'Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's Commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long)-Review by Hugon

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'Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's Commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long)-Review by Hugon
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Citation: Hugon, Pascale. Review of 'Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's Commentary on the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (Theg pa chen po rgyud bla ma'i bstan bcos kyi 'grel bshad de kho na nyid rab tu gsal ba'i me long), edited by Klaus-Dieter Mathes. Asiatische Studien 60, no. 1 (2006): 246–53. https://www.e-periodica.ch/digbib/voltoc?rid=ast-002:2006:60::1132&id=browse&id2=browse1&id3=#251.

Article Summary

This book contains a critical edition of a Tibetan commentary composed by 'Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal (1392-1481) on the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā. The Ratnagotravibhāga, attributed to Maitreya, and its vyākhyā, attributed to Asaṅga, are of special significance in Buddhism for the discussion of the 'buddha-nature' (tathāgatagarbha), i.e. the idea that the nature of a buddha is inherent in every human being. gZhon nu dpal's commentary (hereafter: ZhP), which has never been published before, provides an account on this issue which is imposing both in view of its size as well as its historical and philosophical importance. Mathes' edition thus provides an important and valuable contribution to future studies on the subject.
      The edition proper (pp. 1-576) is preceded by a brief introduction (pp. ix–xvii) which, besides editorial remarks, deals with gZhon nu dpal's life and education on the basis of an unpublished biography by his disciple Zhwa dmar Chos kyi grags pa (1453-1524), and of the bKa' gdams chos 'byung of Las chen Kun dga' rgyal mtshan (b. 1440), another of his disciples.[1] This information adds to the preliminary observations by Mathes in an article entitled '"Gos Lo tsā ba gZhon nu dpal's Extensive Commentary on and Study of the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā (Mathes 2002)[2], which gives a more detailed biographical account and discusses the position that gZhon nu dpal holds in ZhP.
      'Gos Lo tsā ba Yid bzang rtse ba gZhon nu dpal is well known to Tibetologists for his work entitled The Blue Annals (Deb ther sngon po), composed a few years earlier than ZhP.[3] This mine of biographical, bibliographical and historical information already gives us an idea of the mastery that this remarkable scholar had of all fields of Buddhist studies. Mathes' introduction informs us of the key elements of gZhon nu dpal's thorough education in all the major religious traditions with the most important masters of the time, such as Tsong kha pa (1357-1419), the Fifth Karmapa De bzhin gshegs pa (1384-1415), the rNying ma pa teacher sGrol ma ba Sangs rgyas rin chen (1350-1430), or the Sa skya master Rong ston Shes bya kun rig (1367-1449). gZhon nu dpal distinguishes himself by his open-minded and non-sectarian approach, which is reflected in his ZhP, where he combines the commentarial tradition of rNgog Blo ldan shes rab (1059-1109) with sGam po pa's (1079- 1153) "Great Seal" (mahāmudrā) interpretation. The introduction also deals with the circumstances of the redaction of ZhP — composed in 1473 as gZhon nu dpal was nearly blind and had to dictate his work from memory over a period of four months — and of the carving of the printing blocks as described in the colophon. Mathes notes that gZhon nu dpal obviously had access to the Sanskrit original of the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā as he frequently discusses Sanskrit words from this text and occasionally mentions or (politely) criticizes the existing translation by rNgog Lo tsä ba Bio ldan shes rab, which is the one found in the canon (sDe dge bsTan 'gyur 4024–4025).[4] Mathes (p.xv) also mentions a translation by Nag tsho Lo tsā ba which gZhon nu dpal occasionally discusses, but gives no specifics about this translator.[5] By comparing the quotations of the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā in ZhP with the Sanskrit text (edited by E.H. Johnston)[6] and the Tibetan translation found in the canon (edited by Z. Nakamura on the basis of Sde dge, Narthang and Peking bsTan 'gyur)[7], Mathes establishes that gZhon nu dpal's version, in several cases, better fits the original (p. xiv).

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  1. Other biographical sources mentioned in Mathes 2002:80 (see n.2) include the Kaṃ tshang brgyud pa rin po che'i rnam thar of Situ and 'Be lo, the Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod, and Khetsun Sangpo's Bibliographical Dictionary.
  2. Published in: Religion and Secular Culture in Tibet, Tibetan Studies II, PIATS 2000, ed. by H. Blezer with the assistance of A. Zadoks. Brill's Tibetan Studies Library Vol. 2/2. Leiden: Brill, pp. 79-96.
  3. For a translation of this work, see George N. Roerich, The Blue Annals, reprint Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass [First ed. Calcutta, 1949; second ed. Delhi, 1976; reprints Delhi, 1978, 1988, 1995, 1996].
  4. Mathes (p.xv n.44) gives two references of such passages in ZhP; in the first one, gZhon nu dpal says that rNgog Blo ldan shes rab's translation is "somewhat incorrect" (cung zad mi legs te) (ZhP 94,4).
  5. It is most probably Nag (')tsho Lo tsä ba Tshul khrims rgyal ba (1011-1064), who was a student of Atiśa. According to gZhon nu dpal's Blue Annals (Deb ther sngon po), Nag tsho Lo tsā ba and Atiśa were asked by rNgog Byang chub 'byung gnas of Yer pa to translate Asaṅga's commentary on the Mahāyāna-Uttaratantra, i.e. the Ratnagotravibhāgavyākhyā. See George N. Roerich, op. cit., p. 259. In ZhP 4,19-20, gZhon nu dpal refers to a translation by Dīpaṃkara and Nag tsho. A discussion of Nag tsho's translation appears for instance in ZhP 482,16.
  6. The Ratnagotravibhāga Mahāyānottaratantraśāstra, Patna, 1950: The Bihar Research Society.
  7. Zōwa-taiyaku Kukyōichijōhōshōron-kenkyū, Tokyo, 1967: Suzuki Gakujutsu Zaidan.