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.

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