Blue Annals Chapter 1

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 1

Summary of The Blue Annals Chapter 1: Early Indian history, Indian and Tibetan Imperial Lines, and the Early Spread of the Buddhist Teachings in Tibet

This section essentially provides historical background on Buddhism in India, and the imperial period of Tibetan culture (7th to 9th centuries). This sets the stage for the rest of the study, which focuses on the history of Tibetan Buddhism from the 10th through 15th centuries.

1.1. Homage (mchod par brjod pa. Chandra ?; Chengdu 3-20; Roerich 1-2).

The text begins with a quotation from the Sanskrit text of the Trikāyastava in Sanskrit, accompanied by a Tibetan translation. Need to add in information about this text – its author, general focus, etc. Please note the Chengdu edition has this in a rather elaborate and large font with different scripts, and hence is drawn out over a number of pages.

The homage is a fairly tradition one to the Buddha and is organized around his four “Bodies” (sku, Skt. kāya). ‘Gos lo’s opening line of the next section says that the homage was to “four Bodies”, which apparently are the chos sku, longs sku, sprul sku, and then the “rgyal ba rnams kyi mi mnyam mnyam pa bde ba’i sku” as integrating all four (?). The main point here is that the text announces itself as a religious text, and that the reader is to understand all the mass of historical detail that ensues as being documentation of the presence and activity of the Buddha in diverse manifestations. Thus it prepares us for the complex accounts of emanation, reincarnation and visionary apparitions which pervade the history. “manifestation”: sku (3)

1.2. The genealogy of Mahāsammata (mang pos bskur ba’i gdung rabs kyi skabs. Chandra 2; Chengdu 1 (21-37-21? or 1-21? or 3-37?; Roerich 3-16).

This section then is devoted to the “teacher” (ston pa), i.e. the historical Buddha Śākyamuni. Overall it focuses on genealogy among kings, the politics of kingship, clans and involvement of religion and politics.

He begins with questions about the Buddha’s familial pedigree, i.e. the Śākya clan. This is not surprising given the overwhelming importance of clans to Tibetan culture and religion during this time, and foreshadows their pervasive presence in the later sections devoted to the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

The section details the history of the Śākya clan beginning with the beginning of the present cosmos after a epochal destruction (R 3) and the first emergence of a king. This king was known as “appointed by many” (mang pos bkur ba, Skt. mahāsaṃmata. Right from the start the text is concerned with royal genealogies, and the descent from king to son, to his son, and so forth. The necessary background to this is the Indian notion of the “cakravartin”, or universal ruler, and its Buddhist adaptation. In addition, we should already be seeing resonances with the later account of Tibetan royal genealogies, Tibetan clans, and the tantric embrace of sacred kingship as a ruling metaphor. The account deals with very large numbers – 32,000 kings in this place and so forth – and all kings are tied to specifies regions or cities in which their lineage was operative. Thus the model appears to be less that of universal rulership than local polities and rulers, which better mirrors the Tibetan situation from 10th to 14th centuries.

After a series of lists (R 5), there is an inital reference to Buddhism where a king named Kṛkin obtains “bodhicitta” in the presence of the Buddha Kāśyapa and is reborn in Tuṣita heaven. In his lineage the last king had a son named Gautama who took ordination to become a monk (R 5). He is falsely accused of killing a woman (R 6-7) and executed, but a sage helps coax two drops of semen and blood from his body in death (R 7). These ripened into eggs and two male children, who hid in a suger-cane grove. Raised by the sage, they were known as as “Gautamas” – “descendants of Gautama”. They both later became kings when Gautama’s father died (R 8). It then discusses more about their descendents, including a group of exiled princes who come to be known as “the daring ones” (śākyas) because of having conjugal relationships with their sisters.

Then the line of “Mahāsaṃmata” comes to and end with the Rāhula (sgra gcan zin), the son of Śākyamuni who himself was the son of Śuddhodana (R 12). Thus the incredibly long royal genealogy terminates in the Buddha, and their empire building activities transform into a religious empire. This is clearly presaging his own interpretation of Tibetan history, where a martial empire of Tibetan Kings and a long mythic pedigree transform into a Buddhist culture led by lamas as the preeminent cultural icons. He then gives (R 12) alternative lists of this royal genealogy from other sources. Of note is the first list (R 12) stresses how the genealogy involved a descending extent of domain from “four continents” to “one continent”. It ends the section again terminating in the end of the lineage with Śākyamuni’s son Rāhula.

This model of the integration of rulership and religion also models the Tibetan situation. Thus we see the sage Kapila (R 9-11) bound up with the selection of kings and founding of cities.

(4) Note reference to the country of Potala (gru ‘dzin) where some kings were ruling. This is repeated later as well. Need to trace these references to Potala throughout the text overall. Good for dictionary.

(11) The founding of Kapilavastu (ser skya’i gzhi, literally “founded by kapila”, the sage who gave a prediction indicting where to build the town). Put this in the dictionary since its a good etymology.

1.3. Acts of the Buddha. (sangs rgyas kyi mdzad pa’i skabs. Chandra 19; Chengdu 37-43; Roerich 17-22)

This section discusses the life of the historical Buddha Śākyamuni against the background of the genealogy . This presentation is organized into his “acts”, a traditional presentation most typically found as a series of sequential twelve acts.

(R 17) It begins with the Buddha Kāśyapa, in front of which Śākyamuni in an earlier life as a bodhisattva makes a bodhicitta committment. As a result he is born in the heaven of Tuṣita, where he stays until he is reborn in India to become Śākyamuni.

(R 17) He enters his mother and is born from her.

(R17-18) An interesting lengthy note about how an Emperor in China witness from afar the birth of Śākyamuni, and a prophecy about Indian Buddhists coming to China was written on a stone pillar.

(R 18) Śākyamuni goes through his education and marriage until the age of 29 in the palace.

(R 18-19) He leaves the palace and for 6 years practices austerities.

(R 19-20) He sits down and goes through a series of expereinces to become enlightened at Vajrāsana.

(R 20-22) Śākyamuni embarks on his teaching career beginning with turning the Wheel of the teachings at Vārāṇasī. There is a focus on the location of his summer retreats (21), the Vianya record of which is used to reconstruct the sequence of events.

(R 22) Śākyamuni dies or passes into nirvāṇa. This is described with only one line. Throughout there is clear reference to the difficulties of ascertaining times relating to Śākyamuni’s life. Notice emphasis throughout on typing actions or deeds to specific places. This is not at all our modernist agenda, where placeh as become deemphasized.

1.4. Lineage of transmission of the teaching. (bstan pa’i gtad rabs kyi skabs. Chandra 24; Chengdu 43-48; Roerich 22-25)

This section deals with the fate of the tradition after Śākyamuni’s death with a focus the lineage of transmission of the teachings. The final line (R 25) of the section explains that in fact this is “Vinaya” that is being discussed in this section. While the opening section (R 22-23) is what one would expect iwth the account of lineal transmission from Śākyamuni onwards, including some very famous later Indian figures, most of the section is taken up with a lengthy translation ‘gos lo himself does from a fragment of an Indian text that is not named.

The fragment is itself somewhat odd and begins with a “Madhyāntika” – who is that? – going to Kaśmir and a series of figures descending from him, including Śirṣaparvata, and Upggupta, as well as an account of the famous King Aśoka. This passage needs to be examined carefully to ascertain its import.

(R 24) Reference to Aśoka.

1.5. The division into eighteen schools (sde pa bco brgyad du gyes pa’i skabs. Chandra 27; Chengdu 48-57; Roerich 25-33).

(R 25) Prātimokṣa was divided into 18 schools (sde pa rnams pa), which is the simplified way of representing the diversity of early Buddhism. Subsequently, they came to be understood by later Mahāyāna scholars as representing the substance of Hīnayāna. It begins (R 25-27) by discussion of the former Buddhah Kāśyapa and his patron/king Kṛkin. It relates a long dream the King had – the dream is full of tensions, including 18 men dividing a piece of cloth up amongst themselves. Kāśyapa interprets it in a detailed fashion as about the life of Śākyamuni and the fate of his teachings. A prominent theme is the corruption of monks, and clearly echoes such themes in Tibetan religious civilization.

Is this typical of all medieval literature across the world, namely the prominent role dreams has in historiography? Contrasts of course markedly to today’s historiographical practices.

(R 27) He then turns to a discussion of the 18 which he locates at the time of Aśoka, and attributes to “dissensions”. He discusses the temporal sequence of splits which resulted in 18, beginning with the split between the Shatviras (gnas brtna pa) and the Mahāsaṅghika (dge ‘dun phal chen po). Should extract the full scheme for publishing as his version. He provides at least three different schemes according to different traditions.

This represents an Indian model of schism and fissuring of traditions, which clearly echoes the emergence of multiple sectarian traditions in Tibet from the 11th to 14th centuries. One thing to look for in such accounts then is tips for how schism is occasioned, what it means to constitute an independent school, and the identifying features of such schools. Thus for “18 schools of Hinayana”, think “18 sects of tibet”, etc. and see what you come up with. One relevant issue is how names are derived – after people? regions? doctrines? ritual practices? abstract vs. concrete? etc. What is the difference – issues of morality? stickness of behaviorial codes? doctrinal disputes? do they seem trivial or substantial poitns of difference? how are they unified?

(R 30) say sthe 18 differed “by their places of residence, their theories and teachiners”. (R 31) says one Indian text says thee difference is one of theory only. They did not have different teachers”. Meaning teachers like the buddhas? or the same teachers actually taught people across these sectarian divides?

How is schism viewed – with pragmatism? nostaligia? are there attempts to invoke some type of unitary Buddhism? (R 31) He clealys see shti s as negative saying “surely must have happened because of some demerits of formder deeds of the Teacher of hte World himself”.

(R 31-2) he speculates as to whether they have difernt versionso fthe rite of ordination/vinaya, and if so, how that can be. He rejects that such rituals were all taught by the Buddham, and thus rejects (R 32) that such schools existed at the beginninof of the Dharma. However he says these different ordination rites do not involve any contradictionw ith teh Buddha. Indeed the main thrust of this text apart from the 18 schools is the last several pages on Vinaya rites and the status of monastic ordination given the existence of various systems of Vinaya rituals. He resolves this by saying you should focus on the ‘meaning” and not just the words of the doctrine of the buddha (R 32-33).

(R 33) Interesting list of ten kinds of ordained monks according to Vinayadhara. Get and put in dictionary. So this seems to fit in with ‘gos lo’s basic ecumenalism in Tibet with respect to sectarian difference.

1.6. Lineage of the pratimokṣa vow (so so thar pa’i sdom brgyud kyi skabs. Chandra 34; Chengdu 57-59; Roerich 34-35).

This begins by saying that in Tibet there were three lineages of ordiantion which he dtails here. Thus the whole section on Indian buddhism is very focused on Vinaya and monasticism. The other major thread is lineage – among kings, clans, and monks. The three lineages:

  • khams: a lineage transmitted from Kham through bla chen dgons pa rab gsal and others, thorugh which klu mes and others spread in dbus and gtsang in the 10th century onwards.
  • Upper Vinaya (stod ‘dul ba): the lineage of rgyal ba’i shes rab of zhang zhung, the disciplie fo the three pālas, who had been the discipleis of pandita dharmapāla.
  • Śākyaśribhadra’s lineage: this is described at length in striking contrast to the other two. Includes Sakyapandita, Tsong Kha pa. Śākyaśribhadra actually travelled to Tibet and ordained monks directly there. Streess on him being lineal descdnent of Nāgārjuna.

1.7. Tibetan imperial lines (bod kyi rgyal rabs kyi skabs. Chandra 36; Chengdu 59-63; Roerich 35-38).

He refers briefly to King Aśoka, evdiently just to reiterate the notion of a Buddhist king and then launches into the chronicle of royal Tibet. He stresses thath prior (R 35) gnya khri btsan po, there were only small principalieis and no systematic connection to buddhism. He (R 35) refers to a story of dam pa sangs rgyas visiting Tibet on a number of ccasions before populated, but dissmisses this. (R 36) Refers to a conflict befrore Śākyamuni when the Pāṇḍava brothers were fighting alogn with King Rūpati, but lost. He fled into the snowy mountains where his descdants grew. It was called p rgyal, then bod.

(R 36) He claims that gnya khri btsan po descended from the Licchavī race, as di d the kings descnended from him. First groupu of 7 kings are “heavnely thrones (gnam gyi khri).
Then two bar gyi ltengs.
Then the 6 sa’i legs.
Then the eight lde.

(R 37) Says that dpal ‘khor btsan lost control over dbu gtsang and dwas killed by his subjects. It provides details of his descdneants and their progeny in mnga’ ris. Mostly genealogical detail. Need to tyup this up and build a genealogy list. No reference here in to Buddhism or its activities. All just royal genealogies.

1.8. The introduction of the teaching by the religious king and the uncle and nephew. (chos rgyal mes dbon kyis bstan pa btsugs pa’i skabs. Chandra 39; Chengdu 63-70; Roerich 38-44)

this chapter now turns to the buddhist religion in the Tibetan Imperial period with a focus on the trio of srong btsan, khri srong lde’u btsann, and ral pa can.

This beigns (R 38) with the famous story of a text falling on toip of the roof of the palace of Lha tho tho ri gnyan btsan. This is labelled “the beginningn of the Holy Doctrine”. Nel pa pandita says that is a bonpo interpreation to focus on heaven, when in fact they were grought to Tibet by the Pandita Buddhirakṣita and translator Li the se, which ‘gos lo embraces.

(B 38) refers to Śāntarakṣita meeting dba’i gsal snang in Nepal,a nd being told tha the two with Khri srong were onece three sons ofa poultry keeper in the past. Refers to Śāntarakṣita waiting for the other two to be reborn,a nd claims he was acutally Pandita Buddhirakṣita (R 39).

(R 39) Story of ‘thon mi sambhota going to India to create the slpahbet. Devotes a page to deatils of the lalphbet.

(R 40) Detailson Srong btsan teaching various Buddhist doctrines and meditating. ERics viharans of ‘khr ‘brug of dbus, of mtha’ ‘dul and yang ‘dul.

(R 40) Srong btsan introduced a legal code, introducing writing.

(R 40-1) Eveill minister ma zang tries to expel monks and tera down buddhist images.

(R 41-2) gsal snang goes to see Śāntarakṣita in Nepal and plots to estabolish buddhism in Tibet. King then was able to bury alive Ma zhang and Śāntarakṣita arrived in Lhasa afater a royal invitation. He stresses “reason” (R 42). Śāntarakṣita and King meet at bsam yas, and Śāntarakṣita reminds him of past life connection.

(R 42) Then Tibetan gods and demons act up and violently resist buddhism. Śāntarakṣita siad to invite Padmasambhava. Śāntarakṣita goes to Nepal and Padmasmabhava is invited. He comes to Tibet and subdues demons. Thus (R 44) foundation of bsam yas is built and Śāntarakṣita returns to Tibet.

Thus the seven moen on probation (sad mi mi bdun0 take up ordiantion and monasticism begins in earnet in Tibet.

1.9. The Tibetan emperors prophesied in the Mūlatantra (bod kyi rgyal po rnams rtsa rgyud las lung bstan pa’i skabs. Chandra 44; Chengdu 70-73; Roerich 44-47).

(R 44) This gives a prohpecy in the Mañjuśrīmūlatantra about people whoh will support Buddhism in a northehr land called “abod of gods” in snowy mountains. Refers to kingsk from race of Licchavīs, and has many details. The prophecy is given and then decoded

(R 46) in terms of Tibet and specific figures in the imperiail period. This again establishes importance of prophecy in historiography, and how scriptural statemetns are interwoven with historical narrative.

1.10. Imperial lines of Tibet, China, Hor, etc. (bod dang rgya hor la sogs pa’i rgyal rabs kyi skabs. Chandra 46; Chengu 73-84; Roerich 47-60).

This section is devoted to a quick overview of Chinese imperial history, including the Yuan dynasty with its Mongolian overlords. It emphasizes throughout the relationsihp of these evetns and rulers to Tibet in terms of military and political conflict and alliance. Need to analyzet he chronoogies and geoneloies here and connect ot known fact/spellings of Chinese figures.

(R 47) Chou dynasty.

(R 49) China-Tibet military and poltical relationships.

1.11. Langdarma’s Devestation of the Teachings and the Subsequent Persistence of the Lay Traditions (glang dar mas bstan pa bsnubs rjes bod mi khyim pa chos gtsug lag khang dang bka' bstan srung skyobs byas pa'i skor. Chandra 54; Chengdu 84-86; Roerich 60-62).

(R 60) After destruction of Buddhism by glang dar ma, ‘od srungs and dpal ‘khor btsan again built temples and venerated Buddhism.. Thus temples of lha sa, bsam yas and others escaped destruction. Refers to lay tantrics who practiced religion privately and concelaed scritpures. later priets from Kham came and found there was still thriving Buddhism.

(R 60) Addresses dates of arrival of monks from Khams in Tibet. Uses language of when the dharma “disappeared” and when it was “reestablished> Quotes bu ston, ‘brom ston pa. Most of this section is abou the dates.

(R 61) Refers to klu mes and sum pa building temples and names given to groups of monks who make up monastic communities – 4 pillars, 8 beams, 32 rafts, numerous planks. Refers to other early figures establishing monastic communities in Central Tibet.

(R 62) a confusing passage at the end that needs to be analyzed about how the “six men of dbus and gtsang” could not first ordained monks since they need 20 monk groups to do ordination ceremony. then says “groups of monks” began to arrive. Clearly betrays the dbus gtsang centric approach to Tibetan historiography – completely ignores khams and am do, and talks about disappearance of dharma only in relationship to dbus gtsang.

vitali here about monastic tax networks, etc.

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