Blue Annals Chapter 15

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 15

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

Matthew Spitzer

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 Kasmirian paṇḍita Śākyaśrībhadra who is the originator of a major vinaya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and 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 is dealt with, establishing his birth in 1127, his arrival in Tibet in 1204 (at the age of 78), a ten year period in Tibet, and his death in Kasmir in 1225 (at the age of 99). This chronology differs significantly from many of the earlier Tibetan chronologies. This one held in esteem by the author for what reasons? It’s Indian authorship? The author also points to a mistake of chronology {R 1063} made in other works that mention Śākyaśrī, and instead relies primarily on the accounts of khro phu who was one of Śākyaśrī’s main disciples.

Next is the story of his invitation to Tibet. Based on his dreams, khro phu goes to Nepal and India to invite three teachers to Tibet, the third being Śākyaśrī. One of the stranger lines here comes when khro phu receives advice from 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}. Following the presentation of the invitation, many of the mahā-paṇḍita’s Indian followers try to persuade him not to travel to Tibet leaving the Tibetans falsify a bad omen based on which Śākyaśrī come closer to deciding to go as requested. One way to perhaps read these events is that Śākyaśrī’s travel to Tibet was forseen by Śākyaśrī himself (and bla ma zhang as seen above), but at the failure of the emissaries to answer the question as to what he was to do following the invitation, the subsequent events of persuasion were necessitated – including khro phu himself engaging in questions on the Doctrine {R 1067}.

Finally pleased, Śākyaśrī heads to Tibet where he teaches in, and is invited to, numerous locals throughout central Tibet, including 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. In general the information on his teachings is limited to occasional texts and the places he traveled to. Missing is the ‘foundational’ work that Śākaśrī must have engaged in 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 khro ‘phu {R 1070} in 1212 A.D. 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 {R 1071-2}, and the abbots of three of the four monasteries/communities established by him in Tibet.

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 blo bzang grags pa’i dpal, better known by the region of his birth, or tsong kha pa and considered to be the founder of the 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 sge lugs pas. 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 rnam thar of tsong kha pa concerning the part of his teacher’s instructions that he could remember following loosing them on his way to Tibet from Amdo.

Next there is detailed information regarding the development of tsnog kha pa’s doctrinal view and interests in sūtra, tantra, and vinaya. The author makes a curious comment about tsong kha pa 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 ‘go lo tsa ba’s (1392-1481) and tsong kha pa’s (1357-1432) lives, such detailed personality information being available should not be surprising, but its use here stands out from the accompanying details. Its unclear whether it is making a statement in support of his scholastic inclinations, or against them.

Of further interest is the details relating tsong kha pa’s connection with the Bodhisattva Man͂juśrī. Having obtained initiation in the practice, tsong kha pa 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 to become an ascetic to benefit the Doctrine, and later the prophesy that he would become a Buddha. Perhaps as a result of these prophesies, ‘go lo tsa ba 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. Tsong kha pa founded 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 tsong kha pa’s influence on the attire worn by the dge ldan pas.

At this point ‘gos lo tsa ba 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 tsong kha pa being a bodhisattva. Lastly there is the brief recounting of the abbots of dge ldan since tsong kha pa’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 dge ldan pas above. This section concerns smra ba’I senge rong ston chen po who founded Nālandā dgon pa of the sa skya pa sect. The detals of his early life include study of the sciences, debate (rigs pa), and the piṭakas. Of interest if 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, ‘gos lo tsa ba maintains: ‘Outwardly he seems to have concentrated on the preaching of the Doctrine only. Inwardly he practiced constanly 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 even is given.

The remaining details briefly concern the founding of Nālandā dgon pa in 1435 A.D. and his death in 1449 A.D. Concerning his death rong ston 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 when he had foreseen for himself. Again there follows a list of the abbots of Nālandā following rong ston’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 dpal rtes thang dgon pa (kagyu?) and its founder ta’i si tu byang chub rgyal mtshan. A year after the founding of rtses thang ‘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 rtses thang dgon pa. Of note within this lineage are several period when the dgon pa 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 ‘gos lo tsa ba 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 dgon pa changing hands between sects at some point in it’s 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 historgrapic method employed by ‘gos lo tsa ba 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 ‘gos lo tsa ba expressed the difficulty of deciding which histories to follow. Both concerning the ‘later’ Propagation of the Doctrine {R 1084} and the Ten man of dbus and tsang {1085} the author expresses difficulty. The author further clarifies some of the areas where 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 of interest to those looking at any of the main issues of the Blue Annals as a whole. ‘gos lo tsa ba appears to have limited himself where possible to both other established histories, such as that by bu ston, 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).

This sections primary concern is the patron who provided the necessary funds for the Blue Annals project to be written and printed - Bkra shis dar rgyas of the bya clan. What follows is an impressive genealogical account of the patrons ancestry, which was probably proved to ‘gos lo tsa ba 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 bya 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 sets the intention for the preceding pages and the presentation of the author’s intention in this undertaking. The striking imagery of the last line 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 ‘gos lo tsa ba 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.

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