What did Longchen Rabjam actually write and what is the chronology of his writings ? (3)

Publié le 31 Mai 2021

To get back to the first section of this series about Lonchen Rabjam's writings, click here. Conclusive consideration of the general character of Klong chen rab 'byams' works by periods

In the Quintessence of the Master (Bla ma yang tig), he certainly only compiles, reformulates, clarifies; perhaps it is still the same in the mKha' 'gro yang tig.

In the Treasure of the Supreme Vehicle (Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod), he has already wrested the traditional materials of the exegesis of the Seventeen Tantras from their dispersion in order to cast them in a new form, in a thematically intelligible order[1]. The Treasury of the Meaning of Words (Tshig don rin po che’i mdzod), although its plan is more classical (cf. Achard, op. cit., p. 231), includes, on the same themes, a higher degree of precision, more freedom of tone, especially in the responses to objections and comparisons with the śāstra of the Mahāyāna.

This next period is more devoted to syntheses combining rDzogs chen and Subaltern Vehicles, characteristic of the following period: The Trilogy on Quietude (Ngal gso skor gsum), the Treasury of Philosophical Systems (Grub mtha’ mdzod), and the Treasury of Wish Fulfilling Jewels (Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod) with its commentary could be described, both in form and in substance, as hybrids combining traditional structures and original syntheses (originality, moreover, begins with the joint use of heterogeneous materials, not with any characteristic doctrinal inventions).

I find no basis in the thinking of those who believe they see a progression in the maturity of the author in direct relation to the “hierarchical” degree of depth of the subjects treated. It is not fair to see in the Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod “a great spiritual maturity, a depth that the Yid bzhin mdzod, for example, or the Man ngag mdzod, which appear to be older works, do not have.” For the Man ngag mdzod, this way of thinking is perhaps defensible, even if it is difficult to compare writings of such a different character (do the Maximes of La Rochefoucauld or the Fables of La Fontaine testify to a lesser “maturity” than the Summa Theologiæ of Thomas Aquinas?) In any case, to this day, nothing seems to make it possible to date this last text (the Man ngag mdzod), which, for the style and the contents, could certainly have been composed in the author’s youth.

But as far as the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod is concerned, one should really not confuse “depth”, understood in terms of hierarchical degree in the traditional classification of teachings with the “maturity” required to compose a work of any genre. Perhaps less maturity was required to write the Theg mchog rin po che’i mdzod (a simple redaction of an already constituted tradition) than to compose the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod. Indeed, the type of intelligence required for the former was that which one would expect of an encyclopedist, arranging an enormous amount of traditional material into a logical and comprehensible form [and even then, since the time of writing the French book which I am here translating, it has become increasingly clear that the Theg mchog mdzod is not an original work at all, but a mere rewriting or redaction of inherited material]. As for the Yid bzhin rin po che’i mdzod, it certainly contains whole chapters which are merely a reworking of a certain bka’ gdams pa literature; but, as for the overall project and for the execution of some of its parts, it really required an intelligence that was both synthetic and creative, combining, in a unitary intuition, elements that were very heterogeneous in origin. Moreover, for example, the exposition of the philosophical systems in the Yid bzhin mdzod is of a very high level of exigency, especially with regard to the literature which is contemporary to it. The same cannot be said of the one found in the Theg mchog mdzod, which is nothing more than a formatting of the doxographic elements scattered throughout the Seventeen Tantras (elements whose relevance to the philosophical literature of India is, to say the least, debatable).

Finally, the gNas lugs mdzod, the Chos dbyings mdzod and the Rang grol skor gsum are texts whose very construction is [to our knowledge] totally original and does not correspond to any known precedent, just as the thought that is expressed in them is the one that is most likely to surprise even a reader who is well versed in the subtleties of Tibetan philosophical and religious literature. Final hypothesis on the dates of composition of the main works of Klong chen rab ’byams

The combination of all the preceding elements with the consideration of the time that may have been necessary for the composition of each of the works leads us to propose the following chronology, which is, of course, perfectly hypothetical and purely indicative. I deliver it mainly with the idea of presenting the results of my work in an easily manageable and, if necessary, easily refutable form:

  • 1326-1332: Address to Karma pa translated above; 'Phags pa dByangs can ma'i sgrub thabs 'od kyi drva ba, n° 162.
  • 1332: the anti-Khams pa text translated above, composed on the occasion of the departure of gSang phu, rKyen la khams 'dus pa ka kha gsum bcu, n° 7.
  • 1334-1337: Bla ma dam pa Ku ma rā dza la rtogs pa phul ba / ... gdams-ngag sangs rgyas lag 'chang (no. 173).
  • 1339-1340: edition of the mKha' 'gro snying thig; beginning, perhaps, of the writing of the mKha' 'gro yang tig.
  • 1341-1342: Bla ma yang tig yid bzhin nor bu.
  • 1343: Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod.
  • 1344: bKa' drin dam pa zhes-bya ba'i gsol 'debs (incipit: rGya ba'i rnam 'phrul bla ma rje... no. 6) [composed one year after Ku ma rā dza's death].
  • 1344-1345: Ngal gso skor gsum, except the don khrid, the Legs bshad rgya mtsho and the general table of the cycle.
  • 1346: Tshig don rin po che'i mdzod.
  • 1347: Grub mtha' mdzod. First elements of the Zab mo yang tig.
  • 1348-1349: Yid bzhin rin po che'i mdzod and Padma dkar po.
  • 1349: three texts related to the restoration of Zhwa'i lha khang: Zhwa padma dbang chen gyi bstod pa rol mo’i sprin phung, Zhwa padma dbang chen gyi dKar chag gtsigs kyi yi ge zhib mo and Zhwa padma dbang chen mi 'gyur lhun gyis grub pa’i phud rabs ’phags pa Kun tu bzang po mchod pa’i dga’ ston.
  • 1350-1351: end of the composition of the Zab mo yang tig and perhaps the mKha' 'gro yang tig.
  • 1352-1353: Mun sel skor gsum [with the above mentioned reservations about the authenticity of the Yid kyi mun sel] and sNgags spyi don tshangs dbyangs ’brug sgra.
  • 1354-1355: Chos dbyings rin po che’i mdzod and Lung gi gter mdzod.
  • 1355: Bum thang lha’i sbas yul gyi bkod pa la bsngags pa me tog skyed tshal (no. 160).
  • 1356-1364: gNas lugs rin po che’i mdzod, sDe gsum snying po'i don ’grel, Ngal gso skor gsum.

[1]  Klong chen rab 'byams evidently had read earlier commentaries on each of the seventeen tantras of the sNying thig; he mentions them at the end of the Grub mtha’ mdzod. In the Bi ma snying thig, these commentaries, most of which seem to have been lost today, do not appear; but there remain abridged glosses, which should be compared methodically with the Theg mchog rin po che'i mdzod and the Tshig don rin po che'i mdzod. [N.B.: I am translating the French book here; many things have since been clarified as to the sources of the Theg mchog mdzod and Tshig don mdzod, on the one hand, and many texts have resurfaced with the publication of the rNying ma bka’ ma shin tu rgyas pa]

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Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

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