A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (7)

Publié le 8 Mai 2021

[To return to the beginning of this biographical series, click here] Some difficulties concerning the chronology of the abbey succession of gSang phu

In this monastery, or monastic academy, Klong chen rab ’byams was taught mainly by three masters: bTsan dgon pa, Bla brang pa Chos dpal rgyal mtshan, and gZhon nu rin chen, “who was famous as [being] a second Dharmakīrti” (Chos grags gnyis par grags pa), as sMyo shul mkhan po says in amending an incomprehensible passage in the mThong ba don ldan.[1]

As for the second, Bla brang pa Chos dpal rgyal mtshan, as to his existence and his connection with Klong chen rab ’byams, there is no doubt: our author mentions him in his Byang chub lam bzang (no. 208, p. 4) in the context of the first of the three lineages he claims to belong to for teaching the Vehicle of Characteristics, and (p. 5) in the context of the second of these lineages. He appears, moreover, in a lineage of practices relating to Mañjuśrī in the ’Phags pa ’Jam dpal gyi sgrub thabs yid bzhin nor bu (no. 150 / gSung thor bu, vol. I, p. 551). This master, like the previous one, was one of the abbots of gSang phu, as seen in the Deb sngon (Blue Annals, p. 330).

If we rely on this main source and count backwards by subtracting from the year 1476[2] the periods indicated for the functions of each of the abbots subsequent to those of interest to us, we find that between this year and the time when gZhon nu rin chen was abbot, 145 years would have passed. This would give approximately 1320-1332 for gZhon nu rin chen; 1314-1320 for Bla brang pa; and 1302-1314 for bTsan dgon pa.

These dates would be more or less compatible with what the biographers of Klong chen pa give, if we assume that the abbots retired before their death while continuing their teaching (which would explain why Klong chen rab ’byams was able to study with bTsan dgon pa and Bla brang pa in the years after 1326, while apparently gZhon nu rin chen was abbot).

But the figures of ’Gos lo tsā ba must be taken with caution, for if now, instead of counting backwards from 1476, we proceed in reverse (from the terminus a quo and adding the years), we find that it was ’Jam dbyangs Śākya gZhon nu who was abbot in 1326, as Roerich mistakenly writes (Blue Annals, p. 329), and the three masters of Klong chen rab ’byams would then be places late in the fifteenth century, in a way that is quite inconsistent with the cross-checks that can be made otherwise.

One could attempt to resolve this difficulty by assuming that the abbots’ governments overlapped rather than succeeded one another, which would have made any dating uncertain, but increased the likelihood of a Klong chen rab ’byams studying these three abbots in the few years he spent at gSang phu.

But what gives the key to this enigma is the existence in gSang phu of at least two colleges, “higher” and “lower”,[3] since, for example, the biography of Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje in the Deb sngon lets us know that in 1302 or so, the Śākya gzhon nu just mentioned was “abbot of the lower monastery of gSang phu.” ’Gos lo tsā ba must, in fact, have telescoped two chronologies of succession to the abbot's chair. This point is confirmed by Tülku Thondup (Buddha Mind, p. 147): “After the 7th throne-holder of Sangphu, gTsang pa ’Jam dpal seng ge, the monastery divided into two seats: Lingtod (Gling stod) and Lingmed (Gling smad).” This author (ibid.) makes bTsan dgon pa the fifteenth abbot of Gling stod, and Bla brang pa the sixteenth. Questions about the identity of the masters of gSang phu with whom Klong chen rab ’byams studied

The mThong ba don ldan certainly mentions only Bla brang pa Chos dpal ldan rgyal msthan (sic) and, if we read it correctly, Chos grags is given as another master with whom our author would have studied philosophy[4]. But sMyo shul mkhan po is indisputably right to add bTsan dgon pa, since Klong chen rab 'byams, in the Lo rgyus rin chen phreng ba (p. 69, Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu), clearly gives him as one of the teachers with whom he studied at gSang phu. For confirmation, we can cite the testimony of other biographies, those of Deb sngon or Glag bla Chos 'grub, etc. Klong chen rab ’byams also mentions him in the context of the second of the three lineages he claims to teach the Vehicle of Characteristics, in the Byang chub lam bzang (p. 5); but in this context he appears not as one of his direct masters, but as a master of the previous generation. However, this is not a contradiction.

The matter is more delicate with regard to gZhon nu rin chen. This name does not appear in the author’s work any more than in the mThong ba don ldan or in other biographies. This is obviously an interpretation, probably by sMyo shul mkhan po, from the name Chos grags pa, which disappears in Glag bla or ’Gos lo tsā ba. In any case, whether or not this Chos grags pa is identical with gZhon nu rin chen, abbot of gSang phu, he was indeed one of the masters of Klong chen pa, who mentions him (p. 5) in the context of the second of the three lineages he claims to have taught the Vehicle of Characteristics in the Byang chub lam bzang.

Under these masters, his biographers say, he studied the Five Treatises of Maitreya, the Pramāṇavarttika, the Pramāṇasamuccaya and other philosophical texts.

It is unfortunate that sMyo shul mkhan po does not give the reasons that led him, on his own, to identify these two characters, taking Chos grags pa as a nickname, “the Dharmakīrtist,” if you will. One possible motivation for the identification that sMyo shul mkhan po makes when he switches from Chos grags pa to the abbot gZhon nu rin chen may lie in a (difficult to sustain) confusion between two characters: the gZhon nu rin chen who succeeded Bla brang pa on the abbatial throne of gSang phu, and the master Shug gseb pa gZhon nu rin chen or gZhon nu rdo rje, who will be discussed later, in n° 15 below. It seems to us that these two characters have nothing in common, apart from the name.

We believe, in conclusion:

  • That the dates of “reign” of the abbots of gSang phu should be reviewed, as we have explained; it can be assumed that Klong chen pa was in gSang phu at the end of the abbatial government of bTsan dgon pa and, possibly, at the beginning of that of Bla brang pa (but, exactly, the latter must have been present in this convent and exercised teaching functions there for some time before succeeding bTsan dgon pa);
  • That Chos grags pa was another professor of gSang phu, of whom, until further information, nothing authorizes to assume that he is the same person with the one who was to become the successor of Bla brang pa (who was perhaps not yet present in gSang phu at the time of Klong chen pa - only the study of a chronicle of gSang phu could perhaps assure us of it, but I have not seen any);
  • That Shug gseb pa gZhon nu rin chen has nothing to do with either Chos grags pa or the abbot of gSang phu who is his probably later namesake.

The next section of this series is here.

[1]  On this point, sMyo shul mkhan po is certainly inspired by Guru bKra shis, op. cit., p. 215.

[2] Term from the series of abbots given by ’Gos lo tsā ba.

[3] Certainly in a purely geographical sense, as in the case of the tantric colleges of dGe lugs pa, rGyud stod and rGyud smad, in Lhasa.

[4] Op. cit. p. 172 ff: "to the two [masters], the distinguished scholar Bla brang pa Chos dpal ldan rgyal mtshan pa and Chos grags... (mKhas pa phul du phyin pa Bla brang pa Chos dpal ldan rgyal mtshan pa Chos grags gnyis kyi drung du |...).

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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