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Bsod-nams Rtse-mo. The Door Leading Into the Teaching [Соднам-Цзэмо. Дверь, ведущая в учение. Факсимиле текста]. Translated from Tibetan, with Foreword and Notes by Dr R.Krapivina. St Petersburg 1994. 224 p.


For many centuries, since the time of the Buddha Sakyamuni, Buddhist teaching has been an object of veneration, profound attention and study in many countries, both Buddhist and non-Buddhist. An outstanding example of this attitude to the Teaching of the Buddha is Tibet. The immense intellectual work which the Tibetans performed in the translation of Buddhist works culminated in the formation of the Tibetan canon — the Bka'-'gyur and Bstan-'gyur. Apart from translation there were other ways in which Buddhist teachings were transmitted from India and Nepal to Tibet. Some of these teachings even today are passed on only in oral form, others were expounded directly in the Tibetan language in the form of separate treatises, collections of works by individual authors or by a number of different authors.

The collection of writings by the five Great Teachers of the Sa-skya tradition — the Sa-skya-bka'-'bum — is one of the earliest compilations of literary material on Tibetan Buddhism and thus an important source for the understanding of the initial stages in the development of Buddhist literature and the study of the complex problem of the destiny of the Buddhist faith in lands outside India.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries Tibet became heir to the traditions of Indian Buddhism. Over the course of almost three centuries a process took place on Tibetan soil of adoption and development of the ideas and practice of Vajrayana, an inseparable part of the Mahayana tradition (yid. Dagyab, pp. 13-19). In general, it was precisely the transmission of Tantric teachings which led to the appearance in Tibet of various schools and tendencies. Thus, the translation into Tibetan of the “new” Hevajratantra (Toh. 417-418), the transmission and subsequent development based upon it of the teaching of The Path and Its Fruit (Lam-'bras) led to the formation of the Sa-skya school.

The Sa-skya school — one of the four most important traditions in Tibetan Buddhism — is not so well known to the world at large today, but in the eleventh and twelfth centuries it was the main driving force behind the adoption and development of the “new Tantras” — a new stage in the dissemination of the Teaching of the Buddha in Tibet. To this day the school retains exceptional authority for Buddhists due to the fact that its representatives, as in earlier times, preserve a balance between highly profound intellectual knowledge and its practical application.

The teachers of the Sa-skya tradition produced works on various questions of the Buddhist Teaching: logic, gnoseology, philosophy, grammar, lexicology, chronology, the history of various teachings and cults, and so on. These works took a wide range of forms: commentaries, subcommentaries, treatises, ritual texts, historical notes, abstracts, registers, lists, letters, hymns etc. A considerable part of these compositions relate to the Vajrayana. Another group of texts is dedicated to the support and development of the Sutra tradition.

In Tibetan Buddhism there has always been and remains today a circle of questions common to all its forms and schools. Traditionally these common questions are considered the object of initial acquaintance with Buddhism both for Tibetans and for other peoples. Representative of such Literature in the Sa-skya-bka'-'bum is the work called Chos-la 'jug-pa'i-sgo (The Door Leading Into the Teaching) which represents an introduction to Buddhism. Its author was Bsod-nams Rtse-mo (1142-1182), the second hierarch of the Sa-skya tradition.

The Door Leading Into the Teaching is one of the first works on Mahayana Buddhism written in Tibetan. It contains, in extremely laconic form, themes which subsequently shaped texts of the lam-rim class and also issues of the history and chronology of the Buddhist Teaching, which later became the prerogative of the historic treatises of the chos-'byung class. Its time of writing — the year 1167 — places it within the long period of the formation of a scholarly philosophical language in Tibet which is connected with the activities of Tibetan teachers from Rin-chen Bzang-po (958-1055) to Bu-ston Rin-chen-grup (1290-1364). The place of writing was the Na-la-rtse monastery in the Central Tibetan province of Gtsang, where the lands of the Sa-skya lay.

The Door Leading Into the Teaching is written briefly and in a popular manner. The work consists of introductory and concluding verses and seven separate, but logically connected sections.

In the first section (ff. 263v - 266v) Bsod-nams Rtse-mo introduces the readers to the fundamental concepts and themes of Buddhism: samsara, nirvana, karma and birth, the path and result, the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, the absolute and relative truth, and the skandhas which make up the pseudo-real “ego”, as well as presenting us with a view of the pre-Buddhist world of ancient India.

The second section devoted to the practical part of the Teaching (ff. 266v - 273v) gives a conception of the object of the Teaching, i.e. the sutras and sastras, of the approach to the study of the Buddhist Teaching and, in that context, of the characteristics of Teacher and pupil.

In the third part (ff. 273r - 30 lr) we are acquainted with the canonical conception of how Buddhist Teaching appeared in the world, with the basic versions of Tibetan literature regarding the coming of Buddhas; we learn of various traditions in the interpretation of the life-story of the Buddha Sakyamuni, which the author conveys to us following the traditions of two sutras - the Lalitavistara (Toh. 95) and the Nirvanasutra (Toh. 120).

It is obvious that The Door Leading Into the Teaching belongs to the Mahayana tradition. In Mahayana philosophical teaching there are two trends: the doctrine of “the emptiness of the external world” (spyi'-don-yul stong-pa-nyid, bahya-artha-sunyata in Sanskrit), that is to say the philosophical system of the Yogacara school (in Tibetan Rnal-'byor-spyod) founded by Aryasanga (fourth — fifth century A.D.) and the doctrine of emptiness as the nature of all things (chos-thams-cad-kyi-stong-pa-nyid, sarva-dharma-sunyata in Sanskrit), that is the philosophical system of Madhyamika (Dbu-ma) school, founded by Nagarjuna (second century A.D.). In the third section of The Door Leading Into the Teaching, Bsod-nams Rtse-mo presents, mainly through the Uttaratantra (Toh. 4024), his own philosophical position of adherence to the Madhyamika.

The following sections of the text are not marked by the author, but separate internally from each other by their content. They are devoted to an exposition of the history of Buddhism. The most extensive of them is the fourth section (ff. 301r - 311r) — the history of Buddhist assemblies. Bsod-nams Rtse-mo's account is entirely based on the text of the Vmaya-ksudraka (Toh. 6) and in no way differs (except for its terseness) from the presentation of the history of assemblies in subsequent Tibetan literature. The fifth part of the composition (ff. 311r - 312r) is a history of the spread of Buddhism in India. It includes a list of the names of famous teachers in the history of Buddhism and the names of the philosophical schools which they founded or to which they belonged. The sixth section of the text (ff. 312r - 314v) gives a very brief account of the history of Buddhism in Tibet. It is a summary of names and events from the time of King Lha-tho-tho-ri (fourth century AD).) to the beginning of the twelfth century — the age of the celebrated Blo-rtan Shes-rab, the translator of many Buddhist wrote from Sanskrit into Tibetan, and ottei lateavst-tiansJatara.

The first person to write of the significance of the chronological digression in The Door Leading Into the Teaching was Andrei Vostrikov (Vostrikov 1962, pp. 77-78). To date this work remains the most ancient of the Tibetan texts known to us which include a special chronological examination of the start and end dates for the existence of the Buddhist teaching — bstan-rtsis.

The aim of such reckonings was simply to determine the date of the Nirvana of the Buddha, and not extensive chronological investigation. But the date used as a basis for the determination of the date of the Nirvana, subsequently began to be employed to fix the dates of historical events.

Chronolocical roll-calls of the teachers of the Sa-skya school represent one of the most well known trends in Tibetan chronology and are quite often quoted in later Tibetan literature. Members of the Sa-skya school date the Nirvana to the twenty-second century B.C. According to the chronological model of the Sa-skya school (f. 316r 4) 2955 years passed between the Nirvana of the Buddha and one of the most important events in Tibetan history — the conclusion in 822 of a peace treaty between Tibet and China. Translated into the European scheme of time the date of the Nirvana thus corresponds to 3134 B.C. Dates in The Door Leading Into the Teaching are given according to the sixty-year cycle which was customarily used in China and Tibet. It is this very work which contains evidence of the coincidence of the Tibetan cycle with the Chinese one (3l5r 5), a feature which was in its time the subject of discussion in Tibetological literature (Pelliot, pp. 646-648; Vostrikov 1962, pp. 82-85).

Like the preceding sections of the text the chronological digression is characterized by extreme brevity, which has led to a considerable number of suggested variants and unidentified place-names in the translation.

In introducing into scholarly circulation a work belonging to the Sa-skya school, we considered it vital to acquaint the reader with the story of the family, traditions and school of Sa-skya, presenting this tradition in relation to general Tibetan historiography, using all sources on the history of Sa-skya available to us.

Two works by Tibetan authors and historiographers have preserved a list of writings on the history of the Sa-skya: the Deb-ther-rgya-mtsho (yid. MIFTsA, Instalment 1, pp. 177, 203), written in 1865 by Brag-dgon Zhab-drung Dgon-mchog-bstan-pa-rab-rgyas, the 49th abbot of Labrang Monastery, and the List of Certain Rare Books (Dbe-rgyun-dkon-ba-'ga'-zhig-gi-tho-yig, ff. 5v 6 - 6r 1) which forms part of the collected works of its author — the famous Akhu-rin-po-che Shes-rab-rgya-mtsho (1803-1875) (Vostrikov 1962, p. 16). In both lists eight genealogies of the Sa-skyas are cited. The lists are almost identical, differing only in the name of one author and the order in which the works are given. We did not manage to find a single one of the genealogies mentioned in the repositories of Tibetan literature to which we have access.

One of the most ancient family genealogies in Tibetan historical literature is the genealogy of the Sa-skyas compiled in 1206 by the Third Hierarch of the school Grags-pa Rgyal-mtshan and presented in the Letter to the King of Ga-ring (Ga-ring rgyal-po la rtsis bsdur-du btang-ba' i yi-ge in S.G.,Vol. nya, ff. 209v - 211r).* Besides this our account of the history of the family and tradition are based on Tibetan historical writings in which the history of Sa-skya is presented in connection with the general history of the spread of Buddhism or the secular political history of Tibet. These are the Deb-ther sngon-po (1476) of Gos Lotsava Yid-bsang-rtse-ba Gzhon-nu-dpal in the translation by Yury Roerich (vid. BA) and the Rgyal-ba lnga-pa'i deb-ther — the Annals of the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngag-dbang Blo-bzang Rgya-mtsho (1617-1682) where, in the section on the history of Sa-skya (V D-l, ff. 53v 3 - 61r 4), the Fifth Dalai Lama quotes the genealogy of the Sa-skyas compiled by Chos-rje Dkon-mchog Lhun-grub (V D-l, f. 53v 6) which appears in the lists of the Sa-skya genealogies mentioned above.

One further source from which it was possible to glean evidence not available elsewhere was the Hor Chos-'byung — a work well known to scholars on the history of Buddhism in Mongolia which was compiled in 1819 by Gu-shri Blo-bzang-tshe-'phal (Vostrikov 1962, p. 101). It has been published and translated into German by G.H. Hut (vid. Hor Chos-'byung).

The only source of its kind, a sort of compilation, for the study of the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism is the historical-philosophical composition known by the abbreviated title Grub-mtha' Shel-gyi Me-long (The Crystal Mirror of Tenets) (see the Bibliography section). This work belongs to the late period of Tibetan historiography, dating from 1801, just before the death of its author, Thu'u-bkwan Blo-bzang Chos-kyi Nyi-ma (1737-1802) (Vostrikov 1962, p. 97), the abbot of Dgon-lung Byams-pa-gling monastery in Amdo. Andrei Vostrikov made a short description of this work (Vostrikov 1962, pp. 97-98). It has frequently attracted the attention of European scholars; separate chapters have been translated and researched (vid. Vasilyev 1885; S.Ch. Das, MSB, 1881-82; Hoffman; Chattopadhyaya 1967; Ruegg, JAOS, 1963; Tachikawa 1974). The Sa-skya chapter in the Sde-dge edition of theGrub-mtha' Shel-gyi Me-long takes up sixteen woodcut folios of the usual Tibetan long forn- at — from f. 75v 1 to f. 91r 6. The chapter is made of three parts: 1) a brief history of the Sa-skya school; 2) a brief history of tradition of the school's basic doctrine — The Path and Its Fruit; and 3) an introduction to the philosophical doctrine of the school. We used the first two parts.

Other works available to us are referred to in the footnotes and listed in the Bibliography. They include a book on the history of the Sa-skya tradition written in Tibetan by the head of the Tsar tradition, Bco-brgyad Khri-chen Rin-po-che and subsequently translated into French and English; a work by the Sa-skya scholar Amipa Shes-rab Rgyal-mtshan on the Sa-skya school (vid. Amipa 1976); the book by Cassinelly and Ekwall on the political organization of the Sa-skya lands; Musashi Tachikawa's valuable article on the Sa-skya Tantric doctrine (vid. Tachikawa, AA, pp. 95-105).

This publication presents a fully annotated translation of the Chos-la 'Jug-pa'i Sgo. The translation of the Tibetan Buddhist text is difficult since its creation was bound up with and determined by the influence of Indian Buddhist culture which had a language and origins of its own. Besides this, any Buddhist text, including those in Tibetan, depends on a general cultural and philosophical level, in terms of content and style, on canonical Buddhist literature and consequently assumes the reader is familiar with it. For both translator and reader our degree of familiarity with the canonical Tibetan literature falls considerably short of the ideal, since the number of important Buddhist works translated into Russian and other languages is exceptionally small and reviews are also practically non-existent. For this reason we have been obliged in the translation instead of identifying quotations to limit ourselves to identifying the titles of works and indicating their number in the well known catalogue of the Buddhist canon drawn up by the University of Tohoku. Where possible we tried to identify Tibetan terms, titles and names and this is reflected in the Commentary. The present provisional nature of Russian Buddhist terminology, which is still in the process of formation, must be taken into account. For this reason and because many Buddhist technical terms are becoming increasingly familiar to the reader translations into European languages and can be found in their original Sanskrit form in foreign and Russian dictionaries, we have left such words as bodhisattva, nirvana, tathagata and karma untranslated.

In such cases in the work where it was necessary to cite a Tibetan text it has been given in Latin alphabet transliteration following Turell Wylie's system (vid. T. Wylie 1961). The translation of Tibetan words follows Andrei Vostrikov (vid. Vostrikov 1962). This variety of pronunciation, termed mongolized, is common to the present day among the lamas of Buryatia where the translator obtained material and consultations.

The translator consider it her duty to express her gratitude to her teachers in Tibetology — Jimba-Jamtso Erdyneyev, Sherab Gomboyev, Boris Semichov, Boris Pankratov and Broneslav Kuznetsov, to the research workers of St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Valeri Rudoi and Andrei Paribok for consultations on Buddhism and Sanskrit, and to many other people who willingly or unwillingly helped the translator to continue her studies of the Tibetan language and her work on texts. The translator is obliged to the editor of the publishing house, Yelena Kharkova, for her assistance in compiling the indices.

Raisa Krapivina


Аннотация, От издательства, Предисловие, Foreword, Содержание


Bsod-nams Rtse-mo
Chos-la \'jug-pa\'i-sgo
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan literature

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