Blue Annals Chapter 2

Tibetan Texts > Specific Tibetan Text Studies > Deb Ther Sngon Po (Blue Annals) > Chapter By Chapter Summary - The Blue Annals > Chapter 2

Summary of Blue Annals Chapter 2: The Later Spread (spyi dar) of the Buddhist Teachings in Tibet from the Tibetan Renaissance Seminar

by Ying Liu revised by Chelsea Hall-Montiel (01-29-2007)


This chapter concerns the later spread of Buddhism in Tibet. The first section is devoted to the life and deeds of the Great Lama Gewa Sel (bla chen po dge ba gsal, 892-975 CE) and the spread of the teaching in Eastern Tibet. The second section is devoted to the life and works of Rinchen Zangpo (rin chen bzang po, 958-1055). The third section describes the many translators and teachers that were invited from India, including Atisha (Atisa Dipamkara Srijnana, 982-1054). It also recounts the "Council of the Fire-Dragon Year," constructing a timeline of important events. The fourth section lists the temples built by Lumé and his disciples. The fifth section lists the lineage of Lumé and Sümpa, the maintenance of the Vinaya and its eventual reformulation as the Geluk (dge lugs) school. It concludes with verse telling the story of the invitation by Yeshé O (ye shes ‘od) to Dharmapala and the ensuing translations. The sixth section lists the abbotts of the Gyelwa Lhakhang Monastery. The seventh section describes the abbotts of Trabla Khawa Monastery. The eight section lists the abbotts of Tangpoche Monastery and the sects which developed around that area. The ninth and conluding section describes the life of Drapa Ngonshé, his disciples, and Chengyé Monastery.

2.1 Chronology of the later spread of the teaching, the Great Lama, and other events (bstan pa phyi dar gyi lo tshigs dang bla chen po la sogs pa’i skabs)

{CA 58: CH 89: R 63} This chapter begins with the escape of the three monks (“The Three Learned Men of Tibet,”) of the meditative monastery or gomtra (sgom grwa) of Pelchu bori (dpal chu bo ri), from the persecution of Lang Darma (glang dar ma late 800s). These monks carried books on the Vinaya and the Abhidharma and traveled first to Western Tibet, then to Hor to stay with Sakya Sherap (sakya shes rab), and finally to Sogulung (sro gu lung) in Amdo. In Amdo, Gewa Sel achieved his third rebirth in Tsongkha dekham (tsong kha bde khams), {R 64; CA 90} where he studied Madhyamika and Nyaya with Kyirgyelwé Tsugtor (skyirgyal ba'i gtsug tor) and Yoga Tantra with Namganden Changchub (nam dga' ldan byang chub).

After having a vision of enlightenment, and having made up his mind to spread the Doctrine, he took ordination with the assistance of “The Three Learned Men”, and was given the name of Gewa sel (dge ba gsal). Then follows an account of his studies of the Vinaya, Agama and its commentaries with Senge trag (seng ge grags) of Gorong (go rong) in Chang (cang) in Tsé (rtse). He wished to go to ü (dbus), but was warned by a messenger from the king of ü (dbus) of a great famine. {CA 91} Therefore, he settled in the East for 12 years studying Abhidharma, Shatasahasrika Prajñaparamita and Bodhisattvabhumi with Ka ong Chog Drakpa (kwa 'ong mchog grags pa).

{R 65} In addition, there is an account of his dream, in which he is riding an elephant through the marketplace holding the jewel of the Doctrine undesired by the crowd. He thought he would seek hermitage in the forests instead of teaching, whereupon he attracted the attention of a group of inspired asuras from Mount Dan tik (ri dan tig) who wanted to be his lay supporters. At Mount Dan-tig he made offerings to the Three Jewels, made offerings of tormas (gtor ma) and prayed to the Religious Protector (chos skyong) for help {CA 92}. In order to combat the wrong view of yogins who believed in gaining merit without deeds, he built temples and stūpas {R 66} and engaged in "created" merit. Because of his performance of meritorious deeds and preaching the Vinaya, he attracted a group of disciples who took ordination, including some natives of ü (dbus) and Tsang (tsang). {CA 93} Gewa Sel is visited by Indra and a group of deities who wish to hear the Doctrine preached, but they leave due to the demonic nature of his retinue. The visitation engenders further faith in his disciples, who are convinced he is a Buddha {R 67}. He denies their claims and describes to his disciples his previous incarnations. Gewa Sel died at the age of eighty-four and proceeded to the Tushita Heaven {CH 94}. He prophesied that he would reincarnate eight times in Jambudvipa until the coming of the Lord Maitreya.

The author describes the sources of his information and references in other literature to the personage of Gewa Sel. In conclusion the author dates the text by using the year of Songtsen Gampo’s (srong btsan sgam po, 604-650) birth as a referent, which continues throughout the text as an important marker in Tibetan history.

2.2 The Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo

{CA 62; CH 94; R 68} This is a rather short section on the life of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo compared with the previous section on Gewa Sel. It begins with a calculation of the years between the birth of Songsten Gampo and the birth of the great translator Rinchen Zangpo.{CH 95} His ordination was calculated from the year of the suppression of the Doctrine under Lang Darma. The author notes that the Doctrine first re-appeared in Ngari (mnga ‘ris), and later in Central Tibet, as demonstrated by Rinchen Zangpo. Atisha visited him when he was eighty-five.

Rinchen Zangpo studied sutra and tantra in Kashmir, composing commentaries on Prajnaparamita and various tantras He was presented with the estate of Zher in Putrang (spu hrangs) and began erecting shrines and temples and stupas. The author also claims that the "later" spread of the Tantras in Tibet was greater than the "early" spread chiefly due to the work of this translator. {R 69} He had many disciples, including some that could correct his translations, and paid for the recitation of a hundred thousand mantras in Sanskrit and a hundred thousand in Tibetan. {CH 96} Rinchen Zangpo was initiated by Atisha into the “method of propitiations” (sgrub pa). He attained the highest realization and passed into Nirvāna in his ninety-eighth year amidst miraculous signs such as heavenly music and flowers falling from the sky. He did not leave his body behind, but only three very red relics, which disappeared to Heaven with the sound of thunder.

2.3 Arrangement of similar dates (dus mtshungs bsgrigs pa’i skabs)

{CA 63; CH 96; R 69} This section attempts to synchronize different events by locating them on a timeline of important events. Many events get introduced briefly here and are expanded in more detail in later chapters of the book. Lha lama Yeshé ö invited Dharmaphala {CH 97} and Subhuti Srishanti, who along with their disciples translated many works. {R 70} During the reigns of the kings of upper Ngari (mng ‘ris), the teaching of logic became established in ü (dbus) and Tsang (gtsang). Khyungpo Draksé (khyung po grags se) composed numerous treatises on logic, titled the "Old Nyāya" (tshad ma rnying ma). Later the translator Londen Sherab (blo ldan shes rab) founded the lineage known as the ''New Nyāya" (tshad ma gsar ma). Other panditas such as Jnanashri also came to Tibet with or without invitation. In the time of King Odé (‘Od-lde), Atisha was invited to reform the Doctrine.

{CH 98} A Religious council, the “Council of the Fire-Dragon Year,” was held during the time of King Tsélde (rtse-lde), at which most of the great Tripitakadharas of ü, Tsang, and Kham were assembled. The author makes two laudatory comments that reveal his favorable attitude towards the process of translation and transformation underway. He describes the persons at this council as setting in motion the Wheel of the Doctrine, and that services rendered to the Doctrine {R 71} by these kings of Upper Ngari (mnga 'ris) find no parallel in other countries. Ra Lotsawa (rwa lo tsā ba) and Nyen Lotsawa (gnyan lo tsā ba) went to Nepal and India and returned to undertake the translations of the texts they had gathered. Then follows some speculation as to the identity of some particular Nyayas mentioned earlier.{CH 99} The next section is a chronology leading up to the Council, which lists as its important milestones the birth of Songtsen Gampo, the treaty of Relpachen with China, the erestion of the Lhasa pillar, Relpachen's death, and the rule of Lang Darma which resulted in the disappearance of the doctrine of ordination (in central Tibet). However, the latter is mentioned in conjunction with the "Six Men from ü and Tsang"(dbus gtsang mi drug) {R 72} who were active at this time and whose disciples were alive to meet Atisha, thus slightly contradicting the forbidding account of the total eclipse of Buddhism in Central Tibet. {CH 100} The lives of important translators and disciples are also located on this referential timeline using the year of arrival and death of Atisha, which will continue throughout this chapter. In the period of "The Three Cousins" there were also many Kadampa translators actively increasing their corpus. {CH 101} Nyingma translations were also underway, resulting in what the author again calls the greatest period ever for the spread of the precious Doctrine. The founder of the Kagyu (brka gyu) tradition Pel Gampopa (dpal sgam po pa, 1079-1153) learned many precepts and had many productive disciples.

2.4 The founding of temples by Lumé and his disciples (klu mes dpon slob kyis gtsug lag khang btab pa’i skabs)

{CA 67; CH 102; R 74} This section details the building of temples during the sixty-four years which preceded Atisha's coming to Tibet by Lumé (klu mes, -1131) and his disciples. Lumé seems to be one of the “Six Men from ü and tsang.” Eighteen of his disciples, including Gru mér (gru mer), took up ordination and were involved in the construction of temples. These disciples, and disciples of disciples, were called by building-related metaphorical names, such as “Four Pillars,” “Two Beams,” “southern door-bolt,” “northern door-bolt,” “Rafts,” {CH 103} and “Planks.” {R 75} The text describes the construction of many temples, some with the help of lay supporters. Also important to notice is the takeover of many temples and estates by these temple-builders. {CH 104-5; R 76} Here the author details the temple-building activities of Lu (klu) and Süm (sum) and their disciples. They are named as the “Two Beams.” They founded four great monasteries in the lower part of Urü (dbu ru) Lhasa (lha sa): the temple of Gyel lug lhé (rgyal lug lhas), distinguished by wealth and riches; Kunga rawa (kun dga' ra ba) or Zhu (gzhu), distinguished by its house holders (bza' mi); Tangpoche (thang po che), famous for its kalyana-mitras {R 77}, and Gratang (gra thang), famous for its temples.

2.5 Keepers of Vinaya (‘dul ba’i ‘dzin pa’i lo rgyus kyi skabs): The origin of the preaching of the Vinaya by Lumé and Sümpa

{CA 70; CH 105; R 77} This section is concerned with the history of the keepers of the Vinaya. It first details the transmission of the Vinaya by the lineage of disciples of Lumé and Sümpa.This is also the first mention of the "Ten Men of ü and Tsang", comprised of Lumé and others. It is not clear if they are related to the “Six Men of ü and Tsang ” or if they were merely called this because they were also from Central Tibet. They received their ordination in Kham and proceeded to ü and Tsang {CH 106} variously upon completion of their studies of the Vinaya. Each of them preached at a certain locality. Lumé took over Kachu (kwa chu) and other monasteries. Then four of his disciples were named, one called Trumer (gru mer). Among the disciples of Trumer, the Zu (gzus). {CH 107; R 78} This lineage of disciples founded various schools of the Vinaya. The stories of several disciples in this lineage, including the Vinayadhara of Gya (rgya) {CH 108; R 79} and Cha (bya), were elaborated in this section. Among the disciples of Gya are the “Four Pillars” and “Ten Beams”, similar names to the disciples of klu mes. {CH 109; R 80} The account of this lineage of disciples {CH 110; R 81} emphasizes the continuity of the transmission of the Vinaya and continues for a few pages {CH 111-113;R 82-83}. The list concludes with Jetsun Dampa Lobsang Drakpé Pel (rje btsun dam pa blo bzang grags pa’I pal, 1357-1419) also known as Tsong Khapa, the fouder of the Geluk (dge lugs) sect, who use the teachings of Atisha to reform the monastic code and purify the teaching of the Vinaya.

The account turns back to the kings of Upper Ngari. The king Song Ngé (srong nge), who fostered the spread of the Doctrine, took the badge of monkhood with two of his sons because there were no upādhyāyas or ācāryas available. His name was changed to Yeshé O (ye shes ‘od). The story of his invitation to Dharmapala from India, referenced earlier in the text, his translation activities and the ordination of many who studied Vinaya is told here in verse {CH 114-117; R 84-87}.

2.6 Gyelwa Lhakhang Monastery (rgyal ba lha khang gi skabs)

{CA 78; CH 117; R 87} This section is an account of the history of the Gyelwa Lhakhang monastery and its lineages of abbots. Gyelwa Lhakhang was known as one of the “Four Pillars of Lumé,” or the four great monasteries founded by Lumé and his disciples. It was also the only one among the four that had a record of the lineages of abbots. This implies that the monasteries acquire their significance and identities from the people who managed them, also bestowing a degree of authenticity through name recognition. The monastery was founded by Nanam Dorje Wangchuk (sna nam rdo rje dbang phyug), who was known as a manifestation of Maitreya. His personal history is told in relation to major events such as the birth of Marpa, Then there is a long list of abbots, with respective year of birth, year and age at which they became abbot, duration of occupation, and year of death. There were also time gaps in the history during which there was no abbot. {CH 118-120; R 88-90} The temple of rgyal was also burnt down by Mongol troops during such a gap and five hundred laity and clergy were killed. The Mongols later repented and arranged for the rebuilding of the temple. This break is followed by another list of abbots and concludes with another reference to the year of Atisha's arrival in Tibet {CH 120-122; R 90-93}.

2.7 Trabla Khawa Monastery (khrab la kha ba’i skabs)

{CA 82; CH 122; R 93} This is a particularly short section (one paragraph) on Phukpo Ché (phug po che), a branch of Trabla Kha (khrab la kha), taken over by the kalyana-mitra Yamshü (yam shud), a disciple of Lumé. The names of the lineage of its abbots are given here, but there is no detailed information of their birth and death as there was for the previous monastery.

2.8 Tangpoché Monastery (thang po che’i skabs)

{CA 82; CH 123; R 93} The abbatial lineage of Tangpoché monastery is recounted briefly. {R 94} After the last abbot in the lineage of Tru mer (gru mer), the houses and property were taken over by a Latrangpa (bla brang pa), Zangpo Pél (bzang po dpal). Latrangpas and Khupas (khu pas) were all considered outsiders because they didn’t belong to the spiritual lineage of Trumer (gru mer). The section concludes with a decription of three sects; the Khupas, the Serkhangpas (gser khang pa) {CH 123} and the Latrangpas.

2.9 Good Friend Drapa Ngonshé, his disciples, and Chengyé Monastery (dge bshes grwa pa dpon slob dang spyan g.yas pa’i skabs)

{CA 84; CH 124; R 95} This section starts with tracing the lineage of Drapa Ngonshé (gra pa mgnon shes, 1012-). {CH 195} He was born in the lineage of Trisong Detsen's (khri srong lde btsan) minister Chim Dorjé Trechung (‘chims rdo rje spre chung), who built the “blue” stupa of Samyé (bsam yas) and the monastery of Upper Changchub Ling (byang chub gling). Drapa Ngonshé was of the same age as Master mar pa. He worked as a shepherd in his youth, when his mind awakened and he took ordination in the presence of Yamshu (yam shud), who named him Sherap Gyelwa (shes rab rgyal ba). He began by studying Vinaya for a year, after which he studied everything that his uncle knew. He built many vihāras, later deciding to become a layman and built a mansion for himself after his uncle’s death. Many disciples came to him and he taught them commentaties on tantras {CH 126; R 96}. He met Dampa Sangyé (dam pa sang rgyas) and Somanātha, who bestowed on him the precepts of the Shadanga and Zhiche Tronma Kordu (zhi byed sgron ma skor dgu). He meditated and mastered the great wisdom.

The next part describes the donations and constructions of King Bukpachen (bug pa can), who was inspired after he received a son in answer to his prayers to the deity Samvara. There is also a conflict when one of Changchub Sempé's (byang chub sems dpa') former disciples resorts to witchcraft due to his jealousy. {CH 127; R 97}

Drapa Ngonshé built Kyiru (skyid ru) and later Tratang (gra thang). He passed to Nirvana three years before completing the building and his nephews completed it. Prior to his death, Machik Labkyi Dronma (ma gcig labs kyi sgron ma, 1055-1149) became his house priestess and recited the Prajnaparamita. The text also mentions the translation of the Kalachakra in order to authenticate its chronology {CH 128}. After Drapa Ngonshé's death, Dontengpa (don steng pa) occupied Tratang. {R 98} There is an account of Dongtenpa's visionary meeting with Maitreya in which he is exhorted to teach for the sake of living beings {CH 129}, a theme that stretches back to the account of the Buddha's life. He was also the abbot of Chengyé (spyan gyas), {CH 130} founded by Drapa. He was succeeded by a list of abbots. Inmates from Chengyé became followers of the lineage of Locha Yulpa (lo bya yul pa later) {R 99}.

There is an interesting account of the life of the maha-upadhyaya Gyeltsapa (rgyal tsha pa), who was of noble birth but lived as a commoner feigning incomprehension of speech. The text also mentions inauspicious omens surrounding his residency at a certain monastery and even a neighborhood pestilence which inspired him to instate the recitation of texts. {CH 131} During Gyeltsapa's abbottship, the number of inmates increased to 100. In the life of Sangyé Gyeltsen (sangs rgyas rgyal mtshan) it increased to 360 {R 100}. The monastery of Chengyé is emphasized in this section because the monastic community and some of the rituals instated at that time have continued to the present day without interruption {CH 131}. This chapter as a whole concludes with the year of the transmission of the Vinaya.

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