Monday, November 29, 2010

Dromton's Encouragement

Click to enlarge

With Eid al-Adha and Thanksgiving just over and Hanukah, Christmas and Saturnalia so rapidly approaching, I find myself in a holiday mood despite myself. So, now that I’m equipped with a reasonable scanner for the first time in my life, I want to use it to spread around nice digital versions of the few but very select Tibetan-language woodblock prints and manuscripts that are in my possession (and that haven’t been published, or haven’t been published in the form in which you will find them). 
(I know, I tried this already, without much success, in the Zhabkar blog. I’ll have to try and scan that text again, only on a lower resolution next time.)
This time I want to share a beautifully made woodblock print made in Amdo at the Kumbum Monastery.  The paper is that very same finely made paper you are used to seeing in Kumbum and other Amdo monastery publications done before the [anti-]Cultural Revolution (today most of the printing of otherwise traditional Tibetan books called pecha is done on brown grocery-bag paper).* It contains three different titles, the one you see above as well as two other titles further on in the pile of loose leaves. The first one is a well-known Kadampa text by Dromton Gyelwai Jungné (1004 or 1005‑1064 CE). The third one is an even better known Tanjur text. The second one as far as I know is something unpublished so far.
(*Actually the paper of Kumbum prints in my experience is much brighter white than the cream-colored paper you see here.  And it is relatively thicker; many Kumbum prints are made on extremely thin white paper, only slightly thicker and less translucent than the kind we used to call ‘onion skin.’ So to overcome the problem of ‘bleed-through,’ the two sides are printed on one sheet, and then the sheet is folded over. You will see there is some bleed-through in our print, but it really isn't too bad)

Text 1:

The title as it appears on the front of the title page is this:  'Brom chos kyi rgyal pos mdzad pa'i rang rgyud la skul ma 'debs pa dad pa'i ljon shing.

I would roughly translate this, "Faith's Tree: Words of Encouragement for My Own Mind, Composed by Drom Chökyi Gyalpo."

It should be possible to locate another copy of this at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center via this link.

This same text exists in a beautifully done English translation under the title "Tree of Faith" in Thupten Jinpa's translation of The Book of Kadam: The Core Texts, at pages 37 through 60. Tibeto-logic readers may be interested to hear that this work contains, among other things, both the ‘marketplace’ metaphor used by Padampa in his Tingri Hundred and the image of the black and white rodents of day and night chewing away at human life, as found in the story of Barlaam and Josaphat.

Text 2:

Rdzun pa nyi shu'i gtam sbyor.

I'll just translate this one as Twenty Lies.  (Be assured that the things called lies here are mainly the kinds of lies one tells to oneself.)  It is written by one of the Shingza (Shing-bza') incarnates, reincarnations of Tsongkhapa’s mother* who could sometimes be appointed head abbots of Kumbum Monastery. The given name of the author appears in its long form at the end of the text like this:  Lobzang Tenpai Wangchug Tsultrim Puntsog Pel Zangpo (Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-dbang-phyug-tshul-khrims-phun-tshogs-dpal-bzang-po).  According to the only list of Kumbum abbots I have on hand at the moment, he lived from 1825 to 1897.  He served as Kumbum's 58th head abbot from 1861 to 1864.
(*Tsongkhapa’s mother’s name was Shingza Achö [Shing-bza' A-chos]. Generally the syllable za in a Tibetan name indicates that it is the name of a married woman, and the syllable [or sometimes syllables] before the za indicate her own clan name or the like. And of course, as always, what western Europeans would call the last name or surname is in this part of Eurasia given first. There is a marvelous story about how a tree that grew on the spot where Tsongkhapa was born was preserved. It miraculously displayed letters and Buddha-images on its leaves.  Huc and Gabet, Christian missionaries, examined it in the mid-19th century. This tree is said to be the inspiration for the name Kumbum (Sku-'bum), which means 100,000 images, not 10,000 images as you find in the account of Huc and Gabet [on them, see down below]. You think they may have had a lazy or negligent typesetter?)

Text 3:

Sems can mgu bar bya ba'i bstod pa.

The Sanskrit ought to be Sattvārādhana Stava, and if you would prefer reading the Sanskrit you ought to be able to find it here:  Sylvain Lévi, Autour d’Aśvaghoṣa, Journal Asiatique (1929), pp. 264‑266 (try this direct link).

It was translated into Tibetan in the mid-11th century by the Bengali Atiśa working together with his long-time Tibetan co-translator Tsultrim Gyelwa (Tshul-khrims-rgyal-ba).

We’ll translate this title as A Praise for the Delight of Sentient Beings. It was written by the Indian teacher Ludrub (Klu-sgrub), this being the Tibetan version of the name Nāgārjuna, but it is by no means to be regarded as his original creation. Strangely, it says near the end that it represents words of the Blessed One spoken to the sixteen Great Hearers that were taken from the Bodhisattva Basket’s Ba tshwa'i chu klung scripture. A few of you may remember this scripture, incidentally — from a previous blog — as the River of Salt. So this Tanjur text is actually just a selection from a Kanjur text put into a verse summary by Nāgārjuna. I hope you could follow all that.

So, unless you have better things to do on a cold and (we may hope) rainy autumn day, which I very much doubt, go now to 

at Dropbox and download the text in the form of a full-color PDF created and double-checked by myself and my scanner. Of course, if you are not prepared to read Tibetan, you will need to find some other way to fill your time. I can’t see why anyone would listen to me, but I recommend and encourage you to read Jinpa-la’s English translation of the Dromton text. I don’t believe there are any complete English translations of the other two titles, although I would be pleased to learn that I am sadly mistaken.

By the way, you ought to go to the download site soon, since there is no guarantee it will be there a month or two from now. If you happened to run across this blog sometime early in the year 2011, it might still be there. Give it a try by clicking there or here, whichever. Sound simple? Indeed, it is. And I think you might like to see the result.

§  §  §

Recommended reading 
Of course the unabridged 2-volume version you see here is by far the best, unless you are the sort who prefers the original French. Mine is dated 1928, but I still had to cut open some of the pages with a letter opener. Evidently Gale C. Griswold, whose name appears with the date Jan 2nd, 1934, never got around to reading it all.  Hmmm... I wonder if that's the person by that name who might have worked for the Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta Georgia, as chief of the Audio-Visual Production Branch... ?*

*Anyway, I'm so happy to welcome it to its new home and to offer it a seat on my bookshelf, since for so many years I fancied myself content with the so-called "condensed translation" by Mrs. Percy Sinnett in a very badly made but oh-so cheap 1971 Taiwan pirate edition of this 1852 publication. I doubt there is anything to recommend the outrageously expensive Routledge reprint of 2004, so my advice is to try your luck with the used book dealers, as I did. I think I pointed this out before, but you can have the French for free by pressing here and waiting. You could also sample some parts of the Hazlitt at Googlebooks if you wanted. My age is probably showing, but so what? I miss the old days when you couldn't read a new book without a knife in one hand.  Well, old style Indian and Tibetan books never needed cutting... so then how do you explain the sword in the right hand of Mañjuśrī?


  1. thank you very much Dan. I haven't found such an excellent tool for my daily-online procrastination-ritual in a long time. what a joy!

  2. That nice paper you like is mulberry paper. The better quality does not bleed. Note that you see more bleeding as the blocks become worn, because they begin to take up more ink on the surface.

  3. I think you are right about it being mulberry paper. Mulberry does tend to yellow over time, too, doesn't it? Or perhaps this particular mulberry paper wasn't well bleached to begin with?

    I do know of catalog descriptions by very reputable people that confuse mulberry paper with the daphne paper favored in central and southern Tibet (calling the latter the former). Between the two, the Amdo mulberry paper is so much finer, without the irregular blobs that wreak havoc on the clarity of the printing sometimes when the daphne paper is used.

    I remember some Tibetan woodblock printed books on such thin white paper that I would swear, the pages nearly levitated.

  4. Speaking of miracles, by some fluke I happened to Google up a paper I've wanted to see for a long time. It's by van Manen, entitled "The Wonder Tree of Kumbum," The Theosophist, vol. 34, pt. 2 (1913), pp. 44-57.

    I think it should be possible to see it all from beginning to end. I find it fascinating, regardless of the many confusingly combined rationalizations and conclusions about the tree you will find there. (Van Manen was a Theosophist, but he didn't pull punches when Blavatsky wasn't making any sense, as you can see.)

    For Tibetans it's just another example of a rangjung (rang-byung) phenomenon. Letters and images are growing out of rocks all the time, so why not also from a tree? (Not in this case a mulberry tree, but anyway.)

  5. Hi Dan,

    I believe your Gale C[harles] Griswold completed a Master's degree in chemistry at Stanford in 1926 ("Reactions of the di-alkyl cyanamides in liquid ammonia"), before joining the faculty of Modesto Junior College (Modesto, CA) as chemistry and physics teacher. You can see a photograph of him here. Being a scientist he eventually got bored reading the book and left several sections uncut.
    Sorry, this is a very weak contribution to your commentarial section, but thanks for the scans anyway!



  6. Dear Arn,

    I can’t for the life of me see why he would have gotten bored. Even if reading about the hardships of day-after-day endless traveling can be tedious, there is plenty of interest in the book about communicable diseases.

    When Huc and Gabet were in Lhasa they weren't allowed to go to any audience with the Dalai Lama. The reason being this: a fear had been spread that they were likely carriers of smallpox and His Holiness might get it from them. The Dalai Lama at the time was Dalai Lama XI Khedrub Gyatso (Mkhas grub rgya mtsho; 1837-1855). He had been enthroned in 1841, but anyway was a very young child at the time, which could help explain some of the concern.

    If you can get to it, start reading at p. 264 of vol. 1 of the Hazlitt where there is a marvelously touching portrait of the lives of camels. Nothing not to like there, especially for a person with biological interests like we all have... although I guess it occasionally falls into the pathetic fallacy, as we all do (I see it as a mark of the writer's empathy).

    Thanks for writing with your valuable information as well as your concern and empathy, as always.


  7. Thank you for the files and for the link to JA-- the whole paper there is very useful. I wasn't aware that Asvaghosa's text on the Mulapattis was extant, and published, in Sanskrit. It's a quite important text for Tibetan Buddhists.

  8. Dear Ratna,

    Thanks for writing! I think you must mean the Rdo rje theg pa rtsa ba'i ltung ba bsdus pa, Tôhoku no. 2478, Dergé Tanjur, vol. ZI, folio 179. Perhaps you would like to download Tibskrit if you haven't, since it tends to have that kind of information (I use it all the time, just as I did just now to pull up the reference I just gave). It's near the bottom of the sidebar (down below on this very page you see in front of you) in the section entitled "Biblio Links." Just tap on the word Tibskrit when you get there. Tell me if it doesn't work and I'll try to fix it. (If a month goes by without a download, Megaupload drops it from their site.)


  9. The link worked fine. Many thanks!

  10. small pox:
    It sounds funny that the then Tibetans were afraid of the fact that the Dalai Lama might get infected, because I heard that Tibetans in those days were absolutely confident of the power of their "blessded purifying water" (khrus chu), which they believed could protect any kind of infection. It is said that they considered the vaccinations "grib" infested and thus not fit for lamas and trulkus.

  11. Dear Anon,

    Thanks for your comment. I'm no epidemiologist, but if you will type "smallpox" in the Search this Blog box up at the top of this blogpage, you will see that the topic has already come up a few times in the past. I know that a type of early form of vaccination was in use quite early on — using sores from smallpox victims powdered into a kind of snuff — which doesn't allow accurate regulation of amounts... So some people would get seriously sick and even die from the prevention effort. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama had smallpox, as proven by the pock marks he had throughout His life. If I could find the place, there was a discussion in an earlier blog about the Panchen Lama's visit to Beijing, where smallpox figures very largely... I only say what I think I know, not to avoid the fact that I haven't really answered your question. Perhaps someone else could chime in on this one? Smallpox was in centuries past such a terror in Central Asia that if they had been convinced of the safeness of a prevention method, they would have eagerly accepted it, or so I think.


  12. As far as translations of Huc go, you should check out 'Lamas of the Western Heavens', translated by Charles de Salis, and published in 1982 by the Folio Society. It is condensed, but the translation is good, it incorporates the original woodblocks and, a bonus for those of us who enjoy the physical form of a book, is beautifully printed and comes with a slipcase. Originally it was fairly expensive, but copies can be found online for less than $30.

  13. Oh, thanks a bundle, Geoff,
    I haven't located a usable used copy at a doable price yet, but I'll keep looking for it. -D


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