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Two important Tibetan manuscripts : the Prajñ?p?ramit? and the Expiation of Broken Vows
Two rare and significant Tibetan manuscripts. (1) Large Prajñ?p?ramit? (Perfection of Wisdom) Text. Tibet : unknown maker : sixteenth century. Measurements : 755 x 210 x 190 mm The title of the book in English is: The Perfection of Wisdom in One Hundred Thousand Verses. In Sanskrit it is: ?atas?hasrik? Prajñ?p?ramit? S?tra. In Tibetan it is: Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa ’bum. The text is written in Tibetan and this particular work is the largest of the cycle of literature known as ‘Perfection of Wisdom’. The earliest version of these writings is that in 8,000 verses, and the most abbreviated is the well known ‘Heart S?tra’. It is said that the ultimately most abbreviated version might be considered to be the letter ‘A’ which is the primeval sound of outgoing breath. The literature known as Perfection of Wisdom was originally written in Sanskrit in India between the 1st century BCE and the 4th century CE. The Perfection of Wisdom literary corpus deals with the nature of ultimate wisdom and usually takes the form of a dialogue between the Buddha ??kyamuni (the Buddha of our world age), several of his disciples and various bodhisattvas, those who reject enlightenment to aid in the welfare of sentient beings. The literature discusses the nature of emptiness, how to live in a world of apparent reality but in fact ultimate unreality, the development of the 6 transcendental perfections and the ultimate evanescent and ever-changing ‘reality’ of the world. These texts were to be found in shorter or larger versions, in almost every Tibetan household and tent as well as in many recensions, some manuscript, some xylographed, in every temple. Certainly in one or other version, it is the most commonly found book in the Tibetan cultural world. As such it is revered, not only for its content which most Tibetans cannot understand, but for its talismanic value. Hence a copy (hand written, xylographed or printed) may be placed on the altar of every home as a protection against various misfortunes. The colophon to this particular edition is instructive in this regard. Translated, it says: 'The appropriate repository of offerings is the Fully Perfected Buddha, the most complete paths of perfection are the holy teachings of Buddhism and the chief followers of these are the noble order of monks. I pay my homage to these three focal points of refuge.Oh, this most perfect and holy s?tra (religious text) profound as it is, is the very root of all virtuous activity. The patrons (of the writing of this text) are the father, the uncles and the mother and children of this family (un-named) and may (as a result of this meritorious activity) their present lives be suffused with happiness and joy and may they in their later life be born in the heavenly western paradise realm of Sukh?vat?. We pray for the poor deceased beings as well as for their life power that it might be increased 200,000 fold and that this might also be so throughout time and throughout the three realms of existence and be so for all sentient creatures. This (text) is the sole medicine for the sufferings of creatures. These sweetly melodious words of the doctrine are worshipped and may they prevail throughout all time!' The writing of the text then was sponsored by a pious lay family for the welfare of others and of themselves. We do not have a name or date for this sponsorship, nor even a location for either the family or the place where the text was written. The text is unfortunately incomplete. The first 5 Tibetan folio pages out of the 339 pages of the whole manuscript are missing. It is on these first pages that we would expect to discover illustrations of various deities who would act as a small part of the theophany who in some manner or other ‘inspire’ the book. We would expect to find the Buddha, Mañju?r? (deity of wisdom) the goddess Prajñ?p?ramit? herself (deity of transcendental wisdom) and perhaps some narrative scenes from the Buddha’s life at the extreme left and right hand sides of the first 5 pages. Clearly these have been removed for separate sale due to their high resale value. One might also expect to find other illustrations of wrathful protector deities, whose function was to scare off malignant spirits who might otherwise harm the work, on the very last page but the text is complete down to the colophon without such illustrations.Page 28 appears to be missing. Page 29 has been damaged and repaired. Perhaps the missing p. 28 was damaged beyond repair. Charming examples of ‘running repairs’ by stitching ripped sections with wool or cotton thread are to be found on pages 137, 161 and 316.Page 30 shows signs of being used as a talisman with yellow dots and daubs apparent.Scribal errors are few but we did note one in the pagination: there are 2 pages with the same number, 107.From an analysis of the writing we are of the opinion that because of the lack of all archaic orthographic and calligraphic features the manuscript was written in about the mid to late 16th century. Despite the antiquity and archaic style of expression of the original perfection of Wisdom corpus, Tibetans have maintained all those features throughout the centuries. From the paper thickness (composite daphne bark made into a water based mash, sun dried vertically when thickened) it is more than likely that the paper was made in southern Tibet where such bark was easily available. The addition of aconite (monkshood or wolfsbane) to the paper protected it from depradations of insects but meant that readers needed to wash their hands after using the book or suffer the debilitating results. The paper when dried, was coated with a soot based compound which blackened the page and to the central area was added a similar compound to which was added an oil to give a gloss. The page was then ready to receive the calligraphy. The writing is exceptionally fine in quality and shows that the scribe was able to read what he wrote. When this is not the case there are certain words which are constantly a problem but this is not the case in this work. The lines are written in a combination of silver and gold ink (both being colloidal, that is mixed with oil and binders) with the 4th line down being in gold. The silver has barely oxidised suggesting that the book was kept largely unopened and used as a talisman. Pages are numbered carefully on the extreme left hand side of the recto side. The verso side is unpaginated. So what we refer to as a book in 339 pages would in the west be a book in 678 pages. The wooden cover does not to be of the same age as the manuscript. It seems to be a century or so later. The top cover is edged with sacred writing in the decorative Sanskrit script known as Lantsa and appears to be the mantra (powerful magically potent words) of the Perfection of Wisdom deity herself. The florettes in the centre of the cover are purely decorative. At their interstices are the so called ‘Eight Auspicious Symbols.’ These emblems are the wheel of Buddhist teachings, the endless knot of friendship, lotus of purity, fishes of deathlessness, the royal umbrella, the conch shell with sweet sound, the vessel containing long life elixir and a victory banner of Buddhism’s victory.At one end of the front cover is seen the face of a Makara, a sea monster who gives water and fruition to earth, and the Buddha forms of (left to right) ??kyamuni Buddha, Amitabha (paradise realm protector) Amitay?s (bestower of long life) and another ??kyamuni. (2) Smaller book on the Expiation of Broken Vows. Mongolia : unknown maker : eighteenth century. Measurements: 330 x 105 x 80 mm. Four miniatures, complete. The title of the book in English is: The Fivefold Method of Appeasing Transgressions Against One’s Tantric Vows : The Tantra of All Confessions, known as ‘The Stainless King.’ In Sanskrit it is: Samaya sarva bi ti a nu sarva sa ni tantra vimalaraja nama/ In Tibetan it is: Dam tshig thams cad kyi nyams chags bskong ba’i lung lnga / bshags pa thams cad kyi rgyud dri ma med pa’i rgyal po zhes bya ba/ The contents of this text are of prime importance. It is a text inextricably connected with the Tibetan beliefs in the after-death processes which are experienced by the consciousness of the deceased. Its special focus is on the confession of sins and broken vows, both of which hinder the passage of the deceased’s consciousness into a new rebirth. The work is divided into 16 sections which themselves are of interest in defining the type of book to hand. These are (in extremely brief form): - Forward and opening discussion. - Confession of one’s adherence to the Mah?y?na path. - Confession of sins and mental pollutions and their purification. - Confession of Transgression Against the Wisdom deities. - Confession of all Tantric Vows One Has Broken. - Confession of the 28 Tantric Vows - Confession of Transgression Against the Perfect Vajra (adamantine) State. - Confession of Transgression Against the Wisdom Bestowing (Female) Deities. - Confession of Transgression Against the State of ‘Things As They Really Exist.’ - Confession of Transgression Against the Wrathful Blood-Drinking Deities. - Confession of Transgression Against Coveting the Miserable State of Demon Rudra. - Confession of Transgression Against Breaking Tantric Empowerments and Teachings. - Confession of Transgression Against the (Correct) Views of the Path of Liberation. - Confession of Transgression Against the Power of the Method (of Liberation.) - Confession of Transgression Against the Exclusivity of the Goal of Fruition (of Good Deeds) - Final Blessings, Thanksgiving and Rejoicing. The book was originally written in the 8th century by the Indian abbot Vimalamitra who visited Tibet in the mid-period of his life. The work was translated into Tibetan by the Tibetan translator Nyags Jñ?nakumara. These details are to be found on the colophon on the last page. It is the sort of text which demonstrates eloquently the tensions which remained in Tibet between the remnants of local cultic practices and the newly introduced religion of Buddhism. The Tibetan Nyags Jñ?nakumara’s family were among the very first Tibetans to become Buddhist and many unresolved issues remained. This text attempts to detail the temptations to an individual to treat Buddhism less than respectfully. Such temptations might have arisen in the practice of the new religion and the text basically demonstrates the correct rituals to overcome those sins. The breaking of tantric vows is indeed a most serious issue and having sworn to uphold them for life, one is simply not able to abandon them lightly without massive retaliation from wrathful deities. These wrathful deities were in many cases pre-Buddhist local Tibetan malignant spirits who were sworn to uphold and protect Buddhism in exchange for their lives being spared by Buddhist masters and their revenge against vow breakers is said to be horrific. Unlike the previous text discussed, this is not a work which was created as a ‘merit earner’ or as a talisman to be possessed, but never used. Its high quality and good condition might tend to suggest two things: that it was created for a major death ceremony ritual for a fairly prominent person and that after the ceremony, it was placed in a storeroom for posterity. The text is complete in 107 pages with no pages missing and it has no damage whatsoever.The first two pages and the last contain illustrations. On the first page we see ??kyamuni Buddha on the left and Vajrasattva (Unswervable Spirit) on the right. Vajrasattva is the iconographic form of the very nature of Enlightenment itself. He is emblematic of the state which ??kyamuni himself attained in the 6th century B.C.Page two depicts on the left Mañju?r? the deity representing Wisdom and Avalokite?vara, the deity of Compassion. This shows, in iconographic form, that the text is deeply informed by wisdom and its composition is motivated by compassion. On the last page are represented two st?pas, one of which (the right hand side one) is of the type said to be for interment of the dead, which in the context of the book is apposite indeed.These first two pages are written and painted on a blue lapis lazuli background which has retained its lustre marvellously, whereas the pictures at the end are painted on a black background. The state of the blue suggests that the document was at some stage, preserved in a store house or library, well wrapped in silk as is customary.As with the above example of the Perfection of Wisdom text, the paper is made of daphne bark and has been treated in the same manner. The text is written in alternating lines of gold and silver. The quality of calligraphy is very good but the letters are only marginally less well formed as the earlier text.The text does not state anything about its composition other than the initial 8th century author and translator’s names, as mentioned above. The scribe’s name is not mentioned. From the style of painting and the method of inserting the illustrations under the written surface via paper stick-down lugs, this document most likely emanates from Mongolia and is probably an 18th century manuscript. Mongols were among the most numerous foreign presences in Tibetan monasteries and almost all Mongols who were literate worked equally fluently in either their local Mongol tongue or Tibetan. Indeed, most religious documents found in Mongolia are written in Tibetan. In much the same manner that Tibetans held Sanskrit in awe as the language of the gods, so too Mongols held Tibetan in deep admiration.The covers are plain wood, painted in cinnabar red, now largely worn. Cinnabar as a colouring agent in Tibet was largely employed on texts that dealt with the propitiation of wrathful deities and so such a colour is entirely appropriate here. This manuscript is in superb condition and contains intrinsically interesting material rarely found in the market. We are grateful for the assistance of Dr. David Templeman of the Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, in cataloguing these works.
      [Bookseller: Douglas Stewart Fine Books]
Last Found On: 2011-10-21           Check availability:      Direct From Bookseller    


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