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

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