indeed, given the vastness of the material, it was difficult to find a place to begin. One might wish that E. Conze had taken more interest in this problem, but it is certainly not too late for his successors. Conze did no more than mention in passing the existence of the Khams Brgyad literature.[v]

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The following arguments have a relatively small objective. They are based on scholarship by a Tibetan on the early Prajñāpāramitā translations, coupled with a particular reassessment of the gterstons and the literature they excavated.[vi]  Could the Gshenchen have brought to light some Old Translations of the Prajñāpāramitā and other sacred texts may be relics, that they may be treated in the same way as other relics.[vii]
Sitting at my desk in my temporary home outside Kathmandu, I should be forgiven for giving a Nepalese Buddhist example.[viii]  The ancient monastery of Tham Bahil in the area of Thamel (itself a simplified form of Tham Bahil, which only in relatively recent times became absorbed into the ever-expanding city of Kathmandu) was founded, or rather, rebuilt, by Atiśa while en route to Tibet in 1041 A.D. Among the holy items preserved in this monastery is an old silver and gold ink Sanskrit manuscript of the Prajñāpāramitā which, it has been said, was written by the hand of Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī and brought into the human world from

p. 87
the subterranean land of nāgas (or devas) by Nāgārjuna (or Dīpakara).[ix]  It is divided into four separately-boxed parts[x] and read on some annual festival days. It is occasionally exposed to public view and taken on processions. That it could be dated to 12234 from a colophon makes little or no difference to those for whom it is a sacred manuscript worthy of the same care, veneration and offerings as a sacred image or relic. The situation was not much different in Tibet where the Sher Phyin sūtras had even further ‘usages’; they were, already before the Later Spread, particularly read as part of the ‘virtuous deeds’ (dgeba) following a death in the family.[xi]
One of the greatest Saskyapa intellectuals, Rongston Shesbyakunrig (1367-1449), a Bonpo until age eighteen and reputed author of an anti-Chos polemic discussed elsewhere in these pages, composed, in 1424, a commentary on the Hundred Thousand Prajñāpāramitā entitled, Shesrabkyi Pharoltu Phyinpa Stongphrag Brgyapa’i ’Grelpa. It is prefaced by a history of the introduction of the ’Bum (Tibetans know the Hundred Thousand also as the Yum, or ‘Mother’) into Tibet along with its

p. 88
subsequent translations and revisions. The reading involves some difficulties which could not always be resolved with much certainty, but I believe the content, due to its relevance for present arguments, warrants a provisional translation attempt.[xii]  Rongston briefly outlines the origins of the Sūtra:


The most extensive version in one hundred million verses exists in the gandharva realm. The extensive version in ten million verses exists in the land of Indra. The extensive version in one hundred thousand verses was brought from the nāga realm of Nāgārjuna.
As for its transmission to Tibet, Emperor Khri‑srong‑lde‑brtsan[xiii] wanted to bring the sūtra to Tibet,

p. 89
so he gave much gold to Khams‑pa Go‑cha[xiv] and sent him to India for that purpose. This was called the Memorized Translation (Thugs ’Gyur) because he [Khams‑pa Go‑cha] memorized the [Indian] text [rather than bringing the text itself] and brought it out in Tibetan. As  a memorial (dge‑ba) to the queen, [the king had the translation] written with [his] own blood using goatsmilk as binder. This [text] was called the Red Abridgement[xv] in four parts. Later it was taken to Lhasa and became worn [old?]. It is said to be [contained] in the brick chorten near ’Phrul‑snang temple. Note:  There are many recensions of this now in Central Tibet.
Still, the Emperor did not have confidence in [the authenticity of] the Memorized Translation, so he commanded Nyang Iṇḍa‑a‑ro and Sbas Manydzu‑shri to bring [an Indian text] from India. They brought back an Indian text and translated it. [This translation] was called the Authorized Hundred Thousand (Bca’ ’Bum). They used indigo goatsmilk binder and this manuscript was called the Blue Abridgement (Ra Gzigs Sngon

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po).[xvi]  (A four-part manuscript, it is said to be [preserved] at Samye.)  This [manuscript book] was not held together with a sash, but fastened with metal pegs. Hence it was called Having Iron Pegs.[xvii]
Even this was not [yet] an extensive translation. So later prince Mu‑tig‑btsan‑po made a resolution [to have one made]. Then Pa‑gor Bai‑ro‑tsa‑na [Vairocana], who had reached the eighth Bodhisattva Level, compared the Indian text with the Having Iron Pegs and did an extensive revision. After he had, for the most part, established the text, he produced a six part manuscript [translation] more extensive than the previous ones. From the name of the binding boards it was called Snowy (Khabacan) for the Royal Resolution.[xviii]  This is the Middle [length] High Translation (Bla ’Gyur ’Bringpo). To the side of the place where it was kept there was a bat’s nest. Hence it was called Having Bats (Phawangcan). This was not true of the original Indian manuscript; it is kept even now at Samye. Rngog Lo also did his translation after looking at the Having Iron Pegs.

p. 91
Still later, Emperor Ral‑pa‑can invited many [Indian] teachers and they accomplished many great revisions of scriptures and commentaries. These Indians, as well as Tibetan teachers (including Dpal‑rtsegs and others) produced, among other [translations], the most extensive translation which was called Great High Translation. It also was in six parts.[xix]  It was named Having Leather Meat Container (Shasgrocan) because of [the appearance of] its cloth wrapper. Later on, Rngog Lo[xx] would use the Indian manuscript introduced [to Tibet] by Ka [Ka‑ba Dpal‑rtsegs] and Cog [Cog‑ro Klu’i‑rgyal‑mtshan] for his own translation or revision.[xxi]


Thus Rongston gives evidence for five different historical-textual levels in the Tibetan translations of the Hundred Thousand Prajñāpāramitā culminating in the version of Rngog Lotsāba.[xxii]  The older levels were preserved in specific manuscripts kept in specified places. He lists no less than sixty-five locations for ancient texts including an ‘excavated text’ (gterma) at Khra’brug.[xxiii]  He then supplies us with means for distinguishing between these various levels of translation both through textual means and by the numbers of chapters contained in particular parts. While this textual study by the great Tibetan scholastic should not be ignored by contemporary Buddhist text scholars, my reasons

p. 92
for citing it are more historical than text-critical. We may see from Rongston’s evidence that the early translations could be concealed in chortens and so forth.[xxiv]  They could then be excavated. The early translations were quite different from each other, but just how different remains to be seen only after a painstaking and detailed study of both the texts and Rongston’s study of them.
Thus, it is not so difficult to entertain the idea that Gshenchen Kludga’ could, in the early eleventh century, have excavated an old translation (from Sanskrit or some other language?[xxv]) of the Hundred Thousand and other Prajñāpāramitā texts.[xxvi]  The possibilities need to be carefully

p. 93
investigated. Even though I think this an essentially correct attitude to take toward the Bon scriptures in comparative study, I would like to briefly consider some contrary evidence which seems, especially at first glance, to argue for the idea that at least one part of the medium-sized Khams Brgyad (the Khams ’Bring) that Gshenchen excavated might have been composed in Tibet.
The four volumes of the Khams ’Bring, as well as the Hundred Thousand Khams Brgyad not discussed here, have one very obvious thing in common with the Prajñāpāramitā/Sher Phyin literature besides their lengthiness, and that is their repetitiveness. Both the length and repetitiveness made it very difficult to locate passages that might be in common between the Khams Brgyad and Prajñāpāramitā/Sher Phyin works. The one passage that I could locate that is truly capable of comparison is quite uncharacteristic of the rest of the text in that it is not repetitive, not especially long, and not so abstract in content. The fact that it is so uncharacteristic, and also relatively independent, may mean that conclusions about this passage would not be so reliably applied to the whole. But with this caveat, we will go on to compare.
In the middle of the fourth volume of the Khams ’Bring is a passage about the thirtytwo signs (mtshan) and the eighty subsidiary signs (dpebyad) of the Enlightened One (Lord Shenrab, in this case). The first section of the chapter tells of certain objects in the external world which serve as the ‘seeds’ which ‘flower’ into the thirty-two signs and eighty subsidiary signs, although it is left as a mystery which ‘seeds’ belong to

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which signs (pp. 323.4-324.3).[xxvii]  The second section lists the thirty-two signs (pp. 324.3-325.4) which are listed again with different wording (pp. 325.4-327.6), followed by the eighty subsidiary signs. The first section has no clear counterpart in the Prajñāpāramitā literature, while the listing of the eighty subsidiary signs does not, as does the Prajñāpāramitā list, consist of bodily signs. It is rather a list of spiritual qualities and other abstract concepts. Therefore, since the listing of the thirty-two signs is most comparable, we will begin with them. Following is a translation of the list of thirty-two signs as found in the Khams ’Bring.[xxviii]

1.  His nine-cubit body is like Mount Ri-rab (Meru).
khru dgu ni sku ni ri rab ’dra ba lags so.

2.  His head is like the golden vessel of Mount Ri-rab.
dbu ri rab gser gyi bum pa ’dra ba lags so.

3.  The hair of his head is like the deep blue utpal flower, twisting to the right.
dbu skra ud pal mthon ’thing g.yas su ’khyil ba ’dra lags so.

4.  His forehead is broad and like the half moon.
dpral ba rgya che la zla ba bkam pa ’dra ba lags so.

5.  His eyes, varicolored and intelligent, are like the sunrise on the morning star.
sprin mig bkra la rig pa skar chen la shar ba ’dra ba lags so.

6.  His eyebrows are high, and like lightning flashing in the atmosphere.

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smyin ma mtho ste bar sna la [bar snang la] klog [glog] ’gyur [’gyu ba] ’dra ba lags so.

7.  His eyelashes are fine and with no gaps, like outspread wings.
rdzi ma srab la ’brel ma chad pa kha shog [kha gshogs] gdengs pa ’dra ba lags so.

8.  His ears are handsome and long lobed, like rolled birchbark.
snyan ni sdug cing bshal ring ba gro ga bcus pa [rtsus pa] ’dra ba lags so.

9.  His nostrils are high and like cut bamboo.
shangs sgo mtho ste smyug gu bcad pa ’dra ba lags so.

10.  His upper lip is thin and etched like water dropped on white ice.
yum bcu [ya mchu] srab la sul dod pa dar kar la chags [chag ga] btab pa ’dra ba lags so.

11.  His lower lip is thin and fine like the sesame flower.
ma mchu srab la legs pa zar ma’i me tog ’dra ba lags so.

12.  His tongue is thin and long, like the high anther of the leb rgan (poppy?) flower.
ljags ni srab la ring ba leb rgan rdzi ma [rdzi la] phyar ba ’dra ba legs so.

13.  His teeth are forty-two, white, and like snow mountains close together.
tshems bzhi bcu rtsa gnyis dkar thag dam pa gangs ri gtams pa ’dra ba lags so.

14.  His chin is curved like the new moon.
os ko ’gug la [’gug pa] legs pa [lags pa] zla ba tshes pa ’dra ba lags so.

15.  The sound of his speech roars like the season’s thunder.
gsung gi sgra skad /dus kyi/ ’brug ltar sgrogs pa lags so.

16.  His mustache and beard are like a black bear fleeing down a hill.
sman ra [smag ra] ag tsho [ag tsom] dom nag thur la khyus pa [rkyus pa] ’dra ba lags so.

17.  His complexion is smiling and bright like sunshine on a glacier.

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zhal mdog ’dzum la mdangs chags pa gangs la nyi ma shar ba ’dra ba lags so.

18.  His throat is like a round golden pitcher.
skye mgul [’gul] /ser gi/ bum pa dril ba ’dra ba lags so.

19.  His torso is like a great lion ready to spring.
ro stod [sku stod] seng chen bsgyings pa ’dra ba lags so.

20.  His shoulders are rounded and of pleasing appearance.
dpung sogs zlum la brjid bag che [che ba] lags so.

21.  His fingers are refined and very long.
phyag sor ’phra la rab tu ring ba lags so.

22.  His fingers and toes are joined together by webs in the manner of wheels, like the king of geese.
phyag dang zhabs gnyis ’khor lo’i tshul du dra bas ’brel ba bya ngang pa’i rgyal po ’dra ba lags so.

23.  His nails are the red of wild roses, and clear.
sen mo bse’i gdog ltar dmar la rdang ba [gdang ba] lags so.

24.  His hips shift right and left very appropriately and charmingly.
sta zus [sta zur] g.yas g.yon skad [sked] skabs ’khril bag che ba lags so.

25.  His navel is like the hollow of the lotus.
lte ba padma’i sbu gu dod pa ’dra ba lags so.

26.  His private the ber is hidden in a sheath like the horse’s and elephant’s.
gsang ba’i the ber sbubs su nub pa rta dang blang po [glang po] ’gra ba [’dra ba] lags so.

27.  His two thighs are curved like the proud trunk of an elephant.
rla [brla] gnyis glang po ’gying ba’i sna ltar ’gug la legs pa lags so.

28.  His knees are like small silver gshang bells inverted.

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phus mo [pus mo] rngul gyi [rdul gyi?] gshang chung kha sbub pa [khas sbub pa] ’dra ba lags so.

29.  The calves of his legs are like those of the e-na-ya antelope.
byin pa ni ri dags e na ya’i byin pa ’dra ba lags so.

30.  The ankles of his feet are high and have four very broad bulges.
bol gang [zhabs kyi bol gong] mtho la ’bur bzhi shin tu rgyas pa lags so.

31.  His two feet are uncovered and arched (?).
zhabs gnyis [zhal sa] rjen la ljab par zhugs pa lags so.

32.  His style of walking is fine like that of the king of geese.
stabs sdug la ’gros legs pa bya ngang pa’i rgyal po ’dra ba lags so.

One thing that might be noticed about this list is that the parts of the body are in descending order, starting with the top of the head and ending at the feet. This is not a characteristic of the lists in the Pañcaviṃśati and the Aṣṭādaśa, which also devote four of the ‘signs’ to the teeth alone.[xxix]  The Bon list contains no such multiple entries for a single part of the body. Nineteen of the thirty-two have some common elements with our Prajñāpāramitā (P) lists,[xxx] but most significantly, seven of them (nos. 13, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, and 29) have close counterparts. Number 19 corresponds to P 18, ‘His torso is like that of a lion’ (rostod sengge ltabu). Number 22 is very close to number 3 of P, ‘Since, like the king of geese, the fingers and toes are joined by webs, it is said his hands and feet are joined by webs’ (ngangpa’i rgyalpo ltar phyag dang zhabskyi sor

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mo drabar ’brelbas / phyag dang zhabs drabar ’brelba’o //). In a few cases, these include quite specific items, as in the case of number 29, corresponding to P no. 11, ‘His calves are like the enyaya antelope’ (ridags enyaya’i byinpa ltabu). Some of the equivalences are not only fairly exact, but involve specific things, so much so that we are compelled to conclude that the text passages must be resulting from some kind of interdependent origins. The commonalities between the Khams ’Bring and Pañcaviśati lists may be charted as follows:

pp. 99-100
+    ––      means subject identical in substance
x    ––      means item in predicate identical in substance
+x  ––      means subject and predicate both identical in substance
++  ––      means almost entirely identical (even in wording)

Degree of matching with numbers from lists in Pañcaviṃśati (CONZE, Large Sutra, p. 658-661):
x10, x16, x23, x24, x31
upper lip
lower lip
x1, +x3

The next important thing that must be noticed, if it has not been already, is that some of the items in the Khams ’Bring list are not only much more poetic, but involve besides some metaphors that are evidently Indian in origin, other metaphors that seem to be Tibetan. References to snow mountain ranges might, it is true, be Indian, and black bears plunging down a hillside may help describe Indian beards, but the sunshine on a glacier to describe whiteness does appear to be one that would occur more readily to a Tibetan, and the flat bell denoted by gshang, while well known from China through Central Asia to Persia (in which places it was known by similar sounding names), was not well known in India. If these metaphors were our only evidence, we would have little basis for a conclusion about the place of composition.[xxxi]
There is somewhat more decisive evidence contained in the first section, the part about the objects in the external world that serve as

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‘seeds’ for the ‘flowers’ of the bodily signs. One group of these is headed as the ‘letter seeds’, which are listed as follows:
1.  gu-gu.
2.  zhab-skyed.
3.  ’greng-bu.
4.  na-ro.
5.  ya-sta.
6.  ra-sta.
7.  tseg.
8.  shad.
9.  thig.
10.  thig-’dzor.[xxxii]

Although the spellings are a little unusual, these plainly refer to various items in use in the Tibetan system of orthography. The first four are the four main vowel signs —

1. ‘i’, which appears as  ࿏ི in Tibetan script;
2. ‘u’ or      in Tibetan script; 
3. ‘e’ or    , and
4. ‘o’ or    ོོ  .

Numbers 5 and 6 are the subscribed forms of the letters ‘y’ (    ) and ‘r’ (   ྲ ).
Number 7, the tseg, or tsheg, is the dot that divides one syllable from the next (    ), while number 8 is the vertical line ( ) that follows sentences or clauses, or individual items in a series.

Number 9 must be an abbreviated form of thig-le, meaning (in the context of the writing system) the small circle or dot placed above the letter (    ) to represent a subsequent nasal, called anusvāra in Sanskrit. 
Number 10 must be a mistake for thig-’dzer, which must represent the Sanskrit visargawhich follows vowels (generally but not always at the ends of words) and is represented by two small circles or dots, one above the other (  ཿ ). Numbers 9 and 10 are not necessary in the Tibetan writing system (even if the anusvāra may be used for abbreviations) except when transcribing words from Indian languages. In

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any case, 5 through 7 are peculiar to the Tibetan writing system.[xxxiii]  Thus it would seem to be sufficiently settled that this passage was written by a Tibetan, and could not be a translation.
Or perhaps it could have been a translation. It has sometimes been said that one characteristic of the (pre-Later Spread) old translations, is that they were better at delivering the message to Tibetans than the new translations which kept a slavish adherence to the texts and conventional (one might say ‘automatic’) renderings for terms, characteristics that have much endeared them to the hearts of Indologists. As Zhe-chen Rgyal-tshab wrote, reflecting in part the words of Rog Bande Shes-rab-’od which we translate later on, but commenting on a formulation of the eleventh century Rong-zom-pa Chos-kyi-bzang-po, ‘The Six Superiorities of the Old Translations’, this one being the superiority of the old translators: 

These scriptures were translated by the old translators Vairocana, Ska, Cog and Zhang, as well as Rma, Gnyags and Gnubs, etc. They are quite unlike the translations of those who now call themselves ‘translators’ after they have acquainted themselves with a few parts of the glossaries (brda-sprod), spending their summers in Mang-yul and their winters in the Nepal valley.[xxxiv]

 p. 103

Since the translators of the past were Emanation Bodies, they set down [their translations] according to the meaning. Hence [their translations] are easy to understand and achieve great power in their use of the etymological strata.[xxxv]  Later translators were incapable of translating according to the meaning, so they translated word for word in [the original] order of the Indian text, making them literal (tshig grim) and difficult to understand. In their use of the etymological strata there is little power.[xxxvi]

My purpose in making these citations is partly to show that there are two sides to the argument that the New or Old Translations are more ‘true’ to the Indian texts, depending on whether we find ‘truth’ in glossaries or in the communicative power of real language usage.  Many scholars of both Tibet and contemporary cosmopolitan academia have preferred adherence to the ‘literal’, the more slavish for that reason all the more ‘defensible’.  Not everyone did or does agree with this. Another purpose more closely relevant to the present context is to show that there are grounds for an argument that the earlier translators were more interested in delivering the message of the texts (whatever the language from which they were translated) to Tibetans than in ‘scientific’ translation. Therefore we

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cannot necessarily assume that the presence of Tibetan metaphors and cultural items in these translations is a sure sign of their composition in Tibet. It may be a sure sign of the translator’s desire to communicate the meaning of the text to a Tibetan audience, and one way to facilitate communication might be to substitute things specific to Indian culture with analogous items in Tibetan culture.[xxxvii]   To give just one example, before moving on to another subject, the old translations (both Rnying-ma and Bon) frequently employ the term la zlo-ba (usually appearing in the past form la bzla-ba; Bon texts also employ the synonym la dor-ba) which means literally ‘passing over the pass’. The new translation equivalent is thag gcod-pa, literally, ‘cutting the rope’.  Both appear to be perfectly valid metaphorical expressions for translating Sanskrit niyama, in its possible meanings of ‘decisive’ or ‘definitive’.[xxxviii] The old translation in this case certainly would have the greater metaphorical immediacy for inhabitants of the Tibetan plateau, but its use in a text is no proof that it was written by a Tibetan.
* * *
With the second group of texts we are in a little better position simply because they are of a managable length and parallels could therefore be traced more easily. The similarities between the Chos and Bon texts begin with the title. The text of the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti (’Jamdpalgyi Mtshan Yangdagpar Brjodpa) has been edited in Tibetan as

 p. 105
well as Sanskrit several times and has been twice translated into English.[xxxix]  The Bon text seems to have never been noticed, and therefore requires some comment. It is one of the twentytwo or twenty-three texts collected together in the Twentyone Minor Mdo[xl] anthology which was among the gtermas collectively called Shelbragma made by Gnyanston Shesrabrdorje (=Shesrabsengge)[xli] in 1067, according to one chronology.[xlii]  The title of the Bon text is given both in Tibetan as Gshenlha-’oddkargyi Mtshan Yangdagpar Brjodpa, and in Kapita[xliii] language as Du par ta cu ya na ti. The title alone already presents us with a problem. According to the Dgongsgcig anti-Bon polemic (discussed and translated below), Gshenlha’oddkar is the Bon counterpart of Vairocana, while it is usual to identify ’Jamdpal (Mañjuśrī) with the Bon lha Smraba’isengge.[xliv]  Thus we might be led to search for a *“Vairocananāmasaṅgīti,” although so far as I know, no such text exists.

 p. 106
We might also wonder why a ‘tantric’ work should be classified as a mdo (“sūtra”), but this is not truly a problem since all the mdo of the Bon canon contain tantric elements on the one hand, and on the other, the text of the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti never directly refers to itself as a tantra, although the colophon says it is an extract from one (a Rgyudchen Sgyu’phrul Draba, which no longer exists in its full form). Some Old Tibetan tantras, such as the Kunbyed Rgyalpo, as well as the Mahāvairocana Sūtra (also accepted by the New Tantra schools) do use the word Mdo, or Sūtra in their titles, even though they are indisputably tantric or ‘supratantric’ (in the case of the Kunbyed) scriptures.
I was able to trace several short parallel passages, the longest one in seven lines. For the seven line passage, which extols the transcendent qualities of the “unarticulated letter ‘A’,” I am able to supply three distinct versions[xlv] in Tibetan:

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New Translation version:
rdzogspa’i sangsrgyas a yig byung//
a yig yig ’bru kungyi mchog/
don chen ’gyurmed dampa yin//
srog chenposte skyeba med//
tshigtu brjodpa spangspaste//
rjodpa kungyi rgyuyi mchog/
tshig kun rabtu gsalbar byed//

Old Translation version:
rdzogspa’i sangsrgyas a las byung//
ā yig yig ’bru kungyi mchog//
don chen yige dampa yin//
khong nas ’byungba skyeba med//
tshigtu brjodpa spangspaste//
brjodpa kungyi rgyuyi mchog/
tshig kun rabtu gsalbar byed//

Bon version:
maskyes skuru thamscad bsdus//
a’i khyadpar skyeba med//
tshigtu brjodpa spangspaste//
thamscad brjodmed tshigmeddu//
maskyes khong nas a byungbar//[xlvi]
rdzogs sangsrgyaspar kunrigdu//
lharnams thamscad phyag bgyiddo//

Among the significant features to be noted is the one line identical in all three (tshigtu brjodpa spangspaste). The Bon and Old Translation versions both read khong nas ’byungba (but with a significant syntactical difference) for the New Translation’s srog chenposte. It has, I think wrongly, been inferred that the latter is the ‘correct’ rendition of

p. 108
Rinchenbzangpo, while the former is a still later revision.[xlvii]  The New Translation has ’gyurmed for the Old Translation’s yige, which is quite understandable, since either may translate Sanskrit akṣara.[xlviii]
It should be stressed that such parallels between Chos and Bon texts are not readily found. I performed computer word searches in order to compare the previously mentioned Bon sūtra, the Gser’od Norbu ’Od’bar with the Gser’od Dampa (Suvaraprabhāsa) and did not find a single significant match. More preliminary textual studies comparing the Bon tantra, the Gsangba Bsenthub with the Gsangba ’Duspa (Guhyasamāja) and also with the Gsangba Snyingpo (Guhyagarbha) Tantra were done in vain, and the same for comparisons of the Bon ‘vinaya’ texts, the ’Dulba Rgyud Drug, with the text of the Vinaya Sūtra. Yet textual correspondences between Bon and Chos scriptures do exist, and these will be of considerable importance for future textual studies of Buddhist scriptures (when such studies escape their present Indocentrism).
To date, the most significant BonChos textual comparison is that of Karmay, who showed, in his monumental historical study of Rdzogschen texts, that one text, the Gsergyi Russbal, exists in both Bon and Rnyingma versions, demonstrating by both historical and text critical means the priority of the Bon version. This transformation of the Bon text into a Chos text was accomplished by the simple process of substituting chos for bon and changing proper names and terms which have Bon associations into Chos names and terms. As he shows, the presence of an unaltered ‘residue’ of Bon text titles leaves no doubt about the direction of the

 p. 109
transformation. So far as I know, the Gsergyi Russbal is the only example of an entire text that has been demonstrated to have been ‘processed’ in this manner. Karmay then showed that four lines of the Gsergyi Russbal were ‘lifted’ from the Sbaspa’i Rgum Chung, a Tunhuang text closely associated with Rnyingma tradition.[xlix]  Given this sort of evidence, however limited, although we are not permitted to make generalizations in face of the extremely vast amount of textual material and unsolved historical problems, we are in no position to support the idea of some of the critics of Bon, to whom we will turn in a short while, that the Bon scriptures are simply fabrications (or ‘transformations’, bsgyur) made on the basis of Chos scriptures. So far, the evidence from close textual studies has shown the ‘transformations’ or ‘plagiarism’ (with one justmentioned exception) going in the other direction, from Bon to Chos. If this is any indication, the source of Bon textual transmissions must be located elsewhere. I would like to bring this discussion to an end by underlining the often ambivalent use, in these contexts, of the Tibetan word bsgyur, which may mean both ‘transformation’ and ‘translation’.


[i]SNELLGROVE, Nine Ways. KVAERNE, ‘Aspects’.

[ii]SNELLGROVE, Indo-Tibetan.

[iii]It seems beyond dispute that the Shesrabkyi Pharoltu Phyinpa texts, as found in the Tibetan Kanjur, very closely correspond to the available Sanskrit versions of the Prajñāpāramitā texts.

[iv]For those who might doubt the importance of these texts in Old Tibetan Buddhism, one may point to two Tibetan texts on the same piece of paper from the Tunhuang collections, reproduced and transcribed/edited in SANGPO, Bodkyi Rgyalrabs, pp. 537-541. The first text (the first part is missing) is closely related to the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti, of which it appears to be an extract, rather than a translation, although we should not be too eager to make such assumptions before better knowing the history of the text. The second text is that dealt with in RICHARDSON, ‘The Dharma that Came Down’, where there is specific mention of the Prajñāpāramitā teachings which the Emperors Srongbrtsansgampo and Khrisrongldebrtsan studied, accepted and made resolutions about (thugsdam bzhes), while pillar inscriptions were made (to the same effect). This same text makes reference to tantra (Rdorje Theg). Richardson calls it “an eighth-century document.” See also STEIN, ‘Tibetica Antiqua IV’, pp. 173-183.
It is also not completely irrelevant to note that the Prajñāpāramitā and Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti are the two scriptures singled out for the more elaborate and lavish productions of the book making arts in Tibet and elsewhere. In Sher’byung’s guide to the funerary chorten of ’Jigrtenmgonpo, to give just one historical example, is mention of a manuscript from Khitan (Khyithan) in gold letters with crystal binding-boards (’JIGRTENMGONPO, Works, vol. 4, p. 83.1). ’Jigrtenmgonpo himself made a manuscript of the Hundred Thousand in gold letters on blue-grounded paper (mthing shog, ibid., vol. 3, p. 202.3).

[v]For some work of Conze’s successors and colleagues conveniently gathered into one volume, see LANCASTER, Prajñāpāramitā. It is rather remarkable that this large volume of studies, fully entitled, Prajñāpāramitā and Related Systems, should have nothing to say about the Khams Brgyad literature, which is certainly a closely related system. One aim of the present discussion is to argue against this silence of the scholars, this docta ignorantia which considers the Bon texts unworthy of their interest.

[vi]See my unpublished paper, MARTIN, ‘Pearls from Bones’. THONDUP, Hidden Teachings, pp. 59-60, uses the Hundred Thousand Prajñāpāramitā itself as an example of a gterma text.

[vii]A Hundred Thousand text was placed together with bodily relics in the funerary mchodrten of ’Jigrtenmgonpo (as noted below).

[viii]My primary source for the details in this paragraph is LOCKE, Buddhist Monasteries of Nepal, pp. 404 ff.

[ix]See NASLUNG, Balyul Mchodrten, folio 4r, line 2: “The Mother (Prajñāpāramitā) in sixteen volumes which was brought by Nāgārjuna from nāga land, written on lapis lazuli paper with gold from the stream of Jambu (’Dzambu), is at Tham Bahil (Thang Baidhari).” The Khamssprul Rinpoche Bstan’dzinchoskyisnangba (BALYUL MCHODRTEN RNAM GSUM, p. 200.1) did not agree. I had the opportunity to view a page from this manuscript during the annual display of relics in 1988.

[x]In the Dharmodgata chapter of the Eight Thousand Prājñāpāramitā, it is said that the Bodhisattva Dharmodgata placed the Prājñā Sūtra volume, written in liquid lapis lazuli on gold, in four jewelled boxes inside a ‘mansion’ (kūtāgāra) and sealed it with seven seals. Some Tibetan writers believe that this is the earliest example of a scripture used as an object of worship (i.e., the earliest ‘Speech receptacle’, or gsung rten).

[xi]See DPA’BO, Mkhaspa’i Dga’ston (1986), vol. 1, p. 431, where it is said that when middle-aged persons died they would read the Hundred Thousand, when young people died they read the Twentyfive Thousand, and the Eight Thousand when children died.

[xii]For another version of the following information, see CRYSTAL MIRROR, vol. 5, pp. 157-158. The parenthetical material in the following translation is by the author Rongston, or indicates Tibetan words or forms used by him. Material in square brackets has been added by myself for clarification.

[xiii]SANGPO, Bodkyi Rgyalrabs (p. 487), cites a Sher Phyin commentary by Tsongkhapa who in turn cites the no longer extant scripture catalog of ’Phangthang to the effect that an extensive commentary on the Hundred Thousand was “written by the King,” meaning Khrisrongldebrtsan. [See also CONZE, Prajñāpāramitā, p. 34.] This deserves more investigation since, if proved authentic, it would demonstrate a considerable interest in religion on the part of the Emperor, even if the commentary was ‘ghosted’. Some of the Emperor’s other works are listed in SANGPO (op. cit.). It seems hardly credible that the Emperor actually composed such a necessarily lengthy work by his own hand. More likely he would have served as director or encourager in its production.
The Phangthang catalog was a listing of the scriptures and commentaries in the library of the pillarless temple (ka medkyi gtsuglagkhang) with the numbers of verses and volumes in each text (see SANGPO, pp. 519-520). For more Tunhuang documentary evidence for the importance of Chos, or Buddhism (nanggi Chos, Sangsrgyaskyi Chos) in the time of Khrisrongldebrtsan, see SANGPO (p. 437). The Phangthang ‘Mansion’ (Khangmoche) was located in the Yarlung Valley (SANGPO, p. 425). Since it is said that the palace of ’Phangthang was swept away in a flood in the time of Khrisrongldebrtsan (as stated in ’GOS, Debther Sngonpo, pp. 68-9), then the catalog must date from his time (although it could have been rebuilt). It is said that the ’Phangthang catalog was compiled in the time of Sadnalegs, and that a third catalog, that of Mchimsphu library, once existed (see CRYSTAL MIRROR, vol. 7, p. 321).
The Rgyacher Bshadpa commentary attributed to Khrisrongldebrtsan would seem to be the one now included in the Tanjur as the work of Daṃṣṭasena (CONZE, Prajñāpāramitā, p. 33). A commentary on the Hundred Thousand is mentioned, along with the Bka’ Yangdagpa’i Tshadma (on which see STEIN, ‘Un mention’), as written by the king based on instructions from Śāntarakṣita (see GURU BKRASHIS, Bstanpa’i Snyingpo, vol. 1, p. 444.2 and YARLUNG JOBO, Chos’byung, p. 62).  DPA’BO, Mkhaspa’i Dga’ston [1986], p. 401, says,

Although the catalog ’Phangthangma speaks of a great commentary on the Hundred Thousand Mother in seventy‑eight fascicles as being made by Khri‑srong, since Allknowing Bu[‑ston] tells us that the catalogues Mchimsphuma and Ldandkarma both describe it as an Indian text, it is the Hundred Thousand commentary by Daṃṣṭasena [that is being referred to].

[xiv]This Khamspa Gocha is also important in the story of the first transmission of the ’Bum into Tibet as told in ORGYANGLINGPA, Bka’thang Sde Lnga, pp. 752754 (chapter 15 of the “Lo Paṇ Bka’i Thangyig”). He is listed among the first thirteen Tibetan Buddhist monks in LDE’U, Chos’byung, p. 358.

[xv]Ra Gzigs Dmarpo. I read ‘Gzi’ for ‘Gzigs’, which might be translated ‘Red Splendid Goat’. The thirteenth century history by LDE’U (Chos’byung, p. 362) also tells the story of Ra Gzigs Dmarpo, but places it, interestingly enough, in the reign of the later Emperor Ralpacan. A modern account (’BROGMI, “Gzhungchen Bka’ Pod”, p. 103) tells that the ink for this manuscript, called Regzig Dmarpo, was made from Khrisrongldebrtsan’s ‘vermillion blood’ (mtshal) and the milk of a white goat. Regzig is an Old Tibetan word for zinbris, ‘summary’ or ‘abridged presentation’ (See BLANG, p. 301.3). Thus it seems that the “Ra Gzigs” represents a later attempt to etymologize an obsolete term, and I have chosen my translation accordingly. The reading Regzig is also found in ZHUCHEN, Chos’byung, p. 103.2; and KONGSPRUL, Shesbya Kun Khyab, vol. 1, p. 450.

[xvi]According to ’BROGMI, “Gzhungchen Pod Lnga” (p. 104), the ink for this manuscript was made from the Emperor’s ‘burnt hair indigo’ mixed with the milk of a white goat. (KONGSPRUL, Shesbya Kun Khyab, vol. 1, p. 450, agrees.)

[xvii]The text has Lcags Thurcan. It may be that this bears some relation to the word khyungthurcan, used in literary contexts to refer to armor or helmet. (CHANG, Dictionary, p. 266.) The word thurma may mean ‘peg, rod, awl, spoon’ (among other meanings; ibid., p. 1177). We find mentioned a Lcags Phurcan handed on to a younger son while the elder son received the abbacy of Smrabolcog (an early Nyingma monastery belonging to the descendents of Nyangral Nyima’odzer) from their father, Gsangbdag Bdud’dul. Nothing in the context tells us that Lcags Phurcan is the name of a Sher Phyin manuscript, although I am at a loss to explain it otherwise. See GURU BKRASHIS, Bstanpa’i Snyingpo, vol. 3, p. 409.4.

[xviii]Thugsdam is a multipurpose high honorific word which covers all sorts of high intentions, resolutions and aspirations. One of Khrisrongldebrtsan’s ‘resolutions’ was to build Samye. The word is also used in the Old Tibetan text cited in the preceding note number 4. SOGBZLOGPA, Bka’thang Yidkyi Mun Sel, p. 88.3, is a bit confusing, but he seems to call the twelve volume (poṭhi) version translated by Vairocana the Rgyalpo’i Bla ’Bum Shasgrocan (compare the name of the version made under Ralpacan, according to Rongston). ’BROGMI, “Gzhungchen Bka’ Pod” (p. 104) agrees, saying that this manuscript translation, which exists at Mchimsphu, was known as Shasgrocan, i.e., the name of the manuscript that Rongston attributes to the time of Ralpacan. KONGSPRUL, Shesbya Kun Khyab, vol. 1, p. 451, also calls the manuscript translation made by Vairocana the ’Bum Shasgrocan, but adds that it exists “even now” (i.e., about 1864) at Mchimsphu.

[xix]According to ’BROGMI, ibid., p. 104, this translation was in sixteen parts.

[xx]’BROGMI, ibid., p. 105, says that Rngog Lo Bloldanshesrab based his revision on a [Sanskrit] text found at Phamthing (modern Pharping?) in Nepal.

[xxi]Text in RONGSTON, Shesrabkyi, pp. 5.1 ff. Check for comparison also MKHYENRABRGYAMTSHO, History [A], p. 194.2 ff, for history of Prajñāpāramitā translations. DZA-YA, Thob-yig, vol. 4, pp. 404 ff. are also of interest.

[xxii]Note the statement to this effect in RONGSTON, Shesrabkyi, p. 9.4.

[xxiii]RONGSTON, Shesrabkyi, p. 8.6. The imperial period temple at Khra’brug was a common site for textual excavations.

[xxiv]For example, in the funerary chorten of ’Jigrtenmgonpo (as mentioned in a previous note), a Hundred Thousand text, along with Vinaya texts which Atiśa had brought from India, and many relics, among them ’Jigrtenmgonpo’s own skull and brain (see KÖNCHOG GYALTSEN, Prayer Flags, p. 43) were enclosed. We might note also that most guides to the sacred objects at Samye Monastery mention the existence of Hundred Thousand manuscripts from the imperial period at the Aryapalo Ling Temple. 

[xxv]It may be relevant here to bring forward the testimony of the Sbabzhed (STEIN, Chronique, p. 73), Nyangral Nyima’odzer (MEISEZAHL, Grosse Geschichte, folio 453 verso) and Dpabo II Gtsuglagphrengba (DPA’BO, Mkhaspa’i Dga’ston [1986], vol. 1, p. 416). These tell of a proclamation by Emperor Ralpacan that all the Buddhist books should henceforth be translated from Indian language since the Buddha lived and taught in India, that in previous generations Buddhist books had been translated from other languages. According to the first and second named sources, these languages were those of China, India, Nepal and Orgyan. According to the third source, the languages were those of “China, Khotan (Li), Magadhā (Yul Dbus), Zahor, Kashmir (Khache) and so forth.”
The Bon traditions’ own accounts of the history of their scriptures have them undergoing triple or even quadruple translations between the language of origin and the present Tibetan versions. The triply translated (sum ’gyur) texts generally went from Tazig to Zhangzhung to Tibetan, while the quadruply translated texts generally went from ‘divine language’ (lha’i skad) to Sanskrit to Tazig to Zhangzhung to Tibetan (see, for examples, THREE SOURCES, p. 106; DPALTSHUL, G.yungdrung Bongyi, vol. 1, p. 286; MARTIN, ‘Human Body’, p. 11).

[xxvi]In the twelfth century, the Nyingma gterston Nyangral Nyima’odzer excavated Prajñāpāramitā commentaries at Mchimsphu (retreat place near Samye). See GURU BKRASHIS, Bstanpa’i Snyingpo, vol. 2, p. 495.5. In the sixteenth (?) century, Bdechenglingpa excavated an Indian text (Rgya dpe) of the Hundred Thousand (ibid., vol. 2, p. 692.6), while the fourteenth century gterston Drimedlhunpo excavated a manuscript written with the ‘nasal vermillion’ (shangs mtshal, i.e., nasal blood) of Padmasambhava, Khrisrongldebrtsan, and Śāntarakṣita called the ’Bum Dmarma (ibid., vol. 2, p. 748.6).

[xxvii]This and the following references are to volume four of KHAMS ’BRING.

[xxviii]The numbers are added by myself. The Tibetan text which follows each of the translated items is based on the first listing, with alternative readings, enclosed within [ ], and insertions, enclosed within / /, from the second list. A somewhat varying list may be found in a fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Bon work by one Nammkha’dpal found in BONPO GRUBMTHA’ MATERIALS, pp. 24.427.1, and the sources for this list are given as the Khams Brgyad and the Bdal ’Bum.

[xxix]Conze supplies a translation of the list from the Aṣṭādaśasāhasrikā in his work (CONZE, Large Sutra, p. 583-585) as well as the list from the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā (ibid., p. 657 ff.). My numbers follow the latter list, although both lists are identical in content, and in an almost identical order. For the corresponding Tibetan texts, I have used TOG PALACE, vol. 47, pp. 404-405; and vol. 44, pp. 404-405 (it is a coincidence that the page numbers are identical!). Computer word searches were done on the Tibetan text passages, resulting in the chart of correspondences which appears below.

[xxx]But note that some of the approximately dozen items which do not occur in the Prajñāpāramitā lists of the thirty-two signs do occur in their lists of eighty subsidiary signs.

[xxxi]Although fairly inconsequential for the present arguments, we must remark about an extremely close parallel to the 32 signs of Lord Shenrab in the 32 signs of Padmasambhava in chapter 100 of the famous biography of Padmasambhava (O‑RGYAN‑GLING‑PA, Padma Bka’i Thang‑yig, pp. 519‑520; English translation in Life and Liberation, vol. 2, pp. 670-671). There Padmasambhava is praised as a ‘Second Buddha’ by his wife Mandāravā, with an enumeration of his bodily signs. These correspond almost entirely in their order and content (although not usually with the exact same wording) to the Bon list. It does seem significant that no. 28 of the Bon list is simply omitted, since the gshang bell is rather closely associated with Bon. This does appear to indicate that, if the two lists did not actually stem from a single prototype, the Rnying‑ma list must have simply been copied, with very minor changes, from the Bon list. It has already been demonstrated that large parts of another gter‑ma of O‑rgyan‑gling‑pa, the Bka’‑thang Sde Lnga, are based on Bon sources (see BLONDEAU, ‘Lha‑’dre Bka’‑thang’, pp. 45-47; KVAERNE, ‘Preliminary Study’). For the contrary view, that the Bon textual parallels were based on the Bka’‑thang Sde Lnga, see HOFFMANN, Handbook, pp. 220-221.

[xxxii]KHAMS ’BRING, vol. 4, p. 323.8.

[xxxiii]There is, actually, an analogous concept in Indian theories about the ‘generation’ of the thirty-two signs and eighty subsidiary signs from the sixteen vowels and thirty-four consonants. See WAYMAN, ‘Thirty-two Characteristics’, p. 259-260. The reader is referred to this article for more information and bibliographical citations relating to the subject of the thirty-two signs.

[xxxiv]ZHE‑CHEN, Chos‑’byung, p. 152.2. Part of the implication is that they were ‘fair weather’ translators. See ibid., p. 132.6, where the words of Rog Bande Shes‑rab‑’od are directly cited.

[xxxv]I have used the translation ‘etymological strata’ for byings, corresponding to one aspect of the multivalent Sanskrit word dhātu, which may mean the ‘roots’ from which words derive. The Tibetan word refers to the basic factors (of all types) that lie behind the form as well as the meaning of a particular word. To give a ‘meaning translation’ of this statement, the old translators are being praised for the ‘pregnant’ use of words in their translations.

[xxxvi]ZHE‑CHEN, Chos‑’byung, p. 153.3 (this history contains a fairly long discussion of the problems of translation starting at about p. 135, to which the interested reader is referred). For a parallel passage, see the Rgyud‑’bum Rtogs‑brjod (1797) of Dge‑rtse Paṇḍi‑ta in RNYING‑MA RGYUD‑’BUM (1973), vol. 36, p. 314.1.

[xxxvii]Similar cultural ‘linkages’ continue to be made wherever one culture seeks to familiarize itself with another.

[xxxviii]See BLANG, p. 291.4.

[xxxix]CHANDRA, Kālacakra Tantra; WAYMAN, Chanting, DAVIDSON, ‘Litany’ (the last two including English translations). For a listing (with locations) of the four different translations into Chinese, see NAKAMURA, Indian Buddhism, p. 326, note 56.

[xl]These are called Mdo Phran Nyi‑shu‑rtsa‑gcig‑pa (see bibliography under MDO PHRAN). Some sources for the history of this anthology may be found in SFHB, pp. 680.3-.5, 738.5, 750.4. See also KARMAY, Treasury, p. 313.34. Their titles are listed also in KUN‑GROL‑GRAGS‑PA, Zab dang Rgya‑che, folio 79v.3 ff., but the title of the work now discussed is not mentioned among them.

[xli]Sometimes called Gnyan‑mthing, or Gnyan‑’theng Re‑ngan, etc. See KARMAY, Treasury, pp. 153-154.

[xlii]KVAERNE, ‘Chronological’, p. 230, no. 82.

[xliii]A language spoken in Kapīśa in what is now eastern Afghanistan, presumably. See HOFFMANN, Quellen, p. 222.

[xliv]Smra‑ba’i‑seng‑ge, ‘Lion of Speech’ is also an epithet of ’Jam‑dpal in Chos tradition. In Bon works this is often contracted to Smra‑seng.

[xlv]At least three Mañjuśrīnāmasaṅgīti texts were preserved at Tun‑huang. See Poussin, Tibetan Manuscripts, no. 112 (pt. 2), no. 381, and no. 382. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to obtain copies of these texts.

[xlvi]Compare the statement in the Gsang‑ba Bsen‑thub (RTSA‑RGYUD CHEN‑PO GSANG‑BA BSEN‑THUB, vol. 1, p. 129.5), a ni skye med khong nas ’byung (The ‘A’ is unarticulated, emerging from [deep] inside).

[xlvii]See WAYMAN, ‘Tibetan Translation’, p. 295.

[xlviii]See WAYMAN, ‘Review’ of Hopkins, and HOPKINS, ‘Reply’.

[xlix]KARMAY, Great Perfection, pp. 219-223.

§§§  §§§  §§§

Postscript (2010 CE):

A lot could be done to bring this up to date, but first on my to do list would be to add in some considerations about the bodily marks of Laozi (or Lao-tzu if you prefer the old spelling as much as I do). Everything I know on this subject I learned from Livia Kohn’s article The Looks of Laozi, Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 55 (1996), pp. 193-236. Due to the blessings of open access you can go directly to its PDF incarnation here. I did already pursue the subject of the bodily marks of the Buddha (of both Lord Shenrab and Śākyamuni) being generated through alphabetic memory tools (dhāraṇī) simultaneous with scriptural texts in an article entitled Devotional, Covenantal and Yogic: Three Episodes in the Religious Use of Alphabet and Letter from a Millennium of Great Vehicle Buddhism, contained in: Sergio La Porta and David Shulman, eds., The Poetics of Grammar and the Metaphysics of Sound and Sign, Brill (Leiden 2007), pp. 201-229. You may be able to get a peek at it at Googlebooks for free, here.

The ’Phang-thang-ma scripture catalog mentioned in note xiii, has meanwhile surfaced. See Georgios T. Halkias, Tibetan Buddhism Registered: A Catalogue from the Imperial Court of 'Phang thang, The Eastern Buddhist, new series vol. 36, nos. 1-2 (2004), pp. 46-105.

There has been some work and progress in recent years on the textual comparison of Tibetan Buddhist with Tibetan Bon scriptures. Michael L. Walter has published a study closely comparing the above-mentioned Bon scripture Gser’od Norbu ’Od’bar with the Gser’od Dampa (Suvarṇaprabhāsa) — Prolegomenon to a Study of the Gser-’od Nor-bu ’Od-’bar-gyi Mdo, contained in: Per Kværne, ed., Tibetan Studies, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (Oslo 1994), pp. 930-938. Just to give one more good example, this time on a tantra text: Jean-Luc Achard’s Le Tantra des Vingt-Deux Perles de l’Esprit de Parfaite Pureté: un exemple d’intertextualité entre les traditions Bon po et rNying ma pa, Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie (Winter 2006), pp. 57-104. Before too long this ought to be made available here.  I also published a comparison of the main Abhidharma-type science text of Bon, the Mdzod-phugs, with the Tibetan translations of the Abhidharmakośa, an article easily available directly online in PDF here, although I don't necessarily recommend it to anyone. Do I even need to repeat those words, Much remains to be done?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

(Is this a traditional misattribution?)


  1. Glad you are back.

    This is like the opening salvo of a 4th of July fireworks show.

  2. Dear Tenpa-la, Not exactly back, but maybe slowly.
    Yours, Dan

  3. Thank you very much for this very very interesting article. I've produced a French translation of the Nâmasangîti, according to its commentary by Vimalamitra. I'd like to understand a little bit more of its variants in Bon tradition. The extract you show here already gives me some kind of ideas. I enjoy your "blog" and I thank you again for this sharing of your researches. PC


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