A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (16)

Publié le 17 Mai 2021 The departure of gSang phu

In the biographies of Klong chen rab ’byams, what comes after the inventory of studies is the episode of the departure from gSang phu. If it is accepted that it was in 1332 that the author left this monastery, it is therefore from this year that the text entitled rKyen la khams ’dus pa ka kha gsum bcu (that is to say, it seems to me: Lassitude towards circumstances, an alphabetical acrostic (i.e. a poem composed with the constraint that the entire Tibetan alphabet must appear in order by forming the first syllable of each verse, no. 16 of vol. I of the gSung thor bu; no. 7) must be dated. It is known that he left this monastery following conflicts with monks from Eastern Tibet (Khams), and that he composed this satirical poem (ngan rtsom) from bSam yas and, according to legend, posted it[1] on the abbot’s pulpit. The content is not very remarkable, although entertaining (and, to me at least, a bit obscure in some of its parts), but the composition is skillful.

The present publication is intended, if I may say so, to attract criticism, in the sense that, after reworking the text [2021], some parts still seem quite obscure to me, but I can go no further (I thank my colleague Françoise Robin for giving me some useful comments on certain passages, which allowed me to introduce nuances that had escaped me or that I could not quite see how to convey). All criticisms are welcome, especially from good connoisseurs of the Indian poetic tradition, who could see the meaning of the allusions that escape me. 

Nyoshül Khenpo (rDzogs chen chos ’byung, p. 259 ff.) gives some elements, if not of the motivations of the conflict, at least of the avanities inflicted by the Khams monks on Longchen Rabjam: it seems that they forced him to move seven times from one building to another (A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems, p. 102: “During his time in Sangpu, some monks from Easter Tibet evicted him from his rooms seven times. Lonchenpa wrote enough tracts to fill a basket, which he carried to the teaching throne in his dormitory;” in the French translation of Christian Bruyat, L'Avènement de la Grande Perfection Naturelle, p. 183: « Après (?) son séjour à Sangphou, des moines du Khams le chassèrent sept fois de suite des différentes cellules où il séjournait. Rédigeant à leur endroit des pamphlets en nombre suffisant pour remplir une mesure d'orge, il en couvrit le trône d'enseignement qui était dans sa cellule (?) et s'en alla. »).

sMyo shul mkhan po (p. 259 ff.) gives some details, if not of the motives for the conflict, at least of the abuses inflicted by the monks from Khams on Klong chen rab ’byams: it seems that they forced him to move from one building to another seven times. It was as a result of this persecution that our author composed this poem and left gSang phu. As for the reasons for the dispute, apart from envy (such a brilliant young scholar could certainly attract jealousy), the list of masters, if by chance it has anything of a chronological nature, perhaps indicates a gradual shift, or rather a return, of Klong chen rab ’byams to the religious tradition of his childhood, that of the rNying ma pas. If the time, in view of the Blue Annals or in reading the lives of masters such as Bu ston, Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan or Klong chen rab ’byams, gives us the impression of an extraordinary religious freedom, it is however impossible, given the common limitations of the human mind and the political tensions[2] of the time, that there were no religious people in this bka’ gdams pa monastery to reprove our author’s interest in the Ancient Tradition. This is all the more likely because Klong chen pa was not only interested in what the rNying ma school may have been acceptable to “Moderns,” but also in the revelations of Nyang ral Nyi ma ’od zer and Guru Chos dbang, whose complete omission from Deb ther sngon po tends to show that even many of the most open minds in Tibet, respectful of the whole bka’ ma tradition, may have found fault with it.

The Khams pa are often perceived by the people of Central Tibet as arrogant, brutal, rude and bravado [3]. - 3] The character of the rough-hewn, but at the same time outrageously proud, provincial that popular humor has them play is not far removed, all things being equal, from the figure of the Gascon in sixteenth-century French literature, as can be seen, for example, in Agrippa d'Aubigné's Avantures du Baron de Fæneste. We have, certainly, less literary evidence of it; this is because the Tibetans certainly consider that what makes them laugh does not deserve, in general, to be put down on paper. The following text therefore deserves our attention, at least as a sample of the satirical register in Tibetan literature. [Of course, there is also a stereotype of the man of central Tibet among the Khams pa, polite to the point of hypocrisy, flatterer and politician, superstitious, speaking a pompous language and affecting humility..]

To have put this translation on line will not have been useless: our friend Thierry Lamouroux indicated to me a Japanese article containing a translation of the same poem, posterior to the publication of mine (2007, originally appearing in the thesis defended in 2002). It appears in a book by Shinichi TSUMAGARI, The Meaningful to Behold: A Translation of Longchenpa's Biography and Explanatory Notes (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, ISBN-10: 1540636364), which, in addition to the edition of the Tibetan text of Longchenpa’s main biography, redoes the task I had already accomplished in Profusion de la Vaste Sphère. His English translation of the poem has at least the merit of confirming mine (it does not differ in any way), but it does not shed any light on the obscure allusions. 

I had published a very imperfect version of this text in my thesis (Profusion de la vaste sphère, Peeters 2007), but as I have reworked this text with my students of the Inalco, I publish here a version retouched with the Tibetan text edited in Wylie.

[268] Oṃ svasti siddhaṃ | gang gis bsten pas rnam grol mdzod brnyed shing | Rig dang grol ba’i phun tshogs 'byung ba'i gzhi | 'Gro kun dge legs [269] | bskrun pa’i gnyen gcig pu | | Tshogs mchog dge 'dun snyan du tshig ’ga’ gsol |

Oṃ svasti siddhaṃ !
1. Anyone who trusts [in you, O Congregation,] has found the treasure chamber of complete liberation; [You are] the foundation from which the perfections of gnosis and deliverance proceed,
The only ally of all migrants, who establishes them in what is beautiful and good,
O sublime assembly, lend your ear to these few words!

Ka ling yul du srin po rgyu ba bzhin | | Kha ba can du chom rkun khams pa’i rigs | | Ga ru gnas kyang grong rdal ’jom byed pa'i | Nga rgyal chag sdangs rgyu ba gzigs lags sam |

2. Just like the ogres rushing to the land of Kaliṅka,
Have you seen the engeance of the Khams pa brigands, who in these snowy [lands],
Wherever they are, they ravage the villages,
[True] rush of arrogance, concupiscence and hatred?

Ka ling = Kaliṅka (कलिङ्क) – “an alternative wrong spelling for Kaṇiṅka, which is the Southern equivalent of Kaṇika, the reference being, no doubt, to the minister or statesman (mantrin) Kaṇika (named after the famous authority Kaṇika or Kaṇiṅka cited in Kauṭilya's Arthaśāstra, who appears only once in the epic, and that expressly for the purpose of expounding his political philosophy to the Kauravas.” – Srin po = ogre; rgyu ba = to run, to rush; kha ba can = "snowy,” Tibet; chom rkun = brigands; rigs = race, engeance ; ga ru = here indeterminate + la don in the sense of “wherever...”; grong rdal = town; ’jom is probably a wrong spelling for ’joms; nga rgyal = pride; chag sdangs = desire and aversion; gzigs = honorific of see / look; lags = a kind of auxiliary of politeness; sam = 'am, interrogative.

Ca co’i rang bzhin nyon mongs khams pa’i tshogs | | Cha'o bzhin du phyogs bcur rgyu byed cing | | Ja chang ’thung zhing srog chags gsod byed pa | Nya pa bzhin du gnas pa gzigs lags sam |

3. That crowd of Khams pa, of a jabbering nature [and troubled by] passions,
Who like Pratirūpa [5] are restless in the ten directions,
Driking tea and beer, killing animals,
Living from fishing [or standing like fishermen?], have you observed them?

Ca co = clamor, noise, chatter...; nyon mongs = passions; Cha’o is the equivalent of Sanskrit Pratirūpa which has several meanings but is here probably the proper name of a demon [“Pratirūpa (प्रतिरूप). – An asura (demon). This demon who held sway over all the worlds also died. His story was told to illustrate that there was an end to all lives. (Śloka 53, Chapter 227, Śānti Parva).”]; srog chags = living beings.

Ta la’i tshal du stag gzig rgyu ba bzhin | | Tha chad chang ’tshong rkun po'i gnas rnams su | | Da byid zos bzhin 'dod chags mes gdungs pas | Na chung tshol phyir rgyug pa gzigs lags sam |

4. Have you seen that like tigers and leopards running through a grove of banana trees,
They rush to the sordid dens of thieves,
Crunching on lizards, consumed with lust,
In pursuit of the girls they covet?

Ta la = banana tree; tha chad = sordid; da byid = “lizard,” animal component of certain remedies (?), perhaps an aphrodisiac given the context?

Pa nas gang ba’i ldum ra ngan pa'am | Pha rol chang dang sgog btsong dris sun 'byin | Ba lang bzhin du gtsang btsog mi shes pas | Ma rabs dud ’gro khams pa gzigs lags sam |

5. They scare others away with their awful vegetable gardens filled with pa na (sa
And with their stench of beer, garlic and onion [chives].
Have you looked at the Khams pa, those coarse [ill-trained] animals,
Discerning as little as oxen what is clean and what is unclean?

Pa na is normally small change, little coins, but it doesn't make much sense in context. It is probably a Sanskrit word. In Sanskrit, panasa = breadfruit tree (artocarpus integrifolia). It works well for a garden or orchard (ldum ra), but I don't know what the connotation is. Ba lang = oxen, cattle. Here perhaps herdsmen, oxen keepers, rough people. gTsang btsog = the clean and the unclean.

Tsa nas rang la rgol ba ’byung ba’i tshe | Tsha zer byed la mun pa'i skyes bu’am | Dza ra sdang ra'i rgyal phran ji bzhin du | Wa skyes bzhin du 'bros pa gzigs lags sam |

6. Have you seen them, when a conflict arises [with Tsa na???],
Like the beings of the night exposed [to the star] with warm rays,
Or the wren [of] Dza ra sdang ra,
Who like foxes run away [cowardly]?

rGol ba = conflict or adversary; Dza ra sdang ra could be analyzed as Jaras-daṅra, which sounds like a proper name, “Old man...” in an Indian tale – but I don’t know what the allusion is. Wa skyes = fox (a proverbially poltrocious animal in Tibetan poetry and stories).

Zhwa rmog gyon cing nyes med yul rnams su | | Za ma'i ched du mi rnams rdung byed cing | | ’A cag khrel med yin zhes smra ba yi | | Ya rabs tshul chad khams pa gzigs lags sam |

7. Wearing helmets, they go to friendly ["innocent”] countries,
Beating up people to [steal] food from them.
Have you seen them, these Khams pa who, destroying all good customs, 
Say: “we, the ungodly...”?

Zhwa rmog = Mongolian helmet; za ma can mean hermaphrodite, sometimes in the sense of an individual without vigor (cowardly...) - but I think the meaning “food” is more likely here. rDung ba = to strike. ’A chag = “we” in some Khams dialects, I think. Khrel med = shameless (pejorative). Ched du = in view of (purpose).

[270] Ra lug ba lang la sogs gsod pa'i phyir | | La chu 'phrang gsum brgal nas grong rdal ’joms | Sha za chang 'thung bud med bsten pa yi | Sa steng btsan pa'i chom rkun gzigs lags sam |

8. In order to slaughter goats, sheep and oxen, etc.,
Crossing the passes, traversing rivers and gorges, they sack the cities,

gorging themselves with meat, drinking beer, and consorting with women,
They are the most violent brigands on the face of the earth - do you see them?

Ha cang thal ba'i byed tshul ngan pa 'di | A khu khams pa'i thos bsam sgom gsum yin | | Yi ge sum cu'i tshigs su bcad pa 'di | gnas nas phud tshe lam ka'i bzhi mdor sbyar |

9. This misbehavior, full of contradictions,
Is the study, reflection and meditation of the Khams pa old chaps (a khu).
These quatrains [based on] the thirty letters [of the Tibetan alphabet],
I posted them at the crossroads when I was chased away.

Ces pa 'di yang bSam yas pa Ngag gi dbang pos gSang phu ne'u thog tu sbyar ba 'dis dge legs 'phel ba'i rgyur gyur cig |

This was written by Ngag gi dbang po from bSam yas in gSang phu ne’u thog; may the spread of virtue and well-being follow!

Ha cang thal ba = absurdity, absurd fatal consequence (a term of logic, taken humorously here); byed tshul = way of doing things; bzhi mdo = crossroads, but the poem is supposed to have been plastered on the pulpit of the abbot of gSang phu. sByar = to stick; could also mean “to compose.” Ngag gi dbang po is one of Klong chen pa’s many pseudonyms – one he used extensively in his youth and for his poetic compositions. An eight-month retreat in complete darkness (winter 1332-1333)

Klong chen rab ’byams then embarked on an eight-month retreat in complete darkness (mun mtshams) at a place called rGya ma’i lcog la (Tülku Thondup) or “the cave of the Siddha lCog la in rGya ma” (sMyo shul mkhan po). After having stocked up on alms, he decided to spend a winter there, which we can assume to be that of 1332-1333. A certain dGe bshes sTon tshul, who (as has been said) may have been the aforementioned master sTon tshul, decided to serve him during his retreat.

During this time, he had great meditative experiences as well as an important vision: he was on the sandy bank of a river, from where he could see some hills. He heard a song accompanied by musical instruments. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw a young girl who seemed to be sixteen years old, adorned with brocades and jewels of gold and turquoise, her face veiled by a golden net, riding a leather-saddled horse, loaded with bells.

Klong chen rab ’byams grabbed a piece of her cloak or a ribbon (thu ba), and begged this noble lady (’phags ma) to take him in mercy. In response, she took off her crown and placed it on Klong chen pa’s head, saying: “From now on, I will watch over you, I will grant you my blessings and I will confer accomplishments on you.” He then remained for a month (according to sMyo shul mkhan po) in a continuous recollection of delight, clarity and absence of fictitious ideas (bde gsal mi rtog pa’i ting nge ’dzin la phyam brdal zhing...). She also gave him the prophecy of her meeting with Ku ma rā dza.

At the end of this retreat, he performed the Vairocana Sarvavid ritual a hundred times and then, for the first time in his life, he conferred a consecration (dbang) on about thirty people. We can, with some probability, date this event to the spring of 1333. He was thus twenty-five years old.

What did he meditate on during this dark retreat? It is a commonplace nowadays among Western lovers of rDzogs chen that the development of luminous visions in the dark is a specificity of the Yang tig nag po,[3]a gter ma of Dung mtsho ras pa, which I have already mentioned in passing. However, our author does not seem to have had any connection with Dung mtsho ras pa.

Indeed, even if the name of our author appears punctually in one or two texts of the corpus of the Yang ti nag po, I do not believe that this should be taken seriously. I have found only one point of contact that is more or less proven, but it is quite indirect: a certain Chos dbyings pa (1324-?) received the Yang ti nag po from six direct disciples of the gter ston (Blue Annals, p. 722), and he is said to have been a disciple of Klong chen pa (ibid, p. 723), although his name does not appear in the latter’s biographies.[4]

As for the Yang ti section of the rDzogs chen in general (in a way of subdividing the teachings of the Great Completeness that does not seem to have particularly interested the master of Gangs ri thod dkar), Klong chen rab ’byams knew at least Guru Chos dbang’s Yang ti sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor, as I have already said. But this cycle has nothing in common with the Yang ti nag po gser gyi ’bru gcig pa of Dung mtsho ras pa - which leads us to doubt the relevance of the categories Ati, sPyi ti and Yang ti, and their inconsistency may explain at least in part the little importance that Klong chen rab ’byams gives them in his writings.

If the Yang ti of Chos dbang appears to be a proto-sNying thig with what, in retrospect, appears to be an unfinished development, that of Dung mtsho ras pa does not differ very fundamentally from a cycle like the mKha’ ’gro snying thig (or rGod ldem’s dGongs pa zang thal) in the type of practices it contains. It is therefore permissible to doubt the homogeneity of the Yang ti category. While acknowledging Jean-Luc Achard's far greater competence than mine in the literature of the rDzogs chen, I still have a little difficulty following him when he explains the traditional doxographies in the following way: “the Yang ti is divided into two groups: on the one hand, the black Yang ti (yang ti nag po) and on the other hand the Yang ti of the Brahmans (yang ti bram ze). As far as I know, only the black Yang ti has a cycle of practices (sgrub sde) that presents its yogic arcana.” Doesn't this formula imply that the “truth,” the practical key, of all Yang ti literature is only revealed through the appearance of the Yang ti nag po gser gyi ’bru gcig pa - relatively late, even if the discovery of Dung mtsho ras pa is not necessarily the only source? Is this not typically what historians would call a retrospective illusion? Shouldn’t we assume the irremediably disparate character of the Yang ti category as a fact, instead of looking for a beautiful and masterful unity, similar to that of the seventeen tantras of the sNying thig and the tradition that is inspired by them? I for one remain in doubt – a doubt which, of course, it remains possible that it would be removed through a more thorough study of the set of tantras that the rNying ma pas place in the Yang ti category.

In any case, the most developed explanations that Klong chen rab ’byams devotes to the retreat in the dark (mun mtshams) are to be found in his great commentary on the *Guhyagarbhatantra,[5] on the one hand, and in two texts by sNying thig, the Wheel of Clear Light of the Day and the Night[6] and the Manual of Instructions for Eye Pressure in the Dark, Wheel of Clear Light.[7]

It is not forbidden to believe that he had received instructions on the combination of Thod rgal and sampannakrama from the master on whom he most closely depended for the transmission of the *Guhyagarbhatantra, i.e. Dan ’bag pa gZhon nu don grub. It is not even entirely out of the question that he practiced Kālacakra: as has already been recalled, one of the members of the Ṣaḍaṅgayoga involves dark retreats (mun mtshams).

The next section of this series is here.


[1] Glag bla, p. 34.

[2] Let us recall that the political disputes between rival factions could not fail to have religious repercussions, because of the close links between feudal clans and branches of Tibetan Buddhism. If Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan seems to have had the ability (or the luck) not to let himself be involved in these political conflicts, Klong chen rab ’byams, as we shall see, found himself stuck in them.

[3] Not to mention the Zhang zhung snyan rgyud of the Bon po. [2021 : There are many mistakes here, that I have not corrected in the body to the text, that are due to the fact that in the times when all this was originally written, I did not realize that the gter ston who discovered the Yang ti nag po was not the first Dung mtsho ras pa (BDRC P1801), but the second one, Dung mtsho ras pa phyi ma (BDRC P5909), who is a 15th, and not 14th century figure. This being corrected, it is absolutely plain that Klong chen pa could not have received any teaching from the Yang ti nag po. – Now, this makes the situation of Chos dbyings pa even more impossible to understand.].

[4] [2021: This is chronologically almost incomprehensible: it would then be necessary, against the previous note, to attribute the discovery of the Yang ti nag po to the first Dung mtsho ras pa.]

[5] Phyogs bcu’i mun sel (n° 157).

[6] Nyin mtshan 'od gsal gyi ’khor lo (no. 73).

[7] rGya mtsho ar gtad kyi mun khrid ’od gsal ’khor lo (no. 38).

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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