September 01, 2013

མདོ་རྒྱུད་ཆོས་ཀྱི་བང་མཛོད། = དཔེ་ཁང་། = དཔེ་མཛོད། དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་།

Library is a natural concern for all of us who deal with textual scholarship. But what would be the Tibetan word for “library”? Of course, one would immediately hasten to answer: “It is dpe mdzod (khang), what else!” But what would be earliest source that testifies the word dpe mdzod or dpe mdzod khang? I have no idea, but it seems to be a rather recent term. Jäschke, for instance, does not  seem to record it, although the Tshig mdzod chen mo does. Jäschke, however, does record the word dpe khang, which means both a “library” and a “bookseller’s shop.” Sources such as the sBa bzhed (bDe-skyid, p. 123) allude to the threefold mDo-rgyud-chos-kyi-bang-mdzod, among several complexes of the bSam-yas Temple, said to be filled with Indian books/manuscripts (rgya dpe), Tibetan books/manuscripts (bod dpe), and Chinese books/manuscripts (rgya nang gi dpe’i glegs bam). It was apparently meant to be a “repository or treasury for books.” Though mDo-rgyud-chos-kyi-bang-mdzod is clearly a name of a complex (and hence a proper noun) rather than a common noun, one can easily imagine the transition from chos kyi bang mdzod to dpe mdzod.

One possible explanation why the concept of library in the Buddhist tradition has not been so much accentuated or distinct is that a collection of books would automatically form only a part of the three receptacles (i.e. sku rten, gsung rten, and thugs rten). Hence books have seldom been allotted a separate or independent place. Books thus always form an object of reverence in a shrine. In private homes and in monasteries or temples accessible to the public, books would be placed on an altar or in a shrine room. Even if a separate complex is built for housing a collection, it would be called a “temple” (e.g. a bKa’-’gyur-lha-khang) rather than a library. And even in modern Tibetan libraries, we would notice that there is an attempt to make the library look like a temple or shrine room by placing other objects of reverence as well.

Interestingly, Rong-zom-pa, in his Rab gnas rtsa (p. 140) states that the first Buddhist scriptures that were put into writing were kept in the dri gtsang khang. But, of course, dri gtsang khang was not a library.

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