March 03, 2013


Mañjuśrīmitra (’Jam-dpal-bshes-gnyen)

This blog entry is devoted to my student Dimitri Pauls. Figures such as Mañjuśrīmitra (’Jam-dpal-bshes-gnyen) are shrouded in legends and mysteries. Primary Tibetan sources make no attempts to distinguish historical from the ahistorical accounts of such figures. Secondary sources do not seem to provide us with much insight either in such cases except that they reproduce some of the legendary accounts found in primary sources. So what is one supposed to do?

Because we have no such things as “hard historical facts,” we do not seem to have a choice but to resort to whatever textual sources we have at our disposal. Under such circumstances, our academic aim cannot (and in my view should not) be to determine the “historicity” of the person Mañjuśrīmitra. One is, of course, free to try precisely that. I, on my part, would not advise my students to do that. What I thus advise them to do is to try and trace the history (or historicity) of the “idea of Mañjuśrīmitra” (rather than the history or historicity of Mañjuśrīmitra). Can one determine and explain the idea or ideas of the figure Mañjuśrīmitra? I think it is possible. Is such an approach necessarily opposed to the approach of trying to determine the “historicity” of the person Mañjuśrīmitra? In my view, it is not. I would, in fact, contend that it is only after understanding the history of the idea of figure “X” that we might attempt to determine whether such as person at all lived in a given point in time and place and to what extent the legendary accounts of that person have a historical kernel. In other words, extraction of the historical kernels presuppose a knowledge of the husks of legendary accounts! If we altogether discard the huge heap of husks transmitted to us, we might also discard the grains of historical accounts transmitted with and contained in them! Note, however, that husks in themselves can have all kinds of values. 

In the case of Mañjuśrīmitra, the point of departure is that we have works (importantly the Bodhicittabhāvanā and its commentary) ascribed to him and transmitted to us in many forms and collections. I am looking forward to Dimitri’s research findings, which is bound to shed valuable light on the history and philosophy of this important work.

References to the figure Mañjuśrīmitra can be found strewn in different literature and contexts, and it is practically impossible to sieve all sources that would potentially mention Mañjuśrīmitra. Ideally, we should have a diachronic as well as a synchronic view of the various sources that mention the figure of Mañjuśrīmitra. The figure Mañjuśrīmitra is associated with the legendary accounts of the rDzogs-chen teachings. But what are the earliest sources that mention Mañjuśrīmitra in the rDzogs-chen context? He is also mentioned in the context of the Yogatantra. What are the earliest sources that mention Mañjuśrīmitra in the Yogatantra context? How is he presented or represented in these sources? A relative chronology of the sources would be very important in addressing such questions. How (if at all) do the accounts of Mañjuśrīmitra change in course of time? Even traditional sources speak of Mañjuśrīmitra Former (snga ma) and Mañjuśrīmitra Latter (phyi ma). Are we dealing here with one, two, or even more figures bearing the name? Which works and when do they happen to be ascribed to Mañjuśrīmitra? 

Some random sources pertinent Mañjuśrīmitra or his writings:

§1. sDe-srid, g.Ya’ sel (p. 1017.4ff.). The sGra thal ’gyur, a rDzogs-chen Tantric scripture, is said to prophesy him. How old is this scripture?

§2. Dimitri already knows that the Bodhicittabhāvanā has been cited by the eleventh-century scholar Rong-zom-pa.

§3. Note, if not already noted, that the Bodhicittabhāvanā is already cited by gNubs-chen’s what is popularly known as the bSam gtan mig sgron. It is cited under the title Sems bsgom/s (sic) or Sems sgom rdo la gser zhun (p. 296). By all means worth-finding out from which version he is citing. See the bSam gtan mig sgron (pp. 296, 313, 349, 367, 414, 433 (twice), 439, 440 (twice), 450, 455, 473, 488. Obviously gNubs-chen calls the work Sems sgom rdo la gser zhun (p. 296) the first time he refers to it and then simply as Sems bsgom/s. Significantly he seems to know (and cite from) the work after it has assumed the form of a rDzogs-chen scripture. So it has to be checked. I am not sure if these references are complete. Cf. ibid. (pp. 463, 44): sems bsgom pa’i rgyud; ibid. (p. 317): byang chub sems tig; ibid. (pp. 172, 218): (Byang chub) sems lon; ibid. (pp. 10, 16): Byang chub sems kyi man ngag. These works seem to be different but still the citations should be checked! 

§4. Note that in the bKa’ thang sde lnga (p. 479), the Bodhicittabhāvanā (Byang chub sems b/sgom) and rDo la gser zhun have been counted separately among the “Eighteen [mother-and-]daughter [Tantric scriptures of the] Mind-Class (?)” (Sems smad bco rgyad = Sems sde ma bcu bco brgyad). The Bodhicittabhāvanā is counted among the “Five Early Translations” (sNga ’gyur lnga) and the rDo la gser zhun among “Thirteen Later Translations” (Phyi ’gyur bcu gsum). The former is also mentioned in ibid. (p. 478).

§5. Nyang-ral (revealed), gSang sngags bka’i lde mig (p. 349): gang la bgsoms kyang chos nyid yin pa’i rtags su byang chub kyi sems rdo la gser zhun byung |.

§6. The Bodhicittabhāvanā is cited in Nyang-ral (revealed), gSang sngags bka’i tha ram (p. 226): byang sems bsgom pa las kyang | ston pa nges pa’i lung dang bla ma rnams kyis man ngag don ’di ltar |. Check!

§7. Nyang-ral (revealed), gSang sngags lung gi bang mdzod (p. 113): Mañjuśrīmitra!

§8. See the legend of Mañjuśrīmitra in the Padma bka’ thang (pp. 209–210). He debates with dGa’-rab-rdo-rje, is defeated, and confesses, and composes the rDo la gser zhun, which is said to be a commentary (on a Tantric scripture of the Byang chub-sems-sde?).

§9. Nyang ral chos ’byung (p. 488): sems phyogs brgyud tshul.

§10. Note also that the Bodhicittabhāvanā (Byang chub kyi sems b/sgom pa) has been listed twice in the lDan dkar ma (Yoshimura 1950: 174 (nos. 610 & 611); Lalou 1953: 334 (nos. 610 & 611)). The former is attributed to one rGyal-ba’i-’od and the latter to Mañjuśrīmitra! What does it mean? In addition, also note that the two Bodhicittabhāvanās has been listed under the rubric of “meditation manuals” (bsam gtan gyi yi ge).

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