Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marginal Amusement at the Bodleian

Earlier today, under inspiration from the latest blog entry from Janus, I was doing an internet search for ‘Hero Capable [of overcoming all comers all at] Once,’ or, in the original tongue, Dpa'-bo Chig-thub. What to my great surprise could possibly pop up, but a rare catalog of Tibetan manuscripts and so forth that are kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. It’s so rare it’s not even a publication, really, just a typescript done, as you might expect, on a typewriter. I could hardly believe my eyes. What could explain this outrageously good fortune?
A Descriptive Catalogue of the Tibetan Manuscripts Held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, prepared by John E. Stapleton Driver in ca. 1970, and revised by David Barrett, 1993. Total page count: 152.
Some very thoughtful person put it up for us in a searchable PDF format. Here.

You can find something entertaining already, 4 pages into it (there are no page numbers) in the entry for MS.Tibet.a.1, described as "a meditation text," with the title Bla mgon dbyer med kyi rnal 'byor thun mongs ma yin pa nyamsu len tshul rin chen dbang gi rgyal po'i do shal.

Someone wrote on the title page (I give it 'as is,' except for changing it into Wylie):  'di mang gi yi ge phal cher ma dag pa dang 'ga zhig rang zo byas pa'ang mang tsam 'dug pas zhu dag tong tshod mi 'dug go.  This is there translated, “As the text in this is generally corrupt and in a good many cases even made up, there’s no end to correcting it.”

A second person wrote on the title page in a different hand:  'di 'bri mkhan dang khyed rang gnyis ka ma dag pas skyon dan[g] .... rang bzo byed mkhan gtso bo khyed rang 'dra.  — khyed 'dra bas zhus dag gtong ba las ma gtang ba dga 'dug. This is translated, “Of the writer of this and yourself, the chief introducer of corruptions and inventions seems to be yourself." — "Rather than have someone like you make corrections, they were better not made at all.”

And finally, at the end of the text, somebody wrote (in English? Well, no Tibetan is given):  “It would shame you if a scholar were to see such a corrupt text, so I suggest you burn it.”

The original text was purchased in 1885 from two of the Schlagintweit brothers: R.H. and A. If you are like me you may well have trouble keeping straight which of the five Schlagintweit brothers was which, in which case this webpage would be a big help.

But what about the person given as the author of the text, the monk Legshé Ludrub (Legs-bshad-klu-sgrub)?  

A quick search of TBRC and a few other places turned up neither the title of this guruyoga text nor its author.  Who can he be? Where’s our good Doctor Watson?

John E. Stapleton Driver, in case you don’t remember, was the one who translated R.A. Stein’s Tibetan Civilization into English.

As part of this catalog, you can find some of the papers that were left behind by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) — famous editor of such well known works as The Tibetan Book of the Dead — after his own entry into the bar-do. Among these papers are some draft translations by Lama Kazi Dawa Samdrup.

Some of the Tibetan books here came from Solomon C. Malan (1812-1894), a friend and student of Csoma de Körös. For more about this, see P.J. Marczell, The Tibetan Mss. of the Malan Bequest in the Bodleian and Their Relation to the Life and Works of Csoma Körösi, Studia Asiatica, vol. 2, nos. 1-2 (2000), pp. 55-71.  Get it for free (or not!) here.

Other materials came from Samuel Turner (1749-1802), author of An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama in Tibet (London 1800).

”A.D. 1806.
”Fifty pounds were paid for some ' Tibetan MSS.' of Capt. Samuel Turner,E.I C.S., who had been sent by Warren Hastings,on a mission to the Grand Llama, in 1785. Of this mission he published an account, in a quarto volume, in 1800. His MSS. consist chiefly of nine bundles of papers and letters in the Persian and Tartar languages, written in the last century, together with a few Chinese printed books. Capt. Turner died Jan. 2, 1802; but as one of his sisters was married to Prof. White,* it was probably through him that the papers were now purchased.”  
        For the source, look here.

(*My note: I guess this means Joseph White, since he did indeed marry Mary Turner, sister of Samuel.)
For more about this, see the late Michael Aris’s article, A Note on the Resources for Tibetan Studies at Oxford, Bodleian Library Record, vol. 10, no. 6 (May 1982), pp. 368-375. Or look at this page of the Bodleian's own website (scroll down the page to the section about Tibet).

Even if they do have street lamps in Oxford, this is not one of them.
Look up the word panopticon for a clue.
Wasn't it invented by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832),
and isn't he the one they still keep locked up in a closet
in London University? None of it makes sense to me. Not really.

If the kind person who did this is still in a generous mood, I suggest they put up two other rare catalogs of Tibetan manuscripts that exist (however seldom) in typescripts.  They are:

P. Denwood, Catalogue of Tibetan Mss and Block-prints outside the Stein Collection in the India Office Library (1975), in 145 pages.  For a reference, look here.

E. Gene Smith, University of Washington Tibetan Catalogue, vols. 1-2 (Seattle 1969).  For a reference, look here.

Or is this asking too much?

Overlooking something?

Who took the photos?  I must confess, it was moi.  All 4 were taken in Oxford, around the time of the Xth IATS in 2003.

Update —  December 31, 2011

For an update with important further information by Charles Manson, particularly the part about an upcoming online catalogue of the Bodleian's Tibetan collection, look here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

No Prophet in Buddhism?

You might well wonder what any normally Tibeto-centric Tibeto-logician would be doing spending his evenings leafing through a — well, not-so-recent — book about a Muslim theologian and Sufi contemplative by the name of Simnani. Wonder no more. For decades now I have been intrigued by the fact that for a time Buddhist teachers called Bakshis were active in the Middle East. We know that Simnani had very much contact with those self-same Bakshis. As I think I will be able to show — if not now, on another day — he was one of the most visible contact points that allowed some aspects of cultural-religious electrical currents to flow into the western parts of Eurasia in a crucial time in her history. Am I being too grandiose? Trying to be dramatic? A little overexcited, no doubt. Forgive me.

It is well known, to a few at least, that in the last part of the 13th century there were certain Kagyü lineages that were allied with the Mongol royal house of Hulegu (reigned 1256-1265) and his immediate successors, receiving their patronage and protection. Hulegu’s son Khaidu (1236-1301) even led (or sent?) western Turk troops — what Tibetans call Stod Hor — into Tibet (see Everding’s article). Despite a few such Mongolian armed incursions, Tibet was never actually occupied by Mongol forces during China's Yüan dynasty like China was.

From 1256 to 1295, apart from a brief two-year interlude, the Ilkhanid realm was ruled by Buddhists. They held a great deal of the Middle East from their center in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran. I labeled this bad map to show its imprecise location, although you are probably better off to see the map of the Ilkhanid realm (at its greatest extent) at Wikipedia, where you can see that it actually did cover quite a big part of the area you see on the map just below.

Most writers on the subject repeat the idea that there were Tibetan Lamas among the Bakshis. But for years now I’ve been on the lookout for anyone named (let’s say) Jamyang, Kunga or Tenzin among them, and so far no good luck. Although I’ve asked some real experts in the field to look into the matter, they never did get back to me. They may have been right for not taking me seriously. People have always complained that they’re not sure when I’m joking.

Well, there is the surprising story, told in the Berzin Archive, about Emperor Arghun’s brother Gaikhatu who succeeded him as Il Khan. Someone (usually they say, with apparent good reason, this someone must’ve been a Tibetan monk) gave Gaikhatu the 100% Tibetan name Rinchen Dorje.

He liked this Tibetan name well enough to put it, in Mongolian and sometimes in Arabic script, on many of the coins he had minted in Tabriz (you can see quite a few examples on the internet if you look for them). The following lustrous gold example, one of many, is supposed to have his name on it (I apologize that I am unable to read it, but I found it here).

He did make one disastrous political mistake. He introduced Chinese paper money into the Middle East. It looks as if he just took the Chinese paper bills and overstamped them. Or did he directly copy the money, Chinese inscriptions and all? Paper doesn’t have half the glitter of gold, and none of the jingle, so it didn’t catch on, to say the least. Exactly the opposite. And Gaikhatu lost his position, so to speak, when he was assassinated. Arghun’s sons soon succeeded Gaikhatu, but they stopped supporting Buddhism and converted to Islam.

Did you ever have one of those minor epiphanies, the kind that seizes you, gives you a kind of electrical jolt, even before you have time to think about the reason? It has happened to me more than a few times in museums, actually, come to think of it. But once when I was touring, together with a Tibetan monk, the al-Quds al-Sharif sanctuaries on what non-Muslims are more likely to know as the Temple Mount, we had scarcely entered the Islamic Museum off to the side of al-Aksa Mosque, when both of us found ourselves astoundedly fixated on the same thing at the same time. It was an artistic motif around the base of a large metal candle holder.  It was just so closely similar to the lotus base that you see under practically every Indo-Tibetan divine image, only more in the Tibetan style, or perhaps even more in the style of the Swat Valley bronzes. 

Full description here.

The monk and I had identical epiphanies at the very same moment. Stopping to inspect the museum label, we could read that the inscription engraved on it contained the name of Arslan.*  This touched something off.  Some hidden alarm button?
(*Aslan, or Arslan, means 'lion' in both Turkic languages and Mongolian.)
Despite what may have seemed like a moment of clarity, I was puzzled and the more I find out the more puzzling it becomes, really. If this use of the lotus design is a result of Mongol (or just vaguely Central Asian) influence, the reign of this Arslan (1203-1239) is almost too early. He ruled quite a huge area from his capital of Mardin, a still remarkably well preserved historical mountaintop city in southeastern Turkey with a breathtaking view over the Syrian plains. Since that time, I’ve become more accustomed to seeing East and Central Asian artistic influences in Middle Eastern art (see especially the book by Kadoi listed below).  There is even a body of literature tracing Ilkhanid eastern artistic influences on early Italian painters like Giotto (see Tanaka's article)

You can’t exactly see it in this low-resolution photo, but if you look in the lower right corner, the scene of the Roman soldiers gambling over possession of the robe, you will see the robe has golden bands in its design, and on the bands (if you don’t want to take my word for it, I think you can actually make them out on the fringed garment of the person standing to the robe's left side) are Phagspa letters. I visited the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua a few years ago, but with the 15-minute limit (preceded by an hour in a dessication chamber) it is really very difficult to take it all in, let alone notice all the details. I have to confess I didn’t notice any Phagspa script when I was there. I was far too overwhelmed by the art.

The Crucifixion, by Giotto of Bondoni (1266-1337),
Scrovegni Chapel, Padova, Italia

Now Simnani belonged to a family with a number of members who served in the court of Arghun, and Simnani himself was no exception. Yet he had an interest in Sufi meditations from a young age, specifically inspired by Kubra and his school, the Kubrawiya, with its strong emphasis on visionary experiences of lights which Simnani himself would further develop in his later years. Kubra didn’t live to see the rule of the Mongols. It is said he died in hand-to-hand combat with the Mongols when they invaded Khwarezm in 1220.

Now I see the hour is getting late and I want to get this in the mail before I miss my bedtime, so just let me say these few words about Simnani and we will call it a day. As you may know, the Mongols were in the habit of holding inter-religious discussions (debates, if you prefer) in their courts. The general idea is that Mongolians had their own shamanic ideas; other religions they had trouble comprehending — they found them curious — so they would enlist the smartest people around to try to explain them. A number of early Mongol rulers married Christians. Arghun’s mother was one of them, and there are yet other reasons for his willingness to deal with Christians... as well as Muslims, and needless to say Buddhists. I believe Arghun’s Buddhism was not just superficial.  

The following describes an event of April 1288. It was probably the first, but definitely not the last, time Buddhist relics were displayed in the Middle East:

“Buka’s envoys brought back with them to Persia one of the relics so much esteemed among the Buddhists, called Sharil. These are hard pieces of a substance which is said to be found in the ashes of some saintly persons when cremated. Von Hammer says that Buddha's heart was supposed to be made of bone and not of flesh, similarly with the hearts of great men, and that the sharil is really held to be the ossified heart of the cremated person. Arghun, we are told, treated this relic with the greatest honour, gold was strewn over it, while a feast was duly celebrated.”  — Howorth, History of the Mongols, pt. 3, p. 321, as cited in Numen, vol. 41 (1994), pp. 284-285.
Arghun sometimes had Simnani hold religious discussions with the Buddhist Bakshis. The usual story is that they belonged to a number of nationalities, not only Tibetans but also Indians, Uighurs, Chinese and so on. They say that Simnani would win these debates because he was able to convince his audience that the Buddhists didn’t really know about their own religion.
"Arghun then called for a Buddhist monk and ordered him to engage Simnani in a debate, but Simnani defeated the Buddhist by demonstrating that he was ignorant of the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings."  (Elias, p. 26)
Although generally antipathetic to Buddhism — he believed the main problem with Buddhism is that it has no prophets — he was actually fond of one particular Bakshi, and this Bakshi (surprise, surprise) has a personal name attached. He was an Indian who was called Bakhshī Parinda (Elias, p. 18).

Parinda was supposed to be from a monastic community of Somnāth in coastal Gujerat, although Mayer believes it may be a similarly-named place in Bengal. I differ with them both. I think this is probably the same monastic institution, in what would nowadays be Orissa, that the famous Vairocanavajra (subject of a great study by Kurtis Schaeffer) belonged to before he went to Tibet and translated Doha songs into Tibetan in around the 1240’s or so.

Not sure what to make of the name Parinda, I’m inclined to think it might be a reformed version of the Indic name Varendra (a common enough personal name with the meaning ‘True Indra’). Simnani confessed that he regarded Parinda as, to quote Elias, “spiritually very advanced despite his non-Muslim status.”

All this was intended as hardly anything more than an introduction to still different matters, touching on religious devotional and meditative practices and visions that I regard as more interesting than anything you have heard here so far. I do hope you did find it interesting anyway.

§   §   §

Interrelated matters worth exploring:

Hamid Algar, "Kubrā, Shaykh Abu 'l-Djannāb Aḥmad b. ʿUmar Nadjm al-Dīn," Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, P. Bearman, et al., eds. Brill (Leiden 2011). Brill Online.

Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Sufis and Shamans: Some Remarks on the Islamization of the Mongols in the Ilkhanate, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 42 (1999), pp. 27-46.  See especially p. 32, relevant to Simnani's relations with Buddhists.

Arezou Azad, Three Rock-Cut Cave Sites in Iran and Their Ilkhanid Buddhist Aspects Reconsidered, contained in: Anna Akasoy, et al., eds., Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes, Ashgate (Farnham 2011), pp. 209-230, and plates 10.1 through 10.11. This article does not establish that, as has sometimes been speculated in the past, the caves in question were definitely Buddhist, but neither does it eliminate the possibility. Other articles in the same volume are relevant, not only the introduction by Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, but also the contributions by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani (see p. 100 for a bit on lotus-type designs on metal pots) and Paul Buell (on connections in the field of medicine and cooking).

Jamal J. Elias, The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of 'Alā' ad-dawla as-Simnānī, SUNY Press (Albany 1995). Seventy-nine of Simnani's works (excluding epistles) have survived, and very little has been written about them in English apart from this book, and a bit translated from the French of Henry Corbin.

Karl-Heinz Everding, The Mongol States and Their Struggle for Dominance over Tibet in the 13th Century, contained in: Henk Blezer, ed., Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 109-128. On p. 120 are what may be the most horrifying scenes in all of pre-modern Tibetan history. Here it is evidently Khaidu who is hiding under the Tibetan[ized] name Ga-du Rin-chen.

Cover Image
Jean Maurice Fiey, Esquisse d'une bibliographie sur le patriarche turco‑mongol Yahwalaha III (1281‑1317) et son maître Rabbam bar Sawma, envoyé du Khan Arghun au pape et aux princes européens en 1287‑1288, Proche‑orient Chrétien, vol. 38 (1988), pp. 221‑228. Morris Rossabi has written a whole book about Mar Sauma, and I hope to see it before long.

Yuka Kadoi, Islamic Chinoiserie: The Art of Mongol Iran, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh 2009).

Toby Mayer, Yogic-Ṣūfī Homologies: The Case of the "Six Principles" Yoga of Nāropa and the Kubrawiyya, The Muslim World, vol. 100 (April 2010), pp. 268-286.  I believe you can get free access to it here. (Or if not, go here: and then search for it from there.)

Leo Jungeon Oh, Islamicised Pseudo-Buddhist Iconography in Ilkhanid Royal Manuscripts. Persica, vol. 20 (2005), pp. 91-154. The thesis of this long and rather confusing paper (well, I found it so) is that there were Asian artistic influences on paintings produced for the Ilkhanid court.

Elliot Sperling, Hülegü and Tibet, Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 44 (1990), pp. 145-158. As pointed out at the very beginning of this Tibetological article, the Ilkhanid ruler Hülegü was known inside Tibet by his name Hu-la-hu (or more simply Hu-la), he was known as one who patronized the Phagmodru school of the Kagyupas, and as the “King of Upper Hor” which this author identifies with the Chagatais. Given this is so, chances are that the Tibetan Bakshis may well have been Drigung monks, so Drigung histories — and histories of other lineages stemming from the Phagmodru school — would be logical places to look for clues about them, you would think.

Hidemishi Tanaka, Giotto and the Influences of the Mongols and Chinese on His Art: A New Analysis of the Legend of St. Francis and the Fresco Paintings of the Scrovegni Chapel, Art History (Tohoku University, Japan) (1984) 1-38 [in English].  Other writings on related subjects by the same author have appeared in English, Japanese and Italian.  Among the most intriguing is one entitled Oriental Scripts in the Paintings of Giotto's Period, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, series 6, vol. 113 (1989), pp. 214-226.  You can actually recognize some of the 'Phags-pa script letters in some of these paintings, which is about as clear a sign of Mongolian influence as you could possibly wish for. Of course there is now a Wiki page on the subject, with interesting illustrations. But better if you have a look at this Babelstone blog.

Late 13th-century Ilkhanid tile, Istanbul

David Ohanessian (1927), is responsible for the frontispiece

P.S. (Nov. 14, 2011):

I forgot to mention that there was another South Asian Bakshi with a name working in Tabriz. This was the relatively well-known Kashmiri Buddhist teacher Kamalaśrī, who helped the illustrious and industrious but ill-fated Rashid ad-Din with his stories about the life of the Buddha. Some have identified him with Padampa Sanggyé, who has Kamalaśrī (as well as Kamalaśīla) as a monastic given name. For chronological reasons their identification is simply impossible. Two centuries separate them. Well, if Padampa was 600 years old when he came to Tibet, as is sometimes told, he would have had to live another 200 years to be off visiting eastern Iran, now, wouldn’t he? That hardly seems likely. I’ll refrain from listing all the bibliography for this problem for the moment. Or if you insist on having something to read, be my guest and check out Karl Jahn’s article in Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 2 [1956], pp. 81-128.)

P.P.S. (Nov. 25, 2011):

Just to add to the list of Bakshis with names, we also are aware of names of two that came from China. I’ll just repeat here something you find in the comments section below:

Johan Elverskog's book Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia 2010), p. 149, says that Rashid ad-Din had in addition to the Kashmiri Buddhist teacher Kamalaśrī two Chinese collaborators named Litaji and Kamsun (quoting Thomas Allsen's book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, p. 92; here you can see that it would be quite difficult to find out the actual Chinese names behind these names...).


That a couple of Chinese would have been in Tabriz isn’t in itself all that newsworthy. You also have the cases of Rabban Sauma and his disciple who came from the general area of Khanbaliq (OK, Dadu or Peking if you prefer or insist) both of them of Turkic stock. The disciple, Yaballaha III,* was made Patriarch of the Nestorian Christian world. As soon as I can lay hands on a copy of Morris Rossabi’s book on the subject I plan to read the whole thing through in several sittings.**
(*He was supposed to be Uighur Turkish by birth, was known by the Greek name Markos as a young person, and had the ability to speak Mongolian, a skill that definitely helped to endear him to the Ilkhanid Emperor. The two of them, Sauma and Markos, set off from China on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but things didn’t turn out quite as they had planned. Sauma’s name is supposed to be of Syriac origins with the meaning of Faster [that means one who fasts, but you knew that].)
(**Morris Rossabi, Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from China to the West, Kodansha [Tokyo 1992].)

P.P.P.P.S (NOV. 27, 2011), added to illustrate one of the comments, below.

Figure from Tanaka's article, p. 221, a detail from Giotto's Crucifixion,
Scrovegni Chapel, Padova,
with Tanaka's interpretation below.

Figure from Tanaka's article, p. 221, 
with Tanaka's interpretation below.
Sample of early P'agspa script (edict dated 1277 or 1289), after Precious Deposits, vol. 3.
P'agspa script was invented in 1269.

P.P.P.P.P.S. (October 24, 2015):
I think it could have added to the discussion to include the line of Arabic script you can see in the coronation mantle of Norman King Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154 CE). Here you see one side of the mantle only, depicting a lion attacking a poor camel. Garments hemmed with inscriptions in exotic scripts were on extremely famous luxury fabrics like this one on the Italian peninsula (and not only Sicily, his kingdom extended north nearly to Rome) much before Giotto's time. The original is kept in a museum in Vienna, I believe.

P.P.P.P.P.PS. (Aug. 3, 2016):
Notice that the discussion within Islam on the issue of whether or not the Buddha can be regarded as a prophet is an ongoing one. The best writing I've noticed on this topic is this:  "The Muslim Doctrine of Prophethood in the Context of Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Japan: Is the Buddha a Prophet? by Keiko Obuse, published in The Muslim World, vol. 100 (April-July 2010), pp. 215-232. This article reveals something else that some will find surprising, that there do exist some Japanese Buddhist converts to Islam.

The Museum entry for this piece can be seen here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tibetan Proper Name Index

Warning: This old blog is full of links leading nowhere, so to avoid confusion and disappointment, the only link you need is this one. To read about the more recently released version, look here.

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.
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