What did Longchen Rabjam actually write and what is the chronology of his writings ? (1)

Publié le 27 Mai 2021

[A translation of the relevant section of Profusion de la vaste sphère, Peeters, 2007] 

1.2. The work of Klong chen rab 'byams

1.2.1. Chronology of the works

At this point, and in spite of a certain amount of obscurity which does not leave to remain in the biography of Klong chen rab 'byams, we can attempt a rudimentary chronological classification of the works, based on three points:

  • Colophon review;
  • Biographical elements already known;
  • Internal references.

But first, we must examine the various catalogs of works currently available, compare them with the contents of the editions we use, and try to make a first sorting of authentic, doubtful and fictitious works. Attempt at an inventory of the writings of Klong chen rab 'byams

N.B.: This entire section is from 2002 (published in 2007), i.e. before the Tibetan edition in Western format of Klong chen rab 'byams' complete works [2009, Beijing, Mes pos shul bzhag n° 106-131, 26 vol.as become available. This edition has not brought a thorough modification of my perception of the author’s writings – not much came out that we can reasonably consider as authentic. The only corpus it brought to light that would have deserved examination is that of the works attributed to our author on the gCod, which fill an entire volume of this edition. If I were to seriously rework this part of the 2007 book, in addition to a number of important tibetological publications that have appeared since then and that I would not omit to mention, I would homogenize all references by referring only to this very convenient edition.]

We compare here mainly four sources:

  • the Inventory of the Treasure of Jewels (dKar chag rin po che'i mdzod khang or bsTan bcos kyi dKar chag rin po che'i mdzod) attributed to Klong chen rab ’byams himself;
  • (B-D) three biographies; and
  • (E) a catalog of the sDe dge printing house on the other hand.

The first two biographies (B-C) have already been quoted extensively:

  • (B) that of Glag bla bSod nam chos ’grub and
  • (C) that of Chos grags bzang po.

In the latter, the catalog of works occupies pp. 208-226 in the Western edition. The third biography (D) is the one sMyo shul mkhan po composed. The list of works begins on p. 310 of the first volume of the edition we use and extends to p. 327. As for our fourth source (E), it is thus a catalog of the sDe dge printing press, entitled sDe dge’i par khang rig gnas kun ’dus gzhal med khang chos mdzod chen mo bkra shis sgo mang gi dKar chag rdo rje'i chos bdun ldan pa'i lde'u mig, which is difficult to date (the preface is in Chinese), but which must be recent, since it contains a list of works by ’Ju Mi pham (who died in 1912). This catalog is of interest to us insofar as it seems to list almost all the works of our author that have been preserved to date: we have read all those it enumerates, and, apart from the Yid kyi mun sel and the Ma rig pa’i mun sel (two parts of the trilogy on the gSang ba snying po), we have come across only very few that do not appear in this list. Thus, as for those that appear in the first four catalogs and not in the fifth, assuming that they ever really existed, at least they are, more or less, either lost or have become excessively rare.

We use the lists (B-C-D), which are homogeneous (except for a few details) and the most extensive, as a basis; the Inventory of the Treasure of Jewels (A) will be compared with it in the second column: the works named in (B-C-D) which appear in it will be indicated by the + sign, the others by the 0 sign. Likewise, those which appear in the catalog of the sDe dge printing house (E) will be indicated in the same way in the third column.

It should also be noted that there are, notably in the two volumes of Miscellaneous Works (gSung thor bu), a good number of titles that do not appear either in the dKar chag rin po che’i mdzod khang or in Chos grags bzang po’s list, both of which are very certainly ancient. What is even more curious is the absence in (A), (B) and (C) of major works whose authenticity does not seem to be in doubt, including one of the Seven Treasures with its self-commentary (the gNas lugs rin po che'i mdzod (no. 141); sMyo shul mkhan po corrects this in (D), but only to a limited extent, without calling into question the authenticity of (A) or the validity of the entire tradition that derives from it.) The Inventory of the Treasure of Jewels is thus most likely a forgery (in my opinion, in fact: simply an extract from the biography composed by Chos grags bzang po, attributed afterwards to Klong chen rab 'byams - and not the other way around as tradition would have it).

Here is a hypothesis that I considered for a while: (A) would be the source reproduced uncritically by (B) and (C) and would indeed be in the hand of Klong chen rab ’byams - but its composition would predate that of the works that are absent from it. It would thus be possible to situate chronologically the composition of the Treasure of Jewels Inventory, to maintain the authenticity – which is not in doubt – of those works that do not appear in it and whose importance is crucial, and to confirm their later character.

At least, an examination of the Treasure of Jewels Inventory, regardless of its author or the conditions of its composition, is positive in that it shows that the now classic presentation of Klong chen rab ’byams’ main works in the form of the list of “seven great treasures (mdzod chen bdun), three trilogies (Ngal gso skor gsum, Rang grol skor gsum and Mun sel skor gsum) and three quintessences (Yang tig gsum)” must have taken some time to become established after the death of the master. Indeed, there is no trace of it in this catalog.

But what ultimately undermines the credibility of this assumption is that a number of texts that do exist are indeed mentioned in the Treasure of Jewels Inventory, but with incorrect titles or aberrant qualifications. Thus, for example, the names of the treatises making up the Remission Trilogy (Ngal gso skor gsum) are generally wrong; similarly, the classification of the Treasure of Wish-fulfilling Jewels (Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod) among the texts of the Sphere [or Expanse] Section (Klong sde) [1]contradicts the very letter of this text, which unequivocally associates it with the Instructions Section (Man ngag sde). In short, it seems to me not only that the Treasure of Jewels Inventory is not by Klong chen rab ’byams; but also that it is even the work of a forger who is [2]not very well versed in the writings of this author; and that the tradition which proceeds from it is without any authority as to the authenticity or inauthenticity of the treatises attributed to Klong chen rab ’byams. This can be seen in the table below, where all these detail inconsistencies are meticulously listed.

I have already presented my hypothesis on the Inventory of the Treasure of Jewels in advance. It seems to me, in the end, again, that it must have been detached from Chos grags bzang po’s Life Worth Seeing and mistakenly considered to be written by Klong chen pa (and not vice versa, as tradition believes). This is not the only case of a disciple’s work attributed to the master: I have already  suggested that the Visionary Network (mThong snang ’od kyi drwa ba), an allegedly autobiographical text, was certainly written by one of our author’s students.

There is a more reliable method than reading these bizarre inventories to determine what should be attributed with some certainty to our author. He is accustomed, in fact, to refer occasionally, in his writings, to other parts of his work in which he has treated similar themes. Certainly, the criterion is not perfectly satisfactory:

  • First, it is not impossible, a priori, that such passages were interpolated.
  • Secondly, and more importantly, it is clear, on the one hand, that the later works will not be cited by the others, unless the older ones have been reworked.

On the other hand, it is also clear that such referrals

  1. Will hardly be found in the versified texts without commentary in prose (the form is repugnant to it) and
  2. Will not mention writings that their themes put apart from the others, presenting a marginal character relative to one of the major centers of gravity of the work.

But it is safe to say that the combined weight of tradition, conformity of style, coherence of doctrine, absence of anachronisms and the presence of a few cross-references from one work to another, must outweigh a dozen dubious pages, even if they have been recopied for six or seven centuries by biographers of apparently unenlightened piety, more concerned with underlining the marvellous breadth of Klong chen rab ’byams’ work than with taking its exact measure.

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[1]  Picked up, curiously, by Tülku Thondup, Buddha Mind, p. 155, but in a more cautious form, when he describes this text (with its self-commentary) as “an exposition of the profound and vast categories of the profound and vast teachings of basis, path and result of the three main categories of Dzogpa Chenpo, namely Semde, Longde and Mengagde, and in particular Longde.”

This idea is firmly established in the rNying ma tradition, as it was confirmed to me by mKhas btsun bzang po rin po che (August 2001), referring to the conclusion of the self-commentary (Lung gi gter mdzod). I searched for the passage to which this great scholar was referring and found nothing, except that the Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod is given there as a synthesis of all the sections of the rDzogs chen, thus including the Klong sde, plus this verse (p. 351) of the Tantra that pulverizes speech (sGra thal 'gyur), one of the seventeen fundamental Tantras of the essence of the heart (sNying thig): sde gsum las ni klong dgur 'gyur. Without knowledge of the context, one might think that this means: “Among the three rubrics [of the Great Completeness, this treatise] falls under the nine spheres (klong).” However, as we are reminded on the previous page of the same treatise, there is a presentation of the Klong sde in three spheres (white, black, variegated), each of which is in turn subdivided into three, which gives nine spheres.

But this is not at all the meaning of the passage in question in the tantra: it deals with the general subdivisions of the literature of the rDzogs chen, and means that what is roughly classified under three headings (Sems sde, Klong sde, Man ngag sde) can be subdivided into nine bodies. The word klong, in the context, is simply understood in this sense. This is perfectly clear to any reader familiar with the literature of the rDzogs chen, since this passage from the sGra thal 'gyur is quoted and commented upon perhaps ten or fifteen times in the work of Klong chen rab 'byams. Moreover, in order to interpret this verse in the sense apparently taken by those who want the Chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod to be a treatise on Klong sde, it would have to say something that would imply that the sGra thal 'gyur itself falls under the purview of Klong sde, which is quite inconceivable.

In short, I think we should stick without hesitation to what the author expressly says on the very first page of Lung gi gter mdzod: “Of the two moments [namely, Khregs chod and Thod rgal] of such a 'place of certainty' (gnas nges pa, 'precision of key-points', perhaps, assuming a verbal meaning to nges pa and taking gnas in the sense of gnad), it is the meaning of [the practice of] 'destruction of rigidified complexity' (Khregs chod) that is able to effortlessly liberate those whose faculties, sovereignly eminent, are [properly] supreme. The nature of its Adamantine key points of certainty having been condensed here into [one book] from the profusion of tantras and crucial instructions, in order to explain them in an eminently clear manner, I have commented in great detail on [my] treatise entitled The Jewel Treasure of the Real Element.” For context, see my partial translation below [in the French book]. The Khregs chod is, as is well known, in the Section of Instructions (Man ngag sde), not in the Section of the Sphere (Klong sde).

The most correct solution seems to me to be that of the tradition of mkhan po Ngag ga (Ngag dbang dpal bzang), master of the master of sMyo shul mkhan po : a teaching or a text must be considered as belonging to the category to which the highest of its sources belong, especially when the other texts it cites appear only as materials ordered for this purpose (moreover, it would be aberrant to summon the literature of the sNying thig for the purpose of illustrating subaltern doctrines and practices of Buddhism). Therefore, any text or oral teaching that refers to the sNying thig must presumably belong to this category.

[2] Or a pious but ill-informed disciple. The author of the catalog is not necessarily the one who wrote the colophon; he did not necessarily intend his text to pass for a work by Klong chen rab 'byams. It is possible that the colophon is interpolated.

Rédigé par Stéphane Arguillère

Publié dans #Klong chen pa

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