A devil of a script
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.