A Sanskrit MS. from Tibet: Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanā-krama

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A Sanskrit MS. from Tibet: Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanā-krama
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Citation: Obermiller, Eugène. "A Sanskrit MS. from Tibet: Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanā-krama." Journal of the Greater India Society 2, no. 1 (1935): 1–11.

Article Summary

The reign of the King Ṭhi-sroṅ-deu-tsen (Khri-sroṅ-Idehu-btsan, VII century) represents a period of the greatest importance in the early history of Tibet in general and of the spread of Buddhism in that country in particular. The activity of the great Śāntirakṣita ("Ācārya Bodhisattva") and of Padma-sambhava. the selection of the first seven Buddhist monks of Tibetan origin (sad-mi mi bdun), the foundation of numerous sites of Buddhist learning in Tibet, and the intense literary activity of the Tibetan learned translators (lo-tsa-ba)—Pal-tseg (dPal-brtsegs) and others by whom a great number of Buddhist canonical and scientific works were rendered into Tibetan,—all this has been described by Bu-ston in his History of Buddhism and in other Tibetan historical works
      There is, however, one subject relating to the spread of Buddhism in Ṭhi-sroṅ-deu-tsen's reign, to which the Tibetan historian devotes his special attention and on which he dwells in detail. This is the strife between two parties into which the Buddhists of Tibet were at that time split. One of these parties consisted of the pupils and followers of Ācārya Śāntirakṣita who professed that form of Mahāyāna Buddhism which was generally acknowledged in India and Nepal, viz. the teaching of the Path to Enlightenment through the practice of meditation connected with the dialectical analysis peculiar to the Mādhyamika school of the Buddhists and with the practice of the six Transcendental Virtues (pāramitā).
      The leader of the other party was a Chinese teacher (hwa-śaṅ or ho-shang) known by the Sanskrit name Mahāyānadeva, who preached a doctrine of complete quietism and inactivity. According to him every kind of religious practice, the meditative exercises and all virtuous deeds as well were completely useless and even undesirable: the liberation from the bonds of phenomenal existence was to be attained merely through the complete cessation of every kind of thought and mental activity,—by abiding perpetually in a state analogous to sleep. Bu-ston[1] relates how this party grew very powerful and found numerous adherents among the Tibetans, how the followers of Śāntirakṣita suffered oppression from it, and how the king who was an adherent of Śāntirakṣita's system, invited Śāntirakṣita's pupil, the teacher Kamalaśīla in order to refute the incorrect teachings of the Chinese party. The dispute between Kamalaśīla and the Chinese Ho-shang in which the latter was defeated is described by Bu-ston[2] in detail. We read that the leading men of the two parties[3] assembled in the presence of the king, that the Ho-shang was the first to speak in favour of his theory of quietism and inactivity and was answered by Kamalaśīla who demonstrated all the absurdity of the theses maintained by the Ho-shang and showed that the teachings of such a kind were in conflict with the main principles of Buddhism and were conducive to the depreciation and rejection of the most essential features of the Buddhist Path to Enlightenment. We read further on how the chief adherents of Kamalaśīla[4] likewise refuted the theories of the Ho-shang, how the latter and his party acknowledged themselves vanquished and were expelled from Tibet by order of the king who prescribed to follow henceforth the Buddhist doctrines that were generally admitted,—the teaching of the six Virtues as regards religious practice and the Mādhvamika system of Nāgārjuna as regards the theory.[5]
      Thus the influence of the Chinese Ho-shang’s teachings over the minds of the Tibetans suffered a complete defeat and with it perhaps some political influence of China.[6] This is certainly a most important event in the history of Tibetan Buddhism which has been duly appreciated by Bu-ston. It is therefore quite natural that we should be interested in finding out the sources of Bu-ston's historical record. But the text of Bu-ston's History which, as a rule, contains references to the works on the foundation of which it has been compiled, does not give us any information here. At the first glance the account of the controversy looks like the reproduction of an oral tradition and there is nothing that could make us conjecture the presence of a literary work upon which the record could have been founded- The following will show that it has now become possible to trace out this work, to compare with it the account given by Bu-ston and to ascertain its historical importance. (Obermiller, "A Sanskrit MS. from Tibet," 1–3)

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  1. Cf. my Translation, Vol. II. p. 192
  2. Ibid: pp. 192, 193.
  3. Known by the Chinese names Tön-mün (sTon-mun, the party of the Ho-shong) and Tsen-min (rTsen-min, the adherents of Kamalaśīla).
  4. Śrīghoṣa (Tib. dpal-dbyaṅs) and Jñānendra (Tib, Ye-śes-dbaṅ-po).
  5. Henceforth the Mādhyamika has become the predominant school in Tibet.
  6. Kamalaśīla was subsequently murdered by the Ho-shang's adherents.