The Legs bshad mdzod, which is here edited and translated into English for the first time, is a history of Tibetan religious known as Bon. It gives a full account of this ancient religion, its origins and development, its struggles against the later imported Buddhism, and its fight for survival in spite of persecution and even abolition on two occasions. The reassembly of the scriptures dispersed at these times is major object of attention. In his introduction the editor makes an assessment of the historical value of the work and considers the extent of its reliability and factual accuracy. He has also, here and in the footnotes to the translation, indicated its sources which are extremely numerous and varied. The transliteration of the Tibetan text is followed by two indices of names and a short glossary of rare terms.
About the Author:
SANTEN GYALTSEN KARMAY is Directeurde Recherche at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris and a member of Laboratorie d'ethnologie et de sociologic comparative, Universite de Paris-x. He is President of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS).
This volume is a partial translation of the Tibetan text, Legs-bshad-mazod, a history of the Bon religion which its adherents claim to be a pre-Buddhist system of beliefs in Tibet and which has survived many persecutions and still covered large parts of the country up to the occupation by Communist China in 1959.
Its characteristic outlook, probably indigenous to Tibet, and somewhat dissimilar to the atheism of Buddhism, aroused interest in European scholars as early as i88o when A. Schiefner published Day weisse Naga Hunderttausend. He was later followed by A. H. Francke who translated parts of the gZer-mig, A Book of the Tibetan Bonpos, a text of considerable importance. Further, in 1950 H. Hoffmann produced Quellen zur Geschichte der tibetischen Ron-Religion whose sources are, however, mainly accounts made by Tibetan Buddhists from their point of view.
Personal contacts between Bonpos, the followers of Bon, and European scholars were made only after the flow of Tibetan refugees into India in 1959. This has made large quantities of new material available to scholars who have the means and time to embark on thorough investigation. In 1961 Dr. D. L. Snellgrove took a special interest by inviting a couple of Bonpos from India, with whose assistance he surveyed the whole range of the religion at first-hand, allowing the Bonpos to express what they knew about their own religion. The result was the publication of The Nine Ways of Bon in 1967. This remarkable work is invaluable for students of Bon in so far as doctrinal studies are concerned, but it does not deal with the historical development of Bon as conceived by the Bonpos themselves. It would, therefore, now be desirable to prepare a full account of this, but such a work would require a vast amount of material which at present is beyond access. Nevertheless, it was with this in mind that I felt it would be useful to students of the subject if—as a start—one single account of the developments of Bon from the beginning up to the present, as prepared by the Bonpos themselves, were translated into English.
I acknowledge my great debt of gratitude to Professor R. A.
Stein through whose help I was able to obtain a microfilm of the Tibetan text belonging to the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient Paris and to Dr. D.L. Snellgrove who generously placed his private library at my disposal. The advice and encouragement they both gave me during my work was invaluable.
I am also much indebted my warmest to Mr. H.E. Richardson who lent me several Tibetan texts allowing me to keep them for a considerable time.
I would like to express my warmest thanks to Prof. D.C. Twitchett and Prof. W. Simon who both gave me advice and made suggestions.
My thanks are also due to Dr. J.D. Moores without whose kindness and generous help the English of the book would have been much less smooth.
My acknowledgments would not be complete without mention of my Tibetan colleagues. Abbot Sangye Tenzin Jongdong who supplied me with a number of Tibetan texts and Lopon Tenzin Namdak who helped me to identify many of the place names which I have put on the map the preparation of which I owe to Mr. P. Denwood who also checked the proofs of the English translation. I must also express my thanks to Mr. E.D. Grinstead then librarian at the British Museum and to the central research fund of London University.
Finally I would like to record m gratitude to the school of oriental and African studies in the University of London where this work has been done and through whose support including the kind co-operation of Mr. J.R. Bracken the Secretary its publication has been made possible.
The legs-bshad rin-po-che I mdzod dpyod-idan dga-ba i-char the precious treasury of Good sayings pleasant rain for the wise) presents what is known among bon po histories as bs tan-byung a class of works which in their most comprehensive forms cover the history of all Tibetan religion. The author Grub dbang bkra shis rgyal mtshan dri-med mdzod-lnga (the five treasuries) one of which is this work and he defines it as Bon gyi byung khungs ston pa gtso-bo legs bshad-mdzod (the treasury of good sayings that fully reveals the origin of bon).
Bkra-shis rgyal-mtshan tells us that the work was begun in the year water male dog (chu-pho-khyi, 1922) whilst he ws expounding his work sde-snod-mdzod (the Treasury of Scriptures) to a group of his disciples and there are some parts where the material is rather carelessly arranged as if he left it to his pupils to read the sources and collect the information for him. He was born in Shar-rdza a district in Khams in 1859 and died in 1935 he is believed to have left no body behind when the died as a result of having practiced the teachings of rDzogs-pa chen-po and thus he is referred to as ja-lus-pa indeed he was an ardent follower of the rdzogs-pa chen-po and is admired for his work, the dByings-rig-mdzod (the Treasury of Knowledge of the Celestial Sphere) which is an intensive study of the rDzogs-pa chen-po. Thus he became very widely known not only among Bon-pos but also in some Buddhist circles. He is the only Bon-po scholar who ever had pupils from the Yellow Hat sect. His Legs-bshad-nulzod, on the other hand, has not attracted so much interest among Tibetans owing to their customary lack of concern about historical problems. It is, however, an invaluable work since no other writer has surveyed so thoroughly the various records of the origins and early development of Bon. Moreover, bKra-shis rGyal-mtshan attempts to cover the whole range of l3on-po history from the earliest times to his own day. I know of no other work equal to this in scope among Bon-po histories.
Although the author does not attempt to establish a firm chronology of events, he has arranged his material in roughly historical sequence. Many pages of the work contain long lists of religious teachers, and their birth-places, monasteries, and hermitages are sometimes mentioned. From this it is clear that bKra-shis rGyal-mtshan consulted a large number of Bon-po works. However, although he usually indicates the sources of his information, in some places he simply incorporates passages into his work without mentioning their origin. Sometimes there is obscurity due probably to imperfect understanding of his sources, and many of the names in his lists are otherwise unidentifiable and their authenticity may be open to question. His main sources were general historical works and individual biographies, a small number of which are available in printed editions, but many existed only in manuscript form in Tibet, and outside they are completely inaccessible. This explains why I have been unable to identify many of the passages quoted in the work. The style of writing often differs from one page to another since the unacknowledged quotations are extensive, and the resulting obscurity scarcely permits a sure translation in some places. But, çf course, the more inaccessible the sources, the greater the value of the work to European historians. Defects in our author’s method are less important than the presentation of new material.
The first edition was taken from printing blocks made by the
author’s disciple Khod-po sKal-bzang rGyal-mtshan in Shar-rdza in Khams. It contains 274 folios and the printing is very distinct. A copy is preserved in the ecole Francaise d’extreme orient paris. The present work is entirely based on that copy.
Language & Literature (437)
Sacred Sites (103)
Tantric Buddhism (85)
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