Friday, August 08, 2014

Name Dropping, It Happens

Drive carefully, unidentified llama ahead

I apologize for those last couple of blogs about trivial matters you probably know enough about already. You know, like the one last month encouraging the consumption of mildly intoxicating beverages. Today for a change I think we’re all more than ready for a fresh and heady flask of straight-up Tibetology. What do you say? This isn’t supposed to be Sesame Street, is it? Sometimes I, too, forget where I am. So I say it’s high time we recalled our quest and get back on the Yellow Brick Road.

I was enjoying reading a piece about Tibetan law by our friend Christoph Cueppers, and one of the main things that stuck in my mind afterwards was in a footnote near its end. There Christoph compares introductory verses of the legal document known as the Great Law Code (ཁྲིམས་ཡིག་ཆེན་མོ་ — try looking here) in two different versions.  

In one of them we have a line very clearly naming the Tsang King Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (ཀརྨ་བསྟན་སྐྱོང་དབང་པོ་) as the promulgator of this legal code. In the other version that very same line — the one with the name — gets removed and replaced with a general expression that means something like ‘edict of the kings who rule according to Dharma’ (notice that plural!). In other words, a name no longer convenient to preserve got dropped from the text. On purpose. Apparently the Ganden Phodrang (དགའ་ལྡན་ཕོ་བྲང་) government no longer regarded it as desirable to allow credit for this legal code to a past ruler they might with good reason regard as their original opponent. I’m not entirely sure it’s correct what I am suggesting here, but I do think it’s worthy of reflection and of course, as the Tibetologists always want to add, with a bit of weariness or even stress in their voices, further research.

Even more recently, meaning just a few days ago, I was surprised to find still another dropped name, although in this case it is more difficult to imagine what would have motivated it.

I was going through the Sammlung Waddell that has been very kindly and nicely put up on the internet for the whole world to see by the good people at the State Library in Berlin. One beautiful woodblock print that captured my attention was Waddell no. 36a. Its title is:  O rgyan gu ru padma 'byung gnas kyi rnam par thar pa : gter ston chen po o rgyan gling pa : mnga' bdag nyang ral :  gu ru chos dbang bcas nas gdan drangs pa'i bka' thang gter kha gsum bsgrigs mthong ba don ldan (ཨོ་རྒྱན་གུ་རུ་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་པར་ཐར་པ་༔གཏེར་སྟོན་ཆེན་པོ་ཨོ་རྒྱན་གླིང་པ་༔མངའ་བདག་ཉང་རལ་༔གུ་རུ་ཆོས་དབང་བཅས་ནས་གདན་དྲངས་པའི་བཀའ་ཐང་གཏེར་ཁ་གསུམ་བསྒྲིགས་མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་), a xylograph in 275 folios. The title tells us it is a combination of three different biographies of Padmasambhava, those of the Great Tertön known as Orgyen Lingpa, of the Sovereign Nyangral and of Guru Chöwang

I looked in the colophon and got quite frustrated trying to locate the name of the compiler. So I went back to the general discussion of the biographies of Padmasambhava done so long ago by Vostrikov in his Tibetan Historical Literature, pages 32 to 49.  Believe it or not, at the very beginning he makes much mention of a version that combines three other versions, with an author he names as 'Od-gsal rdo-rje snying-po. Although famous for his reliability in general, I had to part company somewhat with him here.  

The text reads 'od-gsal rdo-rje snying-po'i rnal-'byor-pa (འོད་གསལ་རྡོ་རྗེ་སྙིང་པོའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་), or yogi of the clear light adamantine heart. I do not take this for a proper name at all, although I suppose it could be an initiation name or more likely just an epithet belonging to some otherwise not identifiable person. Vostrikov nicely supplies for us the Tibetan text of the compiler’s colophon with a translation, along with Grünwedel’s German attempt to translate the same before him. He definitely improves on Grünwedel’s, perhaps needless to say. Little more seems to have been written about this version of the Guru Rinpoche biography, and I searched for further references to it in vain.* Given the great interest in Guru Rinpoche, why has this biography been so highly ignored?
*(Well, I guess Franz-Karl Ehrhard makes fleeting use of a karchag or དཀར་ཆགས་ associated with the title Rnam-thar Ga'u-ma, རྣམ་ཐར་གའུ་མ་.)
Title page of the woodblock print from the State Library, Berlin

As it turns out, what surely is a manuscript version of this very Guru Rinpoche biography has been published in India some years ago. Twice actually (once in cursive and once not in cursive). One of the two (look here at TBRC for the details) is a reprint of a cursive manuscript. It seems as if disguised under this severely shortened title: Slob dpon padma 'byung gnas kyi rnam thar mthong ba don ldan (སློབ་དཔོན་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་). My point is: when we go to the end of it and locate the colophon lo and behold it gives an actual personal name immediately after that epithet yogi of the clear light adamantine heart, and this name is Gnubs-kyi Sngags-'chang Ratna-shrî (གནུབས་ཀྱི་སྔགས་འཆང་རཏྣ་ཤྲཱི་, its p. 522.7), and notice on right side of the following page a drawing of one “Sngags-'chang Rin-chen-dpal-bzang” (སྔགས་འཆང་རིན་ཆེན་དཔལ་བཟང་).

Who is this Mantra Keeper of the Nub clan by the name of Rinchen Pel? I have no idea, really, not off the top of my head. I’ll have to look into it. Maybe tomorrow.

Well, today it’s tomorrow (or at any rate was tomorrow yesterday), and I believe I have the answer, although it starts to get complicated, and I’m not sure it’s entirely airtight. So maybe I’ll leave it for still another day. Anyway, if my sinister plan was successful, I did at least cheat you into looking at the Waddell Collection in its online incarnation.

But why, you ask, did the xylographic edition drop the part with his name? Finding the identity of the unknown Lama could suggest some answer to that further mystery. Maybe not. We’ll see.

§  §  §

Some sources mentioned

Christoph Cüppers, Gtsang khrims yig chen mo, a Tibetan Legal Code Kept at the National Archives of Nepal, Abhilekha, vol. 30 (Nepali samvat 2069; 2012 CE), pp. 87-106. Includes facsimile of the cursive text. 
Christoph Cüppers, The Transliteration of the Gtsang khrims yig chen mo, a Tibetan Legal Code Kept at the National Archives of Nepal, Abhilekha, vol. 31 (Nepali samvat 2070; 2013 CE), pp. 84-115. Transcription plus vocabulary index. In earlier days, if you weren't actually there in the Valley, it could be nigh impossible to obtain articles published in Nepalese journals, but hey, one more reason to be thankful for "" 
Dieter Schuh, Tibetische Handschriften und Blockdrucke Teil 8 (Sammlung Waddell der Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin), (Wiesbaden 1981). Waddell 36a is described on pages 86-88. 
Andrei I. Vostrikov, Tibetan Historical Literature, tr. from the Russian by Harish Chandra Gupta, Soviet Indology Series no. 4 (Calcutta 1970), Russian original published in 1962, posthumously, as the author was executed in 1937. This book doesn't seem to be provided in any form over the internet, sorry to say.
If you would like to explore the contents of the Sammlung Waddell for yourself, I recommend going to this webpage. Then place the name of Waddell in the searchbox and see what pops up. Keep scrolling down and going from one page to the next until you have seen everything. You can try to go directly to the Padmasambhava biography by pressing here.

A page from the Sammlung

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Praise of Beer

We’ve mentioned Lama Pagpa (འཕགས་པ་) at least once in an earlier blog, on account of his successful lobbying effort with Qubilai Khan to end the culling (“weeding”) of the Chinese peasantry. Unwanted Chinese populations were gotten out of the way by hurling them into the river. Not once in all her long history has China ever deigned to say one simple Thank you for Pagpa’s compassionate intervention. Quite the contrary, since the Yüan dynasty they’ve been concocting and repeating the most derogatory stereotypes of the evil Tibetan monk.

In today’s blog, in an effort to lighten things up (or to reach a particular low point, depending on perspective), we translate — for what I believe is the very first time ever — Pagpa’s remarkable verses on the virtues of a good beer. I wonder about the circumstances of its writing, but to tell you the truth I have no idea. The Mongols originally drank a lot of kumis made by milking mares and fermenting their milk, but after going out into the wider world where still other alcoholic beverages were available, they found all of them to their liking.  One sign of their belief in variety was the famous drink fountain they had made for their drinking parties at the capital in the Mongol heartland along the Orkhon River, the city of Karakoram.  As you can see in the artist’s rendition, it had a trumpet-blowing angel at the top and four spouts for four different kinds of intoxicating brews. Some of the Mongol rulers probably drank themselves to death, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for drink addiction they may have gone on to rule Eurasia far into the future. Again, depending on perspective, moderation may not always be all that much of a good thing.

However much our modern Mongolists may like to play down this aspect (sometimes you guys can be overprotective, admit it!), the Mongols in those days were famous for wiping out whole cities. Just look at what they did to Aleppo and Baghdad. Yet rather than slaughtering useful people, like goldsmiths in particular, they took them along with them and rewarded them handsomely for their impressive skills. One of these fortunate fellows was a Frenchman they picked up in Hungary by the name of Guillaume Boucher. I much admire and recommend a charming little book about him by Leonardo Olschki. I doubt anyone has bothered to put it up on the internet, so may I suggest you find a nice library in your neighborhood and sit down to read it? Well, at least consider it. They don’t write ’em like this anymore.

Some may doubt that a holy person like Pagpa ever advocated beer drinking. But I think the fact it is included in his collected works, his kambum (བཀའ་འབུམ་), is enough to recommend its authenticity, not quite enough to guarantee it (are there any absolute guarantees in this life?  I mean, besides death and taxes...).

I confess I tried to do something in the way of making Pagpa’s verses in English approach the poetic level of the original, allowing myself to soar ever so slightly above the deadly thud of literality, but no promises of success there. If you don’t like my rendering, feel free to give it a hand, but you’ll need to keep another hand free to pour the next round. I think you can handle it.

Flask of Ambrosia:  Verses in Praise of Beer

By 'Phags-pa (1235–1280 CE)

Homage to the Wrath King Swirling Nectar, Amtakuṇḍalin!

The essence of earth that sustains the lives of beings,
likewise the collections of flowers and fruits,
with the yeast starter prepared with varied tinctures and herbs
and the very stuff that serves as cleanser of beings, the pure water,

the vessels, required conditions, and varied recipes work together to
bring it to complete maturity over a good length of time
bringing out the pure essence of the pure essence.
These are its perfect causes and conditions.

It seems as if ornamented by strings of pearls,
but these strings are of bubbles shining like the sheerest crystal.
Seeing it is a glory for the eyes, 
hearing its bubbly chil-chil sound

a glory for the ears, with its fragrance
satisfying the organ that has the sense of smell,
its every taste both glory and pleasure for the tongue.
Depending if the weather is cold or hot, it brings on warmth

or coolness to our sense of touch, so we feel comfortable.
It is a sun for exorcising the dark tinges of suffering,
a moon that generates the coolness of happiness and contentment.
It is a wind that fans the flames of insight,

is the most glorious prod to eloquence for would-be speakers.
It generates vowed behavior in those entering into battle,
and increases the pleasure of those possessed by desire.
Yet this same drink, for minds desirous of peace,
endows its drinkers with holy meditative absorptions.

For these reasons this is offered as a drink.
It forms the very heart of wealth and leisure.
So it is a thing worthy to be offered,
and ought to be given to those worthy of the gift.

— Verses of praise to beer, Flask of Ambrosia.

༄༅།  །ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་བཞུགས།  །

༄༅།  །ཨོཾ་སྭསྟི་སིདྡྷཾ།









ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པའི་རབ་ཏུ་བྱེད་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཨི་ཐི།།  །།

±    ±    ±

Reading matter the beer-emboldened

For the basis of the text you see above, you can look here.  For a biography of the author, go to The Treasury of Lives, and to this particular page of it. I also recommend this PDF.

Leonard Olschki, Guillaume Boucher, a French Artist at the Court of the Khans, John Hopkins Press (Baltimore 1946). Much to be recommended, as is another book by the same author on a different subject called The Myth of Felt.  

Olschki's note on his Illustration 3:

“This picture shows the reconstruction of Mangu Khan's magic fountain as described by Friar William of Rubruck and engraved by an anonymous chalcographer for Pierre Bergeron's Voyages faits principalement en Asie, published at The Hague in 1735. The lively illustration faithfully reproduces all the details enumerated by the missionary and shows in its background a fantastic image of Mangu Khan sitting on his throne like a Buddha, but stretching out his right hand to the butler who carries the cup to him while another butler goes down the steps on the opposite side.”
Oh, and check out those humongous basins!

Sarolta Tatár, “The Iconography of the Karakoram Fountain,” available at, here. Boucher's silver tree if not fully automated was still a rather complicated contraption, its working involving some human participation. In classical Indic terms, that makes it a perfectly fine example of a yantra. (No matter how much head-scratching it may bring to machine historians.)

Bod-grong-pa, The Dispute between Tea and Chang (Ja-chang lha-mo'i bstan-bcos), translated by Alexander Fedotov & Sangye T. Naga, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala 1993). Translation of Ja'i lha mo shes rab sgrol ma dang chang gi lha mo bde ldan bdud rtsi gnyis kyi dbar kha shags 'thab pa'i bstan bcos — ཇའི་ལྷ་མོ་ཤེས་རབ་སྒྲོལ་མ་དང་ཆང་གི་ལྷ་མོ་བདེ་ལྡན་བདུད་རྩི་གཉིས་ཀྱི་དབར་ཁ་ཤགས་འཐབ་པའི་བསྟན་བཅོས.

John Ardussi, “Brewing and Drinking the Beer of Enlightenment,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 97, no. 2 (April - June 1977), pp. 115-124.

Ezra Dyer, “In Praise of Beer: A Heartfelt Paean to Humanity’s Greatest Achievement.”  Oh, my!  This popped up with a Schmoogle-search.    In prose, but not all that unpoetical.

Shen Weirong, “Magic Power, Sorcery and Evil Spirit: The Image of Tibetan Monks in Chinese Literature during the Yuan Dynasty,” contained in: Christoph Cüppers, ed., The Relation between Religion and State (chos srid zung 'brel) in Traditional Tibet, Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini 2004), pp. 189-227. If you read French, you might also try Isabella Charleux, “Les 'lamas' vus de Chine: fascination et répulsion,” Extrême-Orient Extrême-occident, vol. 24 (2002), pp. 133-151.

There are a number of Tibetan works on the evils of beer, including one attributed to Padampa Sangyé I thought I would write about sometime if I get the chance.

I noticed a title of something that is obviously a praise of a tasty beer in the catalogue of the Bodleian collection:  Zhim dngar chang gi yon tan phun sum tshogs  ཞིམ་དངར་ཆང་གི་ཡོན་ཏན་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་ —  Bodleian Catalogue, p. 85. That isn't a title, just words of the refrain of a short set of verses with 9 syllables to the line, like ours. I leave that for the writer of Bod Blog to blog on about. Cheers, Charles!

Disclaimer: This blog was written free of any financial incentives whatsoever from the Guinness company (they warned me I've got to say that).
§ § §

An important postscript!  
— September 5, 2014

I can hardly believe my negligence in posting this blog without making any reference to Kurtis Schaeffer’s magnificent translation of verses in praise of beer by the great Dzogchen master Longchenpa (1308-1363). Go have a look at it ASAP, if you possibly can. Here are the details:  “A Drinking Song,” contained in:  Kurtis R. Schaeffer, et al., eds., Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press (NY 2013), pp. 474-478. From reading it in translation, I think I can say that Longchenpa must have read Pagpa’s. At the very least it’s true there are specific themes in common.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Couples Constantly Facing Off

Light side and Dark side of the mountain

modern གཏན་ཞལ་ > སྟངས་ཞལ་ > ancient སྟངས་དབྱལ་?

This བློག་ is for Dorji over at Philologia Tibetica. We share an incurable disorder known as Logophilia, among its symptoms an immediate and spontaneous impulse to do funny things with words.  For us, logos and Legos are cultural equivalents. Our best excuse for having this fun is, anyway, that words have always been doing funny things with themselves. Sometimes we can catch them in the act. Today I produce one of the smoking guns.

To start with, Tibetan language has a strong tendency to make pair compounds, in which two substantives are simply crammed together to make a new word (often dropping 2nd syllables altogether in the process). Sometimes this is just an 'and' type of compound, sometimes a way of making abstract nouns. These are often contrasting pairs, forming what we might call antonym compounds. For example, the term hope-fear, or re-dogs (རེ་དོགས་) just comes out meaning everything on a scale ranging from the highest hopes to the darkest fears. We can fairly well translate a pair compound such as this with English anxiety, perhaps more accurately meaning levels of anxiety about what good or bad thing might happen in the future. But we could, and this is my point, simply translate it as hope[s] and fear[s]. Take your pick.

Something occurred to me while I was getting some expert help from PD ironing out problems in a very long translation I've been working on for what seems like forever now. This minor revelation was: That the modern Tibetan tongue has a word that has evolved in its spelling at certain stages in its history until we get the modern word gtan-zhal (གཏན་ཞལ་). Gtan-zhal is a word of very doubtful etymology even if the individual syllables may mean constant and face. It is nowadays a word for couple, used in relatively formal contexts in the meaning husband and wife. I suppose constant face makes some kind of sense, or could be made to make sense, in the sense that your partner could be a person who is constantly in your face about this or that, or something similar, which may ring true, even if that doesn't necessarily make it the truth.

The real story is that the form gtan-zhal is preceded, in early times, by the spelling stangs-zhal (སྟངས་ཞལ་),* with this spelling found a number of times in the Pillar Testament, a history of imperial Tibet of the 7th century that seems to date from the 11th century more or less. Tradition tells that it was extracted from a pillar in the Jokhang in the mid-11th century.
(*I'm ignoring an entry for btang-dpyal [བཏང་དཔྱལ་] in Btsan-lha's dictionary, a word he finds in the biography of Pho-lha-nas, dated 1733, where it could be a conscious archaism.  We really must ignore it since it threatens the smooth flow of historic change we want to chart out here.)

The form stangs-zhal demonstrates continuity, it's our  "missing link." Preceding it by centuries is the form stangs-dbyal, found in the most famous historical source of all the Old Tibetan documents in Dunhuang, the Old Tibetan Annals, in its entry for the year 710 CE, as well as in the inscription on the old bell at the temple of Samyé. Not only that, but perhaps this is the point I most want to stress: the literature of the Bon religion continued to use this term without a break for the last thousand years at the very least. (I'd give some more examples of such words, but perhaps we'll leave it for now.)

We find ourselves in a peculiar situation here, since the word itself in a certain sense remained constant through time. Its pronunciation changed somewhat, probably due to dialect influences, and the pronunciation change had its effect on the spelling... Until it became virtually unrecognizable, both syllables re-spelled as if to thwart meaningful etymologies.

Old Tibetan has another very interesting pair compound, gdags-sribs (གདགས་སྲིབས་), which means the lighted and the shadowed sides of the mountain, very much like the ancient idea behind yin-yang in Chinese culture. The syllable srib[s] is related to a number of other Tibetan words with related meanings like sgrib-pa. Here it means shadowy (night) side of the mountain. The explanation of the syllable gdags is a little more obscure, since it usually means designation or labeling. I think it's related to an Old Tibetan word for the sun, gdugs, preserved in the modern word for parasol.

Following Emel Esin, I would ask, If Bonpos are preserving this ancient proto-Tibeto-Sino-Turkic idea that seems to go back before the days of Buddhism in any of those countries, what other such truly pre-Buddhist archaic cultural features might they be preserving? A question for another day.

§   §   §

For the early Turkic concept of kararig and yaruk, see Emel Esin's book, A History of Pre-Islamic and Early-Islamic Turkish Culture, Ünal Matbaasi (Istanbul 1980), p. 97. Esin's idea that this cosmological pair concept may go far back in history as a kind of areal phenomenon is believable, but of course questionable. It could belong to more recent times, the Turkic and Tibetan ideas reflecting one-way influence from the Sinosphere. This needs a lot of thought, especially since Stein has pointed out textual translations from Chinese where the Tibetan terms are used to translate the Chinese concept... meaning what? That the Tibetan term had no existence prior to the translation event? How can we know one way or the other?

For the discussions of these terms by Rolf Stein, see his Rolf Stein's Tibetica Antiqua with Additional Materials, tr. Arthur P. McKeown, Brill (Leiden 2010), pp. 21, 61, 63.  Today I learned the words adret and ubac. For enlightenment, look here.  Stein pointed out the two-time occurrence of the stangs-dbyal in a Nyingma scripture, the famous Guhyagarbha Tantra. Going over to RK&TS, I couldn't locate a single further scriptural occurrence in the entire Kanjur and Tanjur.  If I had searched through the Bon scriptures (as if that were even possible) I could have come up with hundreds, even thousands.

I haven't discussed medical usages of the pair gdags-srib. To follow the dictionaries, in the examination room the physician is regarded as gdags, while the patient is srib; in pulse examinations, the upper part of the pulse-taking fingers used to diagnose problems in the five solid organs is gdags, while the lower side of the same fingers used to diagnose the six container organs is srib; in respiration the outward flowing breath is gdags while the inhalation is srib.

For the word stangs-dbyal in the inscription of the bell at Samyé, there is a remarkable discussion in Hugh E. Richardson, A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions, Royal Asiatic Society (London 1985), p. 35, and this the curious are encouraged to look up. Here Richardson even connects it to the modern term gtan-zhal. This virtually means I discovered nothing at all, and this entire blog has been a completely unnecessary sacrifice of digital ink. No, please, not again!?