Monday, December 24, 2012

Panchen Lama IV, Kālacakra Prayer




In the spirit of the season of Holy Days, and to continue an old habit of mine, I'm making available to the world at large a somehow unusual, rare or splendidly crafted Tibetan text that happens to be in my possession. I'm sorry to say I don't know very much about the provenance of this woodblock print. The former owner in Lithuania told me it was bought by him near Lhorong seven years ago. Now with the help of Dropbox and your internet connection, it's also yours. I'm not sure what you will do with it, but my feeling is that it will serve as a source of merit for sentient beings whether or not anyone is paying attention. I thought to translate it for you, but the technical terminology of the Kālacakra Tantra, much of it connected to completion process practices, causes too many problems to even imagine translating it accurately. I guess I know some people who probably could do a fair job of it, so I'll leave it up to them. The paper is rather yellowed, but appears to be thin, smooth and modern, not the daphne paper Tibet was once famous for. The author is the Panchen Lama, the Fourth Panchen Lama to be precise, or Bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma (1781‑1853) the same one that was seen as a child by Samuel Turner in 1783. Here is how Turner described the young man:

"Teshoo Lama was at this time eighteen months old. Though he was unable to speak a word, he made the most expressive signs, and conducted himself with astonishing dignity and decorum. His complexion was of that hue, which in England we should term rather brown, but not without colour. His features were good; he had small black eyes, and an animated expression of countenance; altogether, I thought him one of the handsomest children I had ever seen."
  • pp. 335-6 in An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo Lama, in Tibet (London 1800). Of course I use the 1971 reprint edition with the cat footprints on the cover, probably unique to my copy.


His collected works are available in nine volumes, although I haven't looked to see if this prayer is findable there or not. If you would like to check it yourself, go to Tibetan Buddhism Resource Center, work RID no. W6205. I typed the text in ordinary Wylie transliteration below. I promise to perfect my unicode Tibetan typing skills before too long. It needs some practice.


To download a scan of the Tibetan woodblock print of the prayer in the form of a PDF, go to 



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|| || dus kyi 'khor lo'i lam yongs rdzogs kyi smon lam bzhugs so ||



o bde legs su gyur cig  ||


lhag bsam dag pa'i yid kyi zla shel ngos ||
dpal ldan dang po'i sangs rgyas dkyil 'khor pa  ||
rab bkod mchod bstod bzlas pas mnyes byas pa'i  ||
rnam dkar dge tshogs ma lus bsdoms pa'i mthus  ||

skye dang skye bar theg mchog dge ba'i bshes  ||
dam pa'i mgon gyis bral med rjes bzungs te ||
thun mong lam gyi rim pa'i bdud rtsi yis  ||
yid kyi shel bum ma lus gang bar mdzod ||

byis pa ltar 'jug dbang bdun 'jig rten dang  ||
'jig rten 'das pa'i dbang chog rnam ba bzhis  ||
sku bzhi'i sa bon 'jog cing rim gnyis kyis  ||
bsnyen sgrub nyan dang 'chad la dbang bar shog  ||

dngos grub rtsa ba dam tshig sdom pa la  ||
gnas nas rdo rje bzhi dag go bgos te  ||
rdo rje'i shugs dang srung ma drug cu'i tshogs  ||
bsgom pas bdud dang bgegs rnams tshar gcod shog  ||

rnam thar sgo bzhi'i gnas lugs lhan skyes dang  ||
dbyer med goms pas skye 'chi'i srid sbyong zhing  ||
mkha' dbyings 'byung bzhi ri rab padma sogs  ||
bsgom pas rdo rje'i lus kyi gnas rtogs shog  ||

ye shes lnga yi rang bzhin pho brang du  ||
sngo ljang las 'khrungs rnam bcas dpa' bo dang  ||
rnam med phyag rgyas 'khyud pa'i ting 'dzin gyis  ||
tha mal snod bcud ma lus sbyong bar shog  ||

snyoms 'jug dga' ba'i sgra yis bskul gyur ba'i  ||
dkyil 'khor padmar bzhugs 'ong lha tshogs rnams  ||
spros pas bsnyen pa'i dkyil 'khor rgyal po mchog  ||
bsgom pas phung sogs dri kun spyod par shog  ||

yab yum chags pas bzhu bskul las bzhengs pa'i  ||
'khor lo'i tshogs spros ro mnyam dbang bskur sogs  ||
rnam dag nyi shus mngon par byang chub pa'i  ||
nye bar sgrub pa'i rgyal mchog myur thob shog  ||

gtum mo'i me lce sbar ba'i dga' ba bzhi  ||
sgrub pa'i yan lag thig le'i rnal 'byor dang  ||
mas brtan dga' ba bzhi yis sgrub pa che  ||
phra mo'i rnal 'byor myur du 'grub par shog  ||

gzugs sgrub sor rtogs bsam gtan rnal 'byor dang  ||
srog sgrub srog rtsol 'dzin pa'i rnal 'byor gyis  ||
bsgrub pa'i sprul pas 'khor lo'i dga' tshal du  ||
stong gzugs lha skur dngos su ldang bar shog  ||

las kyi phyag rgyar rol pa'i rjes dran gyis  ||
dhû tîr zla nyi'i rdul brtsegs brtan pa las  ||
mi 'gyur bde ba nyi khri tshig stong gis  ||
ting 'dzin yan lag yongs su rdzogs par shog  ||

ces pa chen bstan pa'i nyi ma phyogs las rnam rgyal gyis mdzad pa'o  ||

- - -

If you have a sense where this woodblock print may have come from, do drop me a line and let me know what you think. I couldn’t locate it in the listings of woodblock prints from various printeries that you can find here. This search-file has been up over at Tibetological website for quite awhile now, and I had thought to introduce it here even if I didn’t get around to it. Of course it is fully findable through an ordinary Google search, so you may have stumbled over it already if you are the sort of person who is very often out there googling for Tibetan book titles.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kashgar Tiger

Tibetan Emperor Trisong Detsen (reign ca. 756-797 CE),
 with Mañju
śrī  attributes of sword and book, Rubin Museum Collection

When Vairocana was a child, he was called, by his father I’d venture, by the name of Kashgar Tiger. This name held a special significance, not that I would expect anyone to know that. Precisely the contrary. The materials for drawing this conclusion are out there, but I believe they have not yet been put together. Some may know there is a two here and another two there, yet they haven’t bothered to add the one with the other to see the result.

If you are one of those highly unusual Tibetanists that haven’t heard the name Vairocana very much, just overlook what little remains of this blog and go directly to the Rangjung Yeshe Wiki to get acquainted ASAP.

I was looking once more at a book I’ve been spending a lot of time with lately, the history by Khepa Deyu, dated soon after 1260 CE. To give the context, Deyu continues an older Nyingma tradition started by Rongzompa in the early 11th century, by supplying his readers with an account of the successive ‘land-falls’ of Buddhist tantra in Tibet during the imperial and post-imperial period (that means, more or less, from the early 8th century through the decades surrounding the year 1000 CE).

I noticed something rather unusual about Deyu’s version. Rongzompa and every other Nyingma writer after him (it seems) have a set of seven such land-falls, while Deyu has ten (see Germano’s article, still the only thing there is about it). Also unlike the others, Deyu starts the chronological series with Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava instead of Buddhaguhya. The section I was looking at is that of the fifth land-fall, the one where Vairocana introduces Tibet to the Great Perfection or Dzogchen teachings of the Mental Class for the very first time.

Did Vairocana exist? No reason to be surprised by the question — I mean, some skeptics have asked just this question about Guru Rinpoche himself. People who are interested in the secular side of early Tibetan history are unwilling to step outside their corpus of secular Dunhuang documents (the OTDO is filled with these, or with non-Buddhist texts, with only one significant exception) to look at Tibetan Buddhist literature, even though by far most of the Dunhuang documents are indeed Buddhist scriptures. They are likely to treat what their colleagues in other realms of the humanities and religious studies are doing with disdain, or just ignore them.* All too predictably, one side is liable to say Guru Rinpoche didn’t exist, while the other side is bound to say he must have.
(*And of course people who are interested in the Dharma and its practices have no patience whatsoever with the secularist historians and their politics. The followers of the Dharma generally don’t even want to know if one or another of their saintly heroes might be mentioned in a stone inscription or in some old manuscript. They have faith and believe, so knowledge is not their problem. I’m not really talking about this type of practitioner today.)
The secularist historians don’t even want to hear a word about the subjects of what they will summarily dismiss as hagiography (even more tainted a word for them than historiography is). Both sides, in my view, can be real spoil-sports, blinkered in significant ways by their world views (that predict for them which items, which texts, are worthy of attention), more liable to head off our quest for truth and meaning than they are to help with it. I hope to show this in the case of one of these Buddhist saints, even if only in what looks like a minor detail, on only one of the multiple levels of conflict here in our Tibetological ghetto’s version of the two cultures.

I have no quick answer about the historicity of Guru Rinpoche, yet I’m quite convinced that Vairocana did exist, since we seem to have plenty enough ‘external verification’. This e.v. means a kind of triangulation used to coordinate points taken from sources of different nature or texts with disparate aims belonging to different lines of transmission. Doing this is supposed to result in greater certainty, to convince even those who are more skeptical than most. That’s what I figure I’m up to at the moment. (In an ideal blog, I would have brought in Bonpo testimony, since their histories also know of a 'Be-ro-tsa-na, but perhaps another time.)

Of course we shouldn’t (and won’t ever again) confuse him with the 12th-century teacher of Mahāmudrā named Vairocana, Vairocanarakita, and - a name uniquely his own - Vairocanavajra. We won’t mention that Vairocana again today. 

Our late 8th- and early 9th-century Vairocana is attested in the 'Phang-thang-ma catalog of canonical texts kept in the library of  the imperial palace of 'Phang-thang (see Halkias, p. 61; his name spelled Dpa'-khor Be-ro-tsa-na). And he is named in a wonderful small Dunhuang document concerned with Phurpa teachings.  There he is called Ba-bor Be-ro-tsa, numbered among disciples of Guru Rinpoche (see the old translation by Bischoff and Hartman, p. 23, or the newer translation by Kapstein, p. 158, or the newest, the Mayer tr., to be mentioned later on). 

Oh, and although I don’t think we are in a position to prove this just on the basis of a name held in common, our Vairocana could have been the Vairocana credited with inventing the Khotanese alphabet (well, if we can bring him into closer relationship with that part of Central Asia, then the possibility would gain strength, wouldn’t it?  See Emmerick’s book, p. 21 et passim).

But let’s move this background to one side and zero in on the strange and funny name that Vairocana had as a child. This name is usually spelled something like Ga[n]-'jag-stag. Very relevant to our arguments, as it will turn out, his father had a funny name, too, something like Pa-gor He-'dod* (Deyu spells it Her-'dod). Odd as the Pa-gor part of it may look, it’s just a place in Tibet (we won’t go into its location right now, since we have so many other things on our plate), so it’s the He-'dod that is hard to understand. And the name of the child Vairocana has the element stag that surely does means tiger (even if spark would be another possibility), but it’s also an element in quite a few Tibetan names of the imperial period, so here it’s the Ga-'jag that is a problem.
(*Maybe it's Welsh hendad, meaning ancestor. Well, do you have any better idea? If his name were Hebdoad, I suppose that would make him some kind of Gnostic or Manichaean. Enough of this fun. I give up, for now.)
Ga-'jag as a place name was long ago identified, in quite another context, with a region in the vicinity of Kashgar in Central Asia. In Christopher I. Beckwith’s by now classic game-changing study of the Tibetan imperial period he noticed, in a footnote (no. 7 on p. 144), that Gan-'jag is simply a transcription of "Ganjak (the country above Kashgar) the language of which was mentioned by the medieval linguist" Kashgari.  Someone else’s argument (look at pp. 8-9 the PDF here) prefers to find it closer to the mountain massif known as the Pamirs (there has been more discussion on this in an article by Denwood, not visible to me right now). I’d gladly change my title to Pamir Tiger, I’m just not sure yet. If truth be told, regardless of how it could embarrass me, I’m much more used to associating the name Ganjak with an Armenian historian by the name of Kirakos of Ganjak (d. 1272) and as an ordinary noun ganjak may be Armenian for stomach or gut, right? If you are not clear how far the Pamirs are from Kashgar, just go here, and then type in the box the words “Pamirs Kashgar.” This will show you they are about 200 kilometers apart. But for my purposes today I can afford to leave this quibble about exact location alone, 200 kilometers are not my biggest concern.

The true holy scripture of all secularist Tibetanist historians would have to be the Old Tibetan Annals. It gives yearly dated entries for a goodly span of early Tibetan history, from 641 to 765 CE (a few entries in between are lacking). The entries rarely give more than minimal information about where the Emperor spent the summer or winter, the places government meetings were held, alliances, new appointments of ministers, foreign expeditions and wars... exactly the kind of information craved by political historians, just not enough of it. Now we have a fine and fresh new translation by Brandon Dotson, and it is here, in the entry for the year 756 CE, that we find something very relevant to Vairocana, even if he is not directly mentioned. Judging from this it is quite sure Vairocana's father was an official imperial emissary to Central Asia, whether that means a place closer to Kashgar or the Pamirs, and in a more-or-less perfect time for Vairocana to be born. I'll quote the relevant part of the entry from Dotson’s translation (leaving off his notes and so on):
The Black Ban-'jag, Gog (Wakhan), Shig-nig, and so forth, emissaries of the upper regions, [all] paid homage. Pa-gor Na-'dod and Ce Snang-rtsan were proclaimed as reciprocal emissaries.
(For the Tibetan text, just go to OTDO and then search for "ban 'jag" or "shig nig." Shig-nig has been identified as Shughnan. Gog is of course the Gog of Gog and Magog. Ban-'jag according to Beckwith is just a minor glitch that should be read as Gan-'jag.)

Was I the only one who noticed the similarity between Pa-gor Na-'dod and Pa-gor He-'dod? Granted two such similar names could have been given to different people within the same family (for example, consciously giving a boy a name resembling his grandfather’s). Still, chances are good that one is just a scribal transformation of the other, a problem of the kind that bedevils Tibetanists at every turn, or so it sometimes seems. So it’s very likely that it was Vairocana’s father who was sent to Central Asia. 

The name of the child Vairocana that is found in the hagiographies is also found in the Sba bzhed, a work that ought to be regarded (temporarily disregarding the complexities of its internal textual transformation history) among the oldest narrative historical sources we know about, along with the Old Tibetan Chronicles. What is more, this name finds its indirect but sure explanation in the secular bible of the Tibetological historicists, the Old Tibetan Annals. We’ve brought the secularists’ world view into a point of contact with that of the Dzogchen specialists. How do you imagine they will get along? Do you see any reason why they shouldn’t?  (Get along, I mean.)


§  §  §

Print publications:
Friedrich Bischoff and Charles Hartman, Padmasambhava’s Invention of the Phur-bu: Ms. Pelliot tibétain 44, contained in: Études tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle Lalou, Librarie d'America et d'Orient (Paris 1971) pp. 11-27. —— Forty years later, there is a newer translation of Pelliot tibétain 44 by Matthew Kapstein, and I believe Rob Mayer has done and will one day publish a study of it. Rob Mayer and Cathy Cantwell have written about the text in the 4th chapter of their recent book, Early Tibetan Documents on Phur pa from Dunhuang, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 2008). There they supply what may be the first complete translation.
Philip Denwood, The Tibetans in the West, Part Two, Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology, vol. 4, no. 4 (2009), pp. 149-160. This is available if you have an institutional subscription to Brepols. I don’t. 
Brandon Dotson,  The Old Tibetan Annals: An Annotated Translation of Tibet’s First History, with an annotated cartographical documentation by Guntram Hazod, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 2009). The relevant entry is on p. 129. 
R.E. Emmerick, Tibetan Texts concerning Khotan, Oxford University Press (London 1967), with "ga-hjag" appearing at pp. 45, 71 and, on p. 94, simply identified as meaning Kashgar.
David Germano, The Seven Descents and the Early History of Rnying-ma Transmissions, contained in: Helmet Eimer and David Germano, eds., The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 225-263. 
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. You can now read this on your Kindle or whatever by first going to this page at Archive.org.
A.W. Hanson-Barber, The Life and Teachings of Vairocana, doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin (Madison 1984). H-B (on p. 43) finds the Tiger year date of Vairocana's trip to India, at the age of 15, to be the year 765 CE. If this is right he would have been 5 years old when his father was sent on his mission to Kashgar or its neighborhood. It seems at least one source has Pa-gor He-'dod as his uncle, not his father (see p. 50), perhaps even his adoptive uncle.
Matthew T. Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation and Memory, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2000). For a free PDF of an interesting article by this author about the tantra collection of Vairocana, look here. To see a list of titles from that tantra collection, go to TBRC at this page.
Samten G. Karmay, The Great Perfection: A Philosophical and Meditative Teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, E.J. Brill (Leiden 1988).  There is a summary of the Great Mask biography of Vairocana at pp. 18-33. There is a freshly published new edition of this book, not yet at my fingertips.
Rob Mayer, Did Vairocana Have Lice? If you’ve been spending sleepless nights wondering about this, look here. You will notice this blog entry inspired quite a lively discussion.
Yudra Nyingpo (G.yu-sgra-snying-po), The Great Image: The Life Story of Vairochana the Translator, tr. by Ani Jinba Palmo, Shambhala (Boston 2004). I call it the Great Mask, not that it matters in the least. For Tibetan texts, try going to TBRC and searching for 'Dra 'bag chen mo. There is even a beautifully woodblock printed edition if you can get access to it.
Sba bzhed.  For the text, look here. Then scroll down to p. 58 of it, and what do you see but this? —  "pa gor na 'dod {he 'dod kyang zer} kyi bu pa gor bai ro tsa na."  This says that Pa-gor Vairocana was son of Pa-gor Na-'dod, who is also, the inserted note says, called He-'dod. This does support and even seems to clinch our idea that the two names point to the same person. Have a look at p. 59, too. Then you may see that the Stein version of the text doesn't have the note, but simply gives the name of Vairocana's father as Pa-gor Na-'dod!  The very name that is in the Old Tibetan Annals.
What could the Pamirs have to do
with the peak-of-peaks of Vehicles?











“When one has arrived at the summit of the King of Mountains,
all the lower valleys are seen at once.

“The valleys do not see the nature of the peak.
Just so, the Vajra Heart Ati
is the peak of peaks of Vehicles
which clearly sees the meanings of all the others.

“The lower Vehicles do not see the meaning of this Ati.
That is left for the time when they have arrived-at the naturally-arrived-at
                             peak.”



— Longchenpa, Chöying Dzö, chapter 7
_________________

Postscript:


I admit, in my efforts to juice up what may be a dry subject, I may have laid down the polemic a little too thickly. The truth is — as I notice just now as I’m poised to click on the “Publish” button — the Vairocana connections between the Sba-bzhed, Dba'-bzhed, Dunhuang text (PT 44) and the Old Tibetan Annals entry for the year 756 CE have been pointed out in a footnote already in a work published 12 years ago, effectively beating me to the punch. I’ll just give you the reference for now and consider my job done:  
dBa' bzhed: The Royal Narrative Concerning the Bringing of the Buddha’s Doctrine to Tibet, translation and facsimile edition of the Tibetan text by Pasang Wangdu and Hildegard Diemberger, with a preface by Per K. Sørensen, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna 2000), p. 70, note 238. 
The dBa'-bzhed, by the way, spells the father’s name as Pa-'or Na-'dod. The one connection that is made in today’s blog, and not made in that footnote, is the significance of the Kashgar Tiger name. So, OK, I guess I've at least succeeded in adding one small point for Tibetological consideration.


§  §  §

Oh, and one last thing. I forgot to mention before that you can find a brief biography of Vairocana based on Dudjom Rinpoche's history, where else but at the Light of Berotsana webpage? Have a look at this PDF.

And the last of the last things for sure?  The Rangjung Yeshe Wiki has put up the entire biography of Vairocana in Tibetan unicode font!  ལོ་ཙཱ་བ་ཆེན་པོ་བཻ་རོ་ཙ་ནའི་རྣམ་ཐར་  It's fully searchable, and it's been there since July 2010, completely unknown to me.  To go there go here.





Monday, September 24, 2012

Three Recent and Rare Tibetological Books

A snapshot of the Templeman book cover


I assume anyone reading Tibeto-logic already knows how to do internet searches for book titles. They also probably know what are the most likely libraries and commercial sites where those titles might be acquired. I have made — and do make — exceptions to the no-commercial rule occasionally when [1] I can justify to myself that I don’t have any compelling personal or commercial interest in promoting the book* and [2] the book is too likely to be overlooked by those who would find it interesting (translated: worthy books by more obscure or indie publishers). Even then, I don’t think I’ll give you direct links to suppliers. Let’s just say these are rare species, and that this blog is one of those rarely granted hunting licenses —  once you do find these books you can proudly display them as hard-won trophies on your shelves, brag to your friends how you battled all odds to get them, and you might even read them if you feel so inclined. Not to stretch the ironically-intended hunting metaphor further, rest assured what you will find here are friendly introductions — not so-called critical book reviews with their yawn-invoking typo hunting — so relax and keep reading, but only if you want to. We start with a tale of magic, an untimely death and of all things frogs.
(*I won’t ask you to buy my sister’s novel, no matter how much I think you should, and no matter how much difficulty I have restraining myself.  I have a policy to attempt a strict boundary between Tibeto-logic and commercial concerns. That’s why, among other things, I zealously prescreen each comment to make sure there will be not even one spam posting.  I hope you will never see ads on Tibeto-logic. Sometimes we literally have to fight to make our contested little islands on the internet about love of learning instead of commerce. Of late the spammers (the spambots? I doubt their humanity) have gotten quite aggressive, even sending in advertisements in Hindi and Russian using Devanagari and Cyrillic scripts.  Why just a few minutes ago I got three different spam postings with links to dozens of women's shoe sellers. They often spout a few compliments — the proverbial deer head placed with care in front of the mule meat — and then back-link to some page selling Italian handbags, the filthy bastardini! This non-advertising policy of mine even extends to books, although this is the hard one. I mean, every reference to a book might in some sense be an advertisement for it. I’ll grant you that.)

Years ago while I was a young student struggling with Tibetan, my class was reading an amazing text about a woman who died and came back from the dead.  My teacher insisted on reading one passage of it as saying that the woman had been made deathly ill through black magic after an enemy had put a dead frog under her mattress. The way I read it was that the woman was in the process of dying, and soon after leaving her body she looked down and saw what looked to her like a smelly frog corpse lying there on the bed. Although that’s what it looked like, it was in reality nothing else but her own dead body. 

I guess all of us who have been students have experienced these small crises of confidence in our authority figures. Wisdom in hindsight is all well and good, but I must confess that at the time I was upset with my teacher. Now I think I overreacted. Shy person that I was, yet I had the temerity to suggest it would be possible to read it my way. Still he insisted, just to drive in his point adding in an instance of this kind of black magic being performed with frogs in some other place — the details of his argument are no longer clear in my mind. In any case the outcome was good, I better learned to respect people that don’t see things the same way I do, a very useful skill that requires constant testing and honing. And face it, there is no good reason to keep authority figures since we’re all just trying to do our best with what we’ve got under the conditions we find ourselves in.


So, it isn’t out of a sense of pride and vindication — really not — that I warmly welcome and recommend a new book by Daniel Berounsky of Prague. This book with the title The Tibetan Version of the Scripture on the Ten Kings (and the Quest for Chinese Influence on the Tibetan Perception of the Afterlife) covers an impressively large territory. We say this even though it does have a main focus in a single astounding text — one that doesn't really have a title — about the Buddhist hells. This is the kind of text that perhaps should not exist. It is a scripture, yet is not to be found in canonical catalogues of scriptures. It is in Tibetan (and most Tibetan scriptures by far are translated from Indian languages, predominantly Sanskrit), yet it contains clear signs of being translated from Chinese. 

The Chinese text on the Ten Kings was subject of a 1994 book by Stephen F. Teiser.  (No, it might help, but it isn’t necessary to read Teiser’s book first.) The Tibetan manuscript is graced by what might be considered folkish or naive painted illustrations (done in Tibetan style but with clear Chinese background most evident in the magistrates’ hats and so on, as you can see already on the cover) that are despite or because of that quite pleasing to the eye and fascinating in their content. These miniatures include some of the most gruesome and cruel scenes ever made available to us by the human imagination. (Coming from someone who just watched A Cabin in the Woods, I think my saying that means something.)

Part of the area covered are those revenants that Tibetans call passed-on returners or delog ('das-log), including that self-same woman who saw her body as a frog. Lingza Chökyi was her name. Was that a warm recommendation? Well, yes, it was. And if you want to read the story about the frog, the translation starts on page 58. Still, I should add, since it might create confusion: Through the magic of manuscript variations, the frog (sbal) has become a snake (sbrul). So be warned about that. I like this book very much. I enjoyed the reading of it.


One very unclear photo of the image at Triloknath


The contents of the volume from Monash University edited by David Templeman and entitled New Views of Tibetan Culture have already been described, with a listing of the individual titles and authors, at Indologica blog, here. These are all fine papers, each with its own laudable merits. Myself, I found most immediately fascinating the essay on the famous old Triloknath temple in Chamba by Diana Cousens. I hope you will get a chance to look at this book, otherwise you will be forced to find satisfaction in the fuzzy photo of its famous image you see above. D.C. located on the black market (Huh!?) a sharp and wonderful photo of it without the cloth that usually mostly conceals it. Cousens shows how a remarkable array of local and translocal secular and sectarian concerns converge and diverge on and from this small but culturally-historically (not to mention Buddhalogically) important image and the small temple that houses it — spirit mediums, sheep sacrificers, self-flagellators, dancers, drinkers, volley-ball players, picnickers and linga worshippers share the space with Buddhists. In other places, in other contexts, it is so often the case that disparate perceptions converge on a single object. Interesting to see how these tensions get dealt with, isn’t it...

Not intending to sound as if I’m criticizing the author for not doing what there was never any intention of doing, still I will say as an afterthought that there isn’t very much of the historical background here. That kind of material, although not all that abundant really, may be found elsewhere (especially in some works by Mahesh Sharma, listed at academia.edu, here). If you’re one of those oddballs that like looking into the past, I’d first recommend an old article based on an even older Tibetan-language guidebook to the temple. I have put up a page about it at Tibetological website, here, including a small bibliography. For the insufficiently Tibetolognoscenti, or for those who just try their best to avoid reading German, I send you instead to the life of Götsangpa, one of the early Tibetan visitors to Chamba, at Treasury of Tibetan Lives, here.


Number 3 on our list, but very high in our esteem is Francis Tiso’s Milarepa book.  (Look for Francis Tiso in the sidebar for a rather dated CV.) Tibetologists need no introduction to Frank’s work on Jebtsun Milarepa (ca. 1050-1123). He wrote a dissertation over two decades ago entitled A Study of the Buddhist Saint in Relation to the Biographical Tradition of Milarepa, dated 1989, and perhaps available from UMI or Proquest if you have the necessary means. I fear it will be even more difficult to get this newer and further developed volume of Milarepa research:  Liberation in One Lifetime: Biographies and Teachings of Milarepa, Proforma (Isernia 2010).  Featured at the core of this book (as with the earlier dissertation) is a translation of the 13th-century Milarepa biography written by Gyeltangpa Dechen Dorjé (Rgyal-thang-pa Bde-chen-rdo-rje)

There is quite a lot going on in Milarepa studies in recent days, a lot of papers, books and dissertations, so many that it would be a weariness for all of us if we had to track down every last one of them. We might just mention that one of the most important younger researchers in this area is without a doubt Andrew Quintman. He has made a fresh new English translation of Milarepa’s most-read and best-loved biography (also published in 2010). There is an engagingly written piece* by Ruth Gamble in the just-mentioned volume edited by Templeman, to underscore a highlight or two in what would otherwise be a very long list.

But still, I believe not one among all the hosts of Milarepa-wallahs can very closely approach Tiso’s combination of skills. He is both competent and critical in the academic sense and empathetically engaged in the material in ways that make it resonate on a number of levels. He has an impressive breadth of knowledge, yet keeps his conclusions vulnerable (as one must, but really, how often do you see it?). If upon closer historical investigation we see some of the narratives fall apart, we can simultaneously sense the living forces that anyway made such narratives develop. We can intuit simultaneously what the life of sanctity meant to the tellers of the saint stories, and what it could mean to us. And even in the degenerate times we live in we might conceivably achieve these insights without falling into the early-21st-century Buddhist’s two extremes — those of pitiless de[con]structionism and newage-ish dis[con]figuration of tradition.
(*It has the title Laughing Vajra: The Outcast Clown, Satirical Guru and Smiling Buddha in Milarepa's Songs. It attacks the very good question whether or in what way Milarepa’s humor might be regarded as funny. This is a great contribution to the still-rarely-touched area of Tibetan humor studies.  By the way, does anybody know the term Tibetans today are using for comic book? The question came up recently, and I didn’t have an answer handy... I still don’t. While we’re at it, what does the word shog-bkra mean to you?)

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Afterthought:  I feel for the young Tibetanists of the world. There are so many new books coming out all the time. Some of them are just plain wonderful, but then far too often so are the prices. The only solution (short of selling the car, giving up vacations and mortgaging the apartment) is to stay close to a well stocked library without budgetary restraints if such libraries may be said to exist anymore. Perhaps you have one of those in your neighborhood. I feel I ought to reassure you that if you can find any of the three books featured in today’s blog (and I leave the finding up to you), then you are likely to be surprised how little they will cost. I mean, relatively speaking!  
 
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