Thor bu - Curiosia Indo-Tibetica

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

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eating manuscripts

Yesterday I received some distressing news regarding yet another detrimental factor for the survival of manuscripts. As if neglect, fire, water, white ants, and the lot were not enough, it seems that some (I hope: very few) contemporary Tibetans consume manuscripts bit by bit if they cannot read its contents or if they consider it unfit for any other purpose. The point seems to be to absorb directly the blessings embodied in such texts.


For a split second I did toy with the grotesque idea of a menu: I'll have some unknown Hevajra exegesis for starters, followed by the codex unicus of the Herukābhyudaya with shavings of rare yogatantra works. Desert? Oh, we'll decide that later.

Image from here.

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8 Comments:

Blogger kellner said...

Sankr

8:15 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

Beg your pardon?

2:25 pm  
Anonymous Geoff said...

Some years ago I came across a reference to this practice while reading something about Gendun Chophel (I wish I could remember what. It might even have been a movie). Apparently, he came across several manuscripts damaged in this way while looking for Sanskrit texts in Central Tibet. At least, that's what I remember. Not terribly helpful, I know.......

6:42 pm  
Blogger Dan said...

Dear PSz,

I really wonder what your source of information might be. I've never heard of it (which is no proof of anything, I realize very much). Of course there are za-yig, or edible letters, that are made just for this purpose, as their name indicates. They are like dharanis only edible. Perhaps something got changed in the transmission?

Did those manuscripts found by Gendun Chophel have human tooth marks as forensic evidence? I'm afraid a rumor of Tibetan Textophagy might be brewing here on what seems to be very slender evidence.

Yours,
D

10:32 am  
Blogger PDSz said...

Dear D,

Thanks for dropping by. You might want to check your email inbox. I very much hope that my source is wrong. Let's keep him anonymous for the time being.

ys,

p

1:05 pm  
Blogger Konyhológus said...

Sorry to intrude with unscholarly trivialities. I've got an award and would like to pass it on to you. Details here. (And just in case this looks like pure comment spam, that is not what it's meant to be. I'm Daniel in case my picture is not recognisable.)

8:56 pm  
Blogger kellner said...

Two years later, I just came across this page again while researching into eating manuscripts. What I had wanted to contribute two years ago, and may still be useful - there are some notes to similar effect in Gendun Chophel's rGyal khams rigs pas bskor ba’i gtam rgyud gser gyi thaṅ ma. I haven't noticed anything there about eating, but he reports about people throwing out manuscripts where leaves became messed up because they believe keeping them brings misfortune, and others cut up palm leaves thinking that bearing them (on chains around the neck, e.g.) would have protective effect.

In rahula Sankrtyayana's autobiography Meeri Jivan Yatra, when he reports from his journey to Tibet in 1934, there are also interesting accounts of manuscript uses which cause a philologist nightmares: cutting them up and giving small peaces to rich donors, and I think also eating. That people believe the water used for washing palm leaf manuscripts cures diseases is by comparison harmless ...

5:26 pm  
Blogger kellner said...

Two years later, I just came across this page again while researching into eating manuscripts. What I had wanted to contribute two years ago, and may still be useful - there are some notes to similar effect in Gendun Chophel's rGyal khams rigs pas bskor ba’i gtam rgyud gser gyi thaṅ ma. I haven't noticed anything there about eating, but he reports about people throwing out manuscripts where leaves became messed up because they believe keeping them brings misfortune, and others cut up palm leaves thinking that bearing them (on chains around the neck, e.g.) would have protective effect.

In rahula Sankrtyayana's autobiography Meeri Jivan Yatra, when he reports from his journey to Tibet in 1934, there are also interesting accounts of manuscript uses which cause a philologist nightmares: cutting them up and giving small peaces to rich donors, and I think also eating. That people believe the water used for washing palm leaf manuscripts cures diseases is by comparison harmless ...

5:26 pm  

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