A Buddhist Correspondence: The Letters of Lo-Chen Bsod-Nams Rgya-Mtsho : Life and Travels of Lo-Chen Bsod-Nams Rgya-Mtsho (2 Vols-Set)

Franz-Karl Ehrhard, Lumbini International Research Institute, 2002, 548 p, 2 Vols, ISBN : 9993332437, $193.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)

A Buddhist Correspondence: The Letters of Lo-Chen Bsod-Nams Rgya-Mtsho : Life and Travels of Lo-Chen Bsod-Nams Rgya-Mtsho/Franz-Karl Ehrhard

From the introduction: "One of the less well-known translators of Tibet is Khrims-khang Lo-tsa-ba bSod-nams rgya-mtsho (1424-1482), who was mainly active in the region of dBus and undertook arduous journeys to the south western and south eastern border areas of the snowlands. Given that he was a younger contemporary and disciple of 'Gos Lo-tsa-ba gZhon-nu dpal (1392-1481), it is unusual that an extensive bio-graphical sketch of bSod-nams rgya-mtsho is contained in the famous "Blue Annals" (deb ther sngon po), which were completed by the translator from the 'Gos family in 1476. This narrative of the life of Khrims-khang Lo-tsa-ba follows immediately upon the one of Vanaratna, or Nags-kyi rin-chen (1384-1468), the Buddhist Yogin from Chittagong (present day eastern Bengal), the two life stories closing the chapter on the transmission history of the Kalacakratantra. As has already been noted in the English rendition of the "Blue Annals", the biography of bSod-nams rgya-mtsho must have been inserted by the editor after the death of 'Gos-Lo-tsa-ba.

According to this biographical account, bSod-nams rgya-mtsho was born into a family descending from Ngan-lam-rGyal-ba mchog-dbyangs, one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava. His first ordination as a Buddhist novice he received at an early age from the Sa-skya-pa masters Rong-ston Shes-bya- kun-rig (1367-1449) and Dvags-po bKra-shis rnam-rgyal (1399-1458); these two noted scholars were respectively the founder and the second abbot of the monastery 'Phan-po Nalendra, located to the north of Iha-sa. His diligence at the religious school of rTse[s/d]-thang in the Yarlung valley impressed Grags-pa 'byung-gnas (1414-1445), the head of the Phag-mo-gru dynasty at the time, and the ruler began to pay for the further studies of the young novice. It is said that the promising student used to spend his time in work and never slept.

At the age of twenty-one bSod-nams rgya-mtsho taught texts on Buddhist philosophy and logic for some months at the religious assemblies of rTse[s/d]-thang, and then proceeded to 'Phan-po Nalendra in order to sit in on the instructions of Rong-ston Shes-byas kun-rig and Dvags-po bKra-shis rnam-rgyal. Among his other teachers one finds rNgog Byang-chub dpal (1360-1446), sNar-thang mkhan-chen bSod-nams mchog-grub (1399-1452) and 'Jam-dbyangs Don-grub 'od-zer, a disciple of the fifth Karma-pa De-bzhin gshegs-pa (1384-1415) who for many years served as abbot of the mTshur-phu monastery in the sTod-lung valley. Special importance is ascribed to the teachings and initiations he received from 'Gos Lo-tsa-ba and, of course, from Vanaratna. bSod-nams rgya-mtsho had met the Chittagong Yogin in the years 1453 to 1454, during the latter's third--and final--journey Tibet, and had acted as translator on his behalf. It is said that bSod-nams rgya-mtsho attended on nearly thirty teachers who were learned and possessed Siddhis.

A description of the spiritual achievements of the translator, who derived his name from one of the eight minor shrines of the bSam-yas complex, is quite amazing, some of them falling during journeys to the sacred site of Tsa-ri-tra and to places associated with the early bKa'-brgyud-pa masters in south-eastern Tibet. It was at one of these places in the region of Iho-brag that bSod-nams rgya-mtsho was encouraged by a prophecy to attain spiritual realization in Nepal, and he accordingly proceeded there. The series of events starting in Gro-bo lung- the former residence of Mar-pa Lo-tsa-ba (1012-1097) and his family- in the year 1464 and lasting up to an invitation by his teacher Vanaratna to visit to Gopicandra Mahavihara in Patan are described in a series of spiritual songs. As these are reproduced in the exact order in which they were uttered, one arrives at a rough outline of the route taken by Khrims-khang Lo-tsa-ba to the Nepal valley: he travelled from Ngam-ring in La-stod Byang to Chu-bar, and after a stay there crossed the Himalayan chain and reached the residence of his teacher via Dolakha and Bhaktapur. After intense personal encounters with Vanaratna at places like Svayambhunath, he returned to Tibet at the beginning of the year 1466.

One contribution of bSod-nams rgya-mtsho to the propagation and continuation of the Buddhist doctrine in Tibet was the erection of a huge sku 'bum caitya and an impressive statue of the future Buddha Maitreya at the monastery of Byams-pa Gling in the Grva valley; he took over charge of the work on the shrine from his teacher Byams-Gling Pan-chen bSod-nams rnam-par rgyal-ba (1401-1475). He is also remembered for having written out, in great number, copies of the sutras and tantras together with commentaries on them. Among the sponsors of these projects were the official Rin-chen bzang-po from Yar-rgyab and bKra-shis dar-rgyas, the Bya-pa'i khri-dpon. The biographical sketch in the "Blue Annals" also provides a list of the translations of Khrims-Khang Lo-tsa-ba, and states, finally, that the complete collection of his works contained about twelve volumes.

There is a list, too, of the tantric initiations which the translator bestowed upon the fourth Zhva-dmar-pa Chos-kyi Grags-pa ye-shes (1453-1542). This hierarch of the Kam-tshang (or Karma-pa) school is singled out as the main disciple of bSod-nams rgya-mtsho, the two being more intimate than close friends. After his teacher passed away at the age of fifty-eight, the fourth Zhva-dmar-pa attended the funeral ceremonies, and on that occasion wrote a eulogy and a biography of Khrims-khang Lo-tsa-ba. According to information provided by the second dPa'-bo gTsug-lag phreng-ba (1504-1566), the biography had the title "Ocean of Wonder (ngo mtshar rgya mtsho). A voluminous manuscript of this important text has surfaced recently, and a separate study of it needs to be undertaken, the starting point for an evaluation of it being obviously a comparison with the outline of the life of Lo-chen bSod-nams rgya-mtsho contained in the chapter on the transmission of the Kalacakratantra in the "Blue Annals". Although it is mentioned in the latter work that his personal disciples popularized the collected writings of Khrims-khang Lo-tsa-ba, it seems that at present none of these volumes is available."

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