A Biography of Klong chen rab ’byams (3)

Publié le 4 Mai 2021

[To return to the beginning of this biographical series, click here] Other sources on biography

Other studies contain more or less abbreviated paraphrases of the mThong ba don ldan, and a complete translation would not add much. Here, without ignoring this source of all subsequent biographies, we have preferred to make the opposite choice and to start especially from a recent biography, the one proposed by sMyo shul mkhan po 'Jam dbyangs rdo rje (1932-1999) in his History of the Great Natural Completeness. Of course, we are not unaware of the rule that one should always go back to the source as much as possible and that the oldest documents should be preferred to their more recent derivations. But, on the other hand, this modern hagiography is the work of a scholar who, driven by his fervent interest in the person and work of Klong chen rab ’byams, has compiled all available sources.

It is unfortunate that he does not quote his sources; but he brings to the canvas provided by Chos grags bzang po some enrichments worthy of interest.

The rNying ma chos ’byung of bDud 'joms rin po che[1] (1904-1987) also complements the older biographies somewhat. Tülku Thondup (1989) adds some clarifications and dating elements that were also useful to us. His attempt takes up and far surpasses that of what must have been the first of its kind, the preface to the first volume of Guenther’s Kindly Bent to Ease Us (1975). The biography composed by Glag bla[Dam pa] chos grub (1862-1944),[2] overloaded with edifying considerations, reprinted in the same modern Pekingese edition (1994) as the Life Worth Seeing (mThong ba don ldan), or, even more so, the Lives of Klong chen pa found from the Deb ther sngon po of ’Gos Lo tsā ba (1392-1481) to the modern small chronicles of the rNying ma school, add nothing substantial to the biography that is the matrix of all others. The same is true, to a greater extent, for publications in Western languages, except for a few very interesting notes in Samten G. Karmay's The Great Perfection (1988), in addition to Buddha Mind.

There are also several elements of biographical interest here and there in some of Klong chen rab 'byams' writings - for example, in the Zhwa padma dbang chen gyi dKar chag gtsigs kyi yi ge zhib mo (no. 233), a text devoted to the temple of Zhwa (central Tibet) and its restoration by our author.

The only other important source on the biography of Klong chen rab ’byams is the great Chos 'byung of Guru bKra shis (bsTan pa'i snying po gsang chen snga ’gyur nges don zab mo’i chos kyi byung ba gsal bar byed pa’i legs bshad mkhas pa dga’ byed ngo mtshar gyi rol mtsho), which contains a number of details or clarifications that are not found elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the information that can be gleaned from the colophons (which we have examined systematically) is generally very meager: almost none of the works of Klong chen rab ’byams is dated; there is almost never a dedicatee, and it is very rare to find any indication of concrete circumstances whatsoever, apart from the place of composition. Special character of the present research on the biography of Klong chen rab ’byams and outline of this section

Our work does not claim to be essentially historical or philological. However, in addition to the minimum necessary to situate the author in his time, two sets of points had to be clarified, at least briefly, to allow the philosophical analysis to unfold without too many contradictions.

First, it was imperative to extract from the internal examination of the work as well as from biographical sources as much as possible about Klong chen rab ’byams’ training. It seemed to us that little had been emphasized so far other than his roots in the tradition of sNying thig, the “quintessence of the Great Completeness,” which he inherited primarily from Ku ma rā dza, as we shall see. It is certainly undeniable that the sNying thig constitutes for Klong chen rab ’byams the unsurpassable pinnacle of the entire Buddhist Dharma. But since our interpretation, philosophically speaking, involves a shift in the center of gravity of the work – from treatises specifically relating to the sNying thig to writings that tend to elucidate the whole of the Mahāyāna in light of this ultimate doctrine and practice – it became important to pay the utmost attention to Klong chen rab ’byams’ entire training. For this reason, we have taken great care in our attempts to identify the often little-known, if not entirely forgotten, teachers of our author. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to erase all traces of the laborious nature of our investigation, and many uncertainties remain. We have, however, arrived at some solid results, refuted several errors and formulated some new hypotheses.

Secondly, the interpretation of Klong chen rab ’byams’ thought required some unraveling of the hitherto almost entirely unknown chronology of the composition of his major works. This will be the subject of the second part of this first section.

Finally, we have established an inventory of the preserved works, attributed with a high probability of authenticity, to which we have added the titles of the lost works, but which we know with certainty existed, because Klong chen rab ’byams himself refers to them in his preserved works of unquestionable authenticity.

It is perhaps only because of a structure that belongs to the hagiographic genre (rnam thar) that the various biographers of Klong chen pa follow more or less the following order: (1) birth and family background; (2) training; (3) asceticism and attainment of achievements; (4) teaching and composition of works; (5) signs manifested at the time of death and list of principal disciples. This order has been practically followed here, since it was the order of all our sources, except for one point: here, the inventory of works comes after the list of disciples, contrary to received usage. In fact, the “Great Omniscient” may have alternated meditative retreats, study, preaching, and treatise writing almost throughout his life. Certainly, in the last fifteen years, he may have stopped receiving teachings from other masters. The example of some of today's Tibetan lamas, who not only practice and teach, but also receive instructions, consecrations (dbang), ritual transmissions (lung), etc., almost to the day of their death, sufficiently convinces us that this classical structure of hagiographies (rnam thar) should not always be confused with a true chronological order.


[1]  Pp. 238ff. of the Tibetan edition. The American version does not add anything particularly noteworthy to this biography.

[2] He is also an interesting author, especially as an almost unique modern witness to the survival of the teachings of A ro khrid mo che or rDzogs chen A ro lugs. His biography of Klong chen pa is not, however, his masterpiece, even if it does allow for small spelling corrections here and there, when the text of Chos grags bzang po is corrupted in the two editions we have.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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