In most Asian countries esoteric Buddhism (Tantrayana) declined in the past, while the Tibetans alone preserved the full richness of tantric preserved the full richness of tantric traditions to our times. Thus this study is based on several Tibetan sources never presented in any modern language-some of them were translated, some were given as a summary.
The main concern of this study is to exhibit and analyse the traditions of the Old School of Tibetan Buddhism i.e. the rnying-ma-pa. For the first time there is shown that the history of the Old School goes far beyond the eminent tantric master Padmasambhava; some sources hint at a non-Indian origin of some tantric cycles. The whole tradition of the Old School is divided into two lineages: one of the Pronouncements and the other of the Concealed Treasures. Each lineage is discussed in detail-more than twenty biographies of the famous masters of the Old School are rendered. The author's commentary on these facts and events aims at giving an impression of the spiritual life within the Old School and links the results of this study with the hitherto existing knowledge of esoteric Buddhism. This study exhibits a great deal of so far unknown facts and events that are indispensable for understanding thought and history of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet.
The author, Dr.(Mrs.) Eva Dargyay, is Reader in Tibetology at the University of Munich (West Germany). Being a Cerman specialist in Tibetan and Buddhist studies, she is married to a Tibetan Geshay.
The study and appreciation of Tibetan Buddhism is a comparatively recent development. There are many reasons for the fact that an immensely important field in the history of ideas has been neglected for such a long time. The remoteness and inaccessibility of Tibet has tended to shroud what the Tibetans thought, and on what they built their civilization, in mystery, and the myth that Tibetan literature is but a mass of translations from Sanskrit and Middle-Indian vernaculars, perpetuated by academics in the East and the West alike and re-endorsed by a certain segment of the Tibetans themselves that recognizes only Indian sources, prevented people from looking deeper. It shall not be denied that much of Tibetan literature has been translated from Indian sources and that Tibetan Buddhism is deeply indebted to Indian Buddhism, but in the life of a people the important point is not so much the fact that texts were translated but what these translations achieved by stimulating the minds of the people who were eager to absorb and assimilate new ideas. As a matter of fact the indigenous literature that developed in the wake of the translations far exceeds the translations and it is a sad state of affairs that hardly anything of it is known outside Tibet. Moreover Tibetan Buddhism has traits of which no Indian origin is known.
By its geography Tibet was exposed to different influences, if by this term we understand a recasting of ideas rather than a mere superimposition. To the west it was a country of vague definition, known as Shang-shung (zhang-zhung). Its capital to the west of Mount Kailas was until recently a favourite place of pilgrimage for Hindus. The country seems to have had contacts with the neighbouring Indian regions of Kulu and Jalandhar by passes which are still used today. But it also seems to have had close contacts with Kashmir, noted as a great Buddhist country, attracting visitors from as far away as China, especially from the 5th to the 8th centuries. According to Tibetan tradition Shang-shung is the home of the Bon religion which shows both Buddhist and even Iranian influences and which must be credited to have paved the way for the ready acceptance of new ideas. But before Tibet proper emerged as an Asian power and established formal contacts with its neighbours, Nepal and India in the South and China to the East, its main cultural link has been with the Ch'iang tribes on China's north-western borders, who lived within the reach of the trade routes that linked China with India, Iran, and, ultimately, Byzantium and along which all kinds of cultural ideas and artistic motifs found their way into Tibet.
Dr. Eva Dargyay's book deals with the formative period of Tibetan Buddhism and centres round the tradition of the 'Old School' which may be said to have kept the spirit of Buddhism alive, since it was less interested in power politics and mere scholastic debates on problems of philosophy. This school frankly admits that some of its leading figures came from China and that they played an important role in the formation of its way of thought which, for political reasons, had to go 'underground', not only figuratively but quite literally. The period of the so-called 'Religious kings of Tibet' marked a growing emphasis on the Indian contribution which, philosophically speaking, was noted for its interest in epistemology and its almost total rejection of metaphysics. But metaphysics is the life of philosophy; it has lived on in the 'Old School' which had to 'conceal' its texts in face of the changed intellectual and political climate. Later on, when the connection with Chinese Buddhist thought had been mostly forgotten, these texts were 'rediscovered'. Of course, 'reiscovery' implies 're-interpretation' as well as continuity.
Dr. Eva Dargyay thoroughly investigates the many problems connected with the 'Old School'. Thereby she is able to throw new light on the rather enigmatic personality of Padmasambhava.
Students of early Tibetan history and thought will no doubt be grateful to Dr. Eva Dargyay for having undertaken this arduous task of unraveling the traditions and their intricate interrelationships, of one of the most fascinating ways of thinking.
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