What did Longchen Rabjam actually write and what is the chronology of his writings ? (2)

Publié le 29 Mai 2021

To get back to the first section of this series about Lonchen Rabjam's writings, click here. Colophons and elements of the biography

Nor would it be right to assume, as is sometimes done, that Klong chen rab ’byams would have used his various pen names in a chronologically assignable way, as if he had used them successively, and at each given time exclusively. For example, it is clear that “[bSam yas pa] Ngag gi dbang po,” (“the prince of the orators from bSam yas”) is a name that he used in both early and mature works, since it is found as early as gSang phu and as late as Gangs ri thod dkar. The same is not true of all of them: for example, as has already been said, he seems to have signed almost only early works with his monastic ordination name, Tshul khrims blo gros. He probably ceased to use this pen name regularly after his departure from gSang phu (1332), but the rule is not absolute: as proof, the use he makes of it in the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod ’grel, a quite late work (I will show this), or in a small text (undoubtedly somehow anterior) of the Zab mo yang tig, the Phyag ’tshal yid bzhin nor bu.

Some writings, moreover, bear the mention of a composition in gSang phu. Some of them are supposed to have been composed in bSam yas and, when they are signed by Tshul khrims blo gros, one can suppose that they date from the period 1323-1326, when the author was between 15 and 18 years old according to the modern western system (i.e., before his studies in gSang phu).

In this respect, we do not see what can justify Guenther’s remark (Kindly Bent To Ease Us, vol. I, p. 245, note 4), who clearly distinguishes three chronological strata in the work on the basis of the pseudonyms used by the author: according to him, “Tshul khrims blo gros” alone corresponds to the period of his youth; however, it appears to us that certain compositions, notably poetic ones, were signed “bSam yas pa Ngag gi dbang po” very early on. According to Guenther, the latter name is reserved for a middle period, as are “sNa tshogs rang grol” and “Klong chen rab ’byams.” – But he evidently still uses it in Zhwa'i lha khang (1349-50 at the earliest), i.e., after the time when biographies suggest that he composed the Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod and the mKha’ ’gro yang tig in Gangs ri thod dkar. In short, these pen names correspond rather more to genres or levels in the work (for example, some names are almost reserved for poetic compositions, another for the gSang ba snying po literature, others for rDzogs chen...) than to periods in the author’s life. This is the dominant opinion of the rnying ma masters – and it is, in the end, the most correct.

Nor should it be imagined that the composition of his work was marked by a gradual progression from more secular or scholastic subjects in his youth to culminate with the sNying thig in his middle age. Rather, most of the major works on the sNying thig (with the exception of the Zab mo yang tig, which was not finished composing when the author completed the Grub mtha’ mdzod, itself quite late in life) would seem to have been written in the years following the meeting with Ku ma rā dza, not late in the author’s life.

There is no reason to be surprised. The texts of the sNying thig genre are obviously rewritten or synthesized from older material (even the “plagiarisms” mentioned by J.-L. Achard). It is, moreover, one of the fruits of the present work on the chronology of the composition Klong chen rab ’byams’ writings of to highlight the following point: roughly speaking, one could say that the later the texts, the more they express an originality irreducible to the earlier tradition. The “plagiarisms” indicated by Achard (and philological research has certainly revealed only a tiny fraction of such borrowings to date) are from a time (around 1340) when Klong chen rab ’byams, barely over thirty years old, was still little more than the editor of a received teaching, or, at least, no less an editor than an author.

Moreover, and assuming that it is not a question of interpolations (but our author is not one for ostentatious modesty[1]), we note, with regard to the name “Ngag gi dbang po,” that the qualifier Kun mkhyen, “all-knowing,” is added to it at a given moment. In the absence of other indications, we can assume that the texts where this epithet appears are later than those where it does not. We have seen in the biography that it is after the return from exile from Bhutan that Klong chen rab ’byams would have been nicknamed “omniscient lord of the Dharma.” However, this clue is too meager to allow even an approximate dating in almost all cases.

The names “Dri med ’od zer” (in the rDzogs chen texts) and “rDo rje gzi brjid” (exclusively in those about the gSang ba snying po), according to the data in the biography, were obtained by the author in a vision that apparently must be dated to 1337-38. All the texts composed in Gangs ri thod dkar seem to have been composed in a period that must be made to begin in 1339 at the earliest.

It is now clear that the restoration of Zhwa’i lha khang must have taken place in 1349. The few texts composed in Zhwa’i lha khang must have been written between 1349 and 1354, or, else, after 1360, when the author was able to return to central Tibet.

It would be reasonable to assume that Klong chen rab ’byams continued to retreat periodically to Gangs ri thod dkar and to write there until his exile in present-day Bhutan (and possibly at the very end of his life, after his return).

If the parallelism of the bKa’ bsdu bzhi pa of Dol po pa and the address to Dam pa bSod nams rgyal mtshan (no. 143) were well established [I made earlier the hypothesis that both texts might have been written as answers to the same public questions by Dam pa bSod nams rgyal mtshan], one could assume that both texts were composed at about the same time, as if Dam pa bSod nams rgyal mtshan had asked the same questions to the most distinguished minds of his time. The date of composition of the bKa’ bsdu bzhi pa is known: 1358, according to Cyrus Stearns (The Buddha from Dolpo, p. 124). Klong chen rab ’byams’ text , according to data from the biography, must indeed be from the last years of the life of the master of Gangs ri thod dkar (around 1360-1364).

In these years, if he did die in January 1364, he probably returned to Gangs ri thod dkar. It is likely that he composed some more works there, since there is no indication that his last years were marked by illness (he was not yet sixty when he died, incidentally). In conclusion, all that can be said with any semblance of certainty is that the Gangs ri thod dkar period, far from being limited to the years 1337-1343, must in fact extend to the end of the author's life. Since he was not in the habit of dating his writings, we are reduced to looking for other elements, notably the internal references in the work, which we have methodically listed.


[1] He is, for example, one of the only Tibetan authors, to our knowledge, who does not hesitate to write, at the beginning of a treatise, that he will develop the subject according to his personal understanding (in the strong sense of direct and mystical understanding, “realization”). Klong chen pa’s internal references or “self-citations”

The reasoning I’m going to follow now is a bit complex because of the amount of material being handled.

First of all, and to answer in advance an objection concerning the method itself, it should be noted that Klong chen rab ’byams’ self-citations are never circular, that is, they always work in one direction only: there is, in fact, no case where he quotes work A in work B, and vice versa B in A; this never happens even indirectly, through the intermediary of one or several other works. If the “self-citations” were the result of corrections (editing) added later by Klong chen pa (or others), this linearity, indicative of a strictly successive composition, would suffer from a few exceptions. However, this is not the case at all. The hypothesis that any work A cited in a work B is prior to the latter is not contradicted by its systematic application.

The Grub mtha rin po che’i mdzod (no. 33) is quoted in the Lung gi gter mdzod (no. 277, p. 106), which itself is a commentary on the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod (no. 60), which it quotes in full. So, to start with, we have the probable order[1]:

  1. Grub mtha’ mdzod,
  2. Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod,
  3. Lung gi gter mdzod.

The great commentary of the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, the Padma dkar po (no. 259), quotes the Grub mtha' mdzod (no. 33). It must therefore be classified chronologically in the later period, with the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod, the Lung gi gter mdzod and the gNas lugs rin po che'i mdzod (no. 141) with its commentary, sDe gsum snying po’i don 'grel (no. 127).

The Grub mtha’ mdzod (no. 33, p. 405) cites the Yang tig yid bzhin nor bu’i chos de lnga bcu rtsa gcig, i.e., the fully completed Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu, and the Yang gsang snying thig, which could be either the mKha’ ’gro yang tig (as I believe) or the Zab mo yang tig. It is probably not the Zab mo yang tig: indeed, he also quotes, separately, the Khyung chen gshog rdzogs (p. 405). Now, this is the Khregs chod don gyi mdo chings khyung chen gshog rdzogs, n°18 of the Zab mo yang tig (n° 20). Similarly, the Grub mtha’ mdzod (no. 33, p. 405) cites the Sangs rgyas mnyam sbyor as a text about sNying thig. However, the homonymy with the Anuyoga tantra and the “treasure” of Guru Chos dbang should not mislead us: it is a text of the Zab mo yang tig (n° 17).

These two clues suggest that the Zab mo yang tig was in progress at the time of the composition of the Grub mtha’ mdzod, while the other two Yang tig were complete or in the process of being completed. Indeed, we recall that the mKha’ ’gro yang tig was probably the first of the three Yang tig to be finished (except for some of its minor parts, notably the three “wills” mentioned above), in the course of a year of the hare that we presume to be 1339. We therefore assume the order:

  1. mKha’ ’gro yang tig,
  2. Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu,
  3. Zab mo yang tig,

the Grub mtha’ mdzod (n° 33) intercalating between the first two and the last.

The Grub mtha’ mdzod also cites the great commentary on the Sems nyid Ngal gso, the Shing rta chen po (no. 217), pp. 165, 180, 226, and 259. We can infer, without going too far, that almost all of the Ngal gso skor gsum is anterior to it (we shall see that the author had to compose some small texts to complete this cycle, which are themselves posterior to the Grub mtha’ mdzod).

The Ngal gso skor gsum spyi don legs bshad rgya mtsho (no. 47, p. 42) cites the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod (no. 248), but, as we shall see, this is precisely one of those few texts of the Ngal gso skor gsum which were clearly composed after the greater part of this cycle. One cannot therefore infer much from it.

Theg mchog mdzod (no. 96, already seen to have been composed quickly at the time of Ku ma rā dza's death in 1343) and the ’Od gsal mdzod (i.e., the Tshig don rin po che'i mdzod, no. 199) are cited in the Lung gi gter mdzod (p. 107).

Leaving aside all the internal references of the Ngal gso skor gsum, which make it possible to establish the order of composition of this cycle (I will come back to this), we thus find this, by applying this method alone, without involving the examination of the colophons or any indication drawn from the biographies: the Lung gi gter mdzod is the latest; The Theg mchog mdzod, the Tshig don rin po che’i mdzod and the Grub mtha’ mdzod precede it, without it being possible to say anything about their order of composition, except that the Tshig don rin po che'i mdzod presupposes the existence of the Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod (no. 98), of which it is the abbreviated version and which it clarifies on certain points. It was already said that the Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod was composed immediately after the death of Ku ma rā dza (1343). The Ngal gso skor gsum predates the Grub mtha’ mdzod. Yet the general spyi don of the Ngal gso skor gsum, or Legs bshad rgya mtsho, quotes the Grub mtha' mdzod, pp. 165, 180, 226, 259. This can have only one meaning, namely, that the Legs bshad rgya mtsho was written well after the rest of the cycle, probably towards the end of the author’s life.

A writing entitled bDud rtsi bum pa is mentioned in the Grub mtha' mdzod, p. 405, as a text on sNying thig. It cannot be found among the works of Klong chen pa that are known to us. A Yid bzhin nor bu (apparently distinct from the previous one, but also relating to sNying thig) is also named on the same page of the Grub mtha’ mdzod. It is difficult to identify it with certainty, but several hypotheses are possible, none of which, moreover, is of capital interest for the chronological classification of the works. It is probably the mKha’ ’gro bde chen rgya mtsho | rin chen shog ser skor bskyed rim yid bzhin nor bu (mKha’ ’gro yang tig, no. 24 / no. 22). It could also be, but this is less plausible (because it is not exactly a text of sNying thig), the rDzogs pa chen po sgyu ma Ngal gso’i don khrid Yid bzhin nor bu (no. 209). The same passage in the Grub mtha’ mdzod also refers to a gSer gyi sgrom bu, which is surely the Man ngag rin po che gser gyi sgrom bu of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig[2] .

The Rin chen them skas (no. 272), now lost, is precisely mentioned in the Grub mtha’ mdzod (p. 266), as a text which explains in a developed way how the non-fictional (rtog med) can be derived from the fictional (rtog bcas). It is, moreover, present in the dKar chag rin po che’i bang mdzod, with this qualification which does not contradict what the Grub mtha’ mdzod says about it:

“The Jewel Staircase and its commentary, a general explanation of the Five Dharma of Maitreya through a determination of the Lands (sa) and Ways (lam) (Byams pa'i chos lnga’i spyi’i don ’grel du sa lam gyi rnam par bzhag pa Rin chen thems skas rtsa ’grel)."

It is unfortunate that this text is lost. That said, it cannot be ruled out that it was in fact incorporated, for example, into the great commentary on the Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod, which contains a considerable development of these themes.

This hypothesis, which may appear to be purely unfounded speculation on my part, is nevertheless corroborated by the fact that the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, entire sections of which deal with precisely the same subjects as the (obviously earlier) Rin chen thems skas, never refers to it. One might simply infer that the author’s thinking had evolved too much for him to still consider it relevant to refer the reader to it at the time of the composition of the Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod. But such scruples do not generally seem to stop him, since, as we have seen, he often refers to his earlier works, even though his thinking is constantly changing on certain points, as we shall have the opportunity to discover (on a few examples) in the next section [i.e. the largest section of Profusion de la Vaste Sphère, about Klong chen pa’s doctrine]. If he does not quote the Rin chen thems skas in the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, it may well be because the former no longer existed at the time of the composition of the latter, not because the author destroyed it, but possibly because he had reworked it and integrated it into the Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod. We submit this hypothesis to philologists. Its demonstration and its refutation will be perhaps, in addition, of an equal impossibility...

The commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāga attributed by some to Klong chen rab ’byams[3], which, if authentic, might have contained equivalent material, is not by him. The author, Blo gros mtshungs med, is an (older) contemporary of the master of Gangs ri thod dkar[4] .

As for the Rin chen them skas, this lost text is not mentioned in the Ngal gso skor gsum where it could be (notably in the explanation of the Lands and Ways of the Sems nyid Ngal gso’i ’grel pa shing rta chen po, p. 683, where the text refers to the Sa sde). This makes it reasonable to situate its composition between that of the Ngal gso skor gsum and that of the Grub mtha’ mdzod.

The Sems dang ye shes dris lan quotes the Nges don shing rta chen po, which is presumably (but the text would have to be examined very closely) the commentary of the Sems nyid Ngal gso. In any case, this is not of great consequence.

Let's move on to the order of composition of the Ngal gso skor gsum.

Each main treatise of the trilogy is accompanied by a commentary (’grel pa), a manual of practice (don khrid) and an abridgement (bsdus don). In addition, there is a general catalog (dKar chag) of the cycle and a synthesis (spyi don), i.e. fourteen parts. Naturally, each versified treatise, quoted in its entirety in its commentary, is most probably earlier than the latter (with, though, the possibility that the verses were composed exactly at the same time as their commentary and not earlier, separately).

The general synthesis (spyi don) of the Ngal gso skor gsum is entitled Legs bshad rgya mtsho. This text was composed in O rgyan rdzong in Gangs ri thod dkar. It cites the Sems nyid ngal gso (p. 93), its commentary, the Shing rta chen po (p. 106), and its abridgment, the Sems nyid ngal gso’i bsdus don padma dkar po’i phreng ba (p. 106); the bSam gtan ngal gso (p. 93) and its commentary, the bSam gtan ngal gso’i ’grel pa shing rta rnam dag (pp. 61 and 110). It also quotes the sgyu ma Ngal gso (p. 94) and its commentary, the Shing rta bzang po (pp. 57, 112, 113). The same Legs bshad rgya mtsho again quotes the sGyu ma ngal gso'i bsdus don māndarava'i phreng ba (p. 113). Finally, and even more relevantly, it cites the trilogy as a whole (Ngal gso skor gsum: pp. 86, 101; Ngal gso skor gsum ’grel pa dang bcas pa: p. 92); – which makes it clear that he was not written until after all the treatises were completed, with the probable exception of the practice manuals (don khrid), which are never mentioned.

Having established the posteriority of the Legs bshad rgya mtsho with respect to the three fundamental treatises, the three commentaries, and, if one may extrapolate, the three abridgments (bsdus don), and its anteriority with respect to the three practice manuals and the table of contents, which is still later than the latter, it remains to examine the order of the first nine texts. The Shing rta rnam dag (p. 98) quotes the Shing rta bzang po (commentary on the sgyu ma ngal gso). This makes impossible the systematization of the hypothesis of a composition of the Ngal gso skor gsum in the order in which it should be studied, i.e: Sems nyid ngal gso with its appendages; bSam gtan ngal gso and its appendages; sGyu ma ngal gso and its appendages.

Let us assume, therefore, somewhat arbitrarily, but not illogically, that Klong chen rab 'byams composed the Ngal gso skor gsum in the following order, or something of this kind:

  1. Sems nyid ngal gso;
  2. Kuṇḍa'i phreng ba;
  3. bSam gtan ngal gso;
  4. Puṇḍarīka'i phreng ba;
  5. sgyu ma ngal gso ;
  6. Mandārava’i phreng ba;
  7. Shing rta chen po ;
  8. Shing rta bzang po ;
  9. Shing rta rnam dag;
  10. Legs bshad rgya msho ;
  11. Byang chub lam bzang;
  12. sNying po bcud ’dus ;
  13. Yid bzhin nor bu;
  14. dKar chag padma stong ldan.

As for the so-called Mun sel skor gsum, the Yid kyi mun sel (no. 257) comes last, since it cites the other two texts, and it mentions them in an order that may be as much chronological as logical, Ma rig pa’i mun sel (no. 183) then Phyogs bcu'i mun sel (no. 161).

I have many doubts about the authenticity of the Yid kyi mun sel, at least as a completed work (it could be a treatise left unfinished by the author and completed by posterity), for two reasons: primarily the inconsistency of its structure (which I have already pointed out) and secondarily the slight difference in its title from that mentioned in the Ma rig pa’i mun sel). This is a point that would require a separate treatment.

[2021: It is also extremely probable that Klong chen pa never had the intention of composing these treatises as a “trilogy”, contrary to the Ngal gso skor gsum or the Rang grol skor gsum. In the 2009 edition of Klong chen pa’s complete writings, these three treatises are not even presented side by side anymore, an indication, maybe, that the best Tibetan specialists also doubt either, as I do, the authenticity of a part of it, or at least its character of an organized whole]

The Phyogs bcu'i mun sel is dated to a year of the dragon which I assume, for reasons I have already stated, can only be 1352. The sNgags spyi don tshangs dbyangs ’brug sgra also happens to be from a year of the dragon which must be the same. This rather unknown text is much more typical of the style and thought of Klong chen rab 'byams. One wonders whether it might not be the real second member of the Trilogy that dispels darkness: it would be curious indeed if Klong chen pa had composed two general syntheses (spyi don) of Buddhist Tantrism in (roughly) the same year. At least the four texts (the Mun sel skor gsum as transmitted to us by tradition, plus the Tshangs dbyangs ’brug sgra) should be re-examined in the light of this hypothesis.

As for the Trilogy of Self-Liberation, on the one hand, its structure is more homogeneous, and on the other hand, it does not contain a reference to the other parts of Klong chen rab ’byams’ work, where it is not quoted either. Because of the imprecision of the colophons, it is impossible to situate its composition, except by considering the style and content. These last elements (somewhat qualitative and therefore impressionistic, I confess) lead me to place this cycle at the very end of the author’s life with the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod and the gNas lugs rin po che’i mdzod. There is no reason why this trilogy should not have been written in the order in which it is published (the order in which the texts are presented in the available English or French translations).

A text entitled gNas la bsngags pa rol moi’i dbyangs bsnyan (no. 136, on the qualities of Gangs ri thod dkar) is cited in the Shing rta bzang po (p. 213) – this text does not appear under this title in the table of the gSung thor bu, but it is found in the Inventory of the Treasure of Jewels (p. 5) and in the catalog of Chos grags bzang po (no. 88 in our inventory). This makes it possible to establish a certain informative value of these catalogs, which otherwise pose the problems we have seen.

Why does the Lung gi gter mdzod [auto-commentary on the Chos dbyings mdzod] not cite the sDe gsum snying po (no. 127, auto-commentary of the gNas lugs mdzod) when (p. 106-107) Klong chen rab ’byams mentions the texts in which he expounded the distinction of sems, ye shes and rig pa? It seems to me that this is an argument in favor of the hypothesis of a very late composition of the gNas lugs mdzod and its commentary, texts which are in the same vein as the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod and the Lung gi gter mdzod, but which seem to go even further in the radicality of their thought and the perfection of their poetic expression.

I would be inclined to regard the gNas lugs rin po che’i mdzod (no. 141) and the sDe gsum snying po’i don ’grel (no. 127) as two of the very last important works of Klong chen rab 'byams.

It is true, however, that this argument alone is not conclusive, insofar as one would find this distinction made explicit in a number of texts of the Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu, undoubtedly older (this cycle is mentioned in the Grub mtha’ mdzod (no. 33), which is itself mentioned in the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod), but to which Klong chen pa does not refer either in this context, where he recalls in which writings he presented the distinction of sems and ye shes.

As for the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, its rather exoteric character and the fact that it is signed Tshul khrims blo gros might have led one to think [5]that it was an early work, written before the author had any personal contact with the sNying thig teachings. In fact, an examination of the cross-references from one work to another makes it clear that it is later than the Grub mtha’ mdzod (cited on p. 931 of the commentary), let alone the Nges don shing rta chen po (great commentary on the rDzogs pa chen po sems nyid ngal gso), which is also cited in the commentary on the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod (pp. 1048-1049).

It is true that the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod is mentioned in the Legs bshad rgya mtsho, a synthesis of the Ngal gso skor gsum; but, as we have seen, everything leads us to believe that this text was added late to this trilogy, which was already completed. The composition of the Grub mtha’ mdzod is in fact interposed between that of most of the texts of the Ngal gso skor gsum and that of this synthesis.

In terms of content, the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod takes to a higher level of completion what the Ngal gso skor gsum was a first outline of (in a different form, that of a lam rim or “graduated path”), namely a recapitulation of the content of the nine Vehicles in the light of the rDzogs chen. Moreover, if one wants to give more weight to pseudonyms than is appropriate, let us add that the synthesis (spyi don) of the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod bears the signature of Dri med ’od zer.

Here are the elements of chronological classification that can be drawn, in conclusion, from the simple combination of the preceding biographical elements and this analysis of internal references[6]:

  1. the letter to Karma pa Rang byung rdo rje (composed between 1326 and 1332) and all the texts expressly composed in bSam yas or in gSang phu ;
  2. mKha’ ’gro yang tig (1339)[7];
  3. Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu ;
  4. Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod (1343);
  5. Tshig don rin po che'i mdzod ;
  6. Ngal gso skor gsum ;
  7. beginning of the composition of the Zab mo yang tig ;
  8. Grub mtha' mdzod ;
  9. Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod ;
  10. Legs bshad rgya mtsho ;
  11. Chos dbyings mdzod and its commentary.

In view of the style, the content, and the fact that this treatise is not cited elsewhere, I would be inclined to place the composition of the Phyogs bcu’i mun sel, the great commentary on the *Guhyagarbhatantra, which can be dated to 1352, between that of the Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod and that of the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod.

  1. The period of bSam yas and gSang phu seems to be characterized mainly by a production of rather poetic, literary interest;
  2. A subsequent period seems to be marked by the writing of a large part of the works relating to the sNying thig, except maybe the Zab mo yang tig which I have not been able so far to locate in any plausible place in the chronology;
  3. A third period could be characterized as one in which the author attempted several successive general syntheses of Buddhist teaching from the perspective of rDzogs chen (Ngal gso skor gsum, Grub mtha' mdzod and Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod).
  4. The last years of Klong chen rab ’byams’ production seem to be marked by a return to pure rDzogs chen, but, this time, with a valorization of Khregs chod and an approach that could be called abrupt and apragmatic (Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod, Lung gi gter mdzod, gNas lugs rin po che’i mdzod, sDe gsum snying po’i don ’grel). It would be tempting (and it would make sense) to link the Rang grol skor gsum to this last period.

One can probably place the so-called “trilogy” relating to the gSang ba snying po at the end in of the third period – that in which I imagine our author, coming down in some way from the elevation of the sNying thig, to be attached to wrap in the depth of the rDzogs chen all the teachings of the “eight lower Vehicles.”

The Zab mo yang tig would mark a kind of transition between the third and the last period, unless it constitutes an intermediate period in itself.


[1] There is at least one case where the composition of the versified treatise and the prose commentary are probably several years apart: the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod. That said, it is the consideration of style and content that supports my opinion that the Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod and its commentary, as well as the gNas lugs rin po che’i mdzod (no. 141) with its commentary, are from the end of the author's life.

[2]  The two preceding elements could lead us to revise our hypothesis on the date of composition of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig. It is not impossible that the allusions to Klong chen rab 'byams' work on the mKha' 'gro snying thig around 1340 only concern the writing or the final edition of the fundamental corpus and not the composition of our author's Yang tig. Taking this fragmentary information from the Grub mtha' mdzod (no. 33) in this way, we should rather assume a late composition of the mKha' 'gro yang tig, and say that, like the Zab mo yang tig, it was still in the making, and far from forming a homogeneous and well-ordered collection, at the time of the composition of the Grub mtha' mdzod. We believe that the truth lies somewhere between these two hypotheses.

[3] Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi nges don gsal bar byed pa rin po che'i sgron me, 690 manuscript pages in the edition consulted.

[4] This indication is due to the kindness of Gene Smith, July 2001. It is confirmed by the fact that there is no reference to this commentary in Klong chen rab ’byams’ work, on the one hand, and that, on the other, it is not mentioned in the dKar chag rin po che’i mdzod khang or in any of the biographies. “Blo gros mtshungs med” is not a pen name of Klong chen rab ’byams that would be known elsewhere. Last but not least, this Blo gros mtshungs med is named at several points in the Deb ther sngon po, including in the biography of Grags pa seng ge (Blue Annals, pp. 524ff. : “After that [1308], he [Grags pa seng ge] proceeded to gSang phu and became the disciple of the chief preacher (bla chos pa) ’Jam dbyangs Śāk gzhon, and of the assistant preacher the ācārya Blo gros mtshungs med, and obtained [instructions] in many philosophical texts, including the Five Divisions of the Yogacārabhūmi of Asaṅga, the Five Treatises of Maitreya [emphasis added], the Pramāṇaviniścaya, the Ārya-Prajñāpāramitā-sañcayagāthā, the Bodhisattva-caryā-avatāra, and other texts. In particular, when the ācārya Blo gros mtshungs med saw a commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā composed by him, he said, ‘Though well done, there will be no one to follow it. Leave it!’ He then gave up the writing [of the commentary].” This figure (“Blo gros mtshungs med of gSang phu”) also appears (op. cit. , p. 532) in the biography of g.Yag sde paṇ chen, born in 1299, as one of the latter’s teachers, on roughly the same corpus. It is thus perfectly clear that this is not Klong chen rab ’byams, but a scholar of “exoteric” philosophy, one or two generations older than him, whom he may have met at gSang phu, unless Blo gros mtshungs med died before 1326.

[5] See, for example, Achard, L'Essence Perlée du Secret, p. 95.

[6] It is  not impossible that new elements will emerge from a careful examination of some of the texts that I have only been able to skim over, because of the extent of Klong chen rab ’byams’ work and the time limits within which I have had to conduct the present study [This is a part of my 2002 PhD dissertation].

[7] I am undecided on this point of the composition of mKha’ ’gro yang tig. As has been said, the allusions to Klong chen rab ’byams’ work on the mKha' 'gro snying thig found in the biographies may only concern the definitive fixing of the gter chos corpus. It is possible that the writing of the mKha’ ’gro yang tig itself is rather contemporary with that of the Zab mo yang tig. Perhaps the writing of the numerous texts that make up these two great cycles even continued over the last fifteen years of Klong chen rab ’byams’ life. In view of the quantity, this would be a reasonable hypothesis. 

[2021 : The same could be said of the Zab mo yang tig – It is even possible that its redaction was continued until the end of Klong chen pa’s life, – and, for any reason, he placed his “will” in the mKha’ ’gro yang tig. Of course, nothing obliges us to assume that these vast cycles were composed the one after the other, an no other writing started before such a large collection is “complete,” – whatever this may mean, anyway, when these are large collections of little, scattered treatises among which there is not always a very transparent global structure that would make each of them an indispensable part of a whole.]


Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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