Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 




THE earlier religious books published in Tibetan are simply translations from the Sanskrit, undertaken by Indian priests, Tibetan translators (Lotsavas), and also Chinese. The work of translation was carried on with remarkable zeal and energy; for the sake of uniformity a vocabulary of the Sanskrit proper names, and of the technical and philosophical terms occurring in the original texts, was prepared, and the latter was ordered to be adhered to.[1] But it is to be regretted that the translators,

[1. The first steps of this undertaking date perhaps from the times of Srongtsan Gampo and Thumi Sambhota. This vocabulary still exists in three editions, varying according to the greater or smaller number of terms contained in them; that of middle size was composed in the time of Ralpachen, or Khiral, who ruled in the ninth century: it is comprised in the Tanjur. Wilson, "Note on the literature of Tibet." Gleanings in science, Vol. III. p. 247. Compare also Hodgson., As. Res., Vol. XVI., p. 434--For many books the names of the translators have been preserved to us.]

{p. 77}

instead of supplying us with correct versions, have interwoven them with their own commentaries, for the purpose of justifying the dogmas of their several schools. To these alterations of the genuine text is chiefly owing the obscurity that has So long shrouded the subject and prevented a clear understanding of the principles of the original Buddhism and its subsequent divisions.

Simultaneously with the formation of a Tibetan alphabet, books were also written in the native tongue. The Mani Kambum, which is an historical work attributed to Srongtsan Gampo, is the production of a Tibetan; and, besides this, the "Grammatical Introduction," and the "Characteristic Letters" of Thumi Sambhota, as well as the historical works on Tibet written by the ancient Tibetan translators, appear to have been composed in the vernacular tongue.[1] From the fourteenth century, beginning with Tsonkhapa, native literature developed itself on a large scale. Tsonkhapa himself published systematic works of a most voluminous character; his principal works are the Bodhi-mur, the Tarnim-mur, the Altanerike, and the Lamrim "a degree to advance," a title which has also been employed by other writers. Many learned Tibetans also used the vernacular in composing their numerous commentaries on Buddhist dogmas and history; and in writing in Tibetan they were followed even by the Mongolians, who were obliged to learn Tibetan because it formed (then, as now) the sacred language of divine service.

[1. Also Csoma, in his paper on historical and grammatical works in Tibet, does not mention Sanskrit titles for these books, as he otherwise usually does when treating of works translated from Sanskrit.]

{p. 78}

All the Sanskrit translations were again collected, in the form of compilations, in two large and voluminous works, which contain irrespectively the sacred and the profane publications of different periods. These compilations bear the titles of Kanjur, "translation of the commandments (of the Buddha), and Tanjur, "translation of the doctrine." The Kanjur consists of one hundred and eight large volumes, which are classed under the following seven principal divisions:-

1. Dulva, or "discipline."

2. Sherchin, or "transcendental wisdom."

3. Palchen, or "association of Buddhas."

4. Kontseg, or "jewel peak."

5. Do, Sûtras, or "aphorims." {sic}

6. Myangdas, treating on the doctrine of "deliverance from emancipation from existence."

7. Gyut, "Tantra," treating on mysticism.

Each of these divisions is composed of a greater or smaller number of treatises. The Kanjur is reputed to contain the "word of the Buddha," its principal contents being the moral and religious doctrines originally taught by Sâkyamuni and his disciples. The Tanjur comprises 225 volumes, which are divided into two great classes: Gyut and Do. Its content is of a more miscellaneous character; there are also treatises on the different philosophical schools, besides various works on logic, rhetoric, and Sanskrit grammar. In several volumes the subject is the same as in the Kanjur.

The principal works in these collections were translated about in the ninth century, and other articles,

{p. 79}

especially those in the Gyut division, even much later. For instance, the Kâla Chakra, or Dus kyi khorlo, which is contained in the latter, was not introduced into Tibet previous to the eleventh century; also the translation of the Do class of the Tanjur occupied no doubt a longer period on account of the greater variety of its contents.

Although it still remains impossible to determine exactly the time when these two collections were first compiled yet it is very likely, that the present arrangement of the volumes is not previous to the beginning of the last century; similar compilations may have existed in earlier times, but it is not very probable that they were exactly the same, We owe an abstract of the contents of the Kanjur and Tanjur to Csoma de Körös, whose analysis has been abridged by Wilson. An Index to the Kanjur was edited by the Imperial Russian Academy of St. Petersburgh in the year 1845, with a preface by I. J. Schmidt; a memoir by Schiefner treats of the logical and grammatical works embodied in the Tanjur.'

These collections were printed by order of Mivang, regent of Lhássa, in the years 1728-46; the first edition being prepared at Nárthang, a town near Tashilhúnpo, still celebrated for its typographical productions. At the present day they are printed in many of the monasteries;

[1. See about these collections H. H. Wilson, "Note on the literature of Tibet;" Gleanings in science, Vol. III., p. 243. Journ. As. Soc. Beng., Vol. 1. Csoma, "Analysis," As. Res., Vol. XX. A. Schiefner, Bull. hist. phil. de St. Pet., Vol. IV., No. 18. Wassiljew, "Notices sur lee ouvrages en langue de l'Asie orientale." Bullet. Vol. XIII. Nos. 13. 14.]

{p. 80}

but the paper as well as the impressions of those copies at least which are sold at Pekin, are for the greater part so bad, and the text is so full of errors, that altogether they are scarcely legible.

For printing Tibetan only capital letters (Tib. Vuchan) are used, as far as I know; for manuscripts small letters (Vumed) are frequently employed, which, for the requirements of running-hand, are often somewhat modified. When Indian letters are employed for Sanskrit sentences, the Ranjâ alphabet, called by the Tibetans Lantsa, is used in which also most of the ancient Sanskrit works discovered in Népal are written; this Ranjâ, or Lantsa, alphabet is a variety of the Devanâgari alphabet, and is particularly employed for writing the mystical Sanskrit sentences, the Dhârânîs, which must be written without any alteration in order to the preservation of their efficacy; and though the Tibetan letters have been adapted to their exact transliteration, yet we see the Ranjâ alphabet preferred in many instances.'

Tibetan books are spread all over Central Asia, owing to the great reputation enjoyed by everything that has its origin in Tíbet, the chosen land of Padmapâni. The art of printing, long-known to the Tibetans, and for which they employ engraved wooden blocks, must also have greatly favoured their dissemination. There is no Buddhist monastery which does not contain a series of works in the Tibetan language, and the sums which the Buriats and Kalmuks occasionally pay for the most

[1. Compare: Hodgson, "Illustrations," p. 171; Schmidt, Mém. de l'Acad. des Sciences, Tom. I., p. 41.--Concerning the Tibetan mode of printing, and the technical terms for printing, printers' ink, &c., see Hodgson, As. Res., Vol. XVI., P. 421; Cunningham, "Ladak," p. 393.]

{p. 81}

sacred of them, as e. g. the Kanjur and Tanjur, have amounted in some cases to nearly 2,000.

A great many Tibetan books, as well original as translations from the Sanskrit, have reached Europe and Calcutta through the zealous exertions of Csoma, Schilling von Cannstadt, Hodgson, some English gentlemen residing at the Hill Stations, and the members of the Russian embassy at Pekin. The library and the museum of the India Office, so richly supplied in every branch of scientific and practical objects referring to oriental life, possesses also a great number of important Tibetan works, of which, however, till now no catalogue has been published. The whole of the Kanjur and Tanjur are to be found there. Another copy of the two collections exist in the library of St. Petersburgh, which has, besides, obtained the greatest number of important works on Buddhism written in Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese. The Imp. library at Paris has the Kanjur only. The Asiatic Society of Bengal has likewise a complete copy of the Kanjur; its copy of the Tanjur is incomplete, or at least was so in 1831. An index of the Tibetan books in the Asiatic Museum of the Imperial Academy at St. Petersburgh, including the works it contained up to the year 1847, was published by I. J. Schmidt and O. Boehtlingk; an appendix by Schiefner registers also the later works sent from Pekin.[1] A new and detailed catalogue is now in progress of publication, and will, no doubt, furnish

[1. Bulletin hist.-phil. de St. Petersb., Vol. IV.; IX.--Concerning the astonishing number of important works so liberally presented by B. H. Hodgson to London and Paris, see Wilson, "Buddha and Buddhism." R. As. Soc., Vol. XVI., p. 234.]

{p. 82}

many interesting facts connected with Buddhism, and greatly enlarge our knowledge of Tibetan literature in general. Of the Tibetan books contained in the library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal Csoma de Khörös had begun to compile a detailed catalogue, when the undertaking was stopped by his death, and has not, I believe, been continued.

The Tibetan language has become known in Europe only of late years, the claims to a detailed and scientific acquaintance put forward by Fourmont, Müller, and Georgi being very exaggerated. The first inquirer who placed the Tibetan language within the reach of European students, was Csoma de Khörös, a zealous and indefatigable Hungarian from Transylvania, who had made it the principal object of his long and laborious researches to discover the original seats of the Hungarians (in German Hunen), whose native land he expected to find in Asia. Having failed in his attempts in Western Asia, he retired, in 1827, for some months to the monasteries of Zankhar, where he devoted himself to the study of Tibetan literature, and succeeded in nearly completing--though he had to undergo many hardships--a dictionary and grammar of the Tibetan language, which were published (in English) at Calcutta in the year 1832.[1] Later, in 1839 and 1841, I. J. Schmidt published another

[1. See some interesting remarks on his opinions, and an account of his death in the Journ. of the As. Soc. of Bengal, Vol. XI., p. 303; Vol. XIV., p. 323, by Dr. Campbell.--There are two tribes in the mountains who have preserved the designation of "Huns;" the one residing in Gnári Khórsum, who call themselves "Hunia;" the other being the Limbu in Nepál and Síkkim, a large division of whom goes by the name of the "Hungs." Comp. Campbell, Journ. As. Soc. Beng., Vol. IX., p. 599.]

{p. 83}

Tibetan grammar and dictionary in German, which is likewise based upon original works and Tibetan-Mongolian-Manju dictionaries. The contents of Schmidt's dictionary exceed that of Csoma by about 5,000 words and terms. Further notices on Tibetan grammar have been published by Schiefner in the Bulletins of the St. Petersburgh Academy, and more recently by Foucaux in his Grammaire Tibétaine. In the year 1845 Schmidt published the translation of the large Tibetan treatise Dsang-lun, "the wise and the unwise," together with the original text.[1] Foucaux next followed with a translation of the Ryya chher rol pa. In addition to these publications I must still allude to the numerous important translations by Schiefner and Wassiljew.

In connexion with my inquiries about a picture of the goddess Doljang (see p. 66), I also obtained from the Buriat Lama Gombojew an abstract of the Mani Kambum, an ancient historical work the authorship of which is attributed to king Srongtsan Gampo. Schmidt had already drawn attention to the great reputation of this work among the Buddhists of High Asia; he was not, however, so fortunate (in 1829) as to procure for himself the Mani Kambum, which has but recently reached St. Petersburgh. As at present we have nothing but an abstract of the first chapter, by Jähring, the interpreter of Pallas, I give here Gombojew's cursory note on the general contents of this important work, which, short though it is, will at least furnish an idea concerning one of the most ancient historical books of Tibetan literature.

[1. Additions and emendations to Schmidt's edition were published by Schiefner in 1852.]

{p. 84}

Analysis of the book Mani Kambum.

The book Mani Kambum. (a name also softened into Mani Gambum), or literally Mani bka' 'bum, "a hundred thousand precious commandments," contains. in twelve chapters a most detailed account of the numerous legendary tales respecting Padmapâni's merits as the propagator of Buddhism in Tibet, and a statement of the origin and application of the sacred formula, "Om mani padme hum." Some historical events are further added with reference to Srongtsan Gampo (who lived from 617 to 698 A.D.) and his wives, as also a general explanation of the leading doctrines of Buddhism.

Chapter I. begins with a description of the wonderful region Sukhavatî (Tib. Devachan),[1] where Amitâbha (Tib. Odpagmed) sits enthroned, and wherein those are received, who have merited the most perfect blissfulness of existence.

Once upon a time Amitâbha, after giving himself up to earnest meditation, caused a red[2] ray of light to issue from his right eye, which brought Padmapâni Bôdhisattva into existence; while from his left eye burst forth a blue ray of light, which becoming incarnate in the virgins Dolma (in Sanskrit Târâ, the two wives of king Srongtsan), had power to enlighten the minds of living beings. Amitâbha then blessed Padmapâni Bôdhisattva by laying his hands upon him, when, by virtue of this benediction, he brought forth the prayer "Om mani padme hum." Padmapâni moreover made a solemn vow to rescue all

[1. See the following Chapter.

2. In Pallas' translation, p. 396, this ray is of a white colour.]

{p. 85}

living beings from existence, and to deliver all the wretched souls in hell from their pains; and, in token of his sincerity, he added the wish, that his head should split into a thousand pieces, did he not succeed. To fulfil his vow, he gave himself up to earnest meditation, and after remaining absorbed in contemplation for some time, he proceeded, full of wisdom, to look into the various divisions of hell, expecting that its former inhabitants had ascended by virtue of his meditations to the higher classes of beings which indeed had taken place. But who can describe his amazement on seeing the compartments of hell again as full as ever, the places of the outgoing tenants being supplied by an equal number of new-comers. This sight, so dreadful and overpowering, proved too much for the unfortunate Bôdhisattva, who considered the cause of this apparent failure to lie in the weakness of his meditations. His head instantly split into a thousand pieces, he fainted, and fell heavily to the ground. Amitâbha, deeply moved by the pains of his unfortunate son, hastened to his assistance. He formed the thousand pieces into ten heads, and assured him) for his consolation, as soon as he had recovered his senses, that the time had not yet arrived to deliver all beings, but that his wish should yet be accomplished. From this moment Padmapâni redoubled his praiseworthy exertions.[1]

[1. This legend is somewhat differently given in the Mongolian work Nom Gharchoi Todorchoi Tolli, translated by Schmidt, "Forschungen," pp. 202-206. Padmapâni had vowed not to return to Sukhavatî until all beings, and the Tibetans in particular, should be brought through him to {footnote p. 86} salvation; but when he saw that but the hundredth part of the Tibetans had entered the paths of salvation, the longing to return to Sukhavatî, came upon him; and it was in consequence of this desire that his head clove into ten pieces (not into a thousand pieces as the Mani Kambum has it) and his body was divided into a thousand pieces; Amitâbha afterwards repaired the corporeal damages.]

{p. 86}

Then succeeds a history of the creation of the universe and of the animal beings; the twelve acts, the Dzadpa chugnyi, of Sâkyamuni are enumerated,[1] and an account of the erection of the palace on the top of the mountain Potala is given, followed by a sketch of the propagation of Buddhism from its beginning till the death of Srongtsan Gampo.

Chapter II. gives instructions concerning the prayers to be addressed to Padmapâni, and enumerates the immense advantages offered by the frequent perusal, and recital of the prayer "Om mani padme hum." A discourse on "voidness" forms the conclusion.

Chapter III. gives the meaning of the prayer "Om mani padme hum." Remarks are also made upon the different representations of Padmapâni; it is also explained why he is sometimes represented with three faces and eight hands, again with eighteen faces and

[1. The Tibetan biographies of Sâkyamuni are divided into twelve chapters, taken from his twelve acts, which are as follows: "1. He descended from among the Gods; 2. he entered into the womb; 3. he was born; 4. he displayed all kinds of arts; 5. he was married, or enjoyed the pleasures of the conjugal state; 6. he left his house and took the religious character; 7. he performed penances; 8. he overcame the devil, or god of pleasures; 9. he arrived at supreme perfection, or became Buddha; 10. he turned the wheel of the law, or published his doctrine; 11. he was delivered from pain, or died; 12. his remains were deposited (in a Chorten)." Csoma, "Notices on the life of Shâkya." A. R. Vol. XX., p. 285. Compare also Schmidt, "Ssanang Ssetsen," p. 312. Schiefner, "Tib. Lebensbeschreibung Sâkyamuni's." Mémoires des sav. étrang., Vol. VI., p. 232.]

{p. 87}

eight hands, and occasionally even with 1,000 faces and as many hands and feet. Next is related the manner in which Srongtsan Gampo became acquainted with the tenets of Buddhism; in conclusion, some particular facts are given respecting the general propagation of Buddhism in Tibet and the mission of Thumi Sambhota to India.

Chapters IV. to VIII. are full of information respecting the qualities of Samsâra, and the ethics and religious ordinances of Buddhism. The illiterate state of the Tibetans is lamented; and then follows a short biography of Padmapâni Bôdhisattva during his existence as King Srongtsan Gampo.

A discourse is reported, in which this King enunciates, in reply to a question respecting the faculties of the mind, that happiness and salvation depend upon a man's own energy and conduct, and if one wish to break the fetters of Samsâra he can effect this by reciting the prayer "Om mani padme hum," the power of which is irresistible. Srongtsan takes upon himself to interpret this prayer: he teaches it to his parents and wives, and explains the duties to be observed by those who believe in the truth of the doctrines revealed by the Buddha. These explanations are calculated for practical use,[1] and relate to such topics as ignorance, sins, virtues, and their influence.

Chapters IX. and X. recount the legends which are intimately connected with Buddhist doctrines.

Chapter XI. treats of the end of Srongtsan's life.

[1. Concerning the number of prescriptions to be observed and dogmas to be believed in by the lower classes see p. 103-7.]

{p. 88}

Chapter XII. speaks of the translation of the Sanskrit books into Tibetan, as also of Thumi Sambhota's mission to India, and of the alphabet he had formed from the Devanâgari.

The Mani Kambum has been translated into Mongolian and into Dsungarian. The latter version was executed, at the command of Dalai Khan, in the seventeenth century, by a Dsungarian Lama who had resided for several years in Lhássa, and was distinguished, on account of his translation, by the honourable title of Pandit.

The Dhyâni Bôdhisattva Padmapâni, or Avalôkitêsvara, who is the subject of this work, is, of all the gods, the one most frequently implored, on account of his being the representative of Sâkyamuni and the guardian and propagator of his faith until the appearance of the future Buddha Maitreya, as well as on account of his particular protection of Tibet.

In order to show the Tibetans the path to ultimate happiness, he has been pleased, they say, to manifest himself, from age to age, in human shape. They believe that his descent and incarnation in the Dalai Lama takes place by the emission of a beam of light, and that he shall be finally born as most perfect Buddha in Tibet, instead of in India, where his predecessors had appeared.

Padmapâni has in the sacred books a great many of names, and is represented under various figures. Most frequently he is addressed by the name of Chenresi,

{p. 89}

or more fully Chenresi vanchug, "the powerful, looking with the eyes," in Sanskrit Avalôkitêsvara. To this name, as well as to that of Phagpa Chenresi, in Sanskrit Aryâvalôkita, or Chugchig zhal, "eleven-faced," correspond the representations of him with eleven faces and eight hands. The eleven faces form a pyramid, and are ranged in four rows. Each series of heads has a particular complexion; the three faces which base upon the neck are white, the three following yellow, the next three red, the tenth is blue and the eleventh (the face of Amitâbha) is red. Such is the arrangement in all the Tibetan and Mongolian images I had occasion to examine; but in the Japanese images presented in the Nippon Pantheon the eleven faces are much smaller, and are arranged similar to a crown; its centre is formed by two entire figures: the lower one is sitting, the other is standing above it; and ten smaller heads are combined with these two figures in, a kind of radial arrangment; {sic} six are resting immediately on the forehead, the four other, form the second row above them.

Like Chagtong Khorlo, "the thousand-handed circle," or as Thugje chenpo chugchig zhal," the great pitier with eleven faces," he has likewise eleven faces, but the number of his hands amounts to a thousand. As Chag zhipa, "four-armed," he is represented with one head and four arms; two are folded, the third holds a lotus-flower, the fourth a rosary or a snare. As Chakna padma karpo (in Sanskrit Padmapâni), "holding in the hand a white lotus," he has two arms, one of which supports

{p. 90}

a lotus. He is called Chantong, "with a thousand eyes," on account of having "the eye of wisdom" upon each palm of his thousand hands. The name Jigten Gonpo (in Sanskrit Lokapati, or Lokanâtha), "lord of the world, protector, saviour," is an allusion to his causing deliverance from sins and protecting against all kinds of evil.

{p. 91}

Next: Chapter IX. Veiws on Metempsychosis