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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