Comparison of two Tibetan compendiums on Buddhist cosmology dating from the 13th and 19th centuries

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Author: Alexa Peter
Date: Dec. 2016
From: Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae(Vol. 69, Issue 4)
Publisher: Akademiai Kiado
Document Type: Report
Length: 5,439 words

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This paper examines two Tibetan sources to show how Tibetan masters could introduce people of totally different cultural background into Buddhist doctrines. The Explanation of the Knowable (Tib. Shes-bya rab-tu gsal-ba) was written by 'Phags-pa lama, while the Answers to the Questions of Sken-dha from Europe (Tib. Rgya-gar rum-yul-pa Sken-dhas dris-lan) is the compendium of Kun-dga' Chos-legs. Both analyse the same subject: cosmology as part of the basic doctrines, and both have the same aim: initiating foreigners into Buddhist precepts. Thus we can observe the similarity of the two works and the teaching methods used by the masters who followed different traditions at different times.

Key words: 'Phags-pa lama, Kun-dga' Chos-legs, Buddhist cosmology, cosmogony and antropogony of the abhidharma-system.

1. Prologue

When Buddhism was disseminated from India to Tibet, missionaries compiled special course books for their new disciples in order to span the cultural discrepancies.

Similar works were written later by Tibetan masters, too, when they themselves became transmitters in the second half of the 13th century. With the help of these works Mongols were systematically acquainted with the basic teachings of Buddhism. (1)

At that time the Mongols conquered China, established the Yuan dynasty (1280-1368) and held the reins of power over the Tibetan dukedoms. In 1244 the second son of Ogodei khan (1186-1241), Goden (1206-1251), summoned the chief of the Sa-skya dukedom, Sa-skya pandita (1182-1251) to present a report. (2) He set out with his two nephews, 'Phags-pa lama (1235-1280) and Phyag-na Rdo-rje (1239-1267), and they met Goden near Lake Kukunor. It seems that Sa-skya pandita made deep impression with his sense of diplomacy and great wisdom on the theoretically tolerant Mongolians, mainly the royal court. The task of proselytisation and peace maintenance fell on 'Phags-pa lama after the death of his uncle in 1251. Shortly after the death of Sa-skya pandita Goden also died, and Qubilai khan (1215-1294) inherited and ascended the throne.

'Phags-pa lama and Qubilai khan agreed on a new alliance--the so-called two laws (3)--sharing ecclesiastical and secular powers. 'Phags-pa became the preceptor of the emperor and the empire. He taught the princes Buddhist intellectuality, spirituality, and in turn received the title of Viceroy of Tibet (4) and became responsible for the governance of Tibet. 'Phags-pa lama, the excellent teacher and polymath of his time, and also an expert of a significant number of different subject areas, wrote many religious and philosophical treatises for the members of the Mongolian ruling family.

The most important piece of his extensive life-work is the Explanation of the Knowable. It was written in 1278 for Jingim (1243-1286), (5) the third son of Qubilai khan, in order to give a clear and brief introduction to the substance of Buddhism.

In 1273 Jingim was appointed crown-prince and head of the Central Secretariat by his father. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Confucianism, that is why the Southern Chinese officials wanted to put him in power in 1285, after the resignation of Qubilai khan. The plan failed because of the sudden death of...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Peter, Alexa. "Comparison of two Tibetan compendiums on Buddhist cosmology dating from the 13th and 19th centuries." Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, vol. 69, no. 4, 2016, p. 441+. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A473160986