Pseudepigrapha in the Tibetan Buddhist Canonical Collections

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  • Pseudepigrapha in the Tibetan Buddhist CanonicalCollections: The Case of the Carymelpakapradpa

    Commentary Attributed to kyamitra1

    Christian K. WedemeyerUniversity of Chicago Divinity School

    Abstract: This paper examines the nature of the Tibetan Buddhist canonicalcollections with particular attention to the issues raised by the presence of asigniicant number of pseudepigrapha (falsely attributed works, including manypenned by Tibetans) in the Bstan gyurs. A detailed case is made for one particularworkthe commentary on ryadevas Lamp that Integrates the Practices(Carymelpakapradpa) attributed to kyamitrabeing of Tibetan authorship,and an attempt is made to identify its author. On the basis of this evidence and thewritings of Bu ston rin po che (1290-1364) concerning the policies followed inediting the canonical collections, it is argued that these corpora cannot beconsidered canonical in the sense of being intended to serve as criteria forreligious authenticity. Rather, the Bstan gyur in particular is characterized by anad hoc nature, a deference to precedent regarding inclusion of works of dubiousprovenance, and a drive toward inclusivityaiming for comprehensiveness, ratherthan authority.

    IntroductionIt is common in literate cultures that works by highly esteemed authors come tobear exceptional authority therein and that these works are consequently invoked,cited, paraphrased, and alluded to in order to marshall some degree of their authorityin the service of novel projects. In such circumstances it is no less commonplacefor entirely new works to be composed and attributed to such authors, long aftertheir decease. Thus, for instance, in the centuries after his passing, numerous

    1 This research was irst delivered to the XIVth Conference of the International Association ofBuddhist Studies, London, England, 2 September 2005. I would like to thank the members of that bodyfor their hospitality and constructive criticism. Profs. Matthew Kapstein and David Seyfort Ruegg, inparticular, contributed very helpful insights.

    Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 5 (December 2009): 1-31. 2009 by Christian K.Wedemeyer, Tibetan and Himalayan Library, and International Association of Tibetan Studies.Distributed under the THL Digital Text License.

  • dialogues were composed and attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato. Likewise,after the death of the Apostle, Pauline letters continued to be penned andcirculated throughout the Mediterranean region. Examples could be multiplied.

    Such novel attributions, or pseudepigrapha, have met with mixed successhistorically. Some have had the good fortune of being accepted quite widely asequally authoritative as the genuine products of those authors; others have beentreated as merely derivative sources, while some have been rejected entirely. Aswith all fortunes, those of literary works rise and fall over time: as, for example,in the case of Alcibiades I, a major Platonic dialogue seemingly universallyaccepted as authentic until the early nineteenth century, since which time it hasgenerally been treated as spurious (and excluded from collections of theDialogues)until recent decades have again seen it accepted by many scholars as a genuinework of Plato.2

    In the Tibetan Buddhist canonical collections, of course, there are numerouscases of pseudepigraphy, although the phenomenon in its own right has not receiveda great deal of scholarly attention. On the whole, notice of pseudepigrapha in theTibetan Buddhist canons has been limited to cases wherein Buddhist esoteric, orTantric, works have been attributed to high-proile authors of early Universal Way(Mahyna) scholasticism. Only quite recently does one begin to ind modernskepticism of Tibetan canonical translations based uponmore reined criteriasuchas close reading of the works themselvesand attendant inquiry into the natureof authority and canonicity in the Tibetan literary world.

    The issues raised by the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy become especiallyacute when considered alongside those concerning canonicity. The degree to whichthe Bka gyurs and Bstan gyurs may be considered canonical collections inthe strong sense is in large degree dependent upon their treatment ofpseudepigrapha. Recent work on these Tibetan scriptural collections qua canonshas focused largely on the issue of ixedness or closure. While this is undoubtedlyan important issue and an element in some notions of canon, canons are mostessentially about authority and authenticity: as, for instance, in theOxford EnglishDictionary deinition 2c, to wit, a standard of judgement or authority; a test,criterion, means of discrimination. The other deinitions provided are all variantson this basic theme: so, one reads of canon in the sense of law, rule, edict, andso forth. The operative deinition in our casethat of a canon of literary worksissimilarly a variant of the basic sense of authority: 4. The collection or list of booksof the Bible accepted by the Christian Church as genuine and inspired. Also transf.,

    2 Alcibiades I was included in Thrasyllus early-irst-century-C.E. edition of Platos works and wasaccepted until Friedrich Schleiermacher irst disputed this attribution in the Introduction to his Germantranslation of it. See, for example, the comments of Nicholas Denyer in his Introduction to Plato,Alcibiades, ed. Nicholas Denyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 14-26; see also, J.M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson, eds., Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis/Cambridge: HackettPublishing Company, 1997), viii-x; and Freidrich Schleiermacher, Schleiermachers Introductions tothe Dialogues of Plato, trans. William Dobson (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1992 [1836]), 328-336.

    2Wedemeyer: Pseudepigrapha in the Tibetan Buddhist Canonical Collections

  • any set of sacred books; also, those writings of a secular author accepted asauthentic.3

    This notion of canon as a signiier of authenticity has not been entirely neglectedin discussions of the Tibetan Buddhist collections. Much has been made, in bothindigenous andWestern writings, of the exclusion of certain Rnying ma scripturesfrom the Bka gyurs, on the basis of a lack of conidence in their Indic pedigree.4We do not propose to engage that discussion here, however. In what follows, wewill instead consider the case of the collections of translated stras (the Bstangyurs) in which it will be seen that a concern for authenticity was in fact in playin the redactional process, though it was evidently only one among several criteriaguiding the selection of which materials to include and which to exclude. Lookingclosely at one particular case, I hope to demonstrate a) that the work in question,which was included in the Tantric Commentaries (Rgyud grel) section of the Bstangyurs, is demonstrably a Tibetan pseudepigraphan indigenous Tibetancomposition attributed to a famed Indian paita, b) that a range of Tibetanauthorities considered this work somewhat dubious (though for generally opaque,probably doctrinal, reasons), and that c) its inclusion in the Bstan gyur isconsequently and demonstrably instructive concerning important features of thosecollections: their ad hoc nature, deference to precedent, drive to comprehensiveness,and marked tendency toward inclusivity.

    The Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Carymelpakapradpa)and its CommentaryThe work that we will primarily be concerned with herein presents itself as anIndic commentary on the Carymelpakapradpa, or Lamp that Integrates thePractices (hereafter the Lamp), a highly inluential scholastic work in the EsotericCommunity (Guhyasamja) tradition of the Noble Ngrjuna.5 The commentaryas it appears in the various Tibetan Bstan gyur collections is called the ExtensiveExplanation of the Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Spyod pa bsdus pai sgronma zhes bya bai rgya cher bshad pa; hereafter Extensive Explanation)6 and itscolophon attributes authorship to the teacher endowed with supreme criticalwisdom, kyamitra.7 kyamitra is an author (or authors) still rather opaque to

    3 See canon s.v., in Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989),838.4 See, for example, D. S. Ruegg, Life of Bu ston Rin po che (Rome: Instituto Italiano per il Medio

    ed Estremo Oriente, 1966), 26-27 (esp. n. 1, p. 27). See below, note 57, for more on this issue.5 For translation, analysis, and critical Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of this work, see Christian K.

    Wedemeyer, ryadevas Lamp that Integrates the Practices (Carymelpakapradpa): The GradualPath of Vajrayna Buddhism according to the Esoteric Community Noble Tradition (New York:American Institute of Buddhist Studies/Columbia University Press, 2007).6 See, for example, Sde dge Bstan gyur, Rgyud grel, vol. ci (Th. 1834), 237b.1-280b.2; or Peking

    Bstan gyur, Rgyud grel, vol. ngi (Pek. 2703), 323b.7-380b.7. Citations from this work in this paperrefer to the Sde dge redaction.7 Extensive Explanation, 280b.2: shes rab mchog dang ldan pai slob dpon shkya bshes gnyen gyis

    mdzad pa/.

    3Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 5 (December 2009)

  • modern scholarshipas well as to the Tibetan tradition8though he appears listedas a major disciple of Ngrjuna in second-millennium Tibetan historical writings.There are not to my knowledge any signiicant Centrist (Madhyamaka) worksattributed to an author of this name. I surmise he is considered as such due to hiswork, the Unexcelled Intention (Anuttarasadhi), having been redacted as thesecond chapter of theFive Stages (Pacakrama, Rim lnga) attributed to Ngrjuna.9

    Of course, to raise the issue of the authenticity of such a work is already to bega variety of questions, if not to set oneself up to shoot ish in a barrel. Given thatthe Lamp itself is a work believed by tradition to have been (in some sense at least)composed by an early-irst-millennium Centrist author, yet not propagated untilthe ninth century to which it is reasonably reliably datable;10 and that thecommentary is attributed to yet another igure held to have been a student ofNgrjuna, one wonders what kind of authenticity one could reasonably speakof in the irst place: in the eyes of modern historical scholarship neither work iswhat it claims to be and thus both are pseudepigrapha and neither can claim to beauthentic in a strict sense.

    For our immediate purposes, I will bracket this larger issue of authorialattribution, and focus instead solely on the more local Tibetan question of whetheror not such works authentically belong in the Tibetan Bstan gyurs where theyreside. From this perspective, the actual authorship of the works is arguably besidethe point: if held to such a standard, the Bka gyurs would presumably be empty;and a fair bit of the Bstan gyurs too on rather shaky ground. What is importantfrom this perspective is whether or not these works are in fact translations of Indian(or other, approved foreign) scriptures; as such a derivation is, in principle at least,an indigenous criterion for inclusion in the Bstan gyur.11 Though the Lamp itself

    8 In his Hermeneutics of the Esoteric Community (Gsang dus bshad thabs), Bu ston writes merelythe biography of kyamitra is not told (shkya bshes gnyen gyi rnam par thar pa mi gsung /); TheCollected Works of Bu-ston [Bu ston], vol. 9 (New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture,1967), 32b.7 (64.7).9 Recent work by Tru Tomabechi has advanced the notion that this kyamitra, author of writings

    in the Esoteric Community (Guhyasamja) tradition, was an early, inluential source for both Vitapdaand ryadeva, author of the Lamp. If this is so, it would add further strength, were such needed, to thearguments I advance below against the authenticity of this attribution. See Tru Tomabechi, Vitapda,kyamitra, and ryadeva: On a Transitional Stage in the History of Guhyasamja Exegesis, inEsoteric Buddhist Studies: Identity in Diversity, ed. Executive Committee, ICEBS (Koyasan: KoyasanUniversity, 2008), 171-177.10 On the dating of the Lamp, see Wedemeyer, ryadevas Lamp, 11-14; on the complex question

    of the traditional view of this literature, see Wedemeyer, ryadevas Lamp, 15-35.11 There are, of course, a number of original, indigenous Tibetan works included in the Bstan gyurs,

    such as the Lta bai khyad par of Ye shes sde (Th. 4360). Yet, these works form a separate class forour purposes, since they are explicitly presented as Tibetan works and do not claim Indic (or Sinic)authorship as the preponderance of other works do. They are, furthermore, segregated in the specialmiscellaneous (sna tshogs) section. Given that the entries in Bu stons catalogs uniformly follow theformat title-author-translator(s)and the presence of the term translate (gyur) in the titles of bothcollectionsit seems beyond dispute that being a translated work is a baseline criterion for inclusionin the collections. See also Bu stons comments, below, note 63.

    4Wedemeyer: Pseudepigrapha in the Tibetan Buddhist Canonical Collections

  • is certainly authentic on this criterion,12 there are clear indications that theExtensive Explanation is not.

    Suspicions of Indigenous AuthoritiesIt is worth noting that several Tibetan authorities also deny the authenticity of theExtensive Explanation; and none to my knowledge cite the text as an authoritativesource, suggesting it was held in general suspicion by the Tibetan traditions. Theseauthors, it should be noted, employ yet another criterion for authenticityone thatcollapses the two mentioned above. To be authentic in their eyes, a work mustbe not only a translation of a real Indian composition, but must be authored by theperson to whom it is attributed. While traditional authors do accept that a Centristkyamitra could very well have authored such a work, the Extensive Explanationis not held to be the work of this kyamitra. Among those who explicitly expressan opinion, Rje rin po che (Blo bzang grags pa, a.k.a. Tsong kha pa; 1357-1419)for example suggests that concerning the commentary on the Lamp that Integratesthe Practices (Carymelpakapradpa) attributed to kyamitra, it is conceivablethat it might just be someone with the same name as that teacher, but it isunacceptable to suppose that it is the kyamitra [who was a] disciple of the Noble[Ngrjuna].13 Much the same is asserted by the seventeenth-century Sa skyawriter Jam dgon a myes zhabs (1597-1659), who writes, also, the one so-calledkyamitra who composed a commentary on the Lamp that Integrates the Practices,is not the same as this [kyamitra who was an authentic author of the EsotericCommunity Noble Tradition].14

    Establishing Tibetan Authorship of the Extensive ExplanationThus, a variety of Tibetan religious authorities, while incredulous of the primaryattribution of the Extensive Explanation and dismissive of its contribution to theliterature of the Noble Tradition, are nonetheless wil...


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