Summary Of Blue Annals Chapter 15

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Summary of The Blue Annals Chapter 15: Various Monastic Traditions, Questions Concerning the Blue Annals, and the Printing of the Blue Annals

by Matthew Spitzer

revised by Luke Wagner (3-3-07)


This chapter provides historical accounts of several traditions, lineages and monasteries focusing on the foundational figures. The first section discusses the Kashmirian scholar Śākyaśrībhadra (1127-1225), explaining the way in which he was invited to Tibet and providing an overview of his teachings and travels. The second section covers the Gandenpa tradition and is primarily devoted to its founder Lozang Drakpapel (blo bzang grags pa'i dpal {1357-1432}), commonly known as Tsongkhapa (tsong kha pa). The next section briefly discusses Nalanda, founded by Mabe Sengé Rongtön Chenpo (smra ba'i seng ge rong ston chen po {1367-1449}). The fourth section covers Tsethang monastery, founded by Tesitu Jangchub Gyeltsen (ta'i si tu byang chub rgyal mtshan {1351-?}).

The remainder of the chapter explains the way in which the Blue Annals came about, including a detailed genealogy of the patron of the project, Trashi Dargyé (bkra shis dar rgyas) of the Ja (bya) clan. An especially interesting section is a response to methodological questions, in which the author discusses some of the difficulties of compiling this history.

15.1 The Kashmirian Scholar [ŚākyaŚrī] and the ordination lineages of the four institutions descending from him (kha che pa chen dang / de las brgyud pa’i sde bzhi’i mkhan brgyud kyi skabs. Chandra 944; Chengdu 1237; Roerich 1062-73).

This section is devoted to the Kashmirian paṇḍita Śākyaśrībhadra (1127-1225) who is the originator of a major vinaya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and the author of a significant work on Buddhist Chronology, the lnga bsdus (R 1064). The first concern is the establishment of chronologies. Using Śākyaśrī’s own chronology, the date for the nirvāṇa of Śākyamuni is established to be 2020 years prior to the writing of the Blue Annals, or 544 B.C.E. (one of the closest to modern estimates). Then the dates for Śākyaśrī himself are dealt with. He was born in 1127, arrived in Tibet in 1204 (at the age of 78), spent ten years there, and died in Kasmir in 1225 (at the age of 99). This chronology differs significantly from many of the earlier Tibetan chronologies and it is not clear why the author holds this particular chronology, though one reason may be the weight of its Indian authorship. The author also points to a mistake of chronology made in other works that mention Śākyaśrī, and instead relies primarily on the accounts of the Lotsawa Tropu (lo tsa ba khro phu) who was one of Śākyaśrī’s main disciples (R 1063).

Next is the story of Śākyaśrī’s invitation to Tibet. Based on his dreams, Tropu goes to Nepal and India to invite three teachers to Tibet, the third being Śākyaśrī. One of the stranger lines here comes when Tropu receives advice from Lama Zhang (bla ma zhang) on inviting the mahā-paṇḍita: “Behave in a noisy manner! The sun may rise from the West, but you will surely succeed in your purpose” (R 1066). Tropu sent messengers to deliver a letter of invitation to the mahā-paṇḍita and, following the presentation of the invitation, many of the mahā-paṇḍita’s Indian followers try to persuade him not to travel to Tibet. They brought images of Avalokiteśvara and Tārā to him and the Tibetan messengers falsified a bad omen by bribing the Kashmirian in charge of the images to face them backwards in order to ensure he would accept the invitation. When the mahā-paṇḍita met Tropu he initially expressed disappointment because of Tropu’s youthful appearance, but he was persuaded to accept the invitation after hearing a discussion of questions posed by Tropu as he was impressed with the latter’s knowledge (R 1067). One way to read these events is that Śākyaśrī’s travel to Tibet was foreseen by Śākyaśrī himself (and Lama Zhang as seen above), but the failure of the emissaries to answer the question as to what he was to do following the invitation necessitated the subsequent events of persuasion.

Finally pleased, Śākyaśrī heads to Tibet where he is invited to and teaches at numerous places throughout central Tibet, including Samyé Gönpa (bsam yas dgon pa) (R 1070). Much of his travels seems to have been directed by various omens, most involving the image of the goddess Tārā. For example, a crow took some of the pages of his manuscript and flew East, indicating that he was supposed to head in that direction. In general the information on his teachings is limited to occasional texts and the places to which he traveled. Missing is the ‘foundational’ work in which Śākyaśrī must have engaged at various places – setting up the four tshogs sde and the resultant vinaya lineage. Either this information is unavailable or deemed less important than the narrative stories related in its place. In addition to his teaching, one of Śākyaśrī’s main contributions to the Tibetan religious landscape was the erection of an image of Maitreya at Tropu (khro phu) in 1212 A.D. It is noted that he funded the erection of the image, though “he acted as an avaricious man” up until that point in order to test Tropu’s faith (R 1070). By the following year he had resolved to return to Kasmir, where he would continue to have a great impact on the Doctrine.

Following this is the list of the ordination lineage transmitted by Śākyaśrī , and the abbots of three of the four monasteries/communities established by him in Tibet (R 1071-2).

15.2 The Gandenpa [Tradition] (dge ldan pa’i skabs. Chandra 953; Chengdu 1249; Roerich 1073-80).

Next is the section on the tradition initiated by Lozang Drakpapel, better known by the region of his birth, Tsongkhapa, and considered to be the founder of the Gelukpa (sge lugs pa) sect. Born in 1357 A.D., the early details of his various teachers and textual undertakings are given, especially his interest in the Guhyasamāja Tantra that would eventually become the primary tantra of the Gelukpas. On a structural note, it is unclear to me whether the page and a half of material contained in parentheses from R-1073 to the top of R-1075 is solely Roerich’s addition. This section includes a lengthy excerpt from the namtar (rnam thar) of Tsongkhapa concerning the part of his teacher’s instructions that he could remember. On his way to Tibet from Amdo he lost the paper on which the instructions were written, but could recall the course of studies that had been suggested (R 1073-1075).

Next there is detailed information regarding the development of Tsongkhapa’s doctrinal view and interests in sūtra, tantra, and vinaya. The author makes a curious comment about Tsongkhapa here saying that while he had perfect understanding of the materials he studied, he never ‘played’ with fellow monks and was generally depressed (R 1075). Given the proximately, and in fact an overlap of Gö Lotsawa's ('gos lo tsa ba {1392-1481}) and Tsongkhapa’s (1357-1432) lives, the presence of such detailed personality information should not be surprising, but its use here stands out from the accompanying details. It is unclear whether it is making a statement in support of his scholastic inclinations, or against them.

Of further interest are the details relating Tsongkhapa’s connection with the Bodhisattva Man͂juśrī. Having obtained initiation in the practice, Tsongkhapa had a ‘clear vision’ and interacted with the Bodhisattva ‘in the manner of a disciple to his teacher, and obtained answers’ (R 1075-6). One of the ‘answers’ he received was a suggestion to become an ascetic in order to benefit the Doctrine, and later a prophesy that he would become a Buddha. Perhaps as a result of such prophesies, Gö Lotsawa reports that ‘the mere hearing of his name from a distance, caused the hair of the body to stand erect’ (R 1076).

Following this the details of his numerous writings are given, including the lam rim chen mo and the sngags rim chen mo, the second of which pertains to tantric practice. Tsongkhapa founded Geden Gönpa (dge ldan dgon pa) in 1409, and sometime later between 1415 and 1419 erected a tantric maṇḍala in the outer chapel. Additionally there are details of Tsongkhapa’s influence on the attire worn by the Gedenpas (dge ldan pas) (R 1077-1078).

At this point Gö Lotsawa makes a distinction between the previous details and what follows as his ‘greatness seen by ordinary human beings’ and his ‘intrinsic greatness’ (R 1079). Then there is a presentation of the various opinions and views of Tsongkhapa being a bodhisattva. Lastly there is the brief recounting of the abbots of Geden since Tsongkhapa’s death in 1432 A.D.

15.3 Nalanda [Monastery] (na landa pa’i skabs. Chandra 958; Chengdu 1258; Roerich 1080-2).

This section and the next one are relatively short given the attention allotted to the Gedenpas above. This section concerns Mabe Sengé Rongtön Chenpo (smra ba'i seng ge rong ston chen po {1367-1449}) who founded Nālandā Gönpa of the Sakyapa (sa skya pa) sect. The details of his early life include study of the sciences, debate (rigs pa), and the piṭakas. Of interest is the correlation given between his aspiration/intention (smon lam) and the absence of clashed with ‘local deities’ or suffering epidemics (R 1081). While the details are sparse on his education and practice, Gö Lotsawa maintains: ‘Outwardly he seems to have concentrated on the preaching of the Doctrine only. Inwardly he practiced constantly Yoga . . .’ (R1081). The fact of this internal, and therefore secret, practice is perhaps offered since the educational information excludes any mention of tantric knowledge.

Following this there is a curious single line mentioning transformation of his big toe nail falling off and become a pearl shell. No reason, cause, or omen that is associated with this event is given.

The remaining details briefly concern the founding of Nālandā Gönpa in 1435 A.D. and his death in 1449 A.D. Concerning his death Rongtön is said to have defied an earlier prophecy of his death, claiming not to be subject to such prognostications. He is said to have lived past the date of the prophecy and died at the age of 83, which he had foreseen for himself (R 1081). Again there follows a list of the abbots of Nālandā following Rongtön’s death.

15.4 Tsethang [Monastery] (rtses thang pa’i skabs. Chandra 960; Chengdu 1260; Roerich 1082-4).

With even less information than the previous one, this section gives the details of Peltsétang Gönpa (dpal rtses thang dgon pa kagyu?) and its founder Tesitu Jangchub Gyeltsen (ta'i si tu byang chub rgyal mtshan {1351-?}). A year after the founding of Tsétang ‘priests from various monasteries’ were invited to start the study of the doctrine there (R1082). The majority of the remaining info gives the lineage of the abbots of Tsétang Gönpa. Of note within this lineage are several periods when the Gönpa went without an abbot for various reasons such as the abbot ‘retires to the palace (rtse)’ or ‘acted as civil official’ (R 1084).

Following the lineage Gö Lotswawa states that this monastery often housed monks of different sects and was a refuge for wandering preachers. Is this collective aspect accurate or maybe the result of the Gönpa changing hands between sects at some point in its history?

15.4.1 Untitled responses to questions regarding the Blue Annals (Chandra 962; Chengdu 1263; Roerich 1084-6).

The questions addressed in this section pertain primarily to the historiograpic method employed by Gö Lotsawa and his defense on controversial points. The author mainly addresses the areas of common disagreement on dates and other areas, and offers his reasoning for the information he makes use of over others. On at least two occasions Gö Lotsawa expressed the difficulty of deciding which histories to follow. Both concerning the ‘later’ Propagation of the Doctrine and the Tenman of Ü (dbus) and Tsang (tsang) the author expresses difficulty (R 1084-1085). He further clarifies some of the areas that he has been unable to investigate thoroughly himself and so has based his information on that of others without verification (R 1086). The brief comments given here speak to the general concern of a 15th century Tibetan historian and will be of interest to those looking at any of the main issues of the Blue Annals as a whole. Gö Lotsawa appears to have limited himself where possible to both other established histories, such as that by Butön, and by accounts of followers or disciples of a given person. The use of personal narrative in combination with less subjective accounts would be a fruitful area to give further attention.

15.5 The carving of the woodblocks (par du bsgrubs pa’i skabs. Chandra 964; Chengdu 1265; Roerich 1086-91).

The primary concern of this section is the patron who provided the necessary funds for the Blue Annals project to be written and printed - Trashi Dargyé (bkra shis dar rgyas) of the Ja (bya) clan. What follows is an impressive genealogical account of the patrons ancestry, which was probably provided to Gö Lotsawa by the patron for inclusion in his history as part of the deal. The genealogy includes detail going back more than a dozen generations and describes the various geographical moves that the Ja clan made throughout those years. It also includes information regarding various political and religious connection that exist in this particular clan, such ruling in various locals, dealing with the Mongols on military terms, and relatives being recognized as incarnations. The patron gave the funds for the project such that they ‘did not contradict the doctrine’ (R 1090). It would be interesting to see if funding and influence issues were at all a concern as this line may suggest.

The last part of this section gives the names of those individuals who worked on the copying, correcting, and block making of the Blue Annals.

15.5.1 Author colophon (Chandra 969; Chengdu 1271; Roerich 1091-3).

This closing homage illuminates the author’s intention for the preceding pages. The striking imagery of the last lines of R 1091 – “The story of the Immaculate Precious Doctrine of the Jina, / handed down from Holy Men to holy Men, / I have thread on a string of letters,” characterizes the sense of the constructive nature of the project and the light in which the author casts it.

15.5.2 Kundeling Monastery print colophon (Chandra 970; Chengdu 1271; Roerich 1093).

This section gives credit to Gö Lotsawa for the compilation and tells where the blocks are kept and their brief history, including the loss of some of the blocks in the Tibetan-Nepalese war in 1792 A.D.