Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The Zhijé Collection Suffers Irreparable Damage

Shakyamuni Buddha, frontispiece of the Zhijé Collection

These esoteric precepts are [as pure] as the lotus that grew in mud,
rarer even than Jambu Isle’s nature-pure gold from the river of gold.

When practiced they make Buddhas within a single lifespan.
That this is true and certain, the supreme Dampa has said.

When all [his] followers take these precepts to heart and practice them correctly,
they reach their own goals while reviving the Buddha’s Teachings as a whole.

So now (?) the holders of the Teachings must take them as their heart practice.
Gold [I] offer to the oral transmission.*
[*For an annotated version of this, with the Tibetan text transcription, you can scroll down to the end of this blog.]

This marginalia, if that is the right word for it, is missing (erased!) in the 1979 reprint version, but visible in the microfilm (at volume 1 [KA], folio 159 verso). It is scribed in a very different style of cursive than we see in other parts of the Zhijé Collection. This only helps to confirm something we may know from reading its content, that it was added as part of an act of dedicating an offering of gold to the sacred manuscript itself. Although the microfilms are generally fine enough, this is a case where the color digital photograph, posted in July of 2017, is clearer and allows greater certainty in the reading, which incidentally helps to justify sending out this urgent message. 

As you are probably aware, in quite a few past Tibeto-logic blogs we have made use of what I call, for convenience, the Zhijé Collection. At first, when the webpage I will link you to in a moment opened, I was simply overjoyed to see the color photos of the frontispiece miniatures, since I have long wished, but never had the chance, to see them in color. The NGMPP microfilms are in black-and-white,* and no color slides were ever taken. (I asked the people in the Kathmandu office about this, so I am quite sure of it.) 
(*No need to mention the 1979 publication, where most of the miniatures are practically impossible to make out, the quality of the reproduction is so unsatisfactory.)

But then my heart sank deeply into my gut and remained there when I realized what else I was seeing. Indeed it’s a very sad day for lovers of the South Indian Buddhist saint Padampa.

To see what I’m talking about go to this webpage, or this one dated July 2017, but before you do so promise you will come back here before the day is done.

A large and very significant part of the original 700-year-old manuscript of the Zhijé Collection has been destroyed beyond any realistic possibility of repair, and it seems water damage has affected at least some of the other volumes as well (you can see that strips of very white paper have been added to the margins of pages in volume 1 to fortify them).

Anyone who has read the Tibeto-logic blog from back in August of last year knows that already in the 11th and 12th centuries there were Tibetans fully aware that the “binding elements” that accompany Tibetan-style books were used with the motive of protecting the texts from destructive forces in the environment, that means from the elements of traditional physics — from damage by fire, water, wind and earth. To put it in modern-sounding terms, Tibetan book-constructing practices evolved in order to maximize their chance of survival. 

No reason to point fingers since I can’t tell you how the destruction of the Zhijé teachings took place. All I can say is that it appears from the photographs that it was water damage, and if the texts were being kept in the Kathmandu Valley, as seems likely, the danger of water damage was much greater than would have been the case in the high mountains. 

Not to end on a too-negative note, as I’m seriously inclined to do, we can at least express the hope that in the future greater attention will be paid to the preservation of this and other literary monuments from the Tibetan past. It ought to be a lesson learned for everyone who is concerned. At stake is not just the preservation of a set of writings that after all has been fairly well-enough preserved through publication and photographs, but something much more than that. At stake is the preservation of a physical object, a relic, that puts us in contact with the earliest six generations of Padampa’s disciples, and hence with Padampa himself. It ought to remain as a source of blessings and inspiration for generations to come as it has for generations gone by.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.  This is what the second of the four volumes of the Zhijé Collection, originally made in about 1245-1250 CE, looks like today. As you can see in the margin of the lower visible leaf, it's fol. 247 of volume KHA.  For comparison, look at this Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project (NGMPP) microfilm version:

Folio 247 recto of vol. 2 (KHA) based on the NGMPP microfilm
(filmed in 1990, acquired in 2002, digitized in 2017).

§  §  §

Dedication Verse with text and annotations this time (I modified the translation a little bit). It is impossible to know who wrote it or when:

gdams ngag ’di ’dam skyes padmo las bzhin
’dzam gling gser gtso [~btso] chu gser nas kyang dkon /

These esoteric precepts are [as pure] as the lotus that grew in mud,
rarer even than Jambu Isle’s naturally pure gold from the river of gold.*

(*Jambu Isle is the southern continent in the traditional cosmology that centers on Mount Meru.  I believe that ’dzam-bu chu-gser, although one of the stock poetic metaphors for gold in general, here refers to the best gold available in the world, the naturally pure nuggets that are found in riverbeds, and that this is the kind of gold being alluded to.)

nyams su blangs na tshe gcig sangs rgyas ’gyur
zhes mi bslu nges pa dam pa mchog gi gsungs /

When practiced they make Buddhas within a single lifespan.
That this is true and certain, the supreme Dampa has said.

rjes ’jug kun gyi tshul bzhin nyams su blangs nas
rang don ’grub cing rgyal bstan yongs la gsos su ’gyur /

When all [his] followers practice them rightly,
they reach their own goals while reviving the Buddha’s teachings as a whole.*
(*rjes 'jug here could also mean people of the future, those who will come after [me, the writer], and this just might be the preferable way of reading it.)

de nam (?) bstan ’dzin skyes bu’i thug[s] nyams
bzhes mdzod   gser snyan brgyud (bcud?) du phul /

These (?) the holders of the Teachings must take as their heart practice.
Gold [I] offer to the oral transmission.*
(*It may not be obvious, but I believe that snyan-brgyud, while it does mean secret lineage teachings whispered from mouth to ear, is also a way of referring to the Zhijé Collection as a whole, as we might see from the [restored] title of the collection that can be translated as “Among the Peacemaking Teachings that Lay at the Heart of the Holy Dharma, this is the Text of the Later Oral Transmission known as The Exceptionally Profound.”)

A color digital photograph posted in July 2017. 
The last two lines on the page are the "Dedication Verse" we have just translated.
Click on the photo to enlarge it.

§  §  §

Bibliographical notes:

Although the title they give it remains a mistaken one,* the TBRC (Buddhist Digital Resource Center) has made public domain the 1979 publication of the Zhijé Collection, which may be viewed or downloaded here.
(*I guess I ought to explain this. It is mistaken because the Zhijé Collection is devoted exclusively to the later of the three transmissions, and not as the TBRC-invented title says, to all three.  Not only is it limited to the Later Transmission, it is even further limited to the Kunga lineage of the Later Transmission. I know how difficult it can be to get mistakes corrected once they are in the system, so I’m not blaming anybody, just hoping that one day the error will be eliminated.)

Also of great interest for Zhijé and Cutting studies is a recent 13-volume publication from Kathmandu (2012-2013).  To know more about it, look here. I believe it, too, is open domain. It includes a complete computer-input version (therefore OCR scannable!) of the Zhijé Collection as well as a few previously unpublished works, among them the Seed of Faith, a pilgrimage guide to Tingri Langkor we employed in this blog.
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