A short history of Tibetan translated literature

By Tommy Dunn,2014-08-20 16:08
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A short history of Tibetan translated literature





    thth1. History of translated literature from 7 to 17 century

    th2. Brief history of translated literature in 20 century

    Heritage of Tibetan Translated Literature

     thThe history of Tibetan translated literature has its beginning in the 7

    century when the whole of the Tibet was brought under the rule of Song Tsan Gampo [(((?;;;;;;;;;?;??) born 617 AD]. Although the Chief

    of a small principality, he mobilised a strong army and brought under his control both the U (;;?() and Tsang (;;;;;) provinces. His conquests

    extended up to Gilgit in the west and Chinese Turkistan in the north. The Chinese emperor and the Nepalese king had to part with certain territories of their dominations to the Tibetans. In recognition of his might and expanding power, both the Chinese and Nepalese kings consented to give their daughters in marriage to the Tibetan king.

    Song-Tsan Gam-Po was not only a great conqueror and an able ruler but also a far-sighted and enlighten monarch. Until his reign, Tibet had been a country inhabited by wild and warlike people. They were believers of Bon, a cult that believed in the power of spirits. Civilisation and a cultured way of life were yet to set in. Persuaded by his two queens, both of them were devout Buddhists, Song-Tsan Gam Po decided to introduce Buddhism into his country. A religious literature in the national language was considered essential if Buddha’s doctrine was to set its feet firmly on Tibetan soil. The Tibetan language, however, was not suitably rendered


    into writing at that time. Song-Tsan therefore, deputed Thon-mi Sam Bho Ta, and intelligent Tibetan youth in the company of sixteen others, to proceed to India and intelligent Tibetan youth in the company of sixteen others, to proceed to study Sanskrit and Buddhist texts and to develop a script suitable for rendering the Buddhist texts in the native language. Thon-mi, having arrived in 632 AD (according to traditional sources), studied in Nalanda University under two teachers, Deva Vidya Singh and

    Brahmin Lipikara. On the return to Tibet, the first thing he did was to design the Tibetan alphabets on the model of western Gupta script. Thon-Mi Sam Bho Ta (or “The good Tibetan-A title given to him by the

    Indians) is accredited with the authorship of eight works on grammar, only two of which; Sum-Cu-Pa (;(??;;,?;?;) and Tag-Jug-Pa

    (;;;(;;?;;;;;?;;?;) are available today.

    Thereafter, under the patronage of the king, Thon-mi began the translation of Sanskrit texts that he had brought from India into the Tibetan language. He was helped in his work by the Indian pundit Kusar,

    the Nepalese Shila Manju, the Kashmiri Tun, the Chinese Bhikshu

    Mahadev and his own disciple, Choe Jod (;?(;?:?;.) Works such as

    Karandavyu Sutra (;;?;)?;;;;?;;?;;;?;?), a sutra of aphorism on the

    good qualities of Avalokitedshvara taught by Sakyamuni to an audience

    of 1,250 priests at Shravasti, Ratnamegh Sutra


(;;?;;;?;;;;(;;;;;;;?;?) and Karma Shatak (?:;;;;;;), translated.

    Besides the scholars named, there were others from Chinese Turkistan who collaborated with Thonmi-Sam-Bho-Ta. The Chinese translators concentrated on astrology and medicine.

    Between 730 and 802 AD, according to Alexander Csoma de Koros, the Suharna Prabasotam Sutra (;(;?;;?;;;?;?) was translated by Jina

    Mitra, Shila Indra Bodhi and Wendei Shede (;;;;;;;;;;;;(;;?;;).

    contains several articles on both the dogmatism and moral doctrine of the Buddhist faith.

    The great Indian Pundit Shantarakshita visited Tibet during the reign of King Thi Song Deu-Tsen (,(;;((?;;,?;;?;;;;;802-845 AD) and

    laid the foundation of an organised monk hood in the snowy country. He also helped the Tibetan to build the monastery of Sam-Ye (;(?;;(.).

    Apart from other engagements, Shantarakshita devoted enough time to translation works, which were part of the Indian missionary activities. With the help of Dharma Kosh, he translated the Hetu Cakra

    (;;;?;;;;,??;~?) of Dignang. Another Indian Acharya to visit Tibet was

    Kamalsheela. During this time the Indian Achryas like Vimalmitra,

    Buddha Gupta, Shanti Garbha and Bishuda Sinha, in collaboration


    1with Tibetan Lo Tsa Ba (s) like Dharmaloka, Go Rinchen De

    (;?;?;;;;;;;;?;) and ShakyaPrabha, rendered several Buddhist texts

    into Tibetan. However, until the ascendancy of king Thi Song Deu Tsan [(,(;;((?;;;?;;?;;;;;??) 847-877 AD] to the Tibetan throne, the

    translation work could not serve the purpose for which it was intended. In other words, the translation was done in such a language that it was unintelligible to the common masses. In some cases, they were re-translated from the Chinese, which could not provide uniform word-to-word equivalents. Under the direction of the king, definite rules were laid down for the translation of Sanskrit originals into Tibetan, from the middle of the ninth century onwards; all translation works were undertaken in strict conformity to these rules. A Sanskrit-Tibetan Dictionary Mahavytpatti (;;;;;;)?;)?;;??;;;;?;;;;;??), composed

    for this purpose, is still to be found in the Tan-Gyur (;;;;;;;;??). The

    noted Tibetan Lo-Tsa Ba, Rin-Chen Zang-po (957-1055 AD) with the help of Pundit Sradakavarma, Padmakar Gupta, BuddhaShri Shanta,

    Buddha Pal and KamalGupta translated a number of philosophical and

    Tantric treatises. These included Haribhadra Abhisamaya Alankaralok

    (?;?;;??;;!;;?;;;;;;;), a discourse on right judgement or

    discernment, Nagarjuna’s Vidyik Astang Hridaya Sanghita

    (;?;;);;;;?;;;?;(;(?;;;;?;;?;;;;)?), a conversation or


discourse on the seven accomplish good qualities, and Sumag Avadana

    (?;;;;;;;;;;??;;;;;?;(;?;;;;?;;?) or the story of Sumagadha, the

    daughter of a rich and respectable householder at Shravasti in Kosala,

    who had endowed the Shakyas with a large religious establishment.

    With the arrival of the great Indian saint Atisha Dipankara SriGyana,

    more works were rendered into Tibetan. Atisha himself was a great translator. He translated the Madhyamika RatnaPradipa

    (;;?;?;?;;;;;;;;!;;;), the work of the famous Indian philosopher Bavaviveka, with the help of Rin-Chen Zang Po, and others. The Kalacakra (;?(;;;;;;,??;~?;) Jyotishi was also translated during Atisha’s time. The doctrine of Kalacakra introduced the worship of Supreme deity under the designation of Adi Buddha (;?;;?;(;(;;;;(;)

    The Buddha Kapala Tantra (;?~;(;(;;;;(;;?;;?), mantra addressed to Buddha Kapala with directions on how to prepare a square Mandala,

    was translated by Sa-Kya Yeshe. Sa-Kya Yeshe or Gayadhara also

    translated Vajra Dak Tantra (;??;;;;;?,;;;;(?;;;;;;?;;) with the

    help of Go Khug Pa Lha Tsa (;;?(;,?;;?;,;;;;().

    During the time of King Yeshe Od (;;;;;(;;?;), the Tibetan Lotsa Ba Padma Ru Tsi invited two Indian Pundits, Smritigjnana and

    VibhutiChandra. They were among the few Indian Pundits who translated Sanskrit texts into Tibetan independently. Smritigjnana’s own


    works Chatuspita Tika and Vachabmukha were among the translations. NyayaBindu (?;;(;?;;;;;;;?;) a book on logic written by

    Dharmakirti was translated by Ngon Lodan Sherab

    [(;?;;;,?;,?;;;;(;?;;), 1059-1108].Yeshe Lo do

    (;;;;;(;;,?;;(?() ManjusriMula Tantra

    (;;?;;?~;;;;;;;;;;?;;), a learned treatise often quoted in later Tibetan works; his assistant was Kumar Kalasa. The birth of another

    great Tibetan Lo Tsa Ba, Patsab Nyema da

    (?;;;;;;;?;;(;(;) correspond with the death of Rinchen zang Po (1055 AD). He translated the Chatuh Shataka (;;?;?;;;;;;;;;;?) of

    Arya Deva, Madhyamika Avatara Bhashya (;;?;?;;;?;;;?;;;;;(;~;;;;), and introductory explanation on the Madhyamika doctrine of Nagarjuna, and Purana Bardan’s Lakshana

    Anusarini (?;;;?;;;;(;(?;;;(;;;), a commentary on Abhidharma

    Kosh (;?(;?;?;;?;;?:?;).

    During the time when Shakya hierarch was in power in Tibet, Drakpa

    Gyal Tsan (;(;(;?;;;;~;?;;1147-1216 AD), a learned Tibetan scholar translated Nyaya Pravesha, a work on logic and Chanda Maharoshana

    Tantra (;?~;;(??;??;,(?;;;?;;;;;??;?;;;;;?;), containing among

    other topics discussions on the nature of the human body and the soul.


The Prajna Pradeep Mala (;;(;?;;;;(?;;?;;;;(;;;;), a

    commentary to Abhisamaya Alankara (?;?;;??;;;?;;?;;;;;;;), was

    translated in 1200 AD.

    ;Shangton Dorje Gyal Tsan (;;(;;;?;;;??;;;;;;;;~;?;;), with the

    help of Laxmikara, translated Dandi’s Kavya Darshana

    ;;;;;?;;~?;;;), a work on poetry, Harsha’s Nagananda Nataka

    (;,?;;?;;)?;;;;;;;;;;,?(;;?), a Sanskrit drama and Kshemendra’s

    Bodhisattva Abhidharma Kalpa Lata

    (;;;;;?;;(;?(;?;;;;;?;(;;;;?;;;?;;;(?;;,(;;;;;;;), a political

    works on the deeds of Buddha.

    thThe 13 century saw another great genius, Buton Rinchen Dub (;?;;)?;;?;;;;;;;;(?;), who translated the works of Durga Singh

    and Harsha Kritti. His greatest contribution to the imported literature however was the review and rearrangement of the hitherto scattered translations into the two monumental Buddhist collections, the Kanjur (;;;;;;??) and Tanjur (;;;;;;;;??) and the preparation of an index for both.

    The Lokananda Nataka of Chandragomin and Meghdoot

    th(;;(;;;;;;;;?;;;) of Kalidasa were translated some time in the 14

    century. Pundit Banaratna was the last Indian Buddhist monk who visited Tibet and continued the missionary work. He helped the Tibetan


    Lo-Tsa Wa in translating Tantrik texts. From available records, it appears

    ththat the translation activity carried until 17 century.

    These translated works were the result of the intense missionary zeal of the Indians and the labour and ingenuity of the Tibetans themselves. It may be said that, in the history of translations, no such faithfulness to the word and spirit of the originals are to be found. These Tibetan works, owing to its purity and perfection, were further retranslated into Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian and other languages. By this process, the Tibetan language became the lingua franca of Central Asia and occupied the distinction that Latin once held in Europe. Moreover, the translated literature preserved the manners, customs, opinions, knowledge, ignorance, superstitions, hopes and fears of a great part of Asia, especially that of India. The Sanskrit originals of these translations have been lost or destroyed because of time and historical factors. Perhaps some may be found in future in Nepal, Kashmir, Tibet and other parts of Central Asia. But there is no certainty they will ever be found. Students and scholars of Indology will benefit immensely if they go back to the Tibetan sources to find certain lost chapters in the history of India.


    thIn the 20 century:

    The work of translation of Tibetan texts into Sanskrit and European language saw its golden period. Though in Tibet much more work was not initiated by the scholars due to the fact that Tibet remained isolated in the international arena and it was very difficult to contact Tibet for an outsider. But as we say in English “Blessing in disguise”, so it happens with Tibetan text when China occupied its area and the Tibetan along with their leader forced to flee India. This opened them the opportunity to interact with the free, traditional guru India with the option of whole world, and thus paved the way of translating Tibetan texts into various languages.

    Much of the works have been wonderfully done by the Central Institute

    2of higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath; Varanasi. But prior to that, there

    were different centres in India which were either run or sponsored by the

    3Tibetan Lamas or their European friends. In this connection, Kalimpong

    4and Kursiang, University of Calcutta in the eastern part, Bylekuppe and

    5Mundgod in Karnataka, Leh, Keylong and Ladakh in the northern region

    have done remarkable job in translating and even creating new Tibetan text.

    CIHTS continues his work and in early 90’s there was a Karmapa

    Institute opened in south Delhi and it is providing Geshe degree in


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