Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

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

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Location: Kolozsvár/Cluj, Budapest, Oxford, ibi ubi

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Home again?

دوستوں دیکھا تماشا یہاں کا بس

تم رہو اب ہم تو اپنے گھر چلے

he mitrā, alam aihikacitradarśanena.
tiṣṭhata, vayaṃ tv adhunā gṛhaṃ gacchāmaḥ.

[Mīr Dard iti kaviḥ. tatrabhavān Somadevaś chandasi racayiṣyatīty āśā. asmadanuvādas tu yathā tathā.]


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Granthinām enters Bardo

Daniel Stender's excellent blog will be out of order for a while providing the author with some necessary breathing space. All we can do is wish him a happy vacation and a speedy return to e-saṃsāra.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Rats and luminaries

Here is a nice quote from Vijay Prakash, secretary of the Welfare Department in Bihar, on his new proposal to alleviate local food shortages:

We can save about half of our food-grain stocks by catching and eating rats. [They're] quite rich in nutrition.

[source: originally this week's Newsweek 'Perspectives', but I now also found it on BBC, the Telegraph, etc.]

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Holy port

Being a great fan of port, I have long entertained suspicions that there must be something holy about it. Now we have irrefutable evidence from "Dpal Zha lu Gser khang khra mo dgon gyi ngo sprod rags bsdud - A brief description to the Shalu Monastery". The book is available from a small table on the right side of the lane leading to Zhalu (make sure to taste their original Red Bull as well, although that drink is not so holy).

Many treasures kept at Zhalu are related to holy port. Here are two examples:

Caption reads: "Bumchu Nyongtrol: beings will be liberated from the Samsara (suffering ocean) when they have some water* drops from this holy port." [*NB: 'water' is probably a contamination.]

'dir ma zad. Apparently Bu ston was also a great fan of port since there is a statue of him holding 'Life-port' at his abbatial seat.

Caption reads: "Buton Tshebuma (Buton Life-port Holder)"

Za khang ja khang chang khang in Zhalu is for the time being the exclusive distributor for Zhalu holy port. Coming soon to an Oddbins near you.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Sa skya - A second Dunhuang?

I could find next to nothing in 'western' media about the book treasure found recently at Sa skya. Last time I visited the place (these are pictures from one year before that) there were major renovation works going on and someone told me there that a new building is being raised not very far away from the 'Southern Fortress' to house the monastery library, "in order to make it available to scholars". It is a bit difficult to imagine how moving the books a few hundred yards away is going to solve that problem and I still don't know of anyone having produced an overview of this collection, let alone seen it.

The English sites produced in China (see this for an example) praise the collection as a 'second Dunhuang'. Although there is nothing to suggest that there are Old Tibetan documents here as well, the comparison might be apt if one is to believe the information about the sheer size of the hoard.

Among the long forgotten books I mentioned yesterday I also found this gnas yig of the Sa skya monastery, published in 2004:

The contemporary author, Sa skya Blo gros rgya mtsho, includes this picture of the little known library (apparently still in the state that Sankrtyayan might have seen it):

The meticulous description of sacred items found in the monastery follows the old tradition of gnas yig's and dkar chag's (as of places). While these modern descriptions can be of a lesser quality than the classical ones, they are nevertheless immensely useful, if only to establish what has gone missing. On the subject of books (under a heading "Sgo rum dpe khang chen mo") our author says i.a. (p.63.):

gzhan yang gser chos skya chos 'dres pa sogs pod sum brgya | Ba ri ba | Mal lo | Dkon mchog rgyal po | 'Khon dge bcu pa | Gnam kha'u pa | Sa chen yab sras | chos rje Sa paṇ rnams kyi gzigs dpe rgya dpe 'dres pa stong phrag gcig dang gsum brgya so bzhi bzhugs |

Furthermore, there is a medley of three hundred golden-letter and ink-letter religious volumes and [another] medley of one thousand three hundred and thirty-four, personal books (gzigs dpe?) and Indian manuscripts (rgya dpe) of Ba ri [lotsā]ba, Mal lo[tsāba], Dkon mchog rgyal po, 'Khon dge bcu pa, Gnam kha'u pa, the great Sa skya patriarchs and their descendants, and the lord of the doctrine Sa[ skya] paṇ[ḍita].

What is interesting about this passage is the exact number '1334'. Someone must have counted it, otherwise there would be something like 'about a thousand'.

Here is but a mere fragment of the books collected at Sa skya from the chapel where the patriarchs' remains are kept:

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Speaking of the devil

Yet another devilish script, this time from the steppes. Olivér Kápolnás saw this in a museum in Inner Mongolia and was kind enough to send it to me and ask for my interpretation. This for the time being amounts to one sentence: no idea, but I will call it srin po'i yi ge until further notice.

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A devil of a script

To my greatest joy yesterday I discovered some books at the bottom of my trekking backpack, books I had long forgotten about. This tends to happen if your library is spread out in about five or six places. Among them was this book, bought in Lhasa last year: Sngags bklag thabs kyi 'grel pa Mun sel sgron me, i.e. 'A commentary to "The way to recite mantras", A lamp that removes darkness'. The book was composed by two modern Tibetan scholars Byang chub 'jam dbyangs skyabs and Bsod nams rgyal and it was published from the Kan su'i mi rigs dpe skrun khang in 2005.

As it says on the tin, this book is for those desiring to know how to recite mantras properly, something that Tibetans are not notoriuos for. The authors (naturally) side with those Sa skya pa patriarchs (viz. Bsod nams rtse mo and Kun dga' rgyal mtshan) who were well-known militants of correct pronunciation. In the view of these authorities reciting mantras improperly not only renders the spell ineffective, but can also become detrimental - not only to the sādhaka but also for his descendants lay or spiritual.

While the topic is quite fascinating and some are surely in need of such a book, the work proves that Tibetans still don't get quantity for example. A Sanskrit-Tibetan glossary at the end of the volume has 'a lang ka ra' for 'alaṅkāra', 'ārtha' for 'artha'. Some of the pairs are quite puzzling: 'dwi ba' for 'zhe sdang' (*dveṣa), 'warṇa' for 'seng' (sde?). Sometimes the last syllable is missing: 'pu ru' for 'skyes bu' (*puruṣa), 'nā ya' for ''dren pa' (*nāyaka), etc. etc. etc.

But this is not what I wanted to report here. In the introductory bits dealing with general historical matters of grammar and writing in Tibet, the authors go to great lengths to list evidence for the existence of Tibetan literacy before the traditionally accepted date of Thon mi. Most of this is legendary of course, but there was one curious paragraph that caught my attention on p. 27. Thus–

'Bras spungs pho brang nas bton pa'i shing tā la'i lo ma'i thog tu khab kyis brkos pa'i srin po'i yi ge zhes pa'i dpe cha pod gcig yod pa de'i yig gzugs la brtags na dbyangs gsal mang po zhig da lta'i Bod yig dang mtshungs shing | 'on kyang rang cag rnams kyis yi ge de 'don mi shes pa dang | go don ni de bas kyang rtogs mi thub pa'i yi ge zhig 'dug [–] gong gsal gyi yig rigs de dag la zhib par brtags na Srong btsan sgam po'i sngon du Bod la Zhang zhung ngam Bon gyi yi ge zhig gnas yod snyam |

"There exists a manuscript volume obtained from the Drepung-palace inscribed with a needle on the surface of leaves of the palm-tree with the writing of the 'srin po' (*rākṣasa). If we examine the shape of these letters, many vowels and consonants are similar to the current Tibetan script. However, we are not able to read this script and know even less of its import. So, there is such a writing [as well]. If we examine meticulously the types of script listed above, we think that there was some kind of script, 'Zhangzhung' or 'Bon', before the time of Songtsen Gampo."

I cannot recall having read any reports of such a manuscript from Drepung, but it's obviously true that there must be something of the sort there. It is a complete mystery to me where they got the 'srin po'i yi ge' (*rākṣasa-script) from. The phrase 'inscribed with a needle' is significant – it probably means that the manuscript hails from South India and the needle is the 'khaṭṭikā' or stylus. Please share if you know anything about this manuscript!

PS. I just started wondering whether what they really meant was 'srin bu'i yi ge', i.e. letters [as if chewed into the leaf by] worms, cf. ghuṇākṣara.

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