Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

Textual and visual odds and ends from India, Tibet, and around.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An old dhāraṇī from Xoxxot

Some days ago I received these pictures from a colleague, Olivér Kápolnás, a young Hungarian scholar of Inner Asian Studies who is currently doing fieldwork in Inner Mongolia. His circulars sent home on a regular basis with his latest findings are always exciting to read. During a visit to the newly built museum in Xoxxot (pron. something like Khoekhkhoet, which I have succeeded to master to perfection during my current illness, especially through the conscientious exercises in the bathroom) he took some truly amazing pictures of Inner Asian treasures kept there. Among them there was this beautiful small stūpa and a golden leaf kept in the same cupboard. As I first suspected, the leaf was at some point enshrined in the stūpa to empower it, or more precisely, to boost its 'merit output'.

The golden leaf seems to be inscribed in what I know as 'transitional Gupta', although being completely ignorant in the field of early Indian palaeography, it could be some other form of Gupta writing. At any rate, it seems quite old, pre-ninth century perhaps, maybe even older. It took some time to figure some characters out and it became quite clear that it is a dhāraṇī. I thought that Iain Sinclair would share my aesthetic bliss in contemplating this little page and sent the pictures to him. He promptly replied throwing some light on the Chinese characters inscribed on the left side of the leaf which he tentatively interpreted with his usual methodical caution as: "the dhāraṇī [for inscribing?] inside the discs and pole[?]" [of a stūpa?]" adding that the pole is probably *yaṣṭi here. He also pointed me to the following texts in the Chinese Canon: T 950, the so-called *Uṣṇīṣacakravartin-tantra and T 1024, the *Raśmivimalaviśuddhaprabhā-dhāraṇī. Since I don't read Chinese and the first work does not appear to have a Tibetan translation, I looked up the second, corresponding to Tōh. 510 and 982. And there it was:

yang mchod rten de'i srog shing gi gsang sngags bshad pa |


oṃ sarba ta thā ga tā vi pu la yaṣṭi | ma ṇi ka na ka rā dza ta | vi pu ṣi ta yaṣṭi dhu ru dhu ru | sa mante bi lo ki te | sa ra sa ra | ma ma sarba pā pa bi sho dha ni | saṃ bo dha ni | pra ba ra yaṣṭi | pa ri ma ṇi duṣṭa hu ru tsi ra ma la bi shuddhe hūṃ hūṃ svā hā |

rigs kyi bu ci nas kyang gsang sngags 'di nan tan du dgu bcu rtsa dgur yi ger bris te | mchod rten gyi srog shing gi ngos bzhir gzhug go ||


That is:

Furthermore, [the bhagavān] uttered the spell for/of the 'life-pole' of that stūpa: oṃ sarvatathāgatavipulayaṣṭi maṇikanakarājatavipuṣitayaṣṭi dhuru dhuru samante vilokite sara sara mama sarvapāpaviśodhani saṃbodhani pravarayaṣṭi parimaṇiduṣṭa huru ciramalaviśuddhe hūṃ hūṃ svāhā. "Oh, son of a good family, one should diligently write this mantra ninety-nine times and place it on the four sides [presumably 'wrap it around'] of the 'life-pole'."


Alright, this is one, but where did the other ninety-eight go? If one reads further, there is a directive for small votive stūpas:

yang (12b) gang la la zhig gis 'jim pa las mchod rten chung ngu zhig byas te | de'i nang du gsang sngags 'di dag bcug na yang rin po che sna bdun gyi mchod rten dgu khri dgu stong brtsigs pa dang 'dra'o ||


Meaning:

Furthermore, if some fashion a small stūpa out of clay and place this spell inside, it is as if they had raised ninety-nine thousand stūpas out of the seven precious materials.

What is the point of this whole exercise? Nothing really, except having fun. But is does give us something to think about, namely the incredible bit of luck we have with technology. In the old days this would have looked something like this: Olivér packs up his cases and comes home next August (2 months journey); then develops his pictures realizing that some of them are blurred (a week); sends them to me (a week); with my customary laziness I do nothing about it (1 month); then he reminds me of some pictures he developed for my use (1 day); I rummage through the ever growing pile on my desk to find them (1 day); realize I don't know Chinese (1/2 minute); send them to Iain for consultation (2 weeks in the mail); Iain browses the Chinese Canon (days?) and finds the reference; sends it back (2 weeks); I look it up in the Tibetan Canon (days...) and put together this short note (pfff, weeks).


Acknowledgments:

- Olivér "Erdeni-yin sang" Kápolnás maintains a site in Hungarian about rare Mongolian manuscripts and inscriptions.
- Iain "Jinajik" Sinclair maintains the Vajrayāna studies news blog .

2 Comments:

Blogger earlyTibet said...

The script looks rather similar to a Nepalese inscription from around the year 670 reproduced as plate CXXV in Regmi's 'Inscriptions of Ancient Nepal'. It does indeed seem to belong to the transitional phase between the Late Gupta and Siddhamatrka styles. Thus the earliest date for the item would be late 7th century, and in India/Nepal at least, not much later than the 9th century, as you say. But didn't this style survive in China for much longer?

11:29 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

Hello Sam,

Indeed, it is as you said. The conservation of the siddham script does make it quite difficult to date. Also, I think an art historian's comments on the style of the small stuupa would be most welcome. As I said, this is pure amateurism from my part and came across this item by accident.

Best wishes,

p

6:51 pm  

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