February 01, 2014


The issues of scriptural and doctrinal authenticity have fascinated me for some time. Which Buddhist scriptures in Tibet have been labeled as bogus or doubtful by whom, in which works, and on what accounts? A differentiated understanding of these issues might contribute a little to our understanding of the history of the transmission and reception of Buddhism in Tibet. With regard to the criteria for the scriptural authenticity in Buddhism, I think Seyfort Ruegg in one of his articles talks of two kinds, one attributing to Padma-dkar-po’s criteria and the other to Sum-pa-mkhan-po? No, I don’t remember. At any rate, although the two might not exclude each other or may overlap, we can indeed notice two distinct kinds of criterion, namely, (a) “doctrinal-contentual” and (b) “historical-textual.” (a) That is, according to the former, which is very “idealistic,” any teaching or scripture that is sūkta/subhāṣita is buddhabhāṣita. This makes use of the idea that anything that is buddhabhāṣita is sūkta/subhāṣita. If x = y, then y = x. Such a “generic” argument would allow one to accept any teaching/scripture from any time and any place so long as a teaching/scripture “generically” conforms the teaching/scripture (believed/accepted to have been) taught by the Buddha. Such an argument seems particularly appealing to the people of our time and society. The difficult, however, in applying this noble criterion consistently would be that it would abolish any chance of getting close to what the historical Buddha possibly could have taught. All those Sūtric scriptures composed in China and Mantric scriptures composed in Tibet, and all Sūtric and Mantric scriptures composed in India will have to be placed on par with, for example, the scriptures in the Pāli canon. Doctrinally one could do that but historically it would be a problem.

(b) According to the second “historical-textual,” or perhaps a “genetic” criterion, one assumes that there are indeed scriptures or “texts,” which contain the teachings of the historical Buddha verbatim, although I would think the Buddhist sources do not have the same idea of our “authorship.” The difficulty with this criterion is that if one applies this strict “historical” criterion, none or hardly any scripture might indubitably fulfil the criterion. Thus in the end, one does not really know which criterion is better.

In Tibet, most scholars adopted the second criterion in a modified form, which may be called a “pragmatic” criterion. That is, so long as a scripture is known to have an Indian provenance and exists/existed in the form of (mostly) Sanskrit text or manuscript (rgya dpe), that scripture is to be considered authentic. One additional argument for the Indian provenance (or its existence in India) is if the scripture in question has been cited by Indian authors whom they consider trustworthy or reliable. My impression is that in general Tibetans did not believe that they could “digest” or make much sense of the numerous Sūtric and Tantric scriptures that hailed from India unless they have been “filtered through” or “distilled by” authoritative Indian Buddhist paṇḍitas and siddhas such as those associated with Nālanda and Vikramaśīla. This would also partly explain why Tibetan Buddhism, unlike Chinese Buddhism, is predominantly “Śāstric Buddhism.” In a way, with regard to the issues of scriptural authenticity, they rode on the shoulders of their Indian predecessors whom they trusted and respected, thereby putting the responsibility squarely on the Indians.

Those Tibetan scholars who were involved in the compilation of the bKa’ ’gyur and bsTan ’ygur mainly followed this pragmatic criteria. Although we do have plenty of cases where one discredits or denies the authenticity of a competing tradition’s scripture, that is, despite the fact that its Indian provenance has not been questioned, purely on sectarian or polemical grounds, most Tibetan scholars involved in compilation of the bKa’ ’gyur and bsTan ’ygur were relatively and reasonably cautious and judicious. Perhaps knowing there is no such thing as an absolute infallible criterion, they resorted to instincts and different kinds of hints. If to take Si-tu-paṇ-chen, as an example, he does not seem to be radical and categorical in his decisions and judgments. (a) Obviously translation colophons (’gyur byang) played an important role. Problems start when there are no translation colophons. (b) He also used previous catalogues mainly the ’Phang thang ma and lDan dkar ma. (c) He is well aware of the existing doubt regarding the authenticity and reports of earlier positions on the issue or corrects them. (d) Occasionally he expresses doubts by giving reasons. (e) The mainly criterion for a doubt seems to be when the scripture in question contains expression that are typically Tibetan or unknown in India. (f) Naturally, at least in the bKa’ ’gyur, those Sūtric scriptures that were translated from the Chinese seem to be viewed with greater suspect. As for the Tantric scriptures, those that were translated later seem to be viewed with greater suspect. Of course, most rNying-ma Tantric scriptures have anyway not been included in the bKa’ ’gyur.

See Si-tu-paṇ-chen, bKa’ ’gyur dkar chag (2008, p. 484): Phyag na rdo rje gos sngon po can rdo rje sa ’og gi rgyud. Some doubt the authenticity of the portion dealing with sngags btu ba? Ibid. (p. 488): Some doubt the Khyad par can zhes bya’i gzungs because of the occurrence of sbrul lo; ibid. (p. 493): Rong-zom-pa’s translation of the gShin rje spra khog. Khug-pa alleged that gNubs composed it but for Si-tu, it is authentic.  He refers to Ngor-chen’s sPyod rgyud rnam bshad; ibid. (p. 496): dogs gzhi for him; ibid. 497): dogs gzhi for some; ; ibid. (p. 502): rgyud gzhan zhig nas phyung ba (some); ibid. (p. 471): dogs gzhi and discussion on the Ra li 32; ibid. (p. 472): dogs gzhi on the bDe mchog nam mkha’ dang mnyam pa’i rgyud; ibid. (p. 477–478): Chag-lo and the gNyis med rnam rgyal gyi rgyud; ibid. (p.  476): rDo rje phur pa rtsa ba’i rgyud; ibid. (p. pp. 455): some doubt: Chos ky rgya mo; ibid. (p. 454): Klu-mes had doubs about this sūtra; ibid. (p. pp. 451): dpyad gzhi; ibid. (pp. 443): dpyad gzhi: myang ’das chen po.

Some works in the bsTan ’gyur that are considered “Tibetan” (bod ma) or  “doubtful” (the tshom gyi gzhi) by Bu-ston in his bsTan dkar (p. 109: Tshul gsum gsal bar byed pa’i sgron ma, a commentary on the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti. This turns out to be by Rong-zom-pa; Almogi); ibid. (p. 109): the tshom gyi gzhi gcig snang; ibid. (pp. 117, 115, 114, 107, 91, 85 [13 texts including a rab gnas chos ga], 84: dga’ rab mtshan brjod ’grel pa, 65, 63, 39, 38, 326, 301, 298, 280, 279, 273, 259, 225: nges ’grel; 218: sMra sgo’i grel pa; 214: Rigs pa grub pa’i sgron ma. In this Bu-ston makes an unnecessary derogatory remark. It could also be an interpolation because in the other catalogue of his, this remark is missing).

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