November 11, 2014


As I am wont to reiterate that usually in Tibetan that which is khungs med lung med is considered nonsensical, unreliable, and hence untrustworthy. In Bhutan, a person “without a source of origin” (’byung khungs med pa) is a designation for an idiot. In a way, this is true also in the Wissenschaft. Especially for a student of the intellectual history of Buddhist ideas, tracing possibly the earliest, best, solidest, and the most reliable and trustworthy sources seems crucial. But occasionally, it may turn out to be that a very popular idea has no reliable (written) sources. Tracing them may pose quite a challenge. Let us take the Tibetan idea of (bod kyi) ’jam dbyangs rnam gsum. Who could have coined this term? When? Why? If one googles around, one would find the following lines in mKhan-po Kun-dpal’s commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra:

’jam dbyangs rnam gsum la sogs gsar rnying gi ||
ris med brgyud pa rnams la gus phyag ’tshal ||

But this source is quite recent. If we search in the TBRC, we would also find some other sources. But most sources, as far as I can see, seem even more recent and may not predate Kun-dpal. But I just happened to catch hold of dPal-sprul’s Dam pa’i snying nor (published by Dar-thang-sprul-sku in 1963) to pacify myself. And I find (p. 30):

lnga rig snang ba’i nyin byed sa paṇ rje ||
mdo sngags legs bshad ’byung gnas tsong kha pa ||
yongs rdzogs bstan pa’i mnga’ bdag klong chen pa ||
gangs ljongs ’jam dpal dbyangs dngos rnam gsum yin ||

For the time being, I speculate that the expression (bod kyi) ’jam dbyangs rnam gsum may have been coined in the intellectual milieu of rDzogs-chen Shrī-siṃha seminary and during dPal-sprul’s time. He may be one of the earliest scholars (if not the first scholar) to put the term into writing. Any source that undermines my theory is very much welcome.

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