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Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India

Taranatha's History of Buddhism in India
Item Code: IDC310
Author: Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788120834705
Pages: 525
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 0.6 kg
About the Book
Writers on the political history of India find themselves obliged to take note of Taranatha's History, no less than those writing the history of Indian literature and Indian logic, not to speak of the investigators of the history of Buddhism itself.

This English translation of Tarandtha's History of Buddhism in India belongs, indeed, to the class of finest translations of Tibetan works in English. The age-old tradition of Tibetan translation of treatises with one Pandit of the source language and one translator of the destination language and a third person for checking and editing has been faithfully preserved in the preparation of this work.

The present edition of the work has the additional attraction of carrying a Foreword to it by an eminent Tibeto-logist Professor S. Rinpoche, Director of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Samath, Varanasi.

About the Authors
PROF. LAMA CHIMPA, Head of Indo-Tibetan Studies, Visvabharati University, Santiniketan, is acknowledged as one of the foremost Tibetologists in India.

DR. MRS. ALAKA CHATTOPADHYAYA was until recently the principal of the Vidyasagar College of Women, Calcutta. She is the author of an highly acclaimed work based on Tibetan sources Atisa and Tibet.

DEBIPRASAD CHATTOPADHYAYAM (the editor) is M.A., D.Litt. of the Calcutta University, Honorary D.Sc. of the Moscow Academy of Sciences, Member of the German Academy of Sciences. Besides working as Visiting Professor at various universities, he is the author of a considerable number of works on Indian Philosophy and Science inclusive of many that are published abroad in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, German and other languages.

When I walk on snow-laden paths of hills my each footprint appears clear, deep and distinct through which I can trace my path back without effort. But after a while due to wind and fresh snowfall all traces of my footsteps are wiped out in the snow. The residue is what sticks to my imagination. It is the same with the study of history. Every episode in it howsoever realistic, does fade with the sweep of time and occurrences of new events. Surviving evidences largely depend on interpretation of the historian whose reason emanates from intellect and as such has the glaring weakness of limitations of one's mind which are conditioned by the present environment.

The general attitudes and outward expressions of men of our time cannot be similar to those of the primitive society or even of the preceding generations. Thus, the logic of today recalling the events of the past times with indecisive evidence's must surely be inaccurate in many ways.

The line of demarcation between history and legend is too thin to observe while writing; the two overlap each other unconsciously and unknowingly.

Faith and reason overpower each other throughout one's life, which results in contradiction, but the conflict never ceases in any sphere. As such, it is difficult to say if the author of a book of history is free from the influence of his faith in analysing the past.

I know many such persons who do not accept in their writings many episodes as historical in order to exhibit their rational mind and modern scholarship. But in the core of their hearts they believe the episodes in toto and do respect them. Such proclivities in authors are nothing short of dishonesty.

As we focus our vision on the historical perspective of our time interspersed with strong socio-economic bias of the historian for recording past events to suit their political ideologies, we can sense the real flaw in the cross currents of historical literature and that takes us into a land of phantasy.

In this situation I cannot claim Lama Taranitha to be free 7rom all those conditions which make me ponder, but I can un-hesitatingly say that his rationality and honesty to his own findings are beyond cavil, a thing which held him high in the assessment of his contemporaries. I entirely agree with V.P. Vasil'ev that the history of Taranatha is not history as such but history in the sense of a document that calls for further research in history. Straightway, this notion of an acute historiographer claims for specialisation in the field of an independent discipline. We should not be oblivious of the fact that Taranatha's work does not aim at revealing the past in the strict sense of a modern history, his work vouchsafes better and more clear understanding of the lineages and developments of the virtuous Buddhists with a view to strengthening the faith (araddha) in lineage of teachers as well as distinguishing the right lineages from the fake ones. We may thus assume the work to be a part or outcome of his own spiritual practices.

A reader of Taranatha's work should bear in mind that he is reading a Buddhist treatise composed by a great devotee of Buddha who earnestly wishes to intensify faith in the lineage. But at the same time a reader may find in it useful material for historical purposes also. With this approach one may succeed in evaluating the work of Taranatha in right perspective. It is also noteworthy that Taranatha made an attempt to keep the episodes at con-ventional level. Taranatha disavowed many well known legends specially with regard to the extraordinary length of the life-span of many personages and saw that the sequence of the lineages did not distort the chronology. But in one thing he remained an avowed Tibetan as he did not ignore or refute miracles (riddhi). He admitted the power of riddhi not as something supernatural but as perfectly natural. Such view is possible for a person who himself had possessed direct experience of it.

Lama Taranatha was the most suitable person of his age to write an account of the development of Buddhist teachings in India due to following reasons:

1) He was vitally interested in writing accounts of the past and the lives of personages of lineages.

2) He had mastery over Sanskrit and also knew some of the Indian dialects prevalent at that time.

3) He had moreover access to the authentic works of Pandits, viz. Kpmendrabhadra, Indradatta and Bhataghati.

For modern scholarship it would have been much better if Taranatha had translated all the source materials into Tibetan language instead of writing his account based on them. Besides, Thranatha has also not thrown any light on the lives of the Pandits from whose works he has freely drawn. So, neither can we trace the lives and works of those Pandits who are mentioned by him nor have we any access to their works.

In his autobiography called The Secret Biography Lama Taranatha records that without any formal instructions from any teacher he effortlessly acquired proficiency in various Indian languages. When he was just four years old, he overheard the conversation of Venerable Tenzin Ngawang with an Indian Zoki (Yogi) and he could understand the substance of it. He further says that because of his many previous births in India he had vivid recollection of geography and topography of the country and knowledge of various Indian languages since his childhood. At 16, he was prophesied by his personal deity (itsladera) that if he chose to go to Zanskar in Ladakh and Gar-Sha (presently in Himachal Pradesh) before he was twenty years old, he would accumulate merit to do immense service to the sentient beings. But since the prophecy remained unimplemented he thought his life work could not be so prolific. Further he tells that while in his twenties he once fell sick with constant bleeding through his nostrils for about three months. At that time in a dream he saw two Indian yogis. One of them named Jvalanatha gave him the name Taranatha. "Taranatha" is purely an Indian name. It does not correspond to his original Tibetan name.

Born in A.D. 1575, (= Anandagarbha), better known as Lama Tarandtha, wrote this work in 1608, i.e. at the age of 34, according to the Tibetan mode of calculating the age. This work is usually referred to as rGya-gar-chos-Thyuit, which means "the history of Buddhism in India". But the brief title Taranatha himself chose for it was dGos-'dod-kun-'byun, literally "that which fulfils all desires". The corrupt Indian form in which the name occurs in the title-page of its Potald edition (1946), namely Karya-kama-sarva-pravrtti-nama, is evidently intended to convey the same idea. Thus the history of Buddhism in India was for Taranatha something more than mere history.

It was also the rnahatmya of Buddhism : the account was intrinsically auspicious, so much so that it led to the fulfilment of all desires. But there is nothing extraordinary about this. As Vasil'ev (spelt Wassiljew in German) rightly remarks, historiography for the Buddhists had always been an important mode of propagating their creed.

In Tibetan writings Taranatha is usually mentioned as "Jo-nah. Taranatha" or "rje-btsun (= bhattaraka) Tarandtha of the Jo-nafi sect". Jo-nafi is the name of a place with a lofty caitya and a convent about a hundred miles to the north-west of the Tashi-lhun-po. The sect of Tibetan Buddhism which had Jo-nafi as its stronghold came to be known as the Jo-nafi-pa sect. The founder of this sect was Phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal (= Digvijay11, born in A.D. 1306. It appears that a pro-nounced enthusiasm for the Kalacakra Tantra constituted an important feature of its creed. Tarandtha himself, a later leader of the sect, was famous as an author of several works and "guide-books" (khrid-yid) on the Kalacakra doctrine, which Roerich wanted to analyse—a project unfortunately left unfinished by him.

The chief monastery of the Jo-nafi-pa sect—rTag-brtan-phun-tshogs-glifi (the perfect and eternally firm island)—had a printing establishment well-known in Tibet. The complete works of Taranatha were published by it. A copy of this is preserved in the Tsybikov Collection, Institute of the Peoples of Asia (now renamed as the Institute of Oriental Studies), USSR. A. I. Vostrikov gives us the following information about Taranatha's works from this collection.

The present history of Buddhism consisting of 143 folios is contained in the sixteenth volume of Taranatha's collected works, the same volume also containing in 70 folios the work (written in A.D. 1600) with the brief title bKa'-babs-bdun-ldan, translated into German by A. Griinwedel. The first volume of the collected works contains a detailed autobiography of Taranatha in 331 folios, the second volume contains a history of the Kalacakra system in 22 folios, the tenth volume contains a history of the Yamantaka Tantra in 74 folios (its colophon giving the date of the composition as A.D. 1631) and the twelfth volume contains a history of the cult of Tara in 20 folios. From these one can easily judge how voluminous a writer Taranatha was and in what constituted his main interest.

By courtesy of the Institute of the Peoples of Asia, Lenin-grad, I obtained a microfilm copy of the so-called "secret" biography (gsati-ba'i-rnam-thar) of Taranatha written by him-self : though brief, it is so full of the so-called mystic or occult experience and a quaint vision, that we had to give up our original idea of appending its translation to the present edition.

Such mystic stuff is not easy to translate and, if translated at all, would not make much sense for the modern reader. Inci-dentally, in Northern Mongolia (Urga) the incarnations of Lama Tarandtha are supposed to have resided even in recent times !

The original printing blocks of Taranatha's works were largely destroyed "during the persecution of the Jo-nan-pa sect in the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (&g-bdaft-blo-bzafi-rgya-mtsho : A.D. 1617-1682) in the first half of the 17th century A.D. The Karma-pa and the Jo-naft-pa sects supported the ruler of Tsai' [i.e. a central province of Tibet of which the chief city is Shiga-tse, adjoining which stands the grand monastery of Tashi-lhun-po, the seat of the Tashi. Lama] and thus incurred the enmity of Lhasa and of the dGe-lugs-pa sect [i e. the most dominant sect of Tibetan Buddhism usually referred to by the European authors as the Yellow Cap sect].

In the chief monastery of the (Jo-naft-pa) sect, rTag-brtan-phun-tshogs-glin, were preserved the printing blocks of the works of TEranatha. Many of the printing blocks were destroyed and the monastery itself was renamed [as dGa'-ldan-phun-tshogs-glift]."

Apparently, over two centuries later the Lhasa rulers realised that at least Taranatha's history of Buddhism in India was too precious to be allowed to remain out of circulation. Hence in 1946 a fresh edition of the work was prepared in Potala in 141 folios. The present translation follows mainly this edition, though it also takes note of the first letter-press edition of the Tibetan text published from St. Petersburg in 1868 as edited by A. Schiefner. There exists another letter-press edition of the work published from Varanasi in 1963 as edited by Chos-rje-bla-ma. This edition, however, appears to have been intended as a literal reproduction of the Potala edition of 1946.

Taranatha's History is surely one of the most widely discussed works in contemporary Indology. The modern scholars owe their information of it mainly to A. Schiefner and V. P. Vasil'ev. Their German and Russian translations of the work appeared from St. Petersburg in 1869. As to their mutual relation and the circumstances that led them to take up these translations, it is best to follow their own statements. These are to be found appended to the present work. Readers are moreover likely to find the introduction of Vasil'ev to Titranatha's History illuminating in many respects.

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