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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Can't finish something? Blame it on the ḍākinīs!

The strangest things seem to have happened to the great paṇḍita Smṛtijñānakīrti. According to the legends, first he was left stranded in the Northern Highlands (Byang thang) when his Tibetan guide had the nerve to die there and the great scholar of Sanskrit grammar and tantric rituals had to work for a nomad shepherd in order to stay alive. Eventually he made it to the monastery he was invited to (the good Tibetan monks there were probably shocked by his accent).

Then, he somehow managed to produce one of the most interesting colophons I have ever came across. Tōh. 1608 is a commentary to the Catuṣpīṭha and is attributed to one Dge ba'i go cha (*Kalyāṇavarman?) by that catalogue. However, we find this at the end of the commentary to the third chapter:

«de dag gdan gsum na sgrub pa po Dge ba'i go chas sems can la thugs rjes (D 43b1) dgongs nas mdzad de | gdan 'di ni gleng bzhi'i nang na mkha' 'gro ma rnams kyis ma gnang ngo zhes kyang zer | ṭī ka mdzad pa'i thad ka nas mkha' 'gro ma dang zhal mjal nas grub ste mi snang bar song ngo zhes kyang zer || phyi nas rgya gar gyi mkhan po Smṛtidznyānakīrtis bla ma'i (D 43b2) brgyud [em.; rgyud D] las thos pa ji bzhin du de ltar gdan bzhi pa'i gdan phyi ma'i ṭī ka 'di brtsams so ||»

In short, when Dge ba'i go cha finished his commentary thus far, he was either denied permission to continue by the ḍākinīs, or, he had obtained perfection in the propitiation of the same and became invisible. "Ḍākinīs ate my homework!" Anyway, Smṛti continued the work in accordance with the lessons heard from his masters. Co-authorship is not that common in the Buddhist tradition (as far as I know), hence this is interesting in itself, but there are some disturbing passages in the commentary which call for a more careful investigation.

For instance, in the second introductory verse (the dam bca' ba) we have: «dpal ldan Gdan bzhi'i rgyud chen la | gsang ba'i mdud pa (D 1b4) 'grol byed pa | rnam bshad de yis 'di bris te | Dge ba'i go chas zhus phyir ro ||» Apparently, Dge ba'i go cha is the petitioner rather than the author. Is this in fact Smṛti's verse? If so, how come he never really knew what became of his master (the colophon seems to suggest pious legends rather than personal contact with the author)?

Then, inside the commentary we sometimes find statements like "because this word begins with 'ra' in the language of India (i.e. Sanskrit)." It is very doubtful that one writing a commentary in Sanskrit would say such a thing. The only way out of this would be that Smṛti heavily annotated his translation and his glosses found their way into the main text later, possibly when the blockprints were carved.

On top of it all, judging from the pratīkas, both seem to have read a substantially different version of the Catuṣpīṭha! Promising results await him/her embarking on the study of this intricate system. At the moment I know of no such project.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, as you may have realized, there is at least one Sanskrit MS of Kalyaa.navarman's Catu.spii.thaalokaa. (See e.g. BBK.) By the by, the Skt MS has in the second half of the second verse ... pa~njikaa likhyate seya.m praarthanaat _senavarma.na.h_||

Catu.spii.tha literature certainly remains understudied (though Ryugen Tanemura, for instance, and Tsunehiko Sugiki, have been reading in this area).

11:06 am  
Anonymous Harunaga Isaacson said...

Sorry, Peter, I didn't mean to leave that as an anonymous comment... Greetings from Hamburg, Haru

11:07 am  

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