The Niralambastuti or Niralambastava found in the Jnanalokalamkara-sutra

By David Reigle on October 25, 2015 at 2:59 pm

What may very appropriately be called the Nirālamba-stuti or -stava, the “Hymn of Praise to the Unsupported One,” is a group of verses ending with the refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, “salutations to you, the unsupported one!” Although some of these verses were quoted in Buddhist texts, no such title was found among the hymns of praise in the Tibetan Buddhist canon; that is, in the bstod tshogs section of the Tengyur where one might expect to find it. My friend Mats Lindberg informed me that, while going through the Sanskrit Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, he came across it within that sūtra. He then made a recording of his recitation of this hymn of praise in Sanskrit, and posted it along with a description of it at: https://vimeo.com/140854981. At the end of his description he gave a translation of its most often quoted verse, verse 12, along with the Sanskrit:

Salutations to Thee, totally devoid of all conceptual Intention! अविकल्पितसंकल्प
Salutations to Thee whose mind is nowhere established! अप्रतिष्ठितमानस ।
Salutations to Thee who is devoid of all recollection! अस्मृत्यमनसीकार
Salutations to Thee the Unsupported, devoid of all mental fixation! निरालम्ब नमोऽस्तु ते ।। १२ ।।

The Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra (more fully Sarva-buddha-viṣayāvatāra-jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra) is given in some lists as one of the ten tathāgata-garbha sūtras, the sourcebooks of the buddha-nature teaching, even though the term tathāgata-garbha does not occur in it. It is the source of the nine examples used to illustrate buddha-action in chapter 4 the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, listed in verse 4.13, and it is quoted in the commentary after verse 1.8 to explain six qualities of a buddha listed in verse 1.5. Its Sanskrit original was found in Tibet, and was published in a limited facsimile edition in 2003, in a transliterated edition along with its Tibetan and Chinese translations in 2004, and in a critical edition also in 2004 (scanned and posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts; also has been input and is available as a searchable file at the GRETIL site: http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/4_rellit/buddh/jnalokau.htm). In 2006 fragments of a Sanskrit manuscript of it that was discovered in 1900-1901 were published in The British Library Sanskrit Fragments, vol. 1 (http://iriab.soka.ac.jp/orc/Publications/BLSF/pdf/BLSF-I-07-KARASHIMA-WILLE.pdf). In 2015 an English translation of it by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee titled The Ornament of the Light of Awareness appeared as part of the 84000 project (http://read.84000.co/old-app/#!ReadingRoom/UT22084-047-002/0).

The Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra consists of forty verses, all ending with the refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, “salutations to you, the unsupported one!” Three such verses occurring in the Pañcakrama were noted by Christian Lindtner in his 1982 book, Nagarjuniana (p. 13, fn. 20), where he tries to determine which texts attributed to Nāgārjuna were actually written by Nāgārjuna. Lindtner there lists the *Nirālambastava (the preceding asterisk means that the title is a hypothetical restoration) as a text attributed to Nāgārjuna, on the basis of a quotation he found in the Tibetan translation of Dharmendra’s Tattvasārasaṃgraha (the Sanskrit original of this text is lost). He gives the quoted verse: bsam byed bsam gtan bsam bya dag || spangs pa bden pa mthong ba yin || ’di kun rtog pa tsam nyid du || gang gis rtogs pa de grol ’gyur ||, and the reference to the Peking edition, no. 4534, folio 102b, but nothing more. This text, the Tattva-sāra-saṃgraha, is Tohoku no. 3711. Checking this text in the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 41, p. 245, lines 11-14 (from this I have corrected the Peking edition’s “do” at the end of the third pāda to “du”), we find that it is preceded by: ’phags pa klu sgrub kyi zhal snga nas kyis | dmigs su med par bstod pa las |, and it is followed by: zhes gsungs pa dang |. This shows that the quotation consists of only one verse, that Dharmendra indeed attributes this verse to Nāgārjuna, Tibetan klu sgrub, and that he gives the title of the text it comes from in Tibetan, dmigs su med par bstod pa, which can be restored as *Nirālambastava. No doubt Lindtner’s restoration of this title was influenced by the occurrence of three verses in the Pañcakrama (which text we have in Sanskrit) ending in niralāmba namo ‘stu te, which Lindtner here notes may be from the same source.

In the same footnote, Lindtner brings in one additional quotation, in support of the attribution of such a text to Nāgārjuna. It is from Atiśa’s Bodhimārgadīpapañjikā. Again, he gives the quoted verse: kun du rtogs pas ma brtags shing || yid ni rab tu mi gnas la || dran med yid la byed pa med || dmigs med de la phyag ’tshal lo ||, and the reference to the Peking edition, no. 5344, folio 329b, but nothing more. This text, the Bodhi-mārga-dīpa-pañjikā, is Tohoku no. 3948. Checking this text in the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 64, p. 1756, lines 3-5 (in accordance with this I have changed Lindtner’s initial kun tu rtogs to kun du rtogs), we find that it is preceded by: ’phags pa klu sgrub kyi zhal nas |, and it is followed by: zhes gsungs so |. This shows that the quotation consists of only one verse, that Atiśa indeed attributes this verse to Nāgārjuna, Tibetan klu sgrub, and that he does not give the title of the text. The reason that Lindtner gives this quote here, which is left unstated by him, is that its last pāda, dmigs med de la phyag ’tshal lo, says: “salutations to that unsupported one!” This could translate niralāmba namo ‘stu te, although for the Sanskrit word “te,” meaning “to you,” it has instead the Tibetan word “de,” meaning “that,” which is uncharacteristic of the usually precise Tibetan translations. Both Dharmendra and Atiśa specifically name the author of the verse they cite as Nāgārjuna (Tibetan klu sgrub). Neither of these two verses, however, has been found in the eighteen hymns of praise attributed to Nāgārjuna in the Tibetan Tengyur.

In Karl Brunnhölzl’s translation of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stava, published in 2007 as In Praise of Dharmadhātu, he surveys the other hymns of praise attributed to Nāgārjuna. He here (p. 24) lists the *Nirālambastava, referring to it as “now lost,” and gives the same three references that were given by Lindtner (Dharmendra, Atiśa, and three verses from the Pañcakrama, a text reputedly by Nāgārjuna), obviously copying this from him. We can now see that the three verses occurring in the Pañcakrama, verses 3.4-6 (so in the 1994 Mimaki/Tomabechi edition and in the 2001 Tripathi edition, given as verses 4.4-6 in the 1896 Poussin edition, posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts), are verses 16, 5, and 34 of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. Moreover, we find that four more of its verses occur in the Pañcakrama, at 4.8-11, corresponding to verses 4, 17, 12, and 13. The refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, in these verses occurring in the Pañcakrama was translated into Tibetan as: dmigs med khyod la phyag ’tshal lo (verse 3.5 has the variant: mi dmigs khyod la phyag ’tshal lo), where niralāmba was translated as dmigs med. However, this refrain found at the end of each of the forty verses in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra was translated into Tibetan as: mi rten khyod la phyag ’tshal lo (Comparative Kangyur vol. 47, pp. 784 ff.), where niralāmba was translated as mi rten. Both translations include the Tibetan word “khyod,” meaning “you,” in this refrain. The verse quoted by Atiśa from Nāgārjuna, as noted above, does not. Nonetheless, it appears to be an alternative translation of verse 12 of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. Since this verse was incorporated into the Pañcakrama, at 4.10, Atiśa may well have quoted it from this text considered to be by Nāgārjuna, even though its ultimate source is the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. The verse quoted by Dharmendra from Nāgārjuna does not end with any such refrain. The dmigs su med par bstod pa that it comes from, restored as *Nirālambastava, is not the Nirālambastuti or Nirālambastava in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra.

Besides the references given by Christian Lindtner and repeated by Karl Brunnhölzl, Mats Lindberg also found that a verse from this hymn of praise was given by Elizabeth English in her 2002 book, Vajrayoginī: Her Visualizations, Rituals, and Forms, p. 441 n. 284. This verse was quoted by her from the Guhyasamayasādhanamālā. It is the often quoted verse 12, and references to six more quotations of it provided by Harunaga Isaacson are given by her in this note. None of these attribute it to a *Nirālambastava. The two from the Saṃvarodaya-tantra (of which I could only find the one at 8.36; the 3.9 reference must be a misprint), like the one from the Pañcakrama, have no source attribution because they are incorporated into these texts. Of the three from the collection of texts by Advaya-vajra published in Sanskrit as the Advayavajrasaṃgraha (Baroda, 1927; new critical edition, Tokyo, 1988-1991; both posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts), the source is not named for the one from the Pañca-tathāgata-mudrā-vivaraṇa (1927 ed., p. 25; 1988 ed., p. 183 or (52); anyatrāpy uktam) or the one from the Catur-mudrā-niścaya (1927 ed., p. 34, her reference to p. 38 is a misprint; 1989 ed., p. 243 or (102); pravacane ca), but the source for the one from the Amanasikārādhāra (1927 ed., p. 60, without “buddha”; 1989 ed., p. 209 or (136), with “buddha”) is named: ārya-sarva-[buddha-]viṣayāvatāra-jñānālokālaṃkāra-mahāyāna-sūtre, i.e., the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra. So Advaya-vajra, also known as Maitrīpa, was fully aware of the source of this verse, and that source was not Nāgārjuna.

This verse was translated by Elizabeth English (p. 129) as:

“Homage to you whose conceptualization is without discrimination, whose mind does not rest [on emptiness as an object] (apratiṣṭhitamānasa), who are without remembrance and recollections, without support!”

Many years earlier, this verse as incorporated in the Saṃvarodaya-tantra at 8.36 (in some manuscripts) was included in the 1974 edition and translation of selected chapters of that text by Shiníchi Tsuda, who translated it as (p. 268):

“O you who have not produced imaginary ideas! Whose mind is not fixed! O you who are without remembrance and attention! Who are without support! Salutation to you!”

In the 2015 English translation of the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra by the Dharmachakra Translation Committee titled The Ornament of the Light of Awareness, this verse was translated as:

“You do not form concepts,

And your mind has no ground to stand upon.

You have no recollection or mental placement,

And you are free of any point of reference:

I bow to you!

As may be seen, the characteristic refrain, niralāmba namo ‘stu te, was here translated as, “And you are free of any point of reference: I bow to you!” The defining word nirālamba, translated by Mats Lindberg as “unsupported,” and by Shiníchi Tsuda and by Elizabeth English as “without support,” was here interpretively translated as “free of any point of reference.” To complicate the issue, Karl Brunnhölzl in his widely read translations uses the interpretive translation “without reference points” for the Sanskrit word niṣprapañca, Tibetan spros pa med pa, rather than for nirālamba, Tibetan mi rten or dmigs med. The word niṣprapañca is translated by others as “without proliferation, diversification, manifoldness, elaboration.” Where the word nirālamba occurs in the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, 4.73, here Tibetan dmigs pa med, Karl Brunnhölzl translated it as “without support” (When the Clouds Part, p. 450), the same translation of it used by Shiníchi Tsuda and Elizabeth English, and very much like “unsupported” used by Mats Lindberg. Where the word niṣprapañca occurs in the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, verses 13 and 39, the Dharmachakra Translation Committee translated it as “free from elaboration,” one of its commonly used translations. Thus, nirālamba translated as “free of any point of reference” in the refrain of the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra could easily be confused with niṣprapañca translated as “without reference points” in Karl Brunnhölzl’s widely read translations. It is for reasons like this that the translation of Buddhist technical terms from Sanskrit into Tibetan was standardized long ago.

Another quotation of a verse from the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra, verse 29, is found in Nāropā’s Sekoddeśa-ṭīkā. This was noted by Mattia Salvini in his Introduction to The Ornament of the Light of Awareness, and by Francesco Sferra in a footnote in his 2006 edition of the Sekoddeśaṭīkā (p. 173; this quotation is found on p. 58 in the 1941 ed., posted here with the Sanskrit Buddhist texts). This quotation is introduced by: yathoktam āgame, “as said in an āgama.” An āgama in Buddhism refers to a sūtra or a tantra, texts that give the words of the Buddha (along with whoever he may be speaking with). This is distinguished from a śāstra, a text written by a teacher other than the Buddha, such as Nāgārjuna. Thus Nāropā too, like Advaya-vajra, knew that the verse he quoted came from a sūtra, not from Nāgārjuna. As found by Mats Lindberg, the Nirālamba-stuti in the Jñānālokālaṃkāra-sūtra is a hymn of praise to the Buddha spoken by Mañjuśrī.


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Dolpopa’s Annotations on the Vimalaprabhā, Chapters 3-5, Now Published

By David Reigle on September 17, 2015 at 11:33 pm

One of the most famous, and at the same time most elusive, works on Kālacakra is the Tibetan annotations written by the Jonang teacher Dolpopa on the Vimalaprabhā Kālacakra commentary. Although Dolpopa’s collected writings, long thought to be lost, have become available, his annotated edition of the Vimalaprabhā was not among them. Now, three of its five chapters have been published. They are found in volumes 20 and 21 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo. This is a collection of Kālacakra works in Tibetan, projected to be a 100-volume set, arranged in chronological order. The first 20 volumes of this set, including the earliest works, were published in Lhasa with a date of 2012, although they did not become available until early 2014. At that time I was able to see a list of what texts were included, thanks to Jörg Heimbel (tibetanbookstore.org), but I was not able to obtain this set until now.

Previously, in 2007, a 7-volume collection of Kālacakra commentaries in Tibetan was published, Dus ‘khor ‘grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs. It included annotated editions of the Vimalaprabhā by Bu ston (vols. 2-3), by Phyogs las rnam rgyal (vols. 4-5), and ostensibly by Dol po pa (vols. 6-7). However, Cyrus Stearns in a Jan. 28, 2009 blog post at the Jonang Foundation website, “Dolpopa’s Elusive Kalachakra Annotations” (http://www.jonangfoundation.org/blog/dolpopas-elusive-kalachakra-annotations), wrote that the volumes attributed to Dolpopa are actually a version of Chogle Namgyal’s (Phyogs las rnam rgyal) annotations. He began this post: “Dolpopa’s fabled annotations to the Stainless Light commentary on the Kālachakra Tantra remain elusive.” He concluded it: “The puzzle of whether Dolpopa’s annotations have actually survived will perhaps only be solved when an annotated manuscript of the Stainless Light is located that concludes with Dolpopa’s verses, but does not also contain Choglé Namgyal’s annotations.”

Three-fifths of such a manuscript has now become available. Volume 20 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo contains chapters 3 and 4 of this manuscript, while volume 19 contains chapters 1 and 2 of the manuscript wrongly attributed to Dolpopa, reproduced from volume 6 of the 7-volume set published in 2007. When volumes 21-40 of the Dus ‘khor phyogs bsgrigs chen mo set were published dated 2014, it could be confirmed that we do indeed have Dolpopa’s annotations on the Vimalaprabhā for these chapters, and not the annotations of his disciple Chogle Namgyal. Volume 21 includes chapter 5 of Dolpopa’s annotated edition of the Vimalaprabhā. We could now see that this chapter and chapters 3 and 4 in volume 20 all came from the same manuscript. This chapter 5 concludes with the verses that Cyrus Stearns had shown were written by Dolpopa, both because of their content and because of being quoted as such by others (see: The Buddha from Dolpo, 1999 ed. p. 22; 2010 ed. pp. 21-22 and notes 75 and 91), but does not contain the concluding annotation that gives a clear first-person statement of Chogle Namgyal’s authorship. Of course, because Chogle Namgyal was Dolpopa’s disciple, many of the annotations will be the same, or nearly the same.

It was the research of Cyrus Stearns, with the crucial help of Dolpopa’s concluding verses that were added to the printed edition of Chogle Namgyal’s annotations, that allowed us to be sure that we actually have the annotations by Dolpopa on three chapters, and I thank him for confirming this in an email reply to me. As for availability of these texts, after receiving the set of volumes 1-20, I thought I would check the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s website (tbrc.org) to see if they yet had a list of the contents of volumes 21-40. To my great surprise, they not only had a list of the contents, they had scans of these volumes available, and also scans of volumes 1-20. It may be noted that the scans of volumes 1-20 were made at a lower resolution than the scans of volumes 21-40, so the small print of the annotations will be hard to read in these volumes. All the texts in the Dolpopa and Chogle Namgyal volumes are written in dbu med or cursive script. For Chogle Namgyal’s annotations, we have a nicely printed modern typeset edition in dbu can script in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 17-20. We may hope that such an edition of Dolpopa’s annotations will soon be published in the Jonang Publication Series.

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Dharmadhātu-stava Recited in Sanskrit

By David Reigle on September 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

Mats Lindberg, who lived in India for a number of years, has recorded himself reciting the newly published Dharmadhātustava in the original Sanskrit:


He has also recorded himself reciting the Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṃgīti, a text of basic importance in Kālacakra and other Buddhist tantric systems:


Another Sanskrit song recited by him, The Twenty-one Praises of Ārya Tārā, has also been posted at the same site.

Very few recordings of recitations of Sanskrit Buddhist texts have yet become available on the web. The recitation by Mats of these Sanskrit texts follows traditional Indian styles, and his pronunciation is virtually indistinguishable from that of native Indian Sanskrit speakers. Many thanks to Mats for making these recordings and posting them. 

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Dharmadhātu-stava Original Sanskrit Published

By David Reigle on September 13, 2015 at 3:09 am

The Dharmadhātustava by Nāgārjuna has now been published in the original Sanskrit. As noted in the April 6, 2012 blog post here, “The Dharmadhātu-stava by Nāgārjuna,” a Sanskrit manuscript of it had been found in Tibet. This has now been edited and published in the series, Sanskrit Texts from the Tibetan Autonomous Region:


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Regarding David Reigle’s “New Introduction.”

By Robert Hütwohl on August 30, 2015 at 11:07 am

The very well-researched “New Introduction” to the English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s book: The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, is a valuable and much needed adjunct to the entire Bhattacharya-study. The serious student will want to study the entire book.

For the student who wants to get their feet wet regarding the subject of understanding Gautama Buddha’s view regarding whether he taught an ātman or Eternal Impersonal Self doctrine by denying an anātman or no-self (personal self), David’s fairly succinct study, within ten pages, is a most worthwhile addition to the book, adding an historical and doctrinal survey of post-Buddha views from the main great Buddhist commentators as to their refutation of a permanent personal self. This is all most important because the idea of the prevailing Emptiness idea in Mahāyāna Buddhism as originally taught by the great Nāgārjuna, in the minds of many students of Buddhism, is that Emptiness = voidnesss, nothingness, as opposed to the Eternal Womb. 

My survey is there are very few students who equate Emptiness or Śūnyatā with the eternal, impersonal ātman. This New Introduction and book can only contribute towards a better contextual perspective for many of the terms found in the Maitreya Ratnagotravibhāga (which begins with an homage to Vajrasattva) and other texts: dhātu,* tathāgata-garbha, ratna (Tib., dkon mchog), puruṣa, tathatā, gotra, vajradhāra, vajrasattva, tathāgata-dhātu, etc., etc. I am not saying all of these terms are equivalent.

*This is, unquestionably, the most common term in the Ratnagotravibhāga. (See: http://prajnaquest.fr/blog/dhatu-atman/), with Jñāna and sattva being the second-most common terms.

Although today’s version of the Hindu upaniṣads are the laghu (abridged) or edited versions from the original ancient, larger upaniṣads, Bhattacharya’s book may help one to further appreciate the Hindu Upaniṣad-tradition. As pointed out by Pratap Chandra, in “Was Early Buddhism Influenced by the Upanisads?,” particularly three upaniṣads were pre-buddhistic, though not in the abridged form we have today.

No doubt, Bhattacharya’s book is unavoidably academic as to its approach to the central issue, but this New Introduction is complete in itself for both a beginning or advanced student of Buddhism. However, I do hope students, scholars and academics from around the world will read the entire book including this New Introduction, and Nancy Reigle’s informative “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition.” 

As a whole, the entire book will be a perpetual resource for coming ages. It should serve to alter current Buddhist scholarship in many new directions from its currently overly intellectualized confusion of investigations which have been a total waste of time, all due to an original misinterpretation of what the Buddha taught.

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New Introduction to The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism

By David Reigle on August 17, 2015 at 10:55 pm

A corrected reprint of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s book, The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism, has now been issued with a new introduction. The new introduction, written by myself, has been posted separately at Academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/14990642/New_Introduction_to_Atman-Brahman_in_Ancient_Buddhism. It begins:

The most serious objection to Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s thesis that the Buddha did not deny the universal ātman may be put in the form of this question: Why, then, did Buddhists down through the ages think he did? Reply: Actually, they did not think this, as far as we can tell from their writings that refute the ātman and teach the anātman or no-self doctrine. The idea of the ātman as the impersonal universal ātman did not become dominant in India until some time after the eighth century C.E. Before then, throughout the Buddhist period, the dominant idea of the ātman in India was that of a permanent personal ātman. Judging from their writings, the Indian Buddhist teachers from Nāgārjuna to Āryadeva to Asaṅga to Vasubandhu to Bhavya to Candrakīrti to Dharmakīrti to Śāntarakṣita thought that the Buddha’s anātman teaching was directed against a permanent personal ātman.

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More on Ātman-Brahman by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya

By David Reigle on May 3, 2015 at 7:53 pm

Updated July 7, 2015, with two additions.

The late Kamaleswar Bhattacharya (died 2014) continued to write on the theme of Ātman-Brahman in ancient Buddhism throughout his life, in various articles. These articles were published in sources that are not easily accessible, being found only in the largest academic libraries. Having visited some of these libraries and made photocopies of these articles, scans of them are now posted here.

A brief biography of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya was included in the Introduction by Phyllis Granoff to a special issue of Journal of Indian Philosophy (vol. 27, nos. 1/2, Feb./Apr. 1999), “Guruvandana: Essays in Indology in Honour of K. Bhattacharya.” It was followed by a Bibliography of his writings. These are posted here as: bhattacharya_kamaleswar_biography_and_bibliography_1999

“On the Brahman in Buddhist Literature.” Sri Venkateswara University Oriental Journal, vol. 18, pts. 1 and 2, Jan.-Dec. 1975, pp. 1-8: brahman_in_buddhist_literature_k_bhattacharya_1975

“The Ātman in Two Prajñāpāramitā-Sūtra-s.” Our Heritage, Special Number: 150th Anniversary Volume, 1824-1974. Calcutta: Sanskrit College, 1979, pp. 39-45: atman_in_two_prajnaparamita-sutras_k_bhattacharya_1979

“Diṭṭhaṃ, Sutaṃ, Mutaṃ, Vinnātaṃ” [sic for Viññātaṃ]. In Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula, ed. Somaratna Balasooriya, et al. London: Gordon Fraser, 1980, pp. 10-15 [On a passage from the Alagaddūpamasutta.]: dittham_sutam_mutam_vinnatam_k_bhattacharya_1980

“The Anātman Concept in Buddhism.” Navonmeṣa: Mahamahopadhyaya Gopinath Kaviraj Commemoration Volume, vol. 4: English. Varanasi: M. M. Gopinath Kaviraj Centenary Celebration Committee, 1987, pp. 213-224: anatman_concept_in_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1987

“Brahman in the Pali Canon and in the Pali Commentaries.” Amalā Prajñā: Aspects of Buddhist Studies, Professor P. V. Bapat Felicitation Volume, ed. N. H. Samtani. Bibliotheca Indo-Buddhica, no. 63. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1989, pp. 15-31: brahman_in_the_pali_canon_k_bhattacharya_1989

“Some Thoughts on Ātman-Brahman in Early Buddhism.” Dr. B. M. Barua Birth Centenary Commemoration Volume, 1989. Calcutta: Bauddha Dharmankur Sabha, 1989, pp. 63-83: atman-brahman_in_early_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1989

“A Note on Anātman in the Work of E. Lamotte.” Premier Colloque Etienne Lamotte (Bruxelles et Liege 24-27 septembre 1989). Publications de L’Institut Orientaliste de Louvain, 42. Louvain-la-Neuve: Institut Orientaliste, Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1993, pp. 25-26: anatman_in_the_work_of_e_lamotte_k_bhattacharya_1993

“A Note on the Anatta Passage of the Mahānidāna-sutta.” Recent Researches in Buddhist Studies: Essays in Honour of Professor Y. Karunadasa, ed. Kuala Lumpur Dhammajoti, et al. Colombo: Y. Karunadasa Felicitation Committee, 1997, pp. 47-50: anatta_passage_of_the_mahanidana-sutta_k_bhattacharya_1997

“Once More on a Passage of the Alagaddūpama-sutta.” In Bauddhavidyāsudhākaraḥ: Studies in Honour of Heinz Bechert on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday, ed. Petra Kieffer-Pülz and Jens-Uwe Hartmann. Indica et Tibetica, vol. 30. Swisttal-Odendorf: Indica et Tibetica Verlag, 1997, pp. 25-28: alagaddupama-sutta_once_more_on_a_passage_k_bhattacharya_1997

Some Thoughts on Early Buddhism, with Special Reference to Its Relation to the Upaniṣads. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1998. Acharya Dharmananda Kosambi Memorial Lectures (third series). [A 31-page booklet.]: some_thoughts_on_early_buddhism_k_bhattacharya_1998

“Once More on Two Passages of the Pāli Canon.” Indologica Taurinensia, vol. 17-18, 1991-1992 (published 2000), pp. 63-67: pali_canon_once_more_on_two_passages_k_bhattacharya_2000

“Unity in Diversity: Anattā Revisited.” Sanskrit Studies Centre Journal (Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Thailand), vol. 2, 2006, pp. 1-7: anatta_revisited_unity_in_diversity_k_bhattacharya_2006

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Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition

By David Reigle on April 29, 2015 at 3:01 am

As for the relevance of The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism to the “Book of Dzyan,” the Upaniṣadic ātman or brahman has been equated by Blavatsky and the Theosophical Mahatma teachers to the first fundamental proposition of the Secret Doctrine: an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable principle. They give this as being what the Buddha originally taught, in accordance with what is taught in the ancient Wisdom Tradition that they represent. Since the Buddha denied the ātman, long taken by the Buddhist religion to be the ātman taught in the Hindu Upaniṣads, the Theosophical Mahatma teachers appear to be woefully uninformed, if not altogether imaginary. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s research found in this book is therefore of much importance to students of Theosophy. The main points of his research have been excerpted and placed within this context in the article by Nancy Reigle, “Ātman/Anātman in Buddhism and Its Implication for the Wisdom Tradition,” available here as: Atman_Anatman in Buddhism

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L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien

By David Reigle on at 2:39 am

The original French book of this title is out of print and not easily available. So we have scanned it and now post it here as: atman-brahman_dans_le_bouddhisme_ancien. This is necessary for our French readers, it is necessary for reference purposes, and for comparison with the just published English translation.

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The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism

By David Reigle on at 1:08 am

The long-awaited English translation of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s 1973 French book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien, has just been published, and is now available at Amazon.com. As stated in the book’s description:

“The thesis of this book is nothing less than epoch-making. While no one doubts that the Buddha denied the ātman, the self, the question is: Which ātman? Buddhism, as a religion, has long taken this to be the universal ātman taught in the Hindu Upaniṣads, equivalent to brahman. What we find in the Buddha’s words as recorded in the Buddhist scriptures, however, is only a denial of any permanent self in the ever-changing aggregates that form a person. In decades of teaching, the Buddha had many opportunities to clearly deny the universal ātman if that was his intention. He did not do so. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya’s research is the most important study of this fundamentally important question to have appeared. Other studies of this question exist, coming to the same conclusion, but in general they have not been taken seriously. Bhattacharya’s research, because of the high level of his scholarship, has to be taken seriously. One may disagree with it, but it cannot be dismissed or ignored.”

Professor Bhattacharya’s thesis, as stated in his Preface, is: “the Buddha does not deny the Upaniṣadic ātman; on the contrary, he indirectly affirms it, in denying that which is falsely believed to be the ātman.”

How, one may wonder, could such a fundamental teaching be misunderstood for so long? He writes in his Preface:

“The one request I would make of such eminent scholars as have devoted their lives to the study of Buddhism is that they adopt a genuinely Buddhist attitude and read this book before saying, ‘That is impossible.’”

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Ratna-gotra-vibhāga: A Review

By David Reigle on February 28, 2015 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Ratnagotravibhāga, Ratnagotravibhaga)

A new English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga has now appeared in When the Clouds Part: The Uttaratantra and Its Meditative Tradition as a Bridge between Sūtra and Tantra, translated and introduced by Karl Brunnhölzl (Snow Lion, 2014, released by the publisher in Jan. 2015 and at Amazon in Feb. 2015). This volume includes a translation of the accompanying Indian commentary, essential for correctly understanding the verses that comprise the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga or Uttara-tantra. It is the third English translation that includes this commentary, each of which was a major step forward. The first translation, by E. Obermiller published in 1931 (posted on this website under “References”), was competently made from the Tibetan translation before the Sanskrit original was discovered. This pioneering translation was a remarkable achievement, making this text available to the outside world for the first time, and doing so in a generally accurate manner. The second translation, by Jikido Takasaki published in 1966 (posted here under “References”), was the first to be made from the Sanskrit original. It, too, was a remarkable achievement, and well illustrates the improvements in understanding that the Sanskrit original makes possible. The third translation, just published, makes another major step forward. Despite being about transcendental subjects, the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is an analytical treatise using many technical terms in a precise manner. Translation terminology has advanced considerably in the last few decades, with the publication of so many Buddhist texts. Taking nothing away from the previous two translations, the use of more accurate and precise translation terminology in the third translation makes possible a much clearer understanding of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga.

The translation of the term dhātu, the most central term of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, is a prime example. Obermiller translated its Tibetan translation (khams) in verse 1.1 as the “Germ (of Buddhahood).” “Germ [of the Buddha]” was used by Takasaki for the term gotra (e.g., p. 288). Takasaki translated dhātu in verse 1.1 as the “Essence [of the Buddha].” “Essence of the Buddha” was used by Obermiller for the term tathāgata-garbha (e.g., p. 89). Brunnhölzl translates dhātu as “basic element,” similar to another translation of it used by Obermiller, “fundamental element.” The central meaning of dhātu is “element.” To distinguish it from its common usage as applied to other elements, the word “basic” was added for its use as a technical term applying to the one element. Translation terminology typically starts with what we may call “ball park” translations, translations that are somewhere within the range of meanings of a particular term. They are thus “in the ball park,” a large playing field. As more and more texts become available, and the particular term can be seen in more and more different settings, it becomes possible to get closer and closer to the central meaning of the term. Brunnhölzl very often uses translations that reflect the central meaning of a term rather than a peripheral meaning, as seen in his choice of “basic element” for the term dhātu.

As a sample, we may look at a passage on the one basic element (eka-dhātu) found in the accompanying Indian commentary on Ratna-gotra-vibhāga 1.12 in the three translations, preceded by the Sanskrit and Tibetan:

evam eṣāṃ bālānām anuśayavatāṃ nimitta-grāhiṇām ārambaṇa-caritānām ayoniśo-manasikāra-samudācārāt kleśa-samudayaḥ | kleśa-samudayāt karma-samudayaḥ | karma-samudayāj janma-samudayo bhavati | sa punar eṣa sarvâkāra-kleśa-karma-janma-saṃkleśo bālānām ekasya dhātor yathā-bhūtam ajñānād adarśanāc ca  pravartate |

de ltar na byis pa bag la nyal dang ldan pa mtshan mar ’dzin pa can | dmigs pa la spyod pa de dag la tshul bzhin ma yin pa yid la byed pa kun ’byung ba las nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ngo || nyon mongs pa kun ’byung ba las ni las kun ’byung ngo || las kun ’byung ba las ni skye ba kun ’byung bar ’gyur ro || byis pa rnams kyi* nyon mongs pa dang las dang skye ba’i kun nas nyon mongs pa’i rnam pa ’di thams cad kyang khams gcig yang dag pa ji lta ba bzhin ma shes pas rab tu ’jug go || 

*kyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions; Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1003.

“Thus the ordinary worldly beings, possessed of the residues and seeds of the defiling forces and clinging to the reality of separate entities, are directed toward the (illusionary worldly) objects. Accordingly this gives rise to the wrong appreciation which is the origin of the passions. The latter in their turn call forth the deeds and these are the cause of (repeated) births. All these different forms of defilement peculiar to the worldlings, those of passions, deeds and repeated birth, manifest themselves in this world owing to the ignorance of the unique Germ (of Buddhahood) in its true character.” (Obermiller, p. 136)

“Thus these people, having tendencies [of Desire, Hatred and Ignorance], regarding the [unreal] characteristic [as real], and making it the basis of cognition, [affectionally] hanging on it, produce the Irrational Thought, from which consequently arises Defilement. Because of origination of Defilement, there arises Action; from the origination of Action, there arises Rebirth. And all kinds of impurity (saṃkleśa) of these Defilements, Action, Rebirth, etc. come forth because people do not know, nor perceive the one [real] essence as it is.” (Takasaki, p. 170)

“In this way, improper mental engagement manifests in naive beings who possess those latencies, grasp at [certain] characteristics, and engage in them as their focal objects. From that, the afflictions arise. From the arising of the afflictions, actions arise. From the arising of actions, there is the arising of birth. So all aspects of the afflictiveness of afflictions, karma, and birth of naive beings operate by virtue of not realizing and not seeing the single basic element in just the way it is in true reality.” (Brunnhölzl, p. 344)

As may be seen, the term dhātu, Tibetan khams, appears in Obermiller’s translation as the “Germ (of Buddhahood),” in Takasaki’s translation as the “[real] essence,” and in Brunnhölzl’s translation as the “basic element.” For the technical term kleśa, Tibetan nyon mongs pa, Obermiller uses “passions,” Takasaki uses “Defilement,” and Brunnhölzl uses “afflictions.” The latter, “affliction,” has now become widely used by translators of Buddhist texts, because it accords with the etymological meaning of kleśa. Of course, translators choose what seems best to them, and Brunnhölzl’s choices of translation terms do not always coincide with what is widely used. The key term in this literature, tathāgata-garbha, for which Obermiller had used both “Essence of Buddhahood/the Buddha” and “Germ of the Buddha,” and for which Takasaki used “Matrix of the Tathāgata,” is translated by Brunnhölzl as “tathāgata heart.” Most translators use words such as “matrix” or “embryo” for garbha in this compound. Elsewhere the word garbha commonly means “womb.” The meaning “heart” comes from snying po, the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit garbha here in this compound. The Tibetan word snying po also frequently translates the Sanskrit word sāra, meaning “essence.” It is apparently in the sense of “essence” that snying po was chosen for garbha in this compound by the early Tibetan translators, and it is apparently in the sense of “essence” that “heart” was chosen by Brunnhölzl (see p. 53).

Brunnhölzl tells us in his Preface that he has translated this text “from the Sanskrit and Tibetan” (p. xi). He had there noted that Obermiller’s translation was made “from the Tibetan,” and Takasaki’s translation was made “from the Sanskrit and Chinese.” Actually, Takasaki’s translation was made from the Sanskrit, under the guidance of V. V. Gokhale during Takasaki’s stay in India from August 1954 to January 1957, as Takasaki tells us in his Preface (p. xi). He certainly used the Chinese translation thoroughly, as may be seen in his many footnotes, and he also used the Tibetan translation thoroughly, as may also be seen in his many footnotes. Takasaki’s translation, however, was made from the Sanskrit. Brunnhölzl’s translation, as he tells us, was made from the Sanskrit and Tibetan. In many places his translation is clearly based on the Tibetan translation rather than on the Sanskrit original. Of course, he made full use of the Sanskrit original in conjunction with the Tibetan translation.

Brunnhölzl’s translation has also made full use of all the advancements in our understanding of this unique text since the publication of the Sanskrit original in 1950, edited by E. H. Johnston (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” along with Nakamura’s 1961 Sanskrit edition with the Chinese translation, his corresponding edition of the Tibetan translation, and his two multi-lingual indexes). This includes all the corrections and proposed emendations to the published Sanskrit text. Johnston used for his edition photographs of two old Sanskrit manuscripts discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana, one of which was missing more than half of its leaves, and the other “does not reach the standard of accuracy of most Nepali MSS. of its period,” in Johnston’s words (p. vii). Johnston used both the Tibetan and Chinese translations in helping to establish the Sanskrit text. Johnston’s edition was seen through the press after his death by T. Chowdhury, who provided the first corrections and emendations (pp. i-iii, xvi). Takasaki in the course of preparing his 1966 translation noted many more, listing them in an appendix, pp. 396-399 (see also the corrigenda to that book, here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, corrigenda). Then J. W. de Jong in a 1968 review of Takasaki’s translation provided another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, A Study on, Takasaki, review by de Jong). After that, Lambert Schmithausen in a long German article published in 1971 provided yet another large group of corrections and emendations (here attached as: Ratnagotravibhaga, Philologische Bemerkungen zum, Schmithausen 1971). He was able to use photographs of the Sanskrit manuscripts for these. In 1985 the Sanskrit Mahāyānottara-tantra-ṭippaṇī by Vairocana-rakṣita was published, edited by Zuiryū Nakamura (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). It provides many glosses on selected words and phrases, helpful for establishing both the meaning and the correct readings. Brunnhölzl used a later edition of it found in Kazuo Kano’s unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation. Brunnhölzl gives glosses from it in the notes to his translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. Yet another page of corrections to the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga was given in Kano’s 2006 dissertation that Brunnhölzl acknowledges using (p. 1060, n. 1106). Kano recently informed me that he is preparing a new Sanskrit edition of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga. This will bring together all these many needed corrections, as Brunnhölzl laboriously did for his careful translation, and more.

Brunnhölzl includes a translation of one more Sanskrit text in this book. In 1974 and 1975 Takasaki published the Sanskrit text of a brief upadeśa or “pith instruction” in 37 verses by Sajjana on the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga, also discovered in Tibet in the 1930s by Rāhula Sāṅkṛityāyana (posted here under “Sanskrit Texts”). Brunnhölzl’s translation of this utilized a fuller Sanskrit edition including the interlinear glosses, found in the unpublished 2006 PhD dissertation by Kazuo Kano, and is based on Kano’s unrevised and uncorrected preliminary draft translation. Kano will be publishing a revised and corrected translation of this text shortly.

Brunnhölzl’s translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga is also informed by several Tibetan commentaries. Two of these are included in English translation in this 1334-page book. Valuable as these commentaries are, this review is limited to the Sanskrit materials, as was my review of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra posted here on Dec. 31, 2014. Suffice it to say that the first of these Tibetan commentaries is a very early one apparently written by an anonymous student of the translator Mar pa do pa chos kyi dbang phyug (1042-1136). According to its colophon, it gives Mar pa do pa’s teachings and those of the Indian pandit Parahitabhadra. It is “A Commentary on the Meaning of the Words of the ‘Uttaratantra’.” Its English translation occupies pp. 473-694. The other one is by the Karma Kagyu teacher (B)dud mo bkra shis ’od zer (15th-16th century). It incorporates the otherwise unavailable topical outline of the Uttara-tantra written by the Third Karmapa, Rang ’byung rdo rje (1284-1339). It occupies pp. 695-776. Following this are translations of six short Tibetan texts pertaining to the Uttara-tantra, four of which are by the Kadampa teacher Skyo ston smon lam tshul khrims (1219-1299). 

In conclusion, Brunnhölzl has provided us with what is quite the most accurate English translation of the Ratna-gotra-vibhāga and its essential accompanying Indian commentary now available. Takasaki’s 1966 translation has deservedly held the field for nearly fifty years, and remains a necessary reference with its many grammatical notes. Brunnhölzl has fully utilized all the refinements of the Sanskrit text that have been published in the interim, has fully utilized the wide Tibetan exegetical tradition, and has employed more accurate and precise translation terminology that the intervening years have made possible.

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Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra: A Review

By David Reigle on December 31, 2014 at 11:59 pm

(keywords: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Mahayanasutralamkara)

A new English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra came out last month (November, 2014): Ornament of the Great Vehicle Sūtras: Maitreya’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra with Commentaries by Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, translated by Dharmachakra Translation Committee (Boston & London: Snow Lion, 2014). It was preceded by two other English translations of this text: (1) Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra by ‘Asaṅga,’ Sanskrit Text and Translated into English by Dr. (Mrs.) Surekha Vijay Limaye (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1992); and (2) The Universal Vehicle Discourse Literature (Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra), By Maitreyanātha/Āryāsaṅga, Together with its Commentary (Bhāṣya), By Vasubandhu, Translated from the Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese by L. Jamspal, R. Clark, J. Wilson, L. Zwilling, M. Sweet, R. Thurman (New York: American Institute of Buddhist Studies, 2004). The new translation has been hailed as the most readable one now available. While readability is important, even more important is accuracy. It will be worthwhile to compare the existing translations using this criterion.

The 2014 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a translation of a translation, being made from the Tibetan translation in the Derge edition (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964), without reference to the Sanskrit original. This allows us to see how this text was understood in Tibet, as do the two accompanying commentaries written in Tibet in comparatively recent times. The value of this is that the Buddhist tradition has been lost in India, its homeland, for about a thousand years now. Thus, as I have noted elsewhere,1 the 1992 English translation made in India from the published Sanskrit text (without reference to the Tibetan translation) is quite unreliable. The obviously sincere and well-meaning translator acknowledges the help of her teacher and of her supervisor (Introduction, p. xxiii), who clearly were unfamiliar with the Buddhist teachings. The common Buddhist phrase, śaraṇa-gamana, “going for refuge,” is here translated as “recourse to surrender” (p. 24); the term pudgala, used throughout Buddhism to mean “person,” is here translated as used throughout Jainism to mean “matter” (e.g., pp. 244, 441, 447, etc.); the phrase giving the fundamental Buddhist doctrine, ātma-dṛṣṭi, “(false) view of self,” is here translated as “one’s own view point” (p. 69). The Tibetan tradition regards itself as having preserved the Indian tradition intact, giving the original meaning of the text unchanged. A welcome window into the Tibetan exegesis of this text is provided by the new translation. For the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra itself, however, modern scholarship must question whether a translation of a translation, however competently done, can take the place of a translation of the original, competently done.

The prior 2004 English translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra was also made from the Tibetan translation, but was then clarified and corrected by comparison with the published Sanskrit text, and with some reference to the early Chinese translation. When a text goes from a language having a very large vocabulary, such as Sanskrit, into a language having a much smaller vocabulary, such as Tibetan, something is inevitably lost. While the Tibetan tradition has no doubt correctly preserved the meaning of the Sanskrit text in general, to expect it to have captured every particular is unrealistic. Therefore, the translators of the 2004 translation felt the need to utilize the Sanskrit text. Because the Tibetan vocabulary is smaller than the Sanskrit vocabulary, one Tibetan word must translate more than one Sanskrit word. For example, in verse 6.3d (Sanskrit edition and 2004 English translation) or 7.3d (Tibetan translation and 2014 English translation), the Sanskrit word dharmamayaḥ was translated by the Tibetan words chos kyi rang bzhin. The Sanskrit word dharma is always translated by the Tibetan word chos, and is here used in its meaning, “the elements of existence” or “phenomena.” The Tibetan word rang bzhin most often translates the Sanskrit word svabhāva, “inherent nature.” This allowed the Tibetan words to be understood as the very common phrase used in philosophy, “the inherent nature of phenomena.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “This is the nature of phenomena.” Here, however, the Tibetan word rang bzhin translates the Sanskrit suffix, -maya, “consisting of.” The verse is talking about people (Skt. janaḥ, Tib. skye bo), saying that they “consist of phenomena”; it is not making a statement about the nature of phenomena. Accordingly, the 2004 translation has: “they [beings] . . . are objective,” where by “objective” we are to understand that they are “objects,” “things,” “phenomena” (dharma-s).

Similarly, when putting teachings into metrical verses, which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is composed of, words must often be altered or substituted to fit the meter. In Sanskrit texts, these words are usually restored in the accompanying commentary. In the Tibetan translations of these metrical verses, syllables must often be dropped to fit the Tibetan meter, which is regulated by the number of syllables per line of verse. Sometimes these omitted syllables are ones that provide necessary information, such as the declension or number of a word. Declensional endings, separate syllables in Tibetan, tell the reader how to take the word in the sentence. Without them, the reader is left to guess at the construal and intended meaning. For example, in verse 6.6c or 7.6c, the Sanskrit word dharmeṣu (locative declension, plural number) was translated by the Tibetan word chos la (accusative, dative, or locative declension, singular number). The syllable showing the plural number (rnams) was dropped to fit the meter. This allowed the word dharma or chos to be taken in the Tibetan translation in the singular, as “the Dharma,” i.e., the Buddhist teachings, rather than as the dharma-s, the “elements of existence” or “phenomena” or “things.” Thus, the 2014 translation has: “The bodhisattva contemplates the Dharma in a most decisive way”; while the 2004 translation has: “a bodhisattva becomes decisive in her judgment about things.”

The Tibetan translations are deservedly renowned for their high degree of accuracy in following the Sanskrit originals very closely. The Tibetan translations are much more literal than the great majority of English translations today. This literal accuracy has resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history. Because the Tibetan translations follow the Sanskrit originals so closely, their style is closer to Sanskrit than to native Tibetan. This at times can present a challenge in understanding them, and in translating these translations into English. When the Sanskrit text is available, ambiguities in the Tibetan translation can usually be clarified by reference to it. For example, the 2014 translation of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, made only from the Tibetan, erroneously has (verse 2.7): “Because of its [the Great Vehicle’s] vastness and profundity, maturation and nonconceptuality, its teaching is twofold.” The 2004 translation, clarified by comparison with the Sanskrit, has (verse 1.7, or verse 1.13 in the Sanskrit edition): “From the magnificent and the profound come evolutionary development and nonconceptual (wisdom). (The universal vehicle) teaches both, . . .” The verse does not say, “Because of its . . . maturation and nonconceptuality,” but rather speaks of its twofold teaching of vastness and profundity, saying that maturation comes from vastness, and nonconceptuality comes from profundity. This is unmistakable in the Sanskrit. Many more errors of this type could be cited, that would have easily been avoided by reference to the Sanskrit.

The long lost Sanskrit text of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and its accompanying commentary (bhāṣya) was discovered in 1898 in Nepal by Sylvain Lévi. It was then edited by him and published in Paris in 1907 (posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”), followed by his pioneering French translation in 1911. Lévi’s edition was based on a transcript made for him of a single manuscript,2 a paper manuscript written in 1677-1678 as we now know,3 and such manuscripts are notoriously full of scribal errors. Lévi’s edition became the basis of the 1970 edition by S. Bagchi, helpful because it corrects many misprints and other errors in Lévi’s edition (see Bagchi’s forty-page corrigenda), and these two became the basis of the 1985 edition by Dwarika Das Shastri. Lévi’s edition also became the basis of the 1992 translation by way of Bagchi’s edition, and was the Sanskrit text used for comparison for the 2004 translation. Lévi made many corrections to his 1907 Sanskrit edition in his 1911 French translation, and in 1958 Gadjin Nagao published eleven pages of corrections to Lévi’s edition, including those made by Lévi.4 Nagao’s corrections were based primarily on the Tibetan and Chinese translations and on Sthiramati’s sub-commentary (in Tibetan translation), and also on two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryukoku University Library.5 Accordingly, the 2004 translation says that “There are three known Sanskrit texts of the MSA” (Introduction, p. xxxiii), and the 2014 translation repeats this, referring to “the three extant Sanskrit manuscripts” (Translators’ Introduction, note 12, p. 964). In fact, additional Sanskrit manuscripts of this text exist in the Nepal National Archives.6 In 1985, Naoya Funahashi published chapters 1, 2, 3, 9, and 10 of a much needed revised edition, based on these additional manuscripts, and in 2000, a revised edition of chapter 11.7

The 2004 translation is the result of a longstanding effort involving several scholars, who produced a completed draft already by the end of the 1970s. So by 1980 the Sanskrit text had already been compared. Thus, the corrections by Lévi (1911) and Nagao (1958, as well as his later personal input) were utilized, but the revised editions by Funahashi (1985, 2000) were not utilized. Nor were the many corrections that Lévi had written in his personal copy of his edition, published only in 2001 thanks to the efforts of Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, filling eight printed pages.8 In the last few years, Kazuo Kano has been publishing the edited Sanskrit text of eight folios of a very old palm-leaf manuscript of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra and bhāṣya found at the Ngor monastery in Tibet.9 While these include valuable corrections, they also show that the Sanskrit text we have, disregarding scribal errors, is essentially the same as the one translated into Tibetan long ago. The 2004 translators shied away from referring to the “Sanskrit original” (Preface, p. x), because of the many errors in the comparatively late Sanskrit manuscripts found in Nepal (on one of which Lévi’s edition was based), but we can now certainly do so. The Tibetan translation, too, has numerous scribal errors, as may be seen by comparison between the various Tengyur editions.

A translation of the very helpful Sanskrit commentary that accompanies the verses, the bhāṣya by Vasubandhu, is included in full in the 2004 translation (and also in the 1992 translation, but this translation is simply too unreliable to take into account). The Tibetan translation of this commentary was, in effect, abridged by Khenpo Shenga (1871-1927), and was thus partially included in the 2014 translation by way of his commentary. Thus, good explanations of the often too brief verses are found in both the 2004 and 2014 translations. Sometimes the verses are not explained (or not fully explained) in the accompanying commentary, which is comparatively brief, so a larger commentary must then be consulted. In India, this larger commentary is the sub-commentary by Sthiramati, so far still lost in Sanskrit, but preserved in its Tibetan translation. In Tibet, the larger commentary by Ju Mipham (1846-1912) drew heavily upon the commentary by Sthiramati. A translation of Mipham’s lengthy commentary is included in full in the 2014 translation, bringing the page count of this translation to 929 pages. For the 2004 translation, Lobsang Jamspal read through the entire Sthiramati sub-commentary and adapted that translation accordingly.

The dust jacket of the 2014 translation quotes scholars describing it as an “outstanding translation,” and saying that “the translators have rendered this text . . . into the most accessible and readable English now available.” This is a polite way of adverting to the English of the 2004 translation as being less accessible and readable. An American longtime Buddhist put it more bluntly in an email reply to me shortly after the 2004 translation was published: “You are too kind to Thurman. I am disgusted that he took the serviceable version by ?? (forgot which Tibetan did it) [Lobsang Jamspal] and plugged in his ‘evolution,’ ‘genius’ and other ludicrous thurmanisms. I have tried to read it, but simply do not know what many of the thurmanisms correspond to. So it sits on the shelf. Thirty years wait and this is what we get! And he has no Tibetan-Thurman glossary so one could match up his goofy translation choices.” The English terminology in the 2004 translation is avowedly experimental (Preface, p. x), and Thurman’s translation choices for these terms were mostly adopted later in the joint translation process. Besides “evolution” or “evolutionary action” for karma, “evolutionary maturity” for paripāka (translated as “full maturation” in the 2014 translation), and “genius” for dhīmat (a common epithet of a bodhisattva, translated as “wise individual” in the 2014 translation), the 2004 translation employs translations such as “addictions” (or “mental addictions”) for kleśa. This basic term in Buddhism had long been translated as “defilements,” and more recently as “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”), as it is in the 2014 translation. The 2004 translation also switches back and forth between “his” and “her” pronouns throughout, even though the original text does not, in deference to modern sensibilities about respect to women. Even the title was a last-minute change, translating alaṃkāra as “literature” rather than as “ornament” (Introduction, p. xiii, fn. 3).

From Thurman’s lifelong work and publications, I have no doubt that his translation choices are motivated by the bodhisattva ideal of benefiting all sentient beings. With these new translation terms, he is apparently trying to reach a wider public. As an unintended consequence, the 2004 translation is harder to use by students of Buddhism who are accustomed to more standard translations of Buddhist terms, and who may well make up the book’s largest readership. Ironically, 27 years earlier in 1977, Thurman had rather harshly reviewed the translation of Longchenpa’s text, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, made by Herbert Guenther, who has become well-known for his unique choices of translation terms: “Unfortunately, Guenther ruins the whole thing, shrouding the jewel of the original with his own intellectual obscurities so that we catch only an occasional glint of its brilliance.”10 It is certainly true that a glossary would have helped the 2004 translation immensely, and one will no doubt be added in a future edition. As the first volume in the Tanjur Translation Initiative, this book was published under more difficult circumstances than normal, and subsequent volumes in this series do have glossaries.

We may now turn to a few example verses from the two translations. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya picked out verse 9.23 (or 10.23) as a key verse with which to open his book, L’Ātman-Brahman dans le Bouddhisme ancien (The Ātman-Brahman in Ancient Buddhism). This verse pertains to the question of the ātman or “self,” whose denial is considered to be one of the defining characteristics of Buddhism. The Sanskrit is given below from Lévi (1907) as corrected by Nagao (1958) and Funahashi (1985), and also in a footnote in the 2004 translation. As noted by Bhattacharya (2001, p. 6), it turns out that the incorrect Sanskrit reading found in Lévi’s 1907 edition, nairātmyānmārgalābhataḥ, is a silent emendation by Lévi himself. His manuscript had it correct except for a missing “r” (a small stroke under the “ga”), which threw him off the right track. Bhattacharya reproduces the actual manuscript folio that Lévi used, showing the reading, nairātmyātmāgalābhataḥ (at the very beginning of that folio). The Tibetan is given below from the Comparative Tengyur published in China (vol. 70, 2001, p. 823, lines 4-5, text of the verses only, having the present form ’gyur for the last syllable, and pp. 1196-1197, text of the verses with commentary, having the past form gyur for the last syllable, which I adopt in agreement with the Sanskrit past form gata).

śūnyatāyāṃ viśuddhāyāṃ nairātmyâtmâgra-lābhataḥ |
buddhāḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt gatā ātma-mahâtmatām || 9.23 ||

stong pa nyid ni rnam dag na || bdag med mchog gi bdag thob pas ||
sangs rgyas dag pa’i bdag thob phyir || bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur ||

9.23. In pure voidness buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness, and realize the spiritual greatness of the self by discovering the pure self. (2004 translation)

10.23. Within pure emptiness,
The buddhas achieve the supreme self of selflessness.
Thus they achieve the pure self,
And are hence the self of great beings. (2014 translation)

First, we see that both translations use “selflessness” for nairātmya (Tib. bdag med). The word selflessness in English has always meant unselfishness or altruism. Here it has been employed to mean something very different, the Buddhist teaching of the “absence of a self” in persons (pudgala-s), and according to Mahāyāna Buddhism, also in things or phenomena (dharma-s). If you are “in the loop,” if you are among those who have read a number of modern books on Buddhism, you will know this meaning and usage of the word selflessness. If you are not in the loop, this translation of nairātmya will make little sense.

Another translation of this verse, one that follows the Sanskrit very closely, was made by Paul Griffiths in a 1990 article (p. 52):11

“In pure emptiness,
By obtaining the supreme self which is without self,
Buddhas arrive at the great-selfed self
As a result of obtaining the pure self.”

The 2014 translation says that the buddhas “are hence the self of great beings.” While the Tibetan translation allows this English translation, the Sanskrit, both of the verse and of the commentary, does not. In the Tibetan words bdag nyid chen po, taken as “great being,” the nyid actually translates the Sanskrit abstract suffix -tā, “-ness,” on mahātmatā, literally “great-self-ness,” or “great-selfed” in the Griffiths translation, or just “greatness” in the 2004 translation.

Vasubandhu’s commentary tells us that this verse is about the highest self (paramâtman) of the buddhas in the uncontaminated (anāsrava) realm (dhātu, here Tib. dbyings, and also may be translated as space or element). Vasubandhu also tells us that it is the self (ātman) of the buddhas in the sense of “inherent nature” (svabhāva), important because both ātman and svabhāva are otherwise denied in Mahāyāna Buddhism. Unless we know that “intrinsic reality” translates svabhāva in the 2004 translation, as a glossary would tell us, we would miss this. Here is Vasubandhu’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1197, showing five variant readings, of which I cite only one):

tatra cânāsrave dhātau buddhānāṃ paramâtmā nirdiśyate | kiṃ kāraṇaṃ | agra-nairātmyâtmakatvāt | agraṃ nairātmyaṃ viśuddhā tathatā sā ca buddhānām ātmā svabhāvârthena tasyāṃ viśuddhāyām agraṃ nairātmyam ātmānaṃ buddhā labhante śuddhaṃ | ataḥ śuddhâtma-lābhitvāt buddhā ātma-māhātmyaṃ prāptā ity anenâbhisaṃdhinā buddhānām anāsrave dhātau paramâtmā vyavasthāpyate |

zag pa med pa’i dbyings de la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag nyid kyi mchog ston te | ci’i phyir zhe na | bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid kyi phyir ro || bdag med pa mchog ni de bzhin nyid rnam par dag pa’o || de yang ngo bo nyid kyi don gyis sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag yin no || de rnam par dag na sangs rgyas rnams kyis bdag med pa mchog gi bdag nyid dag pa ’thob po || de bas na sangs rgyas rnams kyi dag pa’i bdag thob pa’i phyir bdag nyid chen po’i bdag tu gyur pa yin te | dgongs pa ’di* ni zag pa med pa’i dbyings la sangs rgyas rnams kyi bdag gi mchog rnam par ’jog go ||

*’dis in the Peking and Narthang editions.

“This shows the supreme self of the buddhas in the uncontaminated realm. Why? Because hers is the self of supreme selflessness. Supreme selflessness is completely pure suchness, and that is a buddha’s ‘self,’ in the sense of ‘intrinsic reality.’ When this is completely pure, buddhas attain superior selflessness, a pure self. Therefore, by attaining a pure self buddhas realize the spiritual greatness of self. Thus it is with this intention that buddhas are declared to have a supreme self in the uncontaminated realm.”

Khenpo Shenga’s commentary is here quite brief, extracting only a couple of points from Vasubandhu’s commentary. As found in the 2014 translation, Khenpo Shenga’s commentary on this verse follows. Words quoted from the verse itself are put in bold, a helpful feature.

Within pure emptiness, the buddhas achieve the suchness that is the supreme self of selflessness. Thus they achieve the supremely pure self, and hence they are the self that is the realization of great beings.”

Ju Mipham’s commentary is also comparatively brief here, making up less than half a page in the 2014 translation. Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse makes up two full pages in the English translation of chapter 9 of this commentary that is included in Cuong Tu Nguyen’s 1990 Harvard PhD. thesis (attached, see link in footnote).12 As a comparison of these commentaries on this verse will show, Mipham here takes little from Sthiramati, but instead comments more in accordance with the “Great Madhyamaka” ideas that form the basis of the Ri-mé or “non-sectarian” movement. Mipham was one of the major teachers of this late nineteenth-century movement in Tibet. Here is Mipham’s commentary on this verse as found in the 2014 translation:

“The pure and natural luminosity of emptiness is completely free from the self-manifestation of the adventitious defilements. In the absence of the twofold self of persons and phenomena, this is the actual nature of things, the supreme nature of the abiding reality, the intrinsic nature or essence itself. In achieving this, the buddhas have achieved a nature that is of complete purity. Thus, [to actualize] the suchness that is the unmistaken way things are is to be ‘the self of great beings.’ This self is not the same as the conceived object that is involved when apprehending the twofold self because such a self has no bearing on things as they are. The buddhas, however, have actualized the unmistaken abiding reality, which is the suchness of the twofold selflessness, free from the extremes of existence and nonexistence. That is the supreme self—‘the self of great beings.’”

The next example is from the third chapter (or fourth in the Tibetan translation). This is the first chapter on a Buddhist doctrinal topic, after the introductory chapter(s) and the chapter on going for refuge. Its topic is the gotra (Tib. rigs), a term that is very hard to translate adequately into English. David Seyfort Ruegg has distinguished three main meanings in Buddhist usage: 1. mine, matrix; 2. family, clan, lineage; 3. germ, seed.13 It is translated as “spiritual gene” in the 2004 translation, although in a 1979 draft of this translation that I have access to, it was translated as “heritage.” It is translated as “potential” in the 2014 translation. (It is left untranslated in the 1992 translation.) Verse 4 of this chapter gives its defining characteristics. The Sanskrit is given from Funahashi’s edition, agreeing with Lévi’s edition. The Tibetan is given from the Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 810, lines 6-8, where the text of only the verses has a variant reading, and from vol. 70, p. 1152, lines 9-11, where the text of the verses with commentary has another variant reading. I have ignored a third variant reading that is obviously an error.

prakṛtyā paripuṣṭaṃ ca āśrayaś câśritaṃ ca tat |
sad asac câiva vijñeyaṃ guṇôttāraṇatârthataḥ || 3.4 ||

rang bzhin dang ni rgyas pa dang || de ni rten dang brten pa dang ||
yod med nyid* dang yon tan ni** || sgrol ba’i don du shes par bya ||

*gnyis in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions of the text of the verses with commentary.

**dang in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

3.4 “Natural, developed, support, supported, existent and nonexistent; it is to be understood in the sense of “delivering excellences.” (2004 translation)

4.4 “The natural and the developed
Are the support and the supported.
Present while not present,
It should be known to mean “freeing qualities.” (2014 translation)

Vasubandhu’s commentary explains this verse, as found in the 2004 translation, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Funahashi’s edition, with one missing diacritic restored by me, otherwise agreeing with Lévi’s edition) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1152, ignoring two variant readings that are obvious scribal errors):

etena catur-vidhaṃ gotraṃ darśayati | prakṛti-sthaṃ samudānītam āśraya-svabhāvam āśrita-svabhāvaṃ ca tad eva yathā-kramaṃ | tat punar hetu-bhāvena sat phala-bhāvenâsat | guṇôttāraṇârthena gotraṃ veditavyaṃ guṇā uttaranty asmād uddhavantîti kṛtvā |

’dis ni rigs rnam pa bzhi ston te | rang bzhin du gnas pa dang | yang dag par bsgrubs pa dang | rten gyi ngo bo nyid dang | brten pa’i ngo bo nyid de de dag nyid dang go rims bzhin no || de ni rgyu’i dngos por yod do || ’bras bu’i dngos por med do || rigs ni yon tan sgrol ba’i don du yang rig par bya ste | ’di las yon tan sgrol zhing ’byung ba’i phyir ro ||

“This shows the spiritual gene to be fourfold: existing by nature, being developed, having the nature of a support, and having the nature of the supported, respectively. It exists as a cause, it does not exist as an effect. The spiritual gene is to be understood in the sense of ‘delivering excellences’; because excellences are delivered—that is, emerge—from it.”

The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra chapter and Vasubandhu’s commentary thereon, consisting of thirteen verses, give the gotra teachings briefly. They are given more extensively, and in prose, in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, where they form the first chapter. Thurman writes in his Introduction (p. xxxv): “The BBh [Bodhisattva-bhūmi] follows the pattern of the MSA [Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra] very closely, which is why I consider it to be Asaṅga’s own ‘meaning-’ or ‘depth-commentary’ (Tib. don ’grel) on the text.” It certainly does give the teachings in more depth. This is especially true of the tattvārtha or “reality” chapter. This is the sixth chapter (or seventh in the Tibetan translation) of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, consisting of only ten verses. It is the fourth chapter of the Bodhisattva-bhūmi, consisting of twenty-one pages in the 1937 Unrai Wogihara edition (pp. 37-57), and of fifteen pages in the 1966 Nalinaksha Dutt edition (pp. 25-39) (both posted on this website under “Sanskrit Texts”). The central theme of this chapter in the Bodhisattva-bhūmi is the vastu, the “thing” in itself. The vastu is not even mentioned in this chapter of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. H. P. Blavatsky in a private letter of 1886, describing The Secret Doctrine that she was then writing, linked the “Book of Dzyan” with the secret book of Maitreya Buddha. By contrast, she referred to the known five books of Maitreya, which are written in verse, as blinds:

“I have finished an enormous Introductory Chapter, or Preamble, Prologue, call it what you will; just to show the reader that the text as it goes, every Section beginning with a page of translation from the Book of Dzyan and the Secret Book of ‘Maytreya Buddha’ Champai chhos Nga (in prose, not the five books in verse known, which are a blind) are no fiction.”14

Blavatsky’s description of the known verse works of Maitreya, including the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra, as a “blind” seems to be fitting when we compare it to the much more detailed teachings in the prose Bodhisattva-bhūmi. Nonetheless, even a “blind” (if it is such), contains important teachings, however brief. The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra in this tattvārtha chapter speaks of the dharma-dhātu beyond mind in verses 7-8. These are key verses for the Yogācāra school of Buddhism, often held to teach “mind-only” (citta-mātra). Here are these verses in the two translations, preceded by the Sanskrit (from Lévi’s edition, transliterated and hyphenated by me) and Tibetan (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 816, lines 6-11, ignoring one variant reading, and p. 1174, lines 4-9, also ignoring one variant reading, a different one). Note that dharma-dhātu is translated in the 2004 translation as the “ultimate realm,” and in the 2014 translation as the “basic field of phenomena.”

arthān sa vijñāya ca jalpa-mātrān saṃtiṣṭhate tan-nibha-citta-mātre |
pratyakṣatām eti ca dharma-dhātus tasmād viyukto dvaya-lakṣaṇena || 6.7 ||

nâstîti cittāt param etya buddhyā cittasya nâstitvam upaiti tasmāt |
dvayasya nâstitvam upetya dhīmān saṃtiṣṭhate ’tad-gati-dharma-dhātau || 6.8 ||

de yis brjod pa tsam du don rig nas || der snang sems tsam la ni yang dag gnas ||
de nas chos dbyings gnyis kyi mtshan nyid dang || bral ba mngon sum nyid du rtogs par ’gyur ||

sems las gzhan med par ni blos rig nas || de nas sems kyang med pa nyid du rtogs ||
blo dang ldan pas gnyis po med rig nas || de mi ldan pa’i chos kyi dbyings la gnas ||

6.7. And once aware that objects are mere verbalizations she securely dwells in the realm of mind alone with such (objective) appearance. Then she realizes intuitively that the ultimate realm is (immanently) present, free of the nature of duality.

6.8 Realizing intellectually that there is nothing apart from mind, she understands then that mind (itself) has no (ultimate) existence. Understanding that duality has no existence, such a genius dwells in the ultimate realm which has no (duality). (2004 translation)

7.7 Hence, knowing objects to be mere expressions,
The bodhisattva recognizes that such appearances are mind only,
And then realizes the basic field of phenomena,
Free from the characteristics of duality, in direct perception.

7.8 Becoming aware that there is nothing apart from the mind,
The bodhisattva also realizes that the mind does not exist at all.
Having seen that the two do not exist, the intelligent one abides
In the basic field of phenomena, which does not contain them. (2014 translation)

As we see, following upon the idea that nothing exists other than mind (nâstîti cittāt param), these verses say the bodhisattva realizes that the mind does not exist (cittasya nâstitvam). The Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is a fundamental text of the Yogācāra school, a school that is widely held to teach the existence of “mind-only” (citta-mātra), and thus is also called the Cittamātra school. The “Great Madhyamaka” tradition claims the five treatises of Maitreya as its source texts, saying that these texts do not teach “mind-only”; but rather they teach that mind, like all other phenomena, does not ultimately exist. These verses from the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra would be an important source reference in support of this assertion. Interestingly, although Mipham as a Ri-mé teacher is a major exponent of the Great Madhyamaka tradition, he does not bring out this point in his commentary on these verses.

The example verses quoted so far were chosen to illustrate important ideas found in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra. They have not much illustrated the differences between the two translations in translation terminology. For this, we may look at verse 9.9 (or 10.9). Before doing so, we must note that the Tibetan translation of this verse differs from Lévi’s Sanskrit edition in two places. Neither Lévi in his corrections published long posthumously in 2001 nor Nagao in his corrigenda published in 1958 suggested emendations to this Sanskrit verse. So we are glad to see that the 2004 translation in a footnote (p. 76, fn. 16) gives emendations to this Sanskrit verse in three places, even though none of these three emendations fit the meter, and the third of these is unnecessary.15 The second of these emendations concerns the word ’jig tshogs found in the Tibetan translation. This is the standard translation of the Sanskrit word satkāya, which is not found in Lévi’s Sanskrit edition. However, Funahashi in his 1985 revised edition of this chapter shows that five Nepalese manuscripts do have satkāya here. The words sarvarakṣāpayānaṃ in Lévi’s edition thus should be sarvasatkāyayāna as in Funahashi’s edition. This also fits the meter. I give his revised text of this verse below. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse is not so easy to ascertain.16 I give the Tibetan from the text of only the verses in the Comparative Tengyur (vol. 70, p. 821, lines 13-16), which has one significant variant reading, and two insignificant ones that I have ignored. Likewise the text of the verses with commentary has two variant readings that I have ignored (vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21).

śaraṇam anupamaṃ tac chreṣṭha-buddhatvam iṣṭaṃ janana-maraṇa-sarva-kleśa-pāpeṣu rakṣā |
vividha-bhaya-gatānāṃ sarva-satkāya-yāna-pratata-vividha-duḥkhâpāya-nôpāya-gānāṃ || 9.9 ||

sangs rgyas nyid de skyabs ni dpe med mchog tu ’dod ||
sna tshogs ’jigs gyur ’jig tshogs kun dang theg pa dang ||
ngan song rnam mang sdug bsngal thabs min song ba rnams ||
skye dang ’chi dang nyon mongs ngan song* kun las srung || 

*las rnams in the Peking and Narthang editions of the text of the verses only.

9.9 Supreme buddhahood is accepted as the incomparable refuge. It grants protection amidst births and deaths, amidst all addictions and hellish migrations, for all those who have fallen into various dangers, materiality, (inferior) vehicles, unremitting suffering of various kinds, hellish rebirths, and unliberating arts. (2004 translation)

10.9 The refuge of buddhahood is held to be incomparably supreme,
For it protects against the different fears, all of the transitory collection, the vehicles,
The numerous sufferings of the lower realms, the pursuit of nonmethods,
Birth, death, afflictions, and the lower realms. (2014 translation)

We notice in the 2004 translation three unique translation terms:

(1) “addictions” for kleśa-s (Tib. nyon mongs), translated as “afflictions” in the 2014 translation. As said above, “afflictions” (or “mental afflictions”) has now become a frequent translation for kleśa-s in Buddhist texts, as has “afflictive emotions.” I have also seen “mental and moral afflictions.” These translations are based on the etymological and literal meaning of kleśa as “affliction.” Interestingly, “affliction” was also the earliest English translation of kleśa, found in James R. Ballantyne’s 1852 and 1853 translation of Yoga-sūtra books 1 and 2 (where they are enumerated at 2.3), and adopted by many other translators of this Hindu text up to the present. In previous translations of Buddhist texts this term was often given more descriptive translations such as “defilements,” “moral defilements,” “defiled emotions,” “passions,” etc. The kleśa-s are desire, hatred, delusion, pride, ignorance, wrong views, doubt, etc.

(2) “materiality” for sat-kāya (Tib. ’jig tshogs), translated as “the transitory collection” in the 2014 translation. The term “transitory collection” is not uncommon in English translations made from the Tibetan, since it is a translation of the Tibetan translation, ’jig tshogs, which in turn is a literal translation of the Sanskrit term, sat-kāya, as it is explained in Buddhist texts.17 This term is associated with the basic Buddhist teaching of ātma-dṛṣṭi, the “(false) view of self.” The transitory or perishable collection or aggregation refers to the body, feelings, thoughts, etc. (the skandha-s), that together make up a person, and which is falsely regarded as a permanent self. This term is therefore often given more descriptive translations. Thus, it is translated as “false views of self” in Cuong Nguyen’s translation of Sthiramati’s commentary on this verse (p. 359). Incidentally, Sthiramati takes the word “all” (sarva) with it in this verse, “all false views of self.”

(3) “unliberating arts” for na upāya (here used in a compound for anupāya in order to fit the meter, Tib. thabs min), translated as “nonmethods” in the 2014 translation. From the term “nonmethods” we can easily derive “methods,” a common translation of upāya, which is also often translated as “means.” Likewise, from “unliberating arts” we can derive “liberating arts,” which is used throughout the 2004 translation for upāya. This term is frequently seen with prajñā in the contrasting and complementing pair, “wisdom and means.” It is also frequently seen with kauśalya in the phrase, “skill in means.”

Another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation is “theology” for tarka (Tib. rtog ge), translated as “logic” in the 2014 translation and elsewhere. Thus, we read in verse 1.12 (Lévi Sanskrit edition) or 1.6 (2004 translation) or 2.6 (2014 translation):

1.6. Theology is dependent, indefinite, non-comprehensive, superficial, tiresome, and the resort of the naïve. Thus, this (universal vehicle) is not within its scope. (2004 translation)

2.6. Logic is dependent, uncertain,
Incomprehensive, relative, and tiresome.
It is held to be reliable by the childish,
And this is, therefore, not within the domain. (2014 translation)

As noted above, the anomalous use of “selflessness” has become accepted Buddhist jargon for those in the know. In combination, this leads to another unique translation term found in the 2004 translation, one that may take more than being in the loop to understand. In Vasubandhu’s commentary on verse 4.14 we read, “there is equanimity towards all things due to the understanding of objective selflessness.” In normal English, “objective selflessness” would mean “unbiased altruism” or “impartial unselfishness,” and this is something we might expect from a bodhisattva who has equanimity towards all things. Now that we are in the loop, however, we know that “selflessness” here means “absence of self,” not “altruism” or “unselfishness.” So we next need to determine what “objective absence of self” might mean. To do this, we must have studied Mahāyāna Buddhism long enough to know that it teaches two kinds of “absence of self”: that of persons and that of phenomena or things. We can then see that “objective selflessness” must mean “absence of self in objects,” i.e., in things or phenomena. Without such a background, I do not think that this phrase would be understood to mean this. This phrase is found in the 2014 translation as “selflessness of phenomena.” The word “phenomena,” too, has become accepted Buddhist jargon. A Christian theologian pursuing interfaith studies may not find either of these translations to be very comprehensible.

While the 2014 translation normally uses translation terminology that has now come in to common use, it does use a few uncommon or unique translation terms. These are, perhaps, harder to recognize in this translation because they are unexpected there. For example, it uses “intrinsic nature” for dharmatā (Tib. chos nyid), a translation term that elsewhere almost always translates svabhāva (Tib. ngo bo nyid, rang bzhin). Thus, in verse 2.5 (= 1.11 in the Lévi Sanskrit edition), we read: “It [the Great Vehicle] does not conflict with the intrinsic nature”; while in the 2004 translation (= 1.5) we find, “it [the universal vehicle] does not run counter to actual reality.” The term “actual reality,” like “true reality,” is within the norm for dharmatā, whose most common translation is “true nature.”

Also unexpected in the 2014 translation is the translation of saṃjñā (Tib. ’du shes) as “identification.” There we read in verse 10.47: “When the identification of space has transformed, whatever is wished for manifests.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of saṃjñā as “conception” in verse 9.47: “In the transmutation of the conception of space, highest mastery is attained.”

Likewise the translation of vijñapti (Tib. rnam par rig pa) as “awareness” in the 2014 translation is unexpected and therefore apt to be confusing. There we read in verse 12.24: “The causes of delusion and delusion are held to be awareness of form and awareness without form.” In the 2004 translation we find a more common translation of vijñapti as “idea” in verse 11.24: “The cause of error and error itself are considered to be the idea of matter and the idea of nonmateriality (respectively).”

These few unusual translation terms in the 2014 translation are very much the exception, and I call attention to them for the reason that they are unexpected there. The vast majority of the translation terms in the 2014 translation are ones that would be expected. Moreover, it does have a glossary, even though such glossaries are necessarily selective. Thus, for example, it leaves out “transcendence of suffering,” for nirvāṇa. Also, the English-Tibetan Glossary, through some glitch, omits all the words starting with “s”.

In one case, both translations use uncommon or unique translation terms. For jñāna (Tib. ye shes), common translations are “knowledge,” “wisdom,” “gnosis,” etc. The 2004 translation uses “intuition” for it, and the 2014 translation uses “wakefulness” for it. While such translations can provide helpful insights into the meaning of the original term, they can also make it harder to get the intended meaning, as may be seen in the following verse:

9.34. Just as clouds and so forth are thought to obscure the rays of sunlight, so the deficiencies of beings obscure the buddhas’ intuitions. (2004 translation)

10.34. It is held that the rays of the sun
Are obscured by things such as clouds.
In the same way, the wakefulness of the buddhas
Is obscured by the flaws of sentient beings. (2014 translation)

Both of these translations give the impression that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with the insights or awareness that the buddhas would otherwise have. Of course, the intended meaning is that the deficiencies or flaws of sentient beings interfere with their own realization of the wisdom or knowledge or gnosis possessed by the buddhas. This is clear in the translation of this verse by Cuong Nguyen:

9.34. Just as clouds and the like obstruct the sunlight, so the faults of sentient beings block the Buddhas’ wisdoms. (1990 thesis, p. 393)

The renowned accuracy of the Tibetan translations in very closely following the Sanskrit originals goes hand in hand with their use of standardized translation terminology. This was implemented quite early by royal decree, and was used throughout the entire body of Buddhist texts. This standardized translation terminology allowed Tibetans to know that chos is always dharma, for example, no matter in what text or who translated it. We do not have this in our English translations today, nor are we likely to, because of our individualistic natures. Thurman has noted that the śāstra texts comprising the Tengyur, of which the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is one, are scientific treatises (pp. ii, vii, xvii). While their primary field is not the physical realm, as is that of the modern sciences of biology, chemistry, physics, etc., what they expound are similarly sciences that require the use of precise technical terms. Lacking standardized translation terms that all can agree on, we are obliged to add glossaries, or to add the Sanskrit terms in parentheses (as done by Étienne Lamotte in his valuable translations), or even to add the whole Sanskrit text (as is now frequent in translations of Hindu texts published in India). Things were different when the Buddhist texts were translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan. The use of standardized translation terminology, along with the literal accuracy of the Tibetan translations, together resulted in the most precise transferal of a body of religious knowledge from one language to another known to history.

In conclusion, the two translations of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra complement each other in important ways. The use of more standard translation terminology makes the 2014 translation more understandable, while the use of the Sanskrit original makes the 2004 translation more accurate. No serious student can afford to be without either of them.



1. The Works of Maitreya: English Translations, p. 7. Eastern Tradition Research Institute Bibliographic Guides, 2007: http://easterntradition.org/etri%20bib-maitreya.pdf.

2. See Sylvain Lévi’s Avant-propos to his 1907 Sanskrit edition. This edition is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_1907.pdf. An English translation of this Avant-propos was made by Umesh Jha and published, along with the French, as “A Rendition of Lévi’s Preface to the Sūtrālaṃkāra,” Bulletin of the Mithila Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and Research in Sanskrit Learning, Darbhanga, Vols. IV-VI, Sept. 1968-Sept. 1970, pp. 202-209, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara, Levi’s Preface, Eng. The relevant portion is also quoted in French and translated into English by Kamaleswar Bhattacharya in his 2001 article, pp. 5-6 and fn. 5; for the full title and link, see note 8 below.

3. As Kazuo Kano informs us in his 2012 article, “Eight Folios from a Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic and Critical Editions on X.9-XI.3,” p. 33. See note 9 below for link.

4. Gadjin M. Nagao, “Corrigenda of the Text Edited by Professor Sylvain Lévi,” in Index to the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra (Sylvain Lévi Edition), Part One: Sanskrit-Tibetan-Chinese, pp. xi-xxii (Tokyo, 1958), here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara corrigenda Nagao 1958.

5. The two additional Sanskrit manuscripts that were brought to Japan and are kept in the Ryūkoku University Library were first reported on and studied by Shōko Takeuchi in his Japanese language article, “On Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra—brought by Ōtani Mission,” Ryūkoku Daigaku Ronshū, no. 352, Aug. 1956, pp. 72-87, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara brought by Otani Mission, Takeuchi 1956. Besides being consulted by Nagao, these two manuscripts were also used by Takanori Umino, in his English language article, “Corrections of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra XI. 35,” Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, Dec. 1973, pp. 513-508 (20-25), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Corrections of XI.35, Takanori 1973.

6. Two of these additional Sanskrit manuscripts from the Nepal National Archives were compared with Lévi’s edition by Risho Hotori, who published a “Concordance of the Sanskrit Edition and Two Manuscripts of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra,” in Tetsugaku Nempō, no. 43, Feb. 1984, pp. 83-90, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara Concordance Two Manuscripts, Hotori 1984. These two manuscripts were used by Gadjin Nagao, along with the two from the Ryūkoku University Library, for his English translation of chapter 17, verses 29-64, with revised Sanskrit edition and list of corrections to Lévi’s edition, published as “The Bodhisattva’s Compassion Described in the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra,” in Wisdom, Compassion, and the Search for Understanding (University of Hawai’i Press, 2000), pp. 1-38, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara 17.29-64 Eng. Skt. Nagao 2000.

7. Naoya Funahashi, Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra (Chapter I, II, III, IX, X), Revised on the basis of Nepalese manuscripts (Tokyo, 1985). This is posted here under “Sanskrit Texts,” then “Sanskrit Buddhist Texts,” then Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra: mahayana_sutralamkara_partial_1985.pdf.

8. Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, “For a New Edition of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, Journal of the Nepal Research Centre, vol. XII, 2001, pp. 5-16, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, For a New Edition of, Bhattacharya 2001.

9. Kazuo Kano has kindly posted his many valuable articles at Academia.edu (https://koyasan-u.academia.edu/KazuoKano). This is very helpful because Japanese academic publications are not easily accessible here in the U.S.A., for example. Besides his article listed in note 3 above, his three other articles on the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra are: “Palm-leaf Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra from Ngor Monastery—Folio 27: XI.14-27—,” “The Sanskrit Manuscript of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya from Ngor Monastery: Diplomatic Edition on XVII.37-39,” and “Vairocanarakṣita’s Glosses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārabhāṣya Chapter 17.” In his article listed in note 3 above (pp. 36-37) he gives information about other Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra manuscripts in Tibet. As access to these becomes possible, we may hope to eventually have a very accurate Sanskrit edition of this text. From access to an incomplete related text, the Sūtrālaṃkāra-paricaya, Ye Shaoyong was able to recover three verses, 2.9-11, that are absent in Lévi’s edition due to a missing folio: “Three Verses of the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra Missing in Sylvain Lévi’s Edition,” Journal of Sino-Western Communications, vol. 5, no. 1, July 2013, pp. 218-224, here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara, three missing verses.

10. Robert A. F. Thurman, review of Herbert V. Guenther, Kindly Bent to Ease Us, in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 37, no. 1, June 1977, pp. 222-228, here attached as: Thurman review of Guenther Kindly Bent to Ease Us.

11. Paul J. Griffiths, “Painting Space with Colors: Tathāgatagarbha in the Mahāyānasūtrâlaṅkāra-Corpus IX.22-37,” in Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota, pp. 41-63 (Tokyo, 1990), here attached as: Mahayanasutralamkara 9.22-37, Tathagatagarbha in, Griffiths 1990.

12. Cuong Tu Nguyen, Sthiramati’s Interpretation of Buddhology and Soteriology, Harvard University PhD. thesis, 1990, pp. 379-383, including verse 9.23, here attached as: Mahayana-sutralamkara Sthiramati comm. 9.23 Nguyen trans.

13. D. Seyfort Ruegg, “The Meanings of the Term Gotra and the Textual History of the Ratnagotravibhāga,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 39, 1976, p. 354. This article is posted here under “References,” then “Studies,” then “Dhatu — Gotra (Eleven articles),” of which it is the fifth article, pp. 28-40 of that PDF.

14. The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, London, 1925, p. 195.

15. The third emendation to this Sanskrit verse given in a footnote in the 2004 translation (p. 76, fn. 16) is pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāgānāṃ for Lévi’s pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyanopāyagānāṃ. Apparently this emendation is itself a typographical error, since it lacks a syllable and eliminates the word upāya, for which we have its standard translation thabs in the Tibetan text. Probably the intended emendation was pratatavividhaduḥkhāpāyānupāyagānāṃ. In any case, it is unnecessary. The use of the Sanskrit word “na” in a compound in order to fit the meter, here nopāya instead of anupāya, is not uncommon.

16. The remaining emendation to this Sanskrit verse concerns the word pāpa (in kleśapāpeṣu), for which the Tibetan translation (in the Der-ge edition used in the 2004 translation, signified by “D” but not in the list of abbreviations) has ngan song, the standard translation of the Sanskrit word apāya. Since the letter “p” looks almost like the letter “y” in Sanskrit manuscripts, this allows the apparently easy emendation kleśāpāyeṣu, as given in the 2004 translation footnote. However, the long “ā” resulting from merging kleśa and apāya goes against the meter. The printed reading, kleśapāpeṣu, fits the meter, and is apparently found in all of the several Nepalese manuscripts collated by Funahashi. Since apāya is mentioned later in this verse, there would be no need to also have it here. Then, there is a variant reading in the Tibetan translation of this verse in the text giving the verses alone (but not in the text giving the verses and commentary together, Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 1192, lines 18-21). For ngan song in the Der-ge and Co-ne editions, the Peking and Narthang editions have las rnams (Comparative Tengyur, vol. 70, p. 821, line 16). The Tibetan word las translates the Sanskrit word karma (the rnams is the plural marker). This indicates that the Sanskrit manuscript(s) used for the Peking/Narthang edition had kleśakarmeṣu here. This also fits the meter. The Tibetan translation of Sthiramati’s commentary here has ngan song, seeming to confirm apāya, but it explains las, karma, in conjunction with nyon mongs, kleśa, the “mental/moral afflictions.” So we do not know whether Maitreya here spoke of protection from pāpa, “sins,” apāya, “bad rebirths,” or karma, “actions.”

17. The Sanskrit term sat-kāya looks like it should mean “real body,” or “truly existing body.” However, as explained in Buddhist texts such as the Abhidharma-kośa-bhāṣya (5.7), here sat means sīdati. That is, it comes from the root sad, meaning “to break, decay, perish.” It is not the present participle or noun sat from the root as, meaning “existing, truly existing, real.” Also, here kāya is taken in its meaning, “assemblage, aggregation, collection” rather than “body.” The Tibetan ’jig tshogs is a literal translation of this, meaning “disintegrating collection,” and thus is taken as “transitory collection.”

Additional note: A four-language electronic edition of the Mahāyāna-sūtrālaṃkāra is available at the University of Oslo Bibliotheca Polyglotta website. It includes Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and French. It is very convenient, but must be used with caution at present. This is because, judging by the many typographical errors, it does not seem to have been proofread. It can be found at: http://www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=fulltext&view=fulltext&vid=85&cid=182062&mid=283928&level=1

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Critical Editions of the Purāṇas

By David Reigle on August 31, 2014 at 11:57 pm

In the post dated May 5, 2012, attention was called to the critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, edited by M. M. Pathak, and published in two volumes, 1997 and 1999 (Vadodara: Oriental Institute). A comment on that post called attention to three previously published critical editions of purāṇas: The Vāmana Purāṇa (1967), The Kūrma Purāṇa (1971), and The Varāha Purāṇa (2 vols., 1981), all edited by Anand Swarup Gupta, and published by the All-India Kashiraj Trust, Varanasi. Two more critical editions of purāṇas have been published, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa. Their bibliographic data is:

The Bhāgavata [Śrīmad Bhāgavata Mahāpurāṇa]: Critical Edition, edited by H. G. Shastri, et al., 4 vols. in 6 parts, Ahmedabad: B. J. Institute of Learning and Research, 1996-2002 (vol. 1, skandhas 1-3, ed. by H. G. Shastri, 1996; vol. 2, skandhas 4-6, ed. by Bharati K. Shelat, 1999; vol. 3, skandhas 7-9, ed. respectively by H. G. Shastri, B. K. Shelat, and K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 1, skandha 10, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1997; vol. 4, part 2, skandhas 11-12, ed. by K. K. Shastree, 1998; vol. 4, part 3, Epilogue, by K. K. Shastree, 2002).

The Critical Edition of the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇam, edited by M. L. Wadekar, 2 vols., Vadodara: Oriental Institute, 2011 (vol. 2, adhyāyas 76-88, is the Devīmāhātmyam).

Besides these critical editions of six of the eighteen major purāṇas, three volumes (in four parts) of a critical edition of an earlier and more original version of the massive Skanda-purāṇa have been published (to be completed in about ten volumes):

The Skandapurāṇa, vol. I, adhyāyas 1-25, edited by Rob Adriaensen, Hans T. Bakker, and Harunaga Isaacson, 1998; vol. IIa, adhyāyas 26-31.14, ed. by Hans T. Bakker and Harunaga Isaacson, 2005; vol. IIb, adhyāyas 31-52, ed. by Hans T. Bakker, Peter C. Bisschop, and Yuko Yokochi, 2014; vol. III, adhyāyas 34.1-61, 53-69, ed. by Yuko Yokochi, 2013. Supplement to the Groningen Oriental Studies, Groningen: Egbert Forsten, and Leiden: Brill.

An earlier and more original version of the Agni-purāṇa has also been published, although not in a critical edition. Its discovery was announced by R. C. Hazra in his 1956 article, “Discovery of the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa” (attached). It was published as:

Vahni-Purāṇam, also referred to as Āgneya-Purāṇam, edited by Anasuya Bhowmik. Bibliotheca Indica Series, no. 336. Kolkata: The Asiatic Society, 2012 (includes as an Introduction the extensive 2-part article by Rajendra Chandra Hazra titled, “Studies in the Genuine Āgneya-Purāṇa alias Vahni-Purāṇa,” originally published in 1953 and 1954).

Additionally, we have a critical edition of the Harivaṃśa, a purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata. It was edited by Parashuram Lakshman Vaidya, and published in 1969, with an additional large volume of Appendices in 1971 (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute).

We anxiously await the publication of the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa, which is underway at the Oriental Institute, Vadodara. The Vāyu-purāṇa is, by general consensus, considered to be the oldest of the extant purāṇas. It, too, like all the others, has undergone revision and alteration, additions and subtractions. But it retains more of the core, presumably the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, than the other extant purāṇas do (see the post, “Creation Stories: The Cosmogony Account from the Purāṇas, Part 1. On the Original Purāṇa-saṃhitā,” dated Aug. 14, 2012).

For purposes of research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā, the Vāyu-purāṇa is of most importance. Of similar importance is its twin, somewhat more expanded version, the extant Brahmāṇḍa-purāṇa. Of the thousands of verses shared in common between these two purāṇas, hundreds have been found in the extant Matsya-purāṇa, and in the Harivaṃśa. The contents of these verses are often found in the extant Viṣṇu-purāṇa and Bhāgavata-purāṇa, but condensed and re-written. Thus, the traces of Prakrit found in the Sanskrit of these ancient verses have disappeared in these re-written condensations, even though the basic information remains. Besides these purāṇas containing ancient material, the archaic character of the extant Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa has been noted since the beginning of purāṇa studies by Western investigators, and has been fully confirmed by the investigations of purāṇa specialist, Rajendra Chandra Hazra.

In his still standard 1940 book, Studies in the Purānic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, R. C. Hazra took a different approach than the historical approach taken by F. E. Pargiter and S. P. L. Narasimhaswami. Hazra carefully evaluated the authenticity of the major purāṇas on the basis of quotations from them found in the smṛti-nibandhas, works on Hindu rites and customs, and on the basis of descriptions of their contents found in the other purāṇas. He found that only seven of the now extant purāṇas can legitimately claim to be the major purāṇas known to the smṛti-nibandha writers and described in the other purāṇas, while the remaining eleven of the eighteen major purāṇas are either extensive alterations or complete substitutions. The seven more or less authentic extant major purāṇas are the Mārkaṇḍeya, Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Viṣṇu, Matsya, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma, while the eleven erstwhile major purāṇas that must now be regarded as minor purāṇas are the extant Vāmana, Liṅga, Varāha, Padma, Nāradīya, Agni, Garuḍa, Brahma, Skanda, Brahma-vaivarta, and Bhaviṣya. He also regards the extant Śiva-purāṇa, usually classed as one of the eighteen (or nineteen) major purāṇas, as a minor purāṇa, based on its content. Hazra’s findings agree with the findings of previous investigators as to which are the oldest purāṇas now extant, adding to these only the Kūrma-purāṇa, and that with considerable qualifications (see his book, pp. 57-75).

There are, then, seven extant purāṇas that are of much importance for research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā. These are the Vāyu, Brahmāṇḍa, Matsya, Mārkaṇḍeya, Viṣṇu, Bhāgavata, and Kūrma. Similarly important is the purāṇa-like supplement to the Mahābhārata, the Harivaṃśa. Of these eight texts, we now have critical editions of five: the Harivaṃśa (1969-1971), the Kūrma-purāṇa (1971), the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (1996-2002), the Viṣṇu-purāṇa, (1997-1999), and the Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa (2011). Once the critical edition of the Vāyu-purāṇa is published, we will be in a position to undertake research on the original Purāṇa-saṃhitā with the hope of reasonably reliable results.

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Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript Errata

By David Reigle on June 27, 2014 at 11:51 pm

A list of eighteen possible errata to this book has kindly been sent to me by Vladimir Sova. The first of these corrections had previously been sent to me by Jacques Mahnich. Sixteen pertain to the Würzburg Manuscript portion of the book, and the last two pertain to the appendix on chronology.

Of these sixteen, the third (“has epoch” for “his epoch”), the seventh (“Kabalstic” for “Kabalistic”), and the twelfth (“Vertical Atoms” for “Vortical Atoms”) are our typographical errors. For the first, second, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth, the text given in the book is as found in the Würzburg manuscript. Except for two of these, they are scribal errors of the copyists. These errors should be corrected.

The thirteenth (“Uncreate”) and sixteenth (“000,000,000”) are not errors. See The Secret Doctrine, 1888, vol. 1, p. 250, and vol. 2, p. 696, where these same two passages occur.

The seventeenth (“predilictions” for “predilections”) is a misspelling that is found in The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky to A. P. Sinnett, p. 88. The eighteenth (“London, when” for “London, where”) is our scribal error. The source has “where,” not “when.”

Many thanks to Vladimir for finding and sending these errata. Much appreciated.




Should be

page 11, line 20 from above

amende hons rable

amende honorable

page 20, line 9 from above

as night! Two

as night, two

page 32, line 2 from below

has epoch;

his epoch;

page 40, line 12 from below

non demonstrated

now demonstrated

page 76, line 11 from below

subtlety and casuisty

subtlety and casuistry

page 95, footnote, line 11

Didna Astarte

Diana Astarte

page 128, line 8 from below

Kabalstic names

Kabalistic names

page 148,  line 10 from above

its Karma. All the

its Karma, all the

page 162, line 1 from above

motion. “Darkness”

motion. (3) “Darkness”

page 162, line 7 from below


(7) Kala-hansa

page 176, line 1 from below



page 194, line 6 from below

Vertical Atoms

Vortical Atoms

page 226, line 7 from above



page 230, line 6 from above



page 253, line 8 from below

without break or flow

without break or flaw

page 255, line 5 from below


100,000,000 [or some other valid number]

page 263, line 18 from above



page 334, line 16 from above

London, when

London, where



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Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript digital

By David Reigle on June 22, 2014 at 3:29 am

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript book in digital or electronic format can now be downloaded free of charge from the Eastern Tradition Research Institute website: http://www.easterntradition.org/SD%20Wurzburg%20ms.%20complete%20book%20bc.pdf.

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Buddhica Britannica Series Continua

By David Reigle on May 31, 2014 at 6:50 pm

An important but not well enough known series of Buddhist books is published by the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Tring, U.K. The Buddhica Britannica Series Continua includes considerable material pertaining to the Buddhist tantras (rgyud sde, earlier phoneticized as kiu-te). Behind this series is Dr. Tadeusz Skorupski, who succeeded Dr. David Snellgrove in teaching Buddhist Studies and Tibetan Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As is well known, Dr. Snellgrove produced the first ever English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Hevajra Tantra (1959), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. Dr. Skorupski has continued this work on the Buddhist tantras in an exemplary manner. He, too, produced an English translation of a Buddhist tantra, The Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra (1983), accompanying his Sanskrit and Tibetan editions of it. In the Buddhica Britannica Series Continua he has provided an abridged English translation of another tantric text, the Kriyāsaṃgraha (2002), a compendium of Buddhist rituals. The most recent publication in this series is the Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta (2 vols., 2009), edited in Sanskrit and Tibetan by Masahide Mori, which began as a PhD thesis under Dr. Skorupski. This famous but hitherto unedited text is an extensive compendium of tantric maṇḍalas, including the Kālacakra maṇḍala (pp. 207 ff., 299 ff.). A brief listing of the currently available texts in this series follows:

BBI The Buddhist Heritage, ed. T. Skorupski, 1989, £20

BBBII Indo-Tibetan Studies, ed. T. Skorupski, 1990, £25

BBBIII The Rishukyō, I. Astley-Kristensen, 1991, £27

BIV The Cult of the Deity Vajrakīla, M. Boord, 1993, £21

BBV The Bodhisattvapiṭaka, U. Pagel, 1995, £40

BBVIII Tales of an Old Lama, C. R. Bawden, 1997, £14.50

BBIX The Six Perfections, T. Skorupski, 2002, £12.50

BBX Kriyāsaṃgraha, T. Skorupski, 2002, £19.50

BBXI Vajrāvalī of Abhayākaragupta, ed. Masahide Mori, 2 Vols., 2009, £50

BFVI The Buddhist Forum, Volume VI, 2001, £17.50

Institute of Buddhist Studies

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Phone 01442 / 890 882

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Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript

By David Reigle on May 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

The Secret Doctrine Würzburg Manuscript has now been published. It includes H. P. Blavatsky’s first translations of stanzas from the Book of Dzyan with her unrevised commentaries on them. Only the stanzas from the Würzburg manuscript had been published until now, not her unrevised commentaries on them. These comprise cosmogenesis, and a few on anthropogenesis. The Würzburg manuscript also includes a large introductory section, comprising about half the book. Most of the chapters in this introductory section were later published in the 1897 third volume of The Secret Doctrine. As with the commentaries on the stanzas, here we have her unrevised versions.

The so-called Würzburg manuscript is a partial copy of Blavatsky’s early manuscript of The Secret Doctrine, written while she was staying at Würzburg, Germany, and then at Ostende, Belgium, in 1885 and 1886. Her manuscript of the almost completed Secret Doctrine was copied by two or more scribes to send to India for revision by T. Subba Row, which revision did not occur. Only part of this copy has been found. What we have is estimated to be about a fourth or a third of the whole that was sent to India. Fortunately, it includes the whole cosmogenesis section, all seven stanzas and their commentaries.

The book is available at Lulu.com: http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?type=Print+Products&keyWords=secret+doctrine+wurzburg+manuscript&x=15&y=9&sitesearch=lulu.com&q=

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Catalogue of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) 2011 edition

By David Reigle on December 3, 2013 at 11:53 pm

A listing of all the Tibetan titles in the 2011 edition of the Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) is here attached (Dolpopa Collected Writings Catalogue). In compiling this, I have included and translated the source statement for each text. This indicates whether the particular text is based primarily on newly available sources, or solely on the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, which is in turn based primarily on the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition. The ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition did not become available to the outside world until 1992, while the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition followed several years later. The 2011 edition was additionally able to draw upon sources that became available even more recently. These are old texts that had been sealed away in the Nechu temple at Drepung monastery since the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). Also used occasionally were old texts from Dza-’go, and a few other old texts. Approximately half of the content of the 2011 edition is based primarily on these old sources.

All of Dolpopa’s writings that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions are included in the 2011 edition. Further, the thirty-two part biography of Dolpopa that includes his past lives, written by his disciple Kun spangs chos grags dpal bzang po, is found in all three editions. The ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition, however, includes three additional biographical texts on Dolpopa that are not found in the 2011 edition or in the ’Dzam-thang manuscript edition.

The 2011 edition includes thirteen newly found texts that are not found in the ’Dzam-thang editions. These comprise volume 13. This is stated by the editors in the introductory material given in volume 1, after saying that the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition in eight volumes contains about 200 texts (p. 6): da lan yang nged dpal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ‘jug khang gis gsar rnyed kyi chos tshan 13 bsnan te | deb grangs bcu gsum du bgos nas |. The introductory material is dated in two places, both giving 2007, although all of the volumes are dated 2011, and they did not become available until 2013. So at the time this edition was prepared, 2007 or before, these thirteen newly found texts could well be described as newly found. However, the two largest of these, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, and Dolpopa’s abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, were published in 2007 and 2008 in the Jonang Publication Series. Moreover, Michael Sheehy has noted that some of the other eleven had previously been published in the one volume of The Collected Works of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa that was published from Bhutan in 1984. This volume was apparently not used by the editors of the new edition.

The thirteen texts published in volume 13 as newly found are listed below. When any of these texts were published elsewhere, the references have been added. Some texts with similar titles, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, have also been noted. The source statements of these thirteen texts may be seen in the attached catalogue listing.

1. theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa thogs med kyis mdzad pa, annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, pp. 1-188. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 2, Rgyud bla’i ṭīkka, 2007, pp. 1-128.

2. dpal ldan dus ‘khor rgyud ‘grel gyi || bsdus don yongs ‘du lta bu, abbreviated meaning of the Kalacakra-tantra commentary, pp. 189-264. Previously published in the Jonang Publication Series, vol. 17, Dus ’khor rgyud mchan by Phyogs las rnam rgyal, 2008, pp. 227-283. A manuscript of this in cursive script was reproduced in Dus ’khor ’grel mchan phyogs bsgrigs, vol. 1 {11} (1/7/2), 2007, pp. 487-539.

3. dus ‘khor gyi lha ‘dabs ‘ga’, pp. 265-291.

4. kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, pp. 292-308. This is a considerably longer work than kun gzhi rab dbye, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 159-161 (kun gzhi’i rab tu dbye ba). This longer work is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 105-130.

5. stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba, pp. 309-314. This is a considerably shorter work than stong nyid kyi rab tu dbye ba khyad ‘phags, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions (and in the 1984 Bhutan volume), and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 162-177.

6. don dam dbyings rig dbyer med la bstod pa, pp. 315-321. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 480-489.

7. dpal phyag rgya chen po la bstod cing phyag ‘tshal ba rin chen ‘byung gnas, pp. 322-325. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 490-495.

8. mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, pp. 326-329. This is different from bka’ mdo rgyud zab mo kun gyi spyi ‘grel, found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 7, pp. 243-244.

9. slob dpon blo gros seng ge’i dris lan, pp. 330-343.

10. gsol ‘debs kyi rgyal po, pp. 344-346.

11. spang blang gi chos ngos bzung ba sogs, pp. 347-349.

12. sku ‘bum chen po grub dus btab pa’i smon lam, pp. 350-352. This is found in the 1984 Bhutan volume, pp. 462-466.

13. lo gsar pa bkra shis par byed pa’i thabs gsum pa, pp. 353-354. This is a third version among two other versions of this title that are found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, and found in the new edition, vol. 12, pp. 336-338 and 339-341.

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Dolpopa Collected Writings (dol po pa gsung ’bum) new edition

By David Reigle on November 10, 2013 at 10:21 pm

A new edition of the Tibetan language collected writings (gsung ’bum) of Dolpopa was published in 13 volumes in 2011, although it does not seem to have become available until 2013. It was published in China in western style book format (paperbound). Dolpopa’s collected writings first became available to the world in 1992 with the publication of The ’Dzam-thang Edition of the Collected Works (gsung ’bum) of Kun-mkhyen Dol-po-pa Shes-rab-rgyal-mtshan, collected and presented by Matthew Kapstein (Delhi: Shedrup Books, 1992, 7 volumes in 10). This first publication was a reproduction of a print of a set of manuscripts in dbu med (cursive or “headless”) script. Several years later a blockprint ’Dzam-thang edition was published in 8 volumes, in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script. The new edition is also in dbu can script, and is newly typeset. It is therefore easier to read; and since it is an edition rather than a reproduction, it has eliminated most typographical errors.

In its arrangement it is based on the ’Dzam-thang editions, which are the only extant collections. It includes all of Dolpopa’s texts found in the ’Dzam-thang editions, plus some new texts that are not found in those editions (these comprise vol. 13). As for the editing of its texts, roughly half of them are taken from the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition as the only source. The other roughly half of its texts are based primarily on newly available sources, supplemented by the ’Dzam-thang blockprint edition. These are mostly from the major find of rare Tibetan texts long hidden away in private libraries at Drepung Monastery (see the posts on “Rare Tibetan Texts” at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center website: http://about.tbrc.org/tag/drepung/). In particular, almost all of them are from the Nechu (gnas bcu) temple at Drepung Monastery.

Its contents are, very briefly:

vol. 1: biography of Dolpopa, including past lives;

vol. 2: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 3: commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra, plus three shorter works, including an annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra;

vol. 4: commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, plus one shorter work;

vol. 5: commentary on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 100,000 lines;

vol. 6: commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 and in 18,000 lines, plus six shorter works;

vol. 7: bKa’ bsdu bzhi pa’i don bstan rtsis chen po, the “Fourth Council,” its commentary, its summary, and twenty other works;

vol. 8: dPon byang pa’i phyag tu phul ba’i chos kyi shan ’byed, “Analysis of Dharma for the Ruler of Jang,” and five other works;

vol. 9: short Kālacakra works, etc., thirty in all;

vol. 10: Kālacakra sādhana (full), and ten other works;

vol. 11: thirty-eight short miscellaneous texts, many of which are supplications (gsol ’debs), including the bsTan pa spyi ’grel, “General Commentary on the Doctrine”;

vol. 12: seventy-four short miscellaneous texts, including advice or instruction (gdams pa), replies to queries (zhus lan), songs of praise (bstod pa), aspirational prayers (smon lam), etc.;

vol. 13: annotated edition of Maitreya’s Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon, abbreviated meaning of the Kālacakra-tantra commentary, and eleven shorter works.

As may be seen, it does not include his annotated editions of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary, which still remain lost.

Here are the particulars. The title of this set is: Jo nang kun mkhyen dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi gsung ’bum. It was compiled and edited by the Paltsek institute in Lhasa: dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib ’jug khang (approximately, “Pal-tsek Old Tibetan Books Research Institute”), and published in 13 vols. in their series, Mes po’i shul bzhag (something like, “Legacy of the Forefathers”), vols. 196208. It was published by the China Tibetology Publishing House in Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2011, ISBN 978-7-80253-437-7. Prior to this the collected writings of the later Jonang writer Tāranātha were published in 45 volumes in this same series, vols. 43-87, 2008.

It may be noted that we also have newly typeset editions in dbu can (block letter or “having heads”) script of three of Dolpopa’s major works in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 1-3, 2007. These are:

vol. 1: Ri chos nges don rgya mtsho, the “Mountain Doctrine”;

vol. 2: rGyud bla’i ṭīkka, commentary on Maitreya’s Uttaratantra (this volume also includes his annotated edition of the Uttaratantra and Asaṅga’s commentary thereon);

vol. 3: Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, commentary on Maitreya’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra (the short title given on the cover and spine, Phar phyin mdo lugs ma, could cause confusion with his commentaries on the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtras, until one refers to the full title given on the title page, Shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa man ngag gi bstan bcos mngon par rtogs pa’i rgyan gyi rnam bshad mdo’i don bde blag tu rtogs pa).

Moreover, we have newly typeset editions in dbu can script of the annotated editions by Chogle Namgyal (phyogs las rnam rgyal) of the Kālacakra-tantra and Vimalaprabhā commentary in the Jonang Publication Series, vols. 17-20, 2008. His annotations no doubt include much from Dolpopa, his teacher. We also have Chogle Namgyal’s full Kālacakra sādhana. It is included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 23 (2010), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan ’gyur dkar chag (from which one would not know that this volume includes his full Kālacakra sādhana, although it is added on the title page, dang dus ’khor sgrub thabs). It will be interesting to compare this in detail with Dolpopa’s full Kālacakra sādhana. Likewise, Dolpopa’s annotated edition of Nāgārjuna’s Dharmadhātu-stotra may be compared with the commentary on this text by his disciple Tshal Minpa Sonam Zangpo (mtshal min pa bsod nams bzang po). This commentary was included in the Jonang Publication Series vol. 11 (2008), which is given the short title on the cover and spine, ’Dul ba bdud rtsi’i nying khu (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Dharmadhātu-stotra, and indicated on the title page only by the word sogs, “etc.”).

Maitreya’s Uttaratantra or Ratnagotravibhāga was much commented on in Tibet, and was especially favored by the Jonangpas. Besides Dolpopa’s commentary, five other commentaries on it have been published in the Jonang Publication Series. In volume 31 (2010) is the early commentary on it by Rinchen Yeshe (rin chen ye shes), from whom Dolpopa received the five books of Maitreya, according to Tāranātha. In volume 31 is also the later commentary on it by Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje). Volume 13 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Sazang Mati Panchen (sa bzang mati paṇ chen blo gros rgyal mtshan). Volume 15 (2008) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Zhangton Sonam Drakpa (zhang ston bsod nams grags pa). In volume 30 (2010) is the commentary on it by Dolpopa’s disciple Gharungpa Lhai Gyaltsen (gha rung pa lha’i rgyal mtshan). This volume has the short title on the cover and spine, bsTan pa spyi ’grel gyi ’grel ba (from which one would not know that this volume includes his commentary on the Uttaratantra, although it is added on the title page, dang theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma’i bstan bcos kyi rnam par bshad pa). No doubt these three commentaries by Dolpopa’s disciples include some of his teachings on the Uttaratantra.

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Tohoku Catalogue Available Here

By David Reigle on August 31, 2013 at 1:54 pm

A Complete Catalogue of the Tibetan Buddhist Canons (Bkaḥ-ḥgyur and Bstan-ḥgyur), the so-called “Tohoku Catalogue,” has been scanned and posted here: Tohoku Catalogue of Tibetan Buddhist Canons. It was the first complete catalogue of every text in the Tibetan Buddhist canon (Sde-dge edition), 4,569 of them, of which the first 1108 are in the Kangyur and the rest are in the Tengyur. Although published in 1934, it has remained the standard of reference for the texts of the Kanjur and Tanjur.

The Bkaḥ-ḥgyur/Kangyur/Kanjur is the collection of the Buddha’s word, found in the sūtras and tantras, while the Bstan-ḥgyur/Tengyur/Tanjur is the collection of expositions of the Buddha’s word, written by the great Indian Buddhist teachers, Nāgārjuna, Asaṅga, etc.

The Tohoku Catalogue had only been available at a comparatively few major academic libraries. Some years ago I photocopied for my own research the one held at the University of Wisconsin library. Since this fundamental reference work has not yet appeared on the web, Jacques requested that I scan my photocopy and post it here.

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The Āryabhaṭīya by Āryabhaṭa

By David Reigle on June 10, 2012 at 8:47 pm

The Āryabhaṭīya was not as well known in old India as the Sūrya-siddhānta. In modern times, however, it has attracted more attention than any other Sanskrit text on astronomy. This is because, among other things, as far back as the year 499 C.E. it taught the rotation of the earth on its axis. Āryabhaṭa made no claim to have discovered this. Rather, he simply included it in a matter-of-fact manner in his brief treatise, which purports to present the system of astronomy taught by Brahmā. Despite the authority of this ancient system, other famous Indian astronomers (including Varāha-mihira and Brahmagupta) were quick to criticize Āryabhaṭa for teaching the rotation of the earth on its axis. Āryabhaṭa also gave another teaching, anomalous in Indian tradition, which he was criticized for. Rather than the standard 4:3:2:1 ratio for the lengths of the four yugas, he taught that they are of equal length. He gives the overall length of a mahā-yuga the same as everyone else does: 4,320,000 years (chapter 1, verse 3). But the four yugas that comprise it are each 1,080,000 years in length. This gives us another method of calculation to work with. It is noteworthy that equal length yugas are also found in the Buddhist Kālacakra astronomy.

The Āryabhaṭīya and the Sūrya-siddhānta agree fully on the starting point of the present kali-yuga (3102 B.C.E.), and they agree in general that the length of a kalpa or day of Brahmā is more than four billion years, while we are about two billion years into this at present. But there are some differences. The Āryabhaṭīya says in chapter 1, verse 5 (translated by Kripa Shankar Shukla, 1976): “A day of Brahmā (or a Kalpa) is equal to (a period of) 14 Manus, and (the period of one) Manu is equal to 72 yugas. Since Thursday, the beginning of the current Kalpa, 6 Manus, 27 yugas and 3 quarter yugas had elapsed before the beginning of the current Kaliyuga (lit. before Bhārata).” This means that a kalpa is 14 times 72 making 1008 yugas. Thus, unlike in the Sūrya-siddhānta where a kalpa is 1000 yugas or 4,320,000,000 years, in the Āryabhaṭīya a kalpa is 4,354,560,000 years. The period of a manu, consisting of 72 yugas (rather than 71 yugas as in the Sūrya-siddhānta), is 311,040,000 years. Up to the beginning of the present kali-yuga, we have:

6 manus (311,040,000) equals 1,866,240,000 years, plus

27 yugas (4,320,000) equals 116,640,000 years, plus

3 quarter yugas (1,080,000) equals 3,240,000 years, yields

1,986,120,000 years.

As stated in an earlier post, the Sūrya-siddhānta gives the figure 1,953,720,000 years from the beginning of the epoch (17,064,000 years after the beginning of the kalpa) to the end of the last kṛta-yuga. Up to the beginning of the present kali-yuga we would have to add to this the 1,296,000 years of the tretā-yuga and the 864,000 years of the dvāpara-yuga. This yields 1,955,880,000 years. So while the number of years that have elapsed in our world-period is in the same general range of two billion years, the specific numbers differ. The information given in this verse also tells us the number of years that have elapsed of our current or Vaivasvata manvantara up to the beginning of the present kali-yuga: 116,640,000 (27 times 4,320,000) plus 3,240,000 (3 times 1,080,000) equals 119,880,000 years. The information given in the Sūrya-siddhānta provides a little different result for this: 116,640,000 (27 times 4,320,000) plus 3,888,000 (1,728,000 + 1,296,000 + 864,000) equals 120,528,000 years. Perhaps a lost work by Āryabhaṭa, known to have once existed, would shed light on the reasons for these differences.

The Āryabhaṭīya is a brief and somewhat cryptic text, consisting of only 108 verses plus its 10 (or 13) verse summary given at the beginning. The extant Sūrya-siddhānta consists of 500 verses. As noted earlier, the old Sūrya-siddhānta (as summarized in the Pañcasiddhāntikā) was determined to have used the astronomical constants found in a lost work by Āryabhaṭa. Prabodh Chandra Sengupta showed the close agreement of the astronomical constants used in the old Sūrya-siddhānta with those given in Brahmagupta’s Khaṇḍa-khādyaka, which had been published in 1925. The source of the Khaṇḍa-khādyaka’s astronomical constants, as shown by Sengupta, is a lost work by Āryabhaṭa (“Aryabhata’s Lost Work,” Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, vol. 22, 1930, pp. 115-120). This was confirmed by the discovery of the Mahābhāskarīya (written by an earlier Bhāskara than the author of the famous Siddhānta-śiromaṇi), announced by Bibhutibhusan Datta (“The Two Bhāskaras,” Indian Historical Quarterly, vol. 6, 1930, pp. 727-736), and first published in 1945 in the Ānandāśrama Sanskrit Series, no. 126. It gives in its chapter seven the astronomical constants of the two different systems used by Āryabhaṭa: those of the day reckoned from sunrise, used in his Āryabhaṭīya, and those of the day reckoned from midnight, used in his now lost work. Strangely, it is these latter astronomical constants that were used in the old and now lost version of the Sūrya-siddhānta.

Like with the Sūrya-siddhānta, there are at present three complete English translations of the Āryabhaṭīya. The first is “The Aryabhatiyam,” Translation by P. C. Sengupta, Journal of the Department of Letters, University of Calcutta, vol. 16, 1927, pp. 1-56, also published as a separate offprint. Much supplemental material was published in separate articles by Sengupta; e.g., “Aryabhata: The Father of Indian Epicyclic Astronomy” (op. cit., vol. 18, 1928, pp. 1-56), and “Greek and Hindu Methods in Spherical Astronomy” (op. cit., vol. 21, 1931, pp. 1-25). The second translation is The Āryabhaṭīya of Āryabhaṭa, Translated with Notes by Walter Eugene Clark, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930. However, Clark’s translation had been done about five years before its publication, with his student Baidyanath Sastri, and could not utilize Sengupta’s translation (see Preface, p. xvii). Clark describes his translation made with Sastri as “a preliminary study based on inadequate material,” adding that: “Of several passages no translation has been given or only a tentative translation has been suggested” (p. vii). The third translation is Āryabhaṭīya of Āryabhaṭa, Critically edited with Introduction, English Translation, Notes, Comments and Indexes, by Kripa Shankar Shukla in collaboration with K. V. Sarma, New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1976. This translation is quite the most definitive, due in no small measure to the fact that, in the interim, Bhāskara I’s three expository works on the Āryabhaṭīya became available: the Mahā-bhāskarīya, the Laghu-bhāskarīya, and Bhāskara’s direct commentary on the Āryabhaṭīya. Kripa Shankar Shukla writes in his Introduction to the Laghu-bhāskarīya (1963, p. xxiv): “In the absence of the works of Bhāskara I, many a passage in the Āryabhaṭīya of Āryabhaṭa I would have remained obscure to us.”

The Sanskrit text of the Āryabhaṭīya was first published in 1874, along with the commentary by Parameśvara (called Paramādīśvara on the title page), edited by H. Kern (Leiden: E. J. Brill). This edition was admittedly based on inadequate manuscript material (Preface, p. v: “This first edition of the Āryabhaṭīya . . . is mainly based upon two manuscripts”; p. xi: “It will be understood that with the scanty, however valuable, materials at my disposal, I could not attempt to constitute the text such as the author published it.”). Nonetheless, it made the text available. The Āryabhaṭīya was then edited by K. Sāmbaśiva Śāstrī with the commentary by Nīlakaṇṭha-somasutvan, published in the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series, no. 101, 1930, and no. 110, 1931, with the third volume edited by Śūranāḍ Kuñjan Pillai, no. 185, 1957. Then followed an edition in 1966 by S. V. Sohoni with a modern Sanskrit commentary and Hindi commentary, both by Baladeva Mishra (Patna, Bihar Research Society). A critical edition of the Sanskrit text of the Āryabhaṭīya, prepared by K. V. Sarma, accompanied the 1976 English translation by Kripa Shankar Shukla listed above. Unlike the Sūrya-siddhānta, the text of the Āryabhaṭīya seems to be well established (Introduction, p. lxxiii: “The collation of the manuscripts did not reveal many significant variations in the text.”). Two more volumes were published along with this 1976 volume, providing Sanskrit editions of important commentaries. One is the Āryabhaṭīya with the commentary of Bhāskara I and Someśvara, edited by Kripa Shankar Shukla (New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1976). The other is the Āryabhaṭīya with the commentary of Sūryadeva Yajvan, edited by K. V. Sarma (New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy, 1976).

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O Lanoo! The Secret Doctrine Unveiled

By David Reigle on May 25, 2012 at 4:47 am

In the book, O Lanoo! The Secret Doctrine Unveiled (Findhorn Press, 1999), Harvey Tordoff has given to us what Tibetan lamas give to their students. He has done this for the Book of Dzyan. He has taken the stanzas of the Book of Dzyan as translated into English by H. P. Blavatsky and put them into modern English language. The language of the Tibetan scriptures, precisely translated from Sanskrit originals, is largely incomprehensible even to Tibetan monks, let alone to the Tibetan public. So these texts need to be re-stated in comprehensible Tibetan. This is what Tibetan lamas have done over the centuries. This is what Harvey has done for the Book of Dzyan, re-stating its stanzas in comprehensible English.

To put a text into more comprehensible language is quite different from simplifying the text. Neither Tibetan lamas nor Harvey in their re-statements have consciously undertaken simplifications of the text. On the contrary, it is clear that Harvey, like a Tibetan lama, has made an in-depth study of the text in order to be able to re-state its ideas accurately. Any re-statement necessarily involves a certain amount of paraphrasing and interpretation. For example, in stanza 5, verse 2, “The Dzyu becomes Fohat” is paraphrased as “Divine Thought, now manifesting as dynamic creative energy.” Even direct translation involves interpretation.

Re-statements by lamas and others also often include amplification and added explanations. Sometimes these are meant to fill in information found elsewhere in the text. For example, stanza 6, verse 5, says briefly: “At the fourth, the sons are told to create their images. One third refuses.” Background information to this is filled in by Harvey, and the verse is given by him as: “In each of the seven Great Ages of Planet Earth there are seven Races of Man. In the first three Races Man, like Earth, was not yet solid; in this, the fourth Great Age, the Spirit of Man had to clothe itself in Matter; this was the Fall: Not the Fall of Man into sin but the Fall of Spirit into Matter. The Beings who developed in the first three Great Ages had now to experience the world of Matter, and though there were those Creative Spirits who accepted physical incarnation in these hardening bodies, one-third refused.”

Sometimes these additions are based on insights of the writer. A probable example of this is the helpful phrase added to stanza 2, verse 1: “as the elements of hydrogen and oxygen rest in water,” after the statement: “In the unknowable Darkness of absolute perfection the purified Soul of Man rested with your Creators in the bliss of non-being.”

More often these added explanations are based on traditional commentaries. In this book, this may mean an old commentary or catechism quoted by HPB in her commentary on the verse. An example of this is the sentence added to stanza 5, verse 4, not forming part of that verse in the Book of Dzyan: “But even though you see many lights in the sky, and the many lights of Human Souls, perhaps you can sense that there is but one flame.” This is based on a quotation from “the Catechism” given in HPB’s commentary on this verse: “Lift thy head, oh Lanoo; dost thou see one, or countless lights above thee, burning in the dark midnight sky?” “I sense one Flame, oh Gurudeva, I see countless undetached sparks shining in it.”

This may also mean drawing on HPB’s own commentary. An example of this is the phrase added to stanza 7, verse 5, also not forming part of that verse in the Book of Dzyan: “but seek not the ‘missing link’, for while Man and beast have much in common yet Man is not descended from the ape.” This, of course, is based on explanations and statements made many times by HPB in The Secret Doctrine.

Very much the same things are seen in the expository works written by Tibetan lamas. They, too, when re-stating the original text frequently bring in additional explanations. These may come from their knowledge of the text as a whole, their knowledge of its system of thought as a whole, their own personal insights, comments that they have heard from their own teachers, and traditional commentaries written on the text. All are intended to make the original text, whether the words of the Buddha or the words of an Indian teacher, comprehensible to their Tibetan audience. These words are often not comprehensible as they are found in the original texts.

The words of the Buddha, and also the words of the Indian treatises on them, are regarded by Tibetan Buddhists as being sacred. They could not be altered, and had to be preserved faithfully. Therefore, rules were made and followed for the accurate and literal translation of the original Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan. This resulted in an accuracy of translation unparalleled anywhere in the world for an entire body of texts, the Kangyur and Tengyur forming the Tibetan Buddhist canon.

Standardized translation equivalents were used for the technical terms, so that, for example, samādhi is always ting nge ‘dzin, and can always be distinguished from dhyāna, bsam gtan. This is quite unlike in English, where concentration, or meditative absorption, or meditative stabilization, or other such terms, can be and are used for either of these. This makes it difficult to follow the instructions given in texts translated by different translators on the Kālacakra six-branched yoga, in which dhyāna is the second branch and samādhi is the sixth branch. One translator uses one term for the second branch, while another translator uses the same term for the sixth branch.

Even the Sanskrit word order was mostly retained in the Tibetan translations. This accuracy resulted in the faithful preservation of the sacred words of the original texts. At the same time, this very accuracy made these texts largely incomprehensible to native Tibetan speakers without special study. That is why Tibetan lamas would re-state these texts in more comprehensible language for their students. Thus we find that the original Indian texts in their accurate Tibetan translations are normally studied by Tibetans through native Tibetan re-statements of them included in native Tibetan commentaries on them.

It is practically certain that the translation of the Book of Dzyan into Tibetan from the earlier Sanskrit, itself apparently translated from the still earlier Senzar, followed the same rules for accuracy. We are in the same situation as the Tibetans were; for them the sacred words had to be preserved unaltered. It is crucial that the initial translation, whether into Tibetan or into English, be as literally accurate as possible. We cannot afford to allow personal interpretations to enter in at this stage of the transmission. But this means that a re-statement of the text in more comprehensible language will inevitably be needed. Harvey Tordoff has provided this for us in O Lanoo! The Secret Doctrine Unveiled.

When an original language text of the Book of Dzyan is discovered, which it is the goal of this blog to prepare for, this process will start all over again. We will then be in a position to make a more literally accurate translation, and having its original terms will clarify many points. But the new translation is likely to be, if anything, even less comprehensible overall than HPB’s pioneering translation. Hers has a poetic quality that is unlikely to be found in a more literally accurate translation. There will be all the more need for making this text accessible in a comprehensible English version. In the meantime, new Sanskrit and Tibetan texts are being published nearly every month, allowing new insights into the old and often little understood ideas found in the Book of Dzyan.

Category: Noteworthy Books | 3 comments


The Sūrya-siddhānta and the Pañcasiddhāntikā

By David Reigle on May 15, 2012 at 6:09 am

The Sūrya-siddhānta is by far the most widely used Sanskrit text on astronomy. It has been held in great esteem in India. Its opening verses say that an incarnation of the sun taught it to the great asura named Maya at the end of the last kṛta-yuga, or age of perfection. According to the information given in its first chapter on the lengths of the yugas and how many of these ages have passed in this kalpa or world-period, this would have been more than two million years ago. If so, the Sūrya-siddhānta has undergone a lot of change since then. Based solely on what can be seen in the last 1,500 years, material has been deleted from it, material has been added to it, and its arrangement has frequently been altered.

Six verses from the Sūrya-siddhānta that are not found in the now available version (as published with the commentary by Raṅganātha) were quoted by Bhaṭṭotpala in his commentary on Varāha-mihira’s Bṛhat-saṃhitā, chapters 4 and 5. This was first pointed out by Shankar Balakrishna Dikshit in his 1896 Marathi language book, Bharatiya Jyotish Sastra (English translation, vol. 2, 1981, pp. 38-39), where these six verses are quoted and translated. Then, a block of verses after chapter 2, verse 14, of the Sūrya-siddhānta gives the same series of numbers for trigonometry sines that the Āryabhaṭīya gives, and so on. They interrupt an older theory, which resumes in verse 52. Prabodh Chandra Sengupta, who pointed this out in his new Introduction to the 1935 Calcutta reprint of the 1860 Ebenezer Burgess translation (p. xix), therefore thinks that this material was copied from the Āryabhaṭīya and interpolated into the Sūrya-siddhānta. Raṅganātha in his commentary on the Sūrya-siddhānta, completed in 1603 C.E., had centuries earlier pointed out interpolated verses (see Dikshit, op. cit., p. 43). Bimalā Prasāda Siddhānta Sarasvatī’s 1894 or 1896 edition of the Sūrya-siddhānta in Bengali script has twenty-one additional verses in chapter 14 between verses 23 and 24 (see Sengupta, op. cit., p. xxx). David Pingree, who has catalogued all known Sanskrit astronomy manuscripts (Census of the Exact Sciences in Sanskrit, Series A, 5 vols., 1970-1994, unfinished), tells us about the Sūrya-siddhānta that: “Virtually every commentator, however, has rearranged the text, adding and subtracting verses ad libitum” (David Pingree, Jyotiḥśāstra: Astral and Mathematical Literature, 1981, p. 23).

What has shown convincingly that we do not have the original Sūrya-siddhānta intact, and that even its astronomical constants have been somewhat altered, was the publication in 1889 of the Pañcasiddhāntikā by Varāha-mihira (circa 550 C.E.). As its name implies, the Pañca-siddhāntikā is a summary of five (pañca) astronomical treatises (siddhānta), all very old, including the Sūrya-siddhānta. While the summary given in the Pañcasiddhāntikā of the Sūrya-siddhānta shows “that the treatise of that name known to Varāha Mihira agreed with the modern Sūrya Siddhānta in its fundamental features,” yet “we cannot fail to notice that in certain points the teaching of the old Sūrya Siddhānta must have differed from the correspondent doctrines of its modern representative” (G. Thibaut and Sudhākara Dvivedī, The Pañchasiddhāntikā, 1889, reprint 1968, p. xii; on this see pp. xii-xx). These differences appear in the astronomical constants given for the various planets, etc., and the calculations made from them. The astronomical constants found in the older Sūrya-siddhānta as summarized in the Pañcasiddhāntikā differ somewhat from those given in the now extant Sūrya-siddhānta.

The Pañcasiddhāntikā is a karaṇa text, as opposed to a siddhānta text, such as the Sūrya-siddhānta. While a siddhānta gives the full astronomical theory, a karaṇa is a more brief manual for practical use, giving only what is required for making calculations from the latest astronomical epoch in use. Based on this fact, Sudhi Kant Bharadwaj attempted to show that the differences in astronomical constants between the old and the modern Sūrya-siddhānta are due only to the brief karaṇa version abbreviating the numbers given in the full siddhānta version (Sūryasiddhānta: An Astro-Linguistic Study, 1991, pp. 24-33). Thibaut had considered this possibility, and gave reasons for rejecting it in his 1889 “Introduction” (op. cit., pp. xii-xx). Prabodh Chandra Sengupta in his 1935 “Introduction” tabulated the differences between the astronomical constants given in the two versions (op. cit., pp. ix-xii). He showed that the astronomical constants given in the old Sūrya-siddhānta mostly agree with those given in Brahmagupta’s Khaṇḍa-khādyaka (first Sanskrit edition published in 1925). Sengupta showed in a 1930 paper (“Aryabhata’s Lost Work”) that the astronomical constants found in the Khaṇḍa-khādyaka were taken from a lost work by Āryabhaṭa I, author of the Āryabhaṭīya. After the discovery of the Mahābhāskarīya (announced in Bibhutibhusan Datta’s 1930 article, “The Two Bhāskaras”), it was found that these same astronomical constants taken from a lost work by Āryabhaṭa I are preserved in the Mahābhāskarīya, chapter 7 (first Sanskrit edition published in 1945). The agreement with this old set of astronomical constants has convinced most researchers that the astronomical constants given in the old Sūrya-siddhānta accord with a specific system, and are not mere abbreviations of those given in the now extant Sūrya-siddhānta.

In addition to this, Sengupta then described differences in the methods of calculation used in the two versions of the Sūrya-siddhānta (pp. xx-xxvi). He showed that methods used in the modern Sūrya-siddhānta agree with methods used by Āryabhaṭa I and Brahmagupta. This means that someone after the time of Varāha-mihira’s summary of the old Sūrya-siddhānta in the Pañcasiddhāntikā introduced these methods into the Sūrya-siddhānta that we now have. Not only was the modern Sūrya-siddhānta revised by someone, Sengupta believed that Varāha-mihira revised the previous Sūrya-siddhānta. So even the old Sūrya-siddhānta as summarized in the Pañcasiddhāntikā is a revision of a yet older Sūrya-siddhānta. Bina Chatterjee, in her 1970 Sanskrit edition and English translation of Brahmagupta’s Khaṇḍakhādyaka, agreed with Sengupta, and provided further evidence for this, with further charts of comparison (vol. 1, pp. 279-285). Kripa Shankar Shukla did not agree with Sengupta on this particular point, but he agreed that not only the astronomical constants but also the methods vary between the two versions of the Sūrya-siddhānta. He gave another helpful set of charts comparing the two versions, adding variants from the modern version as preserved in two different sets of commentaries, in his English introduction to his 1957 Sanskrit edition of The Sūrya-siddhānta with the Commentary of Paramesvara (pp. 15-27).

The Pañcasiddhāntikā, our sole source on the old version of the Sūrya-siddhānta, was itself long lost. It was recovered from two very faulty manuscripts in the 1889 Sanskrit edition and English translation by G. Thibaut and Sudhākara Dvivedī. So the Sanskrit text as found in the best of these two manuscripts was given alongside a heavily emended text. The extensive and sometimes extreme emendations were justified by the need to make sense of an otherwise partly incomprehensible text. Eighty years later, a new attempt to make sense of this text was made by O. Neugebauer and D. Pingree in their Sanskrit edition and English translation (The Pañcasiddhāntikā of Varāhamihira, 2 vols., 1970, 1971). The few additional manuscripts discovered since the first two were copies of the same faulty exemplars. From these highly respected scholars we expected to get as careful and accurate an edition as could be made from the available materials. But as said about the Neugebauer-Pingree edition by K. V. Sarma in his “Introduction” to yet a third Sanskrit edition and English translation: “Often the emendations are wilder than those of Thibaut-Sudhakar Dvivedi” (Pañcasiddhāntikā of Varāhamihira, trans. by T. S. Kuppanna Sastry, ed. by K. V. Sarma, 1993, p. xviii).

A prime example of the wild and unwarranted emendations to the Pañcasiddhāntikā is its often-quoted verse 4 of chapter 1. Thibaut and Sudhākara Dvivedī emended the word tithi (or tithaḥ) to kṛtaḥ and translated: “The Siddhānta made by Pauliśa is accurate, near to it stands the Siddhānta proclaimed by Romaka; more accurate is the Sāvitra (Saura); the two remaining ones are far from the truth.” Neugebauer and Pingree emended the word tithi (or tithaḥ) to stvatha and translated: “The Pauliśa is accurate; that which was pronounced by Romaka is near it; the Sāvitra (i.e. the Sūryasiddhānta) is more accurate; the remaining two have strayed far away (from the truth).” Thus, through this often-quoted verse, everyone was led to believe that the accuracy of the Paitāmaha-siddhānta and the Vāsiṣṭha-siddhānta was disparaged by Varāha-mihira. But Kuppanna Sastry and Sarma did not emend the word tithi, and translated: “The tithi resulting from the Pauliśa is tolerably accurate and that of the Romaka approximate to that. The tithi of the Saura is very accurate. But that of the remaining two (viz. the Vāsiṣṭha and the Paitāmaha) have slipped far away (from the real).” In other words, it was only the accuracy of their calculation of the tithi or lunar day that was disparaged, not their overall accuracy. Thus, anyone using the Pañcasiddhāntikā today should use only the Kuppanna Sastry-Sarma edition/translation, because the remaining two, the Thibaut-Sudhākara Dvivedī and the Neugebauer-Pingree editions/translations, have strayed far away from the truth.

For the extant Sūrya-siddhānta, only three different English translations have been published so far. All of these are more than a century old. The first of these was made by Rev. Ebenezer Burgess, revised by William Dwight Whitney, and published in 1860. The second of these was made by Bāpū Deva Śāstrī independently of the Burgess translation, and published in 1861. The third of these was made by Bimalā Prasāda Siddhānta Sarasvatī from Sanskrit to Bengali and published in 1894 or 1896, and then translated from Bengali to English and published in 2007. All three translations utilized the commentary by Raṅganātha to interpret the verses of the Sūrya-siddhānta. The Burgess translation was reprinted in Calcutta in 1935, edited by Phanindralal Gangooly. This was again reprinted in India more recently, and is sometimes listed under the name of the editor, even though it is the translation by Burgess. A 2001 book, The Sūryasiddhānta (The Astronomical Principles of the Text), by A. K. Chakravarty, includes a rearranged translation. It has adopted the translation by Burgess.

Sometimes students are inclined to distrust a translation of a Sanskrit text by a Christian missionary, and to trust a translation made by an Indian pandit. The present case, however, is a little different. My impression is that all three translations are good, but the Burgess/Whitney translation is more literally accurate in comparison with the Sanskrit than the other two. Bāpū Deva Śāstrī used a somewhat interpretive style of translation, as was common at that time. The translation by Bimalā Prasāda Siddhānta Sarasvatī is a translation of a translation, so for that reason alone it is less literally accurate in comparison with the Sanskrit. This does not mean, in either case, that their translations are inaccurate. It means that for someone trying to follow the Sanskrit, the Burgess/Whitney translation will be more helpful. The Burgess/Whitney translation also provides extensive notes and examples of calculations, while the other two translations do not.

An example of the difference between the three translations may be seen in chap. 1, verse 3, stating what the asura Maya asked the sun about. He wanted to know the jyotiṣāṃ gati-kāraṇam, the cause (kāraṇam) of the motion (gati) of the heavenly bodies (jyotiṣām). The Burgess/Whitney translation is literally accurate, adding only “namely” to this phrase; thus Maya is “desirous to know . . . the cause, namely, of the motion of the heavenly bodies.” In the Bāpū Deva Śāstrī translation, this phrase is interpreted, and becomes simply “Astronomy”; that is, Maya is “desirous of obtaining . . . knowledge of Astronomy.” In the Bimalā Prasāda Siddhānta Sarasvatī translation of a translation, “cause” becomes transformed into “information”; thus what Maya desires to acquire is knowledge that is complete with “the information about the motion of the heavenly bodies.” The latter two translations give the general idea accurately enough, but the Burgess/Whitney translation gives the exact idea.

Rev. Ebenezer Burgess went to India as a missionary in 1839. He diligently applied himself to the study of Indian astronomy and its primary text, the Sūrya-siddhānta, throughout his years in India, in order to produce a textbook on astronomy in the Marathi language. He writes in his “Introductory Note” to the translation of the Sūrya-siddhānta that: “My first rough draft of the translation and notes was made while I was still in India, with the aid of Brahmans who were familiar with the Sanskrit and well versed in Hindu astronomical science.” When he returned to the United States, he turned it over to William Dwight Whitney, a brilliant linguist and competent Sanskrit scholar. Whitney’s touch is evident throughout, in two ways. First, he made the translation follow the Sanskrit closely; that is, he made it literally accurate. Only few errors have been noted by later scholars and pandits. Second, sharing the prejudices of his time, he made comments in the notes showing the superiority of Western knowledge and the inferiority of Indian knowledge. These did not, however, affect the translation.

The translation by Burgess/Whitney was highly enough regarded in India that it was reprinted by the University of Calcutta in 1935. The “Note” that introduces this reprint says: “Owing to the time, thought and patient diligence that he and his colleagues devoted to the task, this translation stands out as a model of research work in the field of Hindu astronomy.” This reprint included a new 45-page Introduction by eminent Indian scholar of Hindu astronomy, Prabodh Chandra Sengupta. Sengupta there concludes (p. li): “Burgess’s translation, indeed, gives a very clear and complete exposition and discussion of every rule that it contains together with illustrations also.” Moreover, Sengupta adds that “his views about the originality of Hindu astronomy are the sanest.” Sengupta is referring to Burgess’s view that the astronomy of the Sūrya-siddhānta was original to India (see “Concluding Note by the Translator”), in disagreement with Whitney, who thought that astronomy came to India from Greece. The Burgess/Whitney translation was originally published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 6, 1860, pp. 141-498. This is now available from JSTOR, as part of their free “Early Journal Content” offering, at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/592174. It had been reprinted in 1978 by Wizards Bookshelf in the Secret Doctrine Reference Series.

The Sanskrit text of the Sūrya-siddhānta was first published, along with the commentary by Raṅganātha, in 1859 in the Bibliotheca Indica series, Calcutta. It was edited by Fitzedward Hall, known for his care and accuracy, just as Indian printing is known for its many typographical errors. This resulted in a long list of errata given at the back of this book, something done by Hall but skipped by many others. The Sūrya-siddhānta with the commentary by Raṅganātha was again printed in Calcutta in 1871, with no editor statement. It appears by its format to be a re-typeset reprint of Hall’s edition. The Sūrya-siddhānta with the commentary by Raṅganātha was once again printed in Calcutta in 1891, edited by Jībānanda Vidyāsāgara. This says dvitīya-saṃskaraṇam, “second edition,” allowing us to think that perhaps he was responsible for the 1871 edition as well.

The Sūrya-siddhānta with a modern Sanskrit commentary by Sudhākara Dvivedī was published in Calcutta in 1911 in the Bibliotheca Indica series. The Sūrya-siddhānta with a modern Sanskrit commentary by Kapileśwara Chaudhary was published in Varanasi in 1946 in the Kashi Sanskrit Series. The Sūrya-siddhānta with the traditional Sanskrit commentary by Parameśvara, edited by Kripa Shankar Shukla, was published in 1957 by the University of Lucknow. The Sūrya-siddhānta with the traditional Sanskrit commentary by Kamalākara Bhaṭṭa, edited by Śrīcandra Pāṇḍeya, was published in 1991 by the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. There are a few other Sanskrit editions of the Sūrya-siddhānta, apparently secondary or derivative, that I have not seen.

The Sanskrit text of the Sūrya-siddhānta is included in the 2007 English translation of Bimalā Prasāda Siddhānta Sarasvatī, but in Bengali script rather than devanāgarī, and also in Roman script (but with so many errors that it cannot be relied on). The Sanskrit text of the Sūrya-siddhānta in Roman script is also included as an appendix in A. K. Chakravarty’s 2001 book, The Sūryasiddhānta (The Astronomical Principles of the Text). Several of these Sanskrit editions and English translations are now available at the Digital Library of India.

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Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race

By David Reigle on May 8, 2012 at 6:08 am

Like Theosophy, traditional Hinduism accepts a much greater antiquity for humanity than does modern science at present. Two members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a modern organization based on the Vaishnava tradition within Hinduism, set out to “critically examine the prevailing account of human origins and the methods by which it was established” (p. xxxvi). Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson did this in their large 1993 book, Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race (1996 first edition, revised, Bhaktivedanta Book Publishing, xxxviii, 914 pages). This book provides a wealth of archeological evidence for a much earlier date of physical humanity than is accepted by current science. At the same time, the evidence given in this book provides a subtle critique of current science for its not altogether objective handling of evidence on this topic, described by Cremo as a knowledge filter.

The amount of material the authors gathered was far more than they expected to find. But the mere bulk of Forbidden Archeology was daunting to many readers. Therefore a condensed version of this book was published in 1994 as The Hidden History of the Human Race (xxi, 322 pages).

The scientific community could not ignore Forbidden Archeology. They did respond to it, primarily in book reviews. These and other responses were gathered into a 1998 book by Michael A. Cremo, Forbidden Archeology’s Impact, with a cover statement or subtitle: How a Controversial New Book Shocked the Scientific Community and Became an Underground Classic (2001 second edition, xxxiv, 569 pages). Among the responses to Forbidden Archeology was one book, The Antiquity of Man: Artifactual, Fossil and Gene Records Explored, by Michael Brass (Baltimore: AmErica House, 2002, 220 pages). The Antiquity of Man attempted to counter Forbidden Archeology.

The 900 pages of Forbidden Archeology are almost entirely devoted to giving evidence. Much of this is cited from earlier journals, scientific reports, etc. Forbidden Archeology concludes (p. 750):

“Combining these findings with those from the preceding chapters, we conclude that the total evidence, including fossil bones and artifacts, is most consistent with the view that anatomically modern humans have coexisted with other primates for tens of millions of years.”

Because the authors found much more material than expected, they had to postpone giving their alternative view of human origins. As stated in their Introduction to Forbidden Archeology (p. xxxvi):

“Our research program led to results we did not anticipate, and hence a book much larger than originally envisioned. Because of this, we have not been able to develop in this volume our ideas about an alternative to current theories of human origins. We are therefore planning a second volume relating our extensive research results in this area to our Vedic source material.”

This second volume appeared in 2003 under the title, Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory, by Michael A. Cremo (xxx, 554 pages). As they earlier pointed out, they use “Vedic” in the broad sense to include the purāṇas and itihāsas. The actual text they draw on primarily is the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. The last chapter of Human Devolution is titled, “Human Devolution: A Vedic Account.” It begins:

“Let us now review the path we have taken. The evidence documented in Forbidden Archeology shows that humans of our type have existed on this planet for the duration of the current day of Brahma, about two billion years.”

They had not given this number of years in Forbidden Archeology, but shortly after its publication Michael Cremo gave it in a lecture, “Puranic Time and the Archeological Record,” at the World Archeological Congress 3, New Delhi, 1994. This lecture is reprinted in Forbidden Archeology’s Impact. There, after giving the figures for the lengths of the yugas (the four totaling 4,320,000 years), and then of the kalpa or a day of Brahma (4,320,000,000 years), he says (p. 6):

“According to Puranic accounts, we are now in the twenty-eighth yuga cycle of the seventh manvantara period of the present day of Brahma. This would give the inhabited earth an age of about 2 billion years.”

This, of course, is quite in agreement with what Theosophy teaches, as may be seen in H. P. Blavatsky’s book, The Secret Doctrine (e.g., vol. 2, p. 68). I did not, however, find any mention in any of these books of the eighteen million year figure for the age of physical humanity given in The Secret Doctrine (e.g., vol. 2, p. 69), and found in the Tamil Tirukkanda Panchanga. But this is a specific question within the larger question of the antiquity of humanity, on which traditional Hinduism and Theosophy agree. Students of Theosophy are greatly indebted to Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson for their tremendous labor in doing this research, placing the gathered evidence before the public, capturing the attention of the scientific community with it, and giving thinking people something to think about. In brief, they have done our homework for us on this important topic.

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A Critical Edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa

By David Reigle on May 5, 2012 at 6:08 am

As correctly pointed out by critic William Emmette Coleman, the Vishnu Purana is the single major Eastern source for H. P. Blavatsky’s 1888 book, The Secret Doctrine. This text is therefore of great importance for the study of The Secret Doctrine and its basis, the “Book of Dzyan.” In one of the major publishing events in modern India, a critical edition of the Sanskrit text of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa was published in two large volumes, 1997 and 1999. A critical edition is prepared by comparing a number of different manuscripts, recording their variant readings in notes, and choosing the best readings to constitute the text of the critical edition. This is a real, large-scale critical edition, in which 43 Sanskrit manuscripts were gathered and collated, and 27 were chosen from which to prepare the Sanskrit edition. It is:

The Critical Edition of the Viṣṇupurāṇam, edited by M. M. Pathak, 2 vols., Vadodara: Oriental Institute, 1997, 1999.

This critical edition followed upon two previous critical editions of Sanskrit texts produced in India, that of the Mahābhārata, published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, and that of the Rāmāyaṇa, published by the Oriental Institute, Vadodara (Baroda). In fact, it was the preparation of the critical edition of the Rāmāyaṇa by this same institute that developed the skills and expertise to undertake the critical edition of the Viṣṇu-purāṇa. At present, this book is still in print, and it is not expensive. It was about $15.00 when I got my copy, although the shipping will be twice this much for these heavy volumes. It can be ordered from Indian booksellers such as BibliaImpex.com.

All scholars citing translations of Sanskrit texts are expected to refer to the Sanskrit original, because translations are inexact. From 1999 onward, anyone citing the Viṣṇu-purāṇa will be expected to refer to this Sanskrit critical edition. Students of Theosophy will need it for use in research on the Book of Dzyan. Our task is difficult enough in working with secret books whose originals have not yet been discovered. We do not need to give our critics any more reason to consider us uninformed and our work unreliable.

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The Mokṣopāya, the unrevised Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha

By David Reigle on April 13, 2012 at 3:21 am

The value of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha has long been known to students of Theosophy. Already in 1936 the classic study of this text, The Philosophy of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha by Sanskrit scholar B. L. Atreya, was published by the Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras, India. As I had noted elsewhere, the distinctive terms used by the Advaita Vedāntin Theosophist T. Subba Row, cid-ākāśa and also cit-śakti, do not come from the standard treatises on Advaita Vedānta, but rather come from the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha.

In the early 1990s an extraordinary discovery was made. In the process of assembling manuscripts from which to prepare a critical edition of the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, Indologist Walter Slaje found an entirely distinct, unrevised recension of this text that called itself the Mokṣopāya, the “Means to Liberation.” It is equally huge, about 30,000 verses, but it preserves a considerably more original version of the text.

Walter Slaje wrote about this in full detail in his 1994 German language book, Vom Mokṣopāya-Śāstra zum Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha-Mahārāmāyaṇa (“From the Mokṣopāya-Śāstra to the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha-Mahārāmāyaṇa”). This major find led to the Mokṣopāya Project, with government and university funding to prepare a critical edition of this large and important text. A brief account of this in English by Slaje, titled “The Mokṣopāya Project,” was published in Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 77, 1996, pp. 209-221 (attached).

In the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha, a pervasive layer of Vedānta ideas has been added to the advaita or non-dual teachings of the Mokṣopāya. Perhaps the most significant difference between the two is the well-known fact that Advaita Vedānta takes the authority of scripture as the only truly valid means of higher knowledge, thereby discounting the role of reasoning in reaching higher knowledge. The Mokṣopāya does just the opposite, taking reasoning as the valid means of higher knowledge, and entirely discounting the authority of scripture. Another difference is that terminology now found primarily in Buddhist texts has been systematically replaced. In this, and in its emphasis on pure advaita or non-dualism, the Mokṣopāya is very reminiscent of Gauḍapāda’s Māṇḍūkya-kārikā. Slaje describes some of the “willful changes” that were made in the Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha in the above-mentioned article, p. 212, including:

“an attempt to ‘vedānticize’ the text, which—though it does teach monism (advaita)—has nothing in common with the particularities of Śaṅkara’s Vedānta, but indeed very much with Gauḍapāda’s Kārikās and the Laṅkāvatārasūtra of the Mahāyāna.”

In Gauḍapāda’s text we had only a small example of these teachings, about 200 verses. Now we have a massive source of these teachings in its unrevised and more original form. It promises to be a fundamental resource for students of Theosophy.

The Mokṣopāya project has been underway for about two decades now, and the long-awaited results of this painstaking research are now seeing the light of day. In the 1990s three small volumes of the fragmentary commentary Mokṣopāya-ṭīkā were published, followed by a fourth in 2002, giving a taste of what this unrevised text has to offer. In 2011 the first two volumes of the critical edition of the Mokṣopāya itself were published, and the third volume in 2012. They were published in Germany by Harrassowitz (http://www.harrassowitz-verlag.de), and are expensive. I have not yet seen them. Of particular interest for Book of Dzyan research is the large third chapter, the utpatti-prakaraṇa or section on cosmogony, published as volume 2 of the now available volumes.

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